The Minimum Advance: A Modest Proposal

Published on June 18, 2015 by

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.

 

 

Filed under: General

2 comments on “The Minimum Advance: A Modest Proposal”

  1. Mike Sepos says:

    I am going to fall under the conservative side and criticize your proposal.

    I will venture to bet I could get a few investors and we could put together a business plan that will do exactly what you are suggesting, I would even venture to say that we could do the $15 an hour. There is one caveat, we own your work once your done. We pay you by the hour for your work, but we collect any royalties going forward forever

    Art, is a lot like a business. Now if I wanted to open a business selling widgets, although that term doesn’t mean what it used to mean since widgets are a real thing now. Do I have the right do demand of my future customers a set price based on my estimated sales to them for a product that I haven’t even created yet? They can’t look at it, they can’t touch it They have no real assurance that they will even want my product once I create it.

    In a traditional business that would be absurd, although it is happening a bit now with the new crowd funding sites that are popping up. Traditionally, if you needed the cash up front you would go to a third party source, usually a bank. you would present a business proposal. You would sign a promissory note and they would give you money. That money is the same as your advance. The publishing companies give you a loan against your future business in the hopes that your future sales will be able to cover the loan.

    If you wish to get an amount of money up front, maybe you could set up a crowdfunding site. Promise each contributor a Signed first edition copy of your novel for a mere contribution of $25. All it would take is about 950 pre-sales to cover the cost of the crowd sourcing and give you an advance near the $15 per hour mark. You could probably even throw in dinner with the author for 2 at any restaurant in the greater Salt Lake City area for a mere $1000 contribution. You never know, you might have a few wealthy fans willing to pay $500 a plate to have dinner with you.

    On a side note, it would probably create a great money making opportunity for some creative people. http://www.nature.com/news/publishers-withdraw-more-than-120-gibberish-papers-1.14763

  2. Daniel says:

    Fun analysis. Since drones haven’t been outlawed (yet), I will join the drone camp. Publishers won’t go out of business, but new authors will certainly find it harder to get published. The risk they represent to a publisher will be higher, and they, like their unemployed fellow striking burger-flippers, will find that the minimum wage is, and always will be, $0.