at last some validation…

Tobias Buckell’s unofficial poll of sf/f advances (with disclaimers). Interesting, and the numbers don’t seem that foreign to my own experience. This also addresses one element of that oft-repeated “to be agented or not to be agented” question AKA So, What Can an Agent Do For Me Anyay?

Regarding first novels:

Broken down by Agented vs. Unagented:
60% of our first time novelists had an agent, the other 40% sold the book without an agent, and a high number indicate they got agents right after or during the sale of the book.

The range in agented advances is from $1500 to $40,000
The average agented advance is $7379
The median agented advance is $5500

The range in unagented advances is from $0 to 13,500
The average unagented advance is $4611
The median unagented advance is $4000

These figures have noticeable differences across the board. Not having an agent looks to cost one well more than the agent’s percentage on average, and certainly most of the higher ranging figures come from people with agents.

Regarding career writers with a number of novels:
Broken down by Agented vs. Unagented:
15% of our authors with multiple books sold over multiple years had no agent, out of our sample size their results will have a margin of error of 32%, nonetheless the data is striking:

The range in agented advances is from $1000 to $600,000
The average agented advance is $36,455
The median agented advance is $12,500

The range in unagented advances is from $0 to $21,500
The average unagented advance is $14,143
The median unagented advance is $7500

These figures have noticeable differences across the board. Not having an agent looks to cost one well more than the agent’s percentage on average, and certainly most of the higher ranging figures come from people with agents. The average advance via agent differs by as much as a factor of 3! Even with the 32% margin of error added in, the significance is fairly astounding.

15 responses to “at last some validation…

  1. Thank you for sharing this! This jibes well with what I’ve heard so far courtesy of Writer’s Weekend, and it gives me interesting food for thought.

  2. Thanks so much! And here I thought I was supposed to wait on getting an agent. Well, I’m sure the publishers wouldn’t mind if I did!
    And it makes sense that first-time authors will be a bit over-eager to leap at any money offered whatsoever, whereas an experienced agent will know the market rates and have experience in selling manuscripts, even if the author doesn’t.

    • I got a book deal, then an agent (the lovely and talented herself), who proceeded to vindicate my belief that getting an agent was the right first move after getting a book deal by *vastly* improving the advances I was offered for the books. They (They) say the thing to say when you get a book offer is, “Thank you very much. My agent will be in touch with you soon,” and then to get an agent as soon as you’re done leaping around screaming like a fool. I don’t know that I believe anybody on earth is actually cool enough to say that when they’ve just been offered their first book deal, but my publisher didn’t bat an eye when I acquired an agent between their Friday offer and their Monday conversation with me. 🙂

  3. Interesting and disheartening. I myself won’t try to get representation after my past experiences with agents. I don’t think my style of writing lends itself to anything other than small presses and the advances offered by them rarely go beyond 5K.

  4. I’m not surprised.
    Which is why, in a short while, I’ll be queriyng agents based on a new manuscript–even one or two who chose not to take me on with the last one

  5. I found much of interest. I’m glad Tobias took the time to do this.

  6. Just curious (about the high end of the range): How often does an agent get to auction a manuscript? Just wondering what that’s like …

    • It can be very exciting. But the frequency question is a little hard to answer. It really depends on the project and on the available market. There are pros and cons to multiple vs. single submissions.

  7. Thanks for the info. None of it was surprising to me really, but it’s nice to see some data backing up one’s impressions.
    I expect that small press publishers skew the data on unagented advances somewhat. And foreign rights would probably boost the agented numbers significantly.

  8. to agent or not to agent
    It’s definitely an interesting question. When I first started out, I was bound and determined to get an agent. But then I’ve started to question whether that’s a good thing as a first-time author. I think it depends on your writing style and which book you’re trying to sell. If you have a phenomenal, ground-breaking book, then I’d say yes, an agent would be necessary (think Jean Auel or Diana Gabaldon). As for me, though my goal is to be a single-title romance novelist, I’m not sure an agent would be right for me at this stage in the game. My books are aimed at Harlequin Historicals, and there’s little room for negotiation as a first time author. I believe that once I have a few sales under my belt, that would be the time to find an agent because then I would have more leverage to get a decent agent. I’d also have a better idea of what I was looking for, in terms of career management.
    Wouldn’t you say that most agents don’t even consider first-time authors unless they have a ground-breaking book? Even if they have a decent “voice”, it seems to me that they’d have to have a marketable book before an agent would take them on.
    -Michelle

    • Re: to agent or not to agent
      Wouldn’t you say that most agents don’t even consider first-time authors unless they have a ground-breaking book? Even if they have a decent “voice”, it seems to me that they’d have to have a marketable book before an agent would take them on.
      I don’t know that your question and the following statement quite gel for me. I’ve taken on a number of first-time authors (or authors without previous sales). And I’ve sold a lot of them too, though sometimes it takes me a bit. For example, a first novel I took on because I just got so caught up in it took me almost three years to place. It’s now into it’s 14th printing, I think, and the author has since published several more books.
      Naturally a person has to have a marketable book — you can’t sell it otherwise. When people used to ask me that question at conferences about what I was looking for, my reply (eventually) was: “Something I like, and something I can sell. In that order.”
      As for whether to get an agent or not, I’m admittedly biased on that issue. But I think it’s important to remember that an agent does a lot more than just get a sale and negotiate contract language.

      • Re: to agent or not to agent
        Well, that’s sort of depressing. I’ve published twelve books, never had an agent, and now I’m wondering if I lost money on every deal?
        Aren’t advances money against royalties? If I get a smaller advance, won’t I eventually make it up in royalties?
        (Silly question, but one that is niggling me)
        Author A, who never had an agent, and author B, who does, sell the same amount of books. They both have a 7.5% royalty rate – do they make the same amount of money in the end?
        Maybe the advantage is the agent can negotiate to have more than 7.5% royalties, a more interesting foreign rights deal, and a movie offer as well? Or do publishers take care of that?
        I’d like to know –
        Jennifer
        http://www.jennifermacaire.com

        • Re: to agent or not to agent
          Aren’t advances money against royalties? If I get a smaller advance, won’t I eventually make it up in royalties? Author A, who never had an agent, and author B, who does, sell the same amount of books. They both have a 7.5% royalty rate – do they make the same amount of money in the end?
          Taken in isolation the answer would be yes. However, it presupposes that the book will sell enough copies to earn out so that royalties start getting paid. And stay in print long enough to do that. Let’s take the 7.5% royalty you mention (and I have gotten higher than that for paper/trade – hardcovers start off higher than that) and do a simple comparison.
          If author A gets an advance of $4,000 (Tobias’ median unagented advance for a first novel) and the cover price on the book is a standard mass market one of around $5.99, you get almost 45 cents per copy as your royalty share. At that rate, you have to sell 8,889 copies (if my math is right) to “earn out” and see the first cent of royalties after your advance. And that means any books returned by the bookstores are above and beyond that number (insert essay on irritating returns system here).
          Author B at $5,500 (Tobias’ median agented advance), with the same cover price and same royalty share needs to sell 12,223 to see their first royalty check.
          If both authors sell 15,000 copies, they get the same amount of money. If both authors sell 5,000 copies, Author B retains their higher advance against royalties and makes more money. With many publishers, if the numbers remain that low it doesn’t bode well for book two, but that’s another essay.
          To a certain extent these numbers are speculative. One doesn’t know ahead of time how many books will ultimately sell or be returned by the bookstores. Publishers generally run a profit and loss statement to make an educated guess about what these numbers will be. It would be helpful to my math if I could get a poll of everyone’s first novel print run and sell-through rate. Then I could figure out just how difficult it tends to be for an author to earn out their advance for the first novel. I know from experience that it’s tough.
          Maybe the advantage is the agent can negotiate to have more than 7.5% royalties, a more interesting foreign rights deal, and a movie offer as well? Or do publishers take care of that?
          As to this question….the answer is yes, an agent does a lot more than simply negotiate an advance. A good agent does anyway. They may improve other terms of the deal, such as the royalty schedule or which subisidary rights remain with the author, which they can then market on the authors behalf. There’s more math to that too. If the publisher retains, for instance, foreign translation rights, they split the sales with the author who gets 50%, still minus the agent’s commission on that 50%. If the author retains the rights and the agent sells them, the author gets 100% minus the commission. To keep that simple, if the foreign rights are sold for $1000 by the publisher, the author gets $425 (that’s with a 15% commission on 1/2 the amount). If the agent does it, the author gets $800 (that’s with a 20% commission, which is the typical overseas rate because the agent generally splits their commission with a foreign representative).
          And that’s quite enough math for me today. Now I shall go read some contracts for relief!

      • Re: to agent or not to agent
        Ms. Jackson,
        Possibly a lengthy response required here if you’re up for the task…
        How do you determine weather or not a book is marketable? Is this something that as agent you research and speculate? Sales reports, word of mouth, editor luncheon? And if a book from conception to publication travels a few years from start to finish how do we know it’s going to be saleable in ’07 (we?–sorry mouse in my pocket)? Chasing trends is probably a sure way to a short career in being an agent; running on gut instinct will only take you so far; maybe I’m asking for metrics that are used?
        -=Jeff=- …a little confusing but there’s a coherent question in there somewhere…

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