Last month in one of our daily tweets, I asked our community how they felt about non-refundable advances. I asked:“What do you think about advances that don’t come out of royalties? Should this be a thing?”
A fellow publisher had this to say:
“You mean a rights fee? If it’s not an advance, don’t confuse the issue by calling it an advance. Flying Pen Press now prefers to pay authors a printing fee instead of sales based royalties. Much easier to account for, no reserve for returns, and fairer to authors by paying at time of print order.”
I actually didn’t mean a rights fee. But I do think the discussion depends on how we define an “advance”. Labeling an HIP advance a rights fee is a bit like calling a toaster a microwave and then sticking a fork in it while it’s on.
For those not in the loop, an author advance is an upfront payment made by a publisher to an author before the book is published. The advance is essentially a loan against future royalties that the author is expected to earn from the book. The purpose of the advance is to provide the author with financial support while they work on the book.It also serves as an indication of the publisher's confidence in the book's potential success.
Though in the past an advance was expected by most authors, today not all publishers offer advances. Small presses and university presses, for example, often don’t. If any advance is offered, the amount can vary greatly depending on a number of factors, including the size and budget of the publisher, the author's track record, the genre of the book, and the publisher's marketing plans. Established authors with a proven track record (or celebrities whose name will help sell a book) may receive six- or seven-figure advances from major publishing houses.First-time authors, or those with less proven success, are likely to receive more modest advances.
While advances can be a significant financial boost for authors, they also come with certain risks. If a book does not sell as well as expected, the author may not earn enough in royalties to cover the advance, which can result in a loss for the publisher. In some cases, the publisher may even try to recoup the advance from the author, which can be a significant financial burden.
Despite the risks, many authors still see advances as an integral, if not necessary, part of the publishing process. Advances provide authors with much-needed financial support and can help to attract top talent to the publishing industry. Additionally, advances can serve as a measure of an author's success, and many authors see receiving a large advance—or even a smaller one—as a validation of their talent and potential.
So what makes HIP special, and how do we deviate from tradition?
Simple. At HIP, our advances never come out of royalties. In that case, however, is it really an advance? Absolutely. Though you may find yourself wondering, “But Josh, if these are really advances, then how do you get your money back?”
HIP IS DIFFERENT, AND WE HAVE BEEN FROM THE START
In order to answer your question, we have to go back to the beginning of HIP’s story. When designing this company, I had to make certain decisions that would set the press apart from its competitors. One of these decisions was how best to ensure that authors didn’t feel like my company was dangling something they wanted over their heads with the aim of influencing their work, creative choices, or marketing efforts.
It doesn’t take much understanding to see that the value of an author and their book isn’t bound to a monetary figure. An author’s talent, strife, and personal story is worth more than any house could afford to pay—even the big ones. I wanted HIP to be a safe haven for disgruntled authors who are all but fed up with the current state of affairs in this industry. Naturally I had to begin with the way that publishers and their authors communicate and collaborate. Of course, this happens to include advances as well.
So I asked myself:“If a press isn’t already getting enough out of an author without having to reclaim what little money they gave for the untold hours of work required to write their book, does the publisher even recognize what a special thing they have? If a publisher with any sense at all is cognizant of what a good author is truly worth, then aren’t they being a bit greedy by asking for the money back?”
These questions made me wonder why a press would even need to repossess the funds to begin with. What is the justification for paying an author literally nothing out of pocket when all is said and done? As it turns out, in my opinion, there doesn’t seem to be any. I could find no reason to ask for that money. In fact, I like to think of our advances as more of a gift. A gift to say thank you for allowing our press the opportunity to tell your story. A gift that says: “We believe in you and your book.”
Take a look at this excerpt from our most recent author contract so you can see what I mean. Naturally, details have been obscured for privacy reasons.
You might think,
“Well that’s great and all, but why are you calling that an advance?”
WHY WE STILL CALL THEM ADVANCES
There are two reasons we still call these author payments “advances,” and the first is fairly straightforward. Although HIP condemns the modern methods of many traditional publishers and aims to turn over a new leaf, the industry’s past is just as important to us as the future. After all, the only way to prevent history from repeating itself is to carefully study what was and extrapolate what could be. Continuing to use the term “advance” is one of many ways we pay homage to our moth-eaten past.
Principally, however, we call these payments advances because here at Huntsville Independent Press we don’t invest in manuscripts. We invest in people, in the authors who have spent so much of their most valuable resource to bring the stories of today to light, where they will shine tomorrow, long after we are gone. We at HIP invest our time, money, and effort. In return, we profit and grow with every author we publish with the satisfaction of knowing that our authors are happy to realize they will not be taken advantage of, underpaid, or taken for granted as our partner.
Our authors are press-loyal and do not feel pressured to perform. We have great working relationships and we work hard to make sure that our authors receive the recognition that they deserve. The truth is that HIP gets from an author tenfold what we give. It just doesn’t all belong in a bank. Ergo, an HIP advance is an investment in not just our future as a company, but in the future of literature, paving the way for an ethical publishing industry, and therefore cannot be returned in the form of a check.
WRAPPING IT UP
What I would say to that publisher who questioned my definition is this: I was raised to believe that you get out what you put in, and that on occasion, you get much more than you originally expected. HIP is expeditiously innovating and refining new strategies and techniques that are unique to both this press and to the industry at large. Our phenomenal approach to managing the art of the written word is guided entirely by a commitment to put our authors and their interests first. We guide our authors, market their titles, and foster their growth. To see that I’m not bluffing, all you have to do is ask one. HIP is currently and will always be - the press of dreams.
“Before I found HIP, I’d published four books. My memoir-in-essays was published by a hard-working traditional press, and my children’s books were published under a hybrid model by a smaller imprint (I wanted to choose my own illustrator and donate a portion of the proceeds to non-profit animal rescues, so I took more control of those projects). When I began shopping a fiction collection to agents and publishers, I faced the same challenges most writers do: a lack of response, long delays in the submission process, or initial interest that led to eventual rejection. When I noticed HIP on Twitter, there was something unusual about the way the publisher was presenting his press. Reading the website, I got a very different feeling from their approach. Something told me this was a press that might be interested in my manuscript and could take it to places others couldn’t. My book is a little different, so why not try something different?
I was thrilled when my manuscript (Soul to Soul: Tiny Stories of Hope and Resilience, now illustrated by Anya Lauchlan) was accepted for publication. I couldn’t be happier with my decision to sign with HIP. Not only did I receive an advance (which hadn’t happened with my earlier books), but the whole experience so far has been nothing but positive. The senior editor, Joshua Adams, provided excellent feedback that led to an improved final version of the manuscript. He was meticulous about offering a more-than-fair contract. But far above and beyond the technical or financial side of things, he has made it clear that he truly believes in my work—and in me—and in the potential for this book and future books. His drive, his positivity, and his unfailing effort to communicate regularly have all been a revelation. He has invested in illustrations, and he’ll be investing in a marketing plan. He is unfailingly confident that the book will succeed, and he’s not afraid to take risks to make that happen. Honestly, I’m not sure why I’d ever shop a manuscript to another publisher now (as long as Josh will accept my work). A larger house might put me on someone else’s map, but I’m very happy with the path I’m on with HIP. I hope I’ll be on it for a very long time.”
- Faye Rapoport DesPres
I would be lying if I told you I wished a lazy press well. Nothing irks me more than a publisher who asks for all and provides nothing. Those who have been around long enough will remember an article I posted last October titled “The Fix,” wherein I characterized what HIP is and how we will change the industry. I meant every word I said in that article, and I mean it now. If you're one of the publishers I discussed in that article, you know who you are, and you know that the winds of change are blowing. Twenty years from now, in a time much different from this one, will you still be around? More importantly, will you thrive or will you perish in the fire?
I have found that to excel in this field, the last thing you want to do is be risk- free. If the risk is little, the reward is little. The reward of little risk is unworthy of the gallant. HIP will always be willing to risk it all for our authors and readers. We thrive on the idea that if we fail, it won’t be for lack of trying, unlike some.
Each week, I try to bring something of value to the table for our audience. This week, if there is indeed a lesson to be learned, it's that the best motivator for success is by far having some skin in the game. When you have something at stake, whether it's your time, money, or reputation, you're more likely to give it your all. The fear of failure and the desire to succeed can be powerful driving forces that push you to work harder and smarter.
Additionally, perhaps, there is something to be said for thinking before you speak, and for having an open mind when encountering something new and unique.
Thank you for joining us this week for another insightful, if not atypical post that details more of the inner workings of this company. We hope you have enjoyed learning about HIP’s own philosophy regarding respect to others and have a transparent understanding of how we treat our authors and employees. We appreciate you spending your valuable time with us this morning and we hope to see you back at the same time next week. The HIP Weekly publishes one new article every Sunday at 0600 hours on the dot. Thank you again, and as we always say, have a positive and productive week!
Huntsville Independent Press
ABOUT HUNTSVILLE INDEPENDENT PRESS
Huntsville Independent Press is the premiere publishing imprint of the Southeast United States, and we want to help you, the author. HIP provides, at no cost to our signed authors, a better solution for the publication of your story. Our contracts are non-restrictive and offer higher royalties for our authors. No HIP advance is taken out of royalties. Your advance from us is a one-time payment for the privilege to publish your book and is not a loan. Our passionate team of editors work diligently to ensure that the uniqueness of your story is preserved through the editing process. While you’re here, feel free to look around to see if Huntsville Independent Press is the right home for your work. We are always happy to have talented authors find a publishing home here with us.