How a Book Advance Gets Paid

The news from the London Book Fair that Irish writer, Kathleen MacMahon has received £500,000 for her first book, This is How It Ends is very cheering for writers and the book trade alike. Little, Brown are clearly madly in love with the book, describing it as ‘literary commercial fiction’, ie a perfect book for book clubs to savour, but also a novel to get lost in on the daily commute. The Help would be ‘literary commercial fiction’ for eg. I would argue that Bridget Jones’s Diary is also ‘literary’ in its own way – an argument for another day.

The book sounds to me like an Irish ‘Bridges of Madison County’, a book (and film) I love. It’s billed as a love story between an American man and an unemployed Irish architect. ‘You close the book, you want to bawl your eyes out, and then you want to tell everyone about it,’ her agent, Marianne Gunn O’Connor told today's The Irish Times - Marianne is also Cecelia Ahern’s agent.

Anyway, I was at a meeting this morning and I was asked how the advance would be paid – would Kathleen be handed a cheque for £500,000 as soon as she signed the contract? Not exactly.

So here’s how it works:

Usually a book contract will say something like ‘The publishers shall pay to the Author as a non-returnable advance on account of all monies that may become due to the Author under this Agreement a sum of – in this case - £500,000, being £250,000 per title, to be accounted separately.’

The money might be split up and paid as follows (ballpark figures only):

A sum on signing the contract – say £100k (£50k per title) (could be slightly more, depending on each publisher – some build it into delivery/publication etc)

A sum on delivery of each work (if book 1 of the contract already written, as in this case, part 1 of this payment would be paid on signing also for the first book) – say £50k

A sum on first UK publication of each title in the contract or eighteen months after delivery of the manuscript (whichever happens first) – say £50k

A sum on first US publication of each title in the contract (in this case, Grand Central in the US). Say £50k

Marianne Gunn O’Connor, Kathleen’s agent will take 15% of the overall deal. This would be the standard rate for a literary agent.

At present, Irish writers can earn e40,000 a year before tax. You do have to pay PRSI however.

The advance is usually non-returnable – which means it’s a gamble for the publisher. If it doesn’t sell, they can lose a lot of money. But publishers are smart and know a good book when they read one, and this one sounds great!

Apparently Kathleen will also earn more if the novel makes the bestseller lists – and obviously if film rights are sold, this will be extra income (film rights I believe are taxable as they are not book royalties as such).

So Kathleen may get a figure of say £150,000 up front – of which Ms Gunn O’Connor will get 15%, and the writer will pay tax on anything over £40k. Which is a fantastic, dream sum for any debut writer, and was the highest advance of the Fair. But also remember that her book may be the product of many years of hard work – plus a lifetime’s worth of reading, and living – you can’t write without a lot of experiences to write about! (Unless you are Emily Dickinson perhaps – again, a subject for another day.) Plus she may only write a book every two or three years – so that may be her book income for several years, not just one year.

Overall, it’s GREAT news for Irish writers – UK and US publishers are actively looking for great books by us. In fact, it’s the best news I’ve heard all week.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX