There’s a question authors ask, around which there’s alot of hype and not alot of clarity: “What can I expect for my book advance?”
It’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask an agent after several conversations and a verbally understood agreement of representation; not recommended to ask upon preliminary conversation.
Why should an author be cautioned against asking this question at the get go, however important it is to know?
First, because as agent Rachelle Gardner writes, one of the only posts I’ve seen on the subject, “there is no typical advance.” For a high-profile author with an exceptional concept and an already established audience, an agent might be able to predict a range based on comparative recent deals. For debut, if the topic is hot in the news, the next 50 Shades of Grey, a YA vampire trilogy (yep, that trend lives strong), or the work has been chosen as the crowned novel among peers the Iowa Writers Workshop, perhaps that range can similarly be predicted. But if you’re really just starting out? There can really be no accurate estimation, and any false promising should make you wary.
The most truthful advice an agent can give, and to a writer at any level, is: Don’t quit your day job. See this article in the Times for more to that story.
Why else shouldn’t you ask right away?
Because “popping the question” so early — and the marriage analogy is accurate when it comes to the writer/agent relationship — is not only potentially futile, but raises a red flag. Agents can tell if a writer is in it for the money, or if writing is a true vocation: a calling to tell your story, whatever the cost or profit.
Something else to consider for later on, which we talk a bit about in “4 Tips for Managing Your Agent or Editor:” give your agent room and time to seal a book advance when he/she is on submission with a project.
Our next post will discuss the question of the “free book deal.” Wait, is that an oxymoron? You’ll see.
“The highest compliment one can pay “How to Write Like Tolstoy” is that it provokes an overwhelming urge to read and write, to be in dialogue or even doomed competition with the greatest creative minds… That Mr. Cohen is an editor, that his love of literature comes in large part from awe in the presence of better writers than he, is no small matter. His love is infectious, and regardless of how well he ends up teaching us to write, that is miracle enough.” — Stefan Beck, The Wall Street Journal