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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Would You Rather Take and Advance - or Royalties On the Backend?

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


A recent discussion on a board for writers prompted me to ask this question, and I'm genuinely curious as to what my readers (all three of you) might think.

A publisher (who will remain nameless not because they're doing anything at all wrong but because they're not here at my blog to protect themselves) was defending the model of paying royalties only at a board for writers I frequent. The publisher stated that some of their writers were making in the thousands in the first six months after publication, but they didn't pay advances.

I have mixed feelings about this. I'm a professional. And as a professional, I should get paid for the work I do as I perform it. If I was on the payroll for an ad company as a copywriter I'd get paid on a regular basis for my work. Heck, I'd get paid on a regular basis for flipping burgers.

Writing is very irregular work, unless a writer has a good long-term contract or two she can rely upon. An advance - even the $2000 minimum that groups like the RWA and SFWA consider to be at the professional standard for a book - is money in the bank. Typically, it takes up to a year or longer between acceptance of a manuscript and publication. That advance is a sign that the publisher believes in my book to the point where they know they'll recoup that $2000 (or whatever they pay me up front). In order to recoup that money, they have to get books into the hands of readers.

It's the same when I sell an article. I get paid on publication. I don't have to wait for the magazine to determine their sell-through rate on the newsstands before I get a check. If I'm writing copy, I send in an invoice when the job is done. Or, if it's a long-term project, I invoice on a regular basis and get paid.

This, IMO, is the way professionals work. When you go to the doctor, you pay - or have insurance that will pay. They doctor may not see you without a guarantee of payment. We purchased a dryer last week. I couldn't tell the manufacturer I'd pay them out of my energy savings. They'd laugh in my face. They've already paid the people who put the dryer together, the folks who shipped and warehoused it, not to mention that the store wants its cut of the profits to pay their bills.

So why, I ask, is it wrong for a writer to have to wait a year or longer between a signed contract and payment?

Now, here's where the mixed feelings come in. If the market is established and has a very good reputation for sales and prompt payment, I might be more willing to take a chance on royalties on the back end.

And you know, my own experience may very well color my outlook on this issue. I've been stiffed plenty of times over the years by publications, ad agencies, corporations going belly up while they had several of my unpaid invoices, and so on. And what writer or creative hasn't been approached by someone trying to convince them to do a huge job for free with promise of a huge payment later? Only that huge payment hardly ever comes through. And there lies the root of my own skepticism.

So there you go: Mixed feelings. What would you do? I'm curious to know.
Tags: Publishing Writing

Filed under: Publishing   Writing         
5/24/2010 8:02:50 PM
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