Advances and In house support


Here’s an interesting discussion or more series of tweets by an agent and others who are disputing the myth that books with large advances don’t guarantee in house support.

This was actually a response to a published sci-fi author who basically claimed the opposite. Merely sharing for thoughts/obvservations


What I’ve seen in adult fantasy over the last few years is that big advance / publisher support isn’t enough to guarantee success. The book still has to be good.

I’m not going to mention the book’s name but there was a fantasy author whose first book was released about two years ago with a ton of hype - hundreds of Goodreads reviews from a dedicated ARC campaign before the book was released, lots of other authors and bloggers swooning over the book, a groundswell of excitement on r/fantasy and in fantasy Facebook groups and blogs, blog tour / signings / speaking engagements, etc. She was given a six-figure advance and anointed as a new queen of the genre. I was caught up in the hype and bought the book on release, when the ARC ratings on Goodreads had it at 4.4 / 5, or something like that. There’s no doubt in my mind that this author getting a 6-figure advance was a reason why the publishing house went all out in promotion. So I read the book. It was awful, one of the worst books I’ve finished in years. I was flabbergasted how my opinion could diverge so greatly from what I was seeing on blogs and Goodreads. Well, fast forward two years. Despite the huge promotion campaign the book has about 1k Goodreads ratings, which is not a lot 2 years in for a book that was intensely promoted. The Goodreads average has gone from 4.4 to 3.5.

Now contrast that with Kings of the Wyld. It was released about the same time. Was bought for a tiny amount, and had no pre-publication buzz. The author is still working as a waiter because the advance was minimal - I think around 10k. Got released straight to paperback. And yet . . . buzz started to build. People started raving about the book - not the ARC reviewers who gush over whatever Tor or Orbit sends them, but real readers. I read the book as this groundswell reached my ears. It was amazing, maybe my favorite book of 2017. Now it has a 4.35 average on Goodreads and over 13k ratings.

So, basically, my point is that publishing companies are less successful about cramming books they think ‘should’ be bestsellers down our throats than they once were. The ease of sharing opinions online has I think democratized success - maybe once a coordinated ARC campaign could fool everyone into thinking a book was great and that their opinions were wrong, but, nowadays, if the emperor has no clothes it’s too easy for the masses to get on their computers and point that out.

I’m seeing a lot of hyped trad books stumble because the publisher is wrong about their appeal, and they are no longer the ultimate arbiters of taste because they’ve lost control of the levers of the industry that used to be solely theirs.

So I do have confidence that a book without a large advance can make it, maybe more often now than in the past. Being more connected through the internet makes it easier for great things to go viral, and, likewise, for sub-par stuff to be recognized for what it is, despite what publishers want the readers to believe.

Summation: Advances, I think, do probably matter in regards to how much promotion effort is given to books. But in the end a book rises and falls on its own merits, particularly in the current age, when we are not reliant on a few majordomos through a few channels telling us what is good.


I think you’re totally right. I’ve seen the notion that advances indicate a publishers interest in said book and I think it has merit but as you said books can flop on their own merits despite the publisher and I definitely found some books to be overhyped and boring despite reviewers raving about it. In fact what you said lines up exactly with what the author of A darker shade of magic said as her book got a 15k advance but is doing extremely well. She was responding to a very popular author (who I don’t know of as bad as it may sound) and I can agree to some folks hearing if you don’t get 6 figures you’re dead (her counter to that advice) is disheartening. I do think though in my humble opinion trad pub focuses a little too much on the best/fast sellers. What about those books that don’t get bought quickly but stand the test of time. I do understand earning back that advance is also part of profit recovery though.


I agree with all that. I just do believe that if you’ve invested 6 figures in a book you think it’s going to be a big hit so you’re more likely to ask the big-name author in your stable to blurb it, more likely to pull some strings to get it reviewed in The Guardian, more likely to pay for ads that show up on Goodreads or Reddit or Facebook or wherever. That’s common sense.

But all trad books from big publishers have a fair shot of making it big. Pretty much all releases from the big 5 publishing houses will get reviewed on blogs, put out in at least some stores, generate some buzz. And if the book is actually really good I think groundswell is much more likely to happen in our current connected age, which leads to outperformance relative to advance. Like in the case of Kings of the Wyld.

I also find it likely that publishers try their best to hedge their bets by devoting marketing budgets to books they think will do well . . . even if they end up fizzling. That doesn’t mean a 10k advance book will get no marketing help / buzz . . . just a lot less. But I believe in the end quality trumps most everything else. The book I’m watching with interest right now is Red Wolf Black Leopard. The writer is a huge name in literary publishing, having won the Man Booker prize. Massive marketing support behind the book, and I assume a high 6-figure maybe even 7-figure advance. I haven’t read it yet, though I probably will soon, but I’ve been keeping tabs on ‘regular’ reader reactions on Goodreads. The book was seeded with hundreds of favorable reviews and had a 4.2 average on release . . . now at 3.7 six weeks in, and if you factored in the Did Not Finish ratings (which look to be about 10% of the total) it would be a lot lower. Clearly the hype machine is selling a lot of copies . . . but how will the sequels do? Should the publishing house have spent so much marketing this particular book to the epic fantasy crowd . . . and I assume that this marketing budget is from a fixed pot, so some other new releases got less support? It’s the problem with the bestseller strategy - putting most of your eggs in one basket and tilting the scales on one book, but what happens when readers decide the publisher doesn’t have a broad-appeal bestseller on their hands?

I’d argue still that the good books with wide appeal will rise to the top. But fingers on the scale to try and push certain outcomes must matter somewhat . . . and it must sting even more when the book underperforms significantly.


Yes Marlon James (red wolf black leopard) is definitely making big waves, he’s also got a film option. He in particular I think is a case where there is a crowd who wants to read books like that and have been for a long time.

It does seem like the all eggs in one basket though I think most of the times that already happens and people don’t always like the championed book and that’s cause they don’t listen enough to the wides that audience. But when they do there is always a huge return. In the YA department the author of children of blood and bone timed around the same time as the release of black panther. That book had huge hype made 7 figures stayed on the best seller list for over 25 weeks. I always like this book as an example of what I think a really wide audience was interested in reading. Sure adult and YA circles are different but if trad gave people what they wanted more they would be surprised how better it would be for them in the long run.

I agree in the end the book has to be good despite push and subjectivity which I think is a factor as well.


My observation is that YA publishing is much more susceptible to marketing and hype than adult fiction. Seems to be still be pretty easy for publishers to make the books they think should be bestsellers actually bestsellers in YA. I’m guessing kids are more likely to believe and agree with popular personalities they follow, like on Twitter or Goodreads, than adults.


That could definitely be a factor though I would argue lots of adults are seriously into YA. So much so that the toxic sides of the YA community is usually adults getting into some kind of spat but beyond that book wise lots of adults I have seen say better books are coming out under YA fantasy and some young folks want to read beyond YA because of the fixation on romance or they want YA books without romance. I definitely think it’s a mix of ages in there and a different crowd from just “only adult readers”

Speaking of following, it’s also very easy to have your whole life snatched on the YA scene. One minute you’re king next you are being dragged to the dungeons lol


I may be that those YA sales are being driven by adults buying for kids who see the advertising and think “my child/niece/nephew/grandchild will like that”, and they may be wrong about the book.

I’m really curious about the book you referred to above as not living up to the hype. You could PM me…


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Tor should be ashamed of themselves for offering 15K on that book from that author. I’m appalled by low-ball tactic, and V.E. Schawb should have told them where they could stick that 15K.


I thought it was just me who thought it was low. It’s the first of a series so maybe the others earned her better advances? But I’m inclined to agree. Though it seems like she was grateful for whatever she received. Does Tor usually pay low end advances?


Unlikely. Generally speaking the publishers like to do multi-book contracts for fantasy so all books in that series probably had the same advance. She’s pointed out that she’s earned out, and is therefore receiving royalties…but I still think that was exceedingly low.

Tor isn’t unlike most publishers, where the advances can vary widely. Bottom line…if they think they can get it “on the cheap,” they are going to try for that.


What a shame. In the end, authors are always the ones who draw their shortest straw. And to have very low royalties when your advance was meager its kind of insulting but that’s just me.