A guest post by Sally Ekus
Every time I talk with a new author or perspective client they ask the same question: “What can I expect for an advance?” I tell them $250,000. No wait, that was a dream I had last night. In reality, though, I can’t answer.
Spoiler alert: the answer to most everything in publishing is “It depends.” In the case of cookbooks, the answer depends on platform, proposal, and concept. And no agent will tell you an amount in advance. Let’s be real, if you were applying for a job and you were told your salary could be $60,000, and then you were offered the position for $45,000,you would not be thrilled.
So to put advances in perspective, here are three abridged book deals, from low to high, to give you an idea of what range you could expect. Plus I throw in a little agent discussion to keep your expectations in check. These are not actual negotiating points for your forthcoming advance, of course, just case studies. Please keep in mind each publisher has different contract terms.
1. The $5,000 Cookbook Advance
This is a single subject book with lots of history, narrative, and full color throughout. The cookbook would be approximately 50,000 to 150,000 words with 40 photos. The number of recipes was not specified.
The deal was for a first time author who is an authority on the subject but didn’t have much of a social media or online platform. The proposal was practically flawless but I was reluctant to take on the book. Even though the content was great, she had a small platform. In the end, both the material and the willingness of the author to work really hard to promote the book won out. We found a home with a publisher who was willing to execute a superb vision, and who expressed a genuine interest in this author and topic. While the advance was low, the royalties exceeded the norm of many traditional publishers.
The first royalty check has not yet arrived, but we are optimistic.
Payout: Half on signing, half on acceptance
Royalties: Same for hardcover and paperback.
- 1–4,999 copies sold = 20 percent of net sales revenue
- 5,000–9,999 copies sold = 30 percent of net sales revenue
- 10,000-29,999 copies sold = 32.5 percent of net sales revenue
- 30,000-plus copies = 35 percent of net sales revenue
2. The $17,500 Cookbook Advance with Additional $15,000 Production Fee
This book is from a solid mid-level author with a good online presence. The author had previously published one book that sold well. There were ties to retail locations for built in, long-term sales. This follow-up book was smaller than the first, single subject, and was attached to a product . There would be 60 recipes and 30 photos. The production fee is money not paid against the advance, so it does not have to be earned back.
The proposal was good. The recipe count and format of this next book supported the advance offered. Retail outlets would provide a steady stream of sales with the hope and expectation that we would see royalties. The publisher is great at getting books into the special sales accounts we wanted.
This book continues to sell steadily with a royalty check every period ranging from $25,000-$50,000.
Payout: Half on signing, half on acceptance (same payout for production fee)
Royalties: Same for hardcover and paperback
- 1–25,000 copies sold = 18 percent of net sales revenue
- 25,001+ copies sold= 20 percent of net sales revenue
3. The $120,000 Cookbook Advance with Additional $25,000 Photo Budget
This is a cookbook from a first-time author with a very large social media platform, website, and brand. The book is an extension of the brand, not a single subject. It will feature more than 75 recipes and 60 photos.
This proposal was super solid, though it was later revised to meet the desires of a publisher. The combination of a unique concept, a stellar promotional section, a big platform, and a strong voice all led to a significant advance. The publisher had the means to support a higher offer and gave this author the promotional backing we wanted. The book is currently in production.
Payout: 1/3 signing, 1/3 acceptance of ½ the manuscript, 1/3 acceptance of full manuscript
Payout for photo budget: ½ on signing photographer agreement, ½ on acceptance
Royalties: Hardcover was 8% of list price. Paperback:
- 1-50,000 copies sold=7.5% of list price
- 50,001+ copies sold= 8.5% of list price
So there you have it. As I have demonstrated, the answer is still “It depends.” Take the time to rock out a super solid proposal (Hey, did you know Dianne does proposal coaching?!—hint hint—and no I wasn’t asked to say that.). Highlight your platform as much as possible, and pick a concept that will resonate with an engaged audience.
Sally Ekus has been a literary agent specializing in cookbooks since 2009, when she joined The Lisa Ekus Group, her mother’s agency. She has since become a partner and has brokered more than 30 book deals. For more, see the company’s website.