Back in the day, before the earth cooled (AKA when I was in high school), For Better or For Worse was one of my favorite comic strips. I still read it, mostly out of habit, though I've been rolling my eyes of late over Liz's love life. I mean, it's pretty obvious she's going to marry her childhood sweetheart, and I've never understood the appeal of stories where your first love is your only true love and your hometown is the only place where you can be happy. If it'd been my story she would've stayed in Mtigwaki and married Paul.
But that's neither here nor there. I'm writing about this week's plotline, wherein Mike sells his manuscript, apparently without the assistance of an agent, and is offered a contract and a $25,000 advance by mail. It's a fine story and all, and I can see why you wouldn't want to go into all the details in comic strip format, but I just want to make sure my family and friends understand that's not how the publishing industry really works. That way, if/when I finally sell a book, y'all won't be surprised when I don't rush to quit my day job.
First of all, and this is a minor detail, IME in publishing it's only bad news that comes by mail--offers are made over the phone. We the unpublished dream of The Call, not The Letter.
Second, $25K for a first book advance is HUGE, easily twice what I've seen quoted for a typical first-book advance from even the biggest, best-paying publishers. Some perfectly legitimate publishers I'd be happy to make a sale to offer as little as $1500-2000 for a first book, though somewhere in the $5K-10K range seems typical. I'm not saying it'd be impossible for a first-time author to get a $25K advance, but I'd expect it to be an agented deal, because an agent can play publishers against each other, get a bit of a bidding war going. Authors don't have that kind of pull on our own, which is part of the reason we're glad to find agents!
(The good news is that advances do go up a lot if you can build a track record as a successful writer with a solid and growing readership. My goal is to eventually quit my day job, something I'll do if and only if I reach a point where my annual income from advances and royalties adds up to a middle-class salary. It's damn hard to do and only a lucky, persistent, and talented few succeed, but that's no reason not to try. I know I've got the persistence and I'm pretty sure I've got the talent, so all I need is luck.)
I know. I'm nitpicking a comic strip. Memo to self: get a life. But I'd hate to have my family and friends think the route I've chosen is easier than it is. So if I sell a book, y'all had better rejoice with me, no matter how small the initial paycheck is.