'We have proofs of the blads for Frankfurt, but the bleed's wrong.'
Publishing is a foreign country. They say things differently there.
You can get by in PublisherLand by speaking English very loudly and slowly. But if you want to get off the beaten track and explore the hinterland, make friends with the natives and be treated as more than a tourist, it's worth learning the language. By the end of this (occasional, sporadic) series, you'll be able to negotiate the gutter and confront blads and bleeds without believing you need garlic, a crucifix and a sharpened stake.
A is for Advance
The advance is the money the publishers pays you - guess when? - in advance: before you have completed the book, or at least before it's published. An advance is a payment against the royalties your book is expected to earn. Some authors/celebrities command large advances and this makes the press jump up and down shouting about greedy millionaire authors, but they are a tiny minority. Usually, the advance is calculated to be approximately equal to the royalties the publisher would expect you to make from the first printing (or hardback and subsequent paperback printing) of the book. This isn't as straightforward as it sounds. If your book sells for £14 and you get 7.5% royalty, and there is a print-run of 2,000 copies, that doesn't mean you will earn £2,100. Some copies will be sold at a large discount, and your income may well be calculated on nett receipts rather than cover price.
The advance is often paid in two or three stages. Typical points of payment are on signing the contract, on delivering the manuscript of the book, and on publication (or sometimes on passing of page proofs). The advance may be for more than one book. So if you are lucky or well established you might get £50,000 for two books. It sounds a lot, but it isn't. Each book may take you a year to write. There will be research expenses as well as living expenses. If you have an agent, he or she will take 15% + VAT of that £50,000 (= £8,812.50). That leaves you a little under £42,000 before tax to pay for your expenses and living, or around £20,000 a year pre-tax income - well below the national average wage. Don't forget to set aside the tax you will have to pay - the tax people won't be sympathetic if you spend all the advance and can't pay the tax. Not many authors get an advance of £50,000 straight off. You're more likely to get something like £2,000 or even less. It all depends on how much the publisher expects your book to earn. If you have written an academic book, you are unlikely to get any advance at all, and you quite possibly won't even get any royalty on the first print run. But if you're written an academic book, you probably have a paid academic job and need the publication for your CV so it's a slightly different case.
If the book earns out the advance, that means that you have earned back in royalties all the money the publisher has paid you in advance. After this point, you will start to get royalty payments. Hurray!
You don't have to repay the advance if it's not earned out. You only have to repay the advance if you don't deliver the book, or if the book you deliver is so bad, or so far from the agreed synopsis, that the publisher feels it's not publishable.
Some authors and agents are very keen to negotiate as large an advance as possible. There are two main reasons: one is that it's nice to have lots of money; the other is that if the publisher has invested a lot in the book, it should be keen to recoup the investment and so will, the thinking goes, be more likely to try very hard to sell your book, give it a large marketing budget and push it. There is a big drawback, though. If your book doesn't earn out the advance, especially if it falls well short of it, your next book is blighted. If you're lucky, you'll get a smaller advance. If you're unlucky, you won't sell it at all. No-one wants to throw good money after bad.