Episode 77

Increase Your Chances of Getting a Large Book Advance

We will be talking about is your book’s BISAC categories, the average advance for nonfiction authors, and how to transition from being your book’s author to your book’s publisher. 

Music licensed from Storyblocks:

“More Jam Please” by Raighes Factory

"Road to Cuba" by zoze

“Welcome Home (30 seconds)” by Enzo Orefice

“Shopping Street” by New Library Sounds

“Lofi Beat - The Peace of Mind” by Oleksii Abramovych

Rosemi Mederos:

If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.

The writer’s strike continues, Simon & Schuster is still up for grabs, and Twitter is now X. But we are not talking about any of those things today. What we will be talking about is your book’s BISAC categories, the average advance for nonfiction authors, and how to transition from being your book’s author to your book’s publisher.

The Writing Break cafe is open, and I need an iced coffee. So, let’s head inside, and I’ll fill you in on some publishing news.

First, the shipping forecast. Amazon says that about 18 months ago it told US publishers that, in an attempt to meet their sustainability goals, they would no longer be shipping books from the United States to Europe in order to fulfill book orders. Instead, US publishers were going to need to find a place to print closer to the point of sale. Meaning, US publishers were going to need to find European printers for Amazon’s orders.

Some US publishers are suspicious about Amazon’s claim that this is for the good of the planet since Amazon isn’t the one finding the solution. In short, Amazon is pushing the cost onto the publishers and not keeping track of the environmental impact of these book sales.

Regardless, the time has come, and not all publishers are ready. The reason I’m telling you is simple: fewer book sales for publishers means fewer book sales for authors.

“The amount of business being lost due to the shift is hard to quantify, but the guesstimates put the sales numbers on books that had previously been imported to Europe via Amazon as having fallen by as much as 50% for U.S. publishers.”

For those of you doing your own shipping within the United States, USPS has a new service called USPS Ground Advantage. While Media Mail is still cheaper, Ground Advantage is faster than Media Mail and might be a better option during the holiday season. Priority Mail is faster and pricier than Ground Advantage. If all of that seemed pointless and nonsensical, you are living a charmed life with nary a post office in sight.

Josh Bernoff, author of Build a Better Business Book: How to Plan, Write, and Promote a Book That Matters, surveyed more than 200 nonfiction authors, both traditionally and independently published, and found that their median advance for their nonfiction titles was $17,500.

About 40% of the authors surveyed received at least $25,000 in advance; 23% of authors received at least $100,000 in advance.

Publishers are more likely to offer a higher advance for books they believe will have strong sales. What might tip the scale in your favor is having a strong platform, such as a large following on social media or a successful blog. Authors of books on hot topics, such as business, technology, and self-help, were also more likely to receive a larger advance.

The book advance is just one factor in determining an author's overall earnings. In addition to the advance and royalties, nonfiction authors often rely on speaking engagements and consulting work for income, and having a published book helps secure those gigs.

“A big advance isn’t the only thing that matters in your publisher. But in general, the bigger the advance, the more attention and support you get from the publisher. And it’s always nice to fund your book with the publisher’s money. So, if you choose to go with a traditional publisher, maximizing your advance is likely to improve your book’s chances of success.”

Forbes released an article called “Writing Careers: 6 Jobs to Check Out.” Muse that I am, I thought, Oh, this would be great to share during the next writing break. There were no witnesses to this, but I believe I shrieked in horror when I saw the first job listed. Editor. What does Forbes have against writers?, I wondered.

I love editing. Everything about it. I especially love working one-on-one with authors. I live for it. It’s my passion. And yet, to see Editor listed as the first writing career option seemed extreme. It’s not as though they listed the jobs in alphabetical order or something.

The other jobs listed were: Technical Writer, Author, Reporter, Public Relation Specialist, and Marketing Manager.

It is a bit of a fluff piece, however, the article does include the median annual salary, minimum required education, and job overview for each of these careers, so check the show notes for a link to that if you’re interested.

Now, let’s head to the Overthinking Couch to discuss one of the most important things about your book: its genre.

Last week I asked if you were a plotter or a pantser. Most of you told me that you’re pantsers, which is proof that opposites attract. OK, so you’re not quite certain how your characters are going to get out of the jam they’re in, but do you at least know the genre you’re writing? Really? Are you sure?

I often work with authors for months and even years on the same title. After editing, they leave my inbox to work on their cover and interior design. Weeks or months later, they’re back in my inbox and frantic. The wording varies, but the question is the same: Under what genre does my book reside?

This is when I know they’ve come face-to-face with BISAC, which is short for Book Industry Standards and Communications. BISAC Subject Headings is a system for classifying books by topic. It’s used by publishers, retailers, and libraries. BISAC codes are useful for cataloging, marketing, and shelving books, yet authors first encounter the subject headings when they’re getting ready to release their first book.

Here’s an example of why an author might get frazzled. Let’s say you wrote a science fiction book. There’s action, adventure, romance, and even some humor. Well done.

Now you look at the BISAC subject headings. There’s Science Fiction, sure. But there’s also Science Fiction with the Action & Adventure subheading, Science Fiction with the Humor subheading, and Romance with the Science Fiction subheading. You could select all three subheadings, but the order of selection is important as well. And if you select Romance with the Science Fiction subheading, does that mean your sci-fi is going to be listed as a sci-fi novel and as a romance novel? Yes. But you don’t want it to be listed as romance? OK, don’t select it, although you might miss out on readers seeking romance with some sci-fi. Also, there’s Science Fiction with the subheading Hard Science Fiction. What the heck is that?

If you are traditionally published, your publisher selects your BISAC codes for you. I’ve seen times when the publisher doesn’t choose the right code, and the book gets some one-star ratings just because of that. For example, a romance was maybe a little too spicy for some people, and it wasn’t labeled as such. Or an action and adventure is labeled as having humor, but it wasn’t really all that funny. So if you are being traditionally published, you don’t have to select your BISAC codes, but you might want to take a look at what they have selected for you. As an independent author, you don’t have to select your BISAC subject headings until you’re about to publish the book. And if you are a pantser, that might suit your style.

Still, I encourage you to take a look at the BISAC subject headings to see what categories feel right for your current manuscript so that you’re not caught by surprise when the time comes. Overthink it a little bit. That suits my style.

You’ll find a link to the full list of BISAC subject headings in the show notes of this episode. And now, let’s do some back to school shopping.

Back to school shopping is chaotic. Parents and guardians want to select clothes and shoes that will last the school year, every teacher requires a different set of school supplies, and, wouldn’t you know it? Everyone showed up to the store at the same time as you did.

Now that back to school shopping is not a part of my life, I miss it. Maybe not the treacherous three-ring binders, but definitely the new pens, whose caps I swore I would not chew on yet inevitably massacred.

So, how do I get my back to school shopping fix? I visit donorschoose.org. No, not sponsored or affiliated. I first heard about this nonprofit organization from Neil Gaiman, who says he sometimes gets on the site late at night and funds projects.

Let me explain. Donors Choose is a place where US public school teachers in all 50 states can request funds for classroom supplies and projects. There is a clear accounting of what the supplies cost, and once the project is fully funded, the organization orders the supplies directly to the teacher. Donors Choose has a 99% rating on charitynavigator.org, which is where you should be looking before donating to any nonprofit. The teachers on Donors Choose are vetted, and the entire process is transparent. I have always received a thank you note from the teachers, and sometimes I even get a photo of the students using the supplies once they arrive.

You can select a project by location, teacher, amount, subject, grade level, and supplies needed. There is often a large organization matching donations, which is another available filter you can search. Right now Wawa is matching donations for projects requesting basic school supplies. You can contribute as little as $1 to a project, so you don’t have to pull a Neil Gaiman and fully fund a project. I like to fund local classrooms, but I also look at projects whose deadlines are approaching. A project has to be fully funded in order for the teacher to receive supplies.

No matter how much you give, your donation is tax-deductible. I think it’s a lot of fun to look at the projects and see that teachers are still excited about teaching. No, I do not only donate to projects requesting books. But, yeah, those are my favorite ones to fund.

Anyway, check them out. If you have kids you’re already shopping for, see if their teachers are on DonorsChoose and use social media to promote their projects. It might give you some social currency when it’s time to promote your book.

Coming up next, how to step into the role of publisher with your best foot forward.

Once you decide that you want to remain an independent author, you’ve already started to think like a publisher. You’ve decided to acquire your own manuscript for publication. The next step is to decide how much of the production process you want to do on your own. Some of the authors I work with do as much as they can on their own, learning how to use software programs like InDesign and Photoshop along the way. Some authors decide to use hybrid publishers or small independent presses, which we’ve already discussed.

And still others build their publishing team from the ground up, selecting a cover designer, interior designer, and distribution company as they go.

Your mindset does need to change a bit when you’re taking on the role of publisher. You’re a business now, which means you’re going to have your mind on your money and your money where your mouth is. There will be challenging, expensive, and frustrating moments during publishing, and it is your passion that is going to carry you through to the end.

Austin Ross, an acquisitions editor for a few different HarperCollins imprints is also a published author. Even though he works for HarperCollins, he does not have an agent. Instead, he is published by a small independent press. In an article for Publisher’s Weekly called “Seeing Novels from Both the Writing and Publishing Sides”, he wrote:

“What began as a form of creative expression becomes a start-up business, focused on metrics and output and analytics. We can get so caught up in the rat race of wanting to break out that we lose sight of what made us want to be writers in the first place. The lifestyle and trappings of art and artistry are a cheap substitute for the writing itself. We have no control over whether our work will be remembered or not, so we may as well have a little fun along the way.”

In the next few weeks I’m going to review the steps for doing it all on your own as well as for selecting a team. Until then, think about what to name your LLC, and remember, you deserved this break.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at podcast@writingbreak.com.

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Rosemi Mederos


Rosemi is the founder of America's Editor, a book editing company.