The Minimum Advance: A Modest Proposal
Writing a novel takes many hours of work. How many? Based on what Dean Koontz says, it takes him 6-12 months of working 10-11 hours for 22-25 days per month. Let’s simplify and say 6 months * 220 hours per month = 1320 hours for a 100,000-word novel. That’s 75 words per hour. Now, you might think that’s very slow — some people can type more words than that in a minute — but remember that this includes time spent brainstorming, plotting, world-building, revising, proof-reading, etc.
By way of comparison, the Microsoft Word stats for an early draft of Unforgettable show I spent 22,524 minutes on it — 375.4 hours. Since the draft was 67,682 words, that means I wrote 180 words per hour to produce that draft. It needed a lot of work after that to get it into publishable shape, so I think overall I averaged significantly lower. So I think that the Dean Koontz rate of 75 words per hour is reasonable. For ease of calculation, let’s round it up to 100 words per hour.
So a 100,000-word novel would take 1000 hours of work. The U.S. minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. (All my liberal friends think that minimum is far too low because it’s not a living wage, but it’s the current standard.) At minimum wage, a novelist should be paid $7250 for a 100,000-word novel. That’s 7.25 cents per word.
I propose we pass a law setting 7.25 cents per word as the minimum advance for a novel. That would apply to all publishers, including Amazon.com. Of course, since Amazon doesn’t always have exclusive rights, it may be unfair to require them to pay that full amount. Therefore, if the author is allowing their book to be published on multiple platforms, let’s allow the total amount of all the advances from the different platforms to count toward the minimum. As long as the advances from Kindle, Nook, iTunes, Google Play, and Kobo add up to 7.25 cents per word, then they can publish the novel. Publishing a novel without paying the minimum advance would be illegal.
If my proposal is adopted, then the lowest-paid author will at least make as much per hour as a burger-flipper at a fast-food restaurant.
Of course, my conservative friends will oppose my proposal, and they’ll drone on about supply and demand and economics and such. You know how dreary conservatives are. They’ll claim it will destroy small presses, ruin the indie publishing model, reduce the chances of less-known authors getting their novels published, yadda-yadda-yadda.
But I expect my liberal friends to embrace my proposal, and even to demand that the minimum advance be raised to 15 cents per word. I’m already looking forward to spending the $21,450 advance I’ll get when I upload my epic fantasy novel to the Kindle store.