Once upon a time, an advance was key to securing the relationship between author and publisher at the start of a lifelong journey. It was an indication of how much the publisher valued their author and how much they were likely to spend down the line. It was also a handy lump sum that prevented an author going hungry while they crafted their masterpiece.
Today’s author typically comes pre-prepared with at least one book and has found ways to make ends meet throughout the writing process, because they know that no publisher these days takes on a writer based on a handful of chapters or a promise. It’s not just the order of events that has shifted; the author’s mindset has too.
Yesterday’s author was so elated to be cherry-picked that the incentive was the publishing deal. Not any more. Every author I know who is serious about their writing career is driven not by validation or vanity, but by the idea of long-term success—by which I mean sales of the first book, and of subsequent books.
On the assumption that author and publisher are working towards the collective goal of long-term success, it would make sense for the money spent on wooing the author to be diverted into the parts of the process that really impact success, like marketing. Most authors would relish this shift.
So why don’t authors save up advances and spend the money themselves on marketing? Many authors look back and wish they had taken this route. Others tried and failed, finding themselves locked out of marketing conversations by their publisher.
Most acquisition battles are still won on the basis of the size of an advance. But for the author, the large advance is not the goal. What purpose, these days, does an advance serve? Given that it is no longer a practical tool to keep the wolf from the door or a sign of long-term commitment from the publisher, many authors are left wondering: ‘Why would I want one? Wouldn’t it be nice if that money could be squirrelled away and ringfenced for the marketing of this book and my future books?’ Just a thought.
Polly Courtney is an indie author. She was previously published by HarperCollins