Do Men Receive Bigger Book Advances Than Women?

taxes for authors

by Jason Mrachina / Flickr

Note from Jane: I originally wrote this post for the Scratch Magazine blog in May 2014. To continue to make the information available, I’ve republished it here at my site.


In a recent Twitter conversation, I was asked if Scratch could shine a light on book advances, and research whether a disparity exists in book advances paid to men versus women.

This is nearly an impossible task. Most authors never disclose the amount of their advance, and agents/publishers are not forthcoming either. Such contractual terms are treated as confidential. Even if the figures were readily available, it’s very difficult to compare advances due to:

  • author sales history
  • the sales history of the genre or category
  • what rights or territories were sold
  • the size of the publisher that bought the book
  • the impact of auctions, and …

… the intangibility of the product. A book advance takes into consideration the quality of the book, “buzz,” the author’s long-term career promise, the author’s pre-existing fan base, and more. These are judgment calls that affect the advance but aren’t directly reflected in a profit-and-loss statement.

However, it’s possible to consult one resource that offers directionally useful information: the Publishers Marketplace deals database. PM has been collecting information on book deals self-reported by agents and publishers since 2000. Key word: self-reported. It is not a catalogue of all publishing deals made, but it’s the best insight we’ve got. Many publishing insiders subscribe to the service, which includes a weekday e-mail newsletter called Publishers Lunch, a members database, and other excellent features. (I’ve been a subscriber for many years.)

Getting to an Apples-to-Apples Comparison

To try and answer the question of whether males or females receive higher advances, I narrowed my deal analysis to the following:

  • Debut novelists only, and only those who had never before published a book in any genre and therefore had no sales history
  • Only US-based deals; no foreign/international deals or rights
  • I limited my search to deals reported between January 1, 2010, and May 16, 2014.

A few caveats:

  • I did not differentiate between single and multi-book deals. They are each counted as one deal.
  • If I could not determine the gender of the author, that deal was not counted. (I further researched authors whose names were gender neutral.)
  • If the book was co-authored by a male and a female, I did not count it.

The first two charts (Gender of Author + Total Debut Novel Deals) reflect the total number of deals that satisfied my criteria (392) during the time period. The rest are slices of that data, looking at specific genres.

Important: Not all deals reported to PM include an indication of the advance. So I only counted deals where that information was provided. The rest were ignored. Also, the advance is reported only as part of a range. Those ranges are:

  • Nice deal: up to $49,000
  • Very nice deal: $50,000–$99,000
  • Good deal: $100,000–$249,000
  • Significant deal: $250,000–$499,000
  • Major deal: $500,000 and up

Gender of the Author

The following chart shows the gender breakdown of debut novel authors in deals reported to Publishers Marketplace (2010–2014). Again, this only reflects those reports with information on the size of the deal.

Gender of the Author

I was curious what the percentage would be if I tallied the genders of authors for every debut novel deal reported to PM, regardless of whether the size of the advance was indicated. I counted deals reported in 2014 so far, and the split was very similar: 70.8% female versus 29.2% male. Why do women dominate in these debut deal reports? I don’t know.

Total Debut Novel Deals (all genres)

As reported to Publishers Marketplace (2010–2014), and only those reports with information about the size of the deal.

Total Debut Novel Deals

click to enlarge

Percentage of Total Deals by Advance Range

NiceVery NiceGoodSignificantMajor
Male46.28%14.05%18.18%7.44%14.05%
Female42.07%12.55%19.19%12.55%13.65%

Debut General Fiction Deals

As reported to Publishers Marketplace (2010–2014), and only those reports with information about the size of the deal.

Debut General Fiction Deals

click to enlarge

PM has a specific category for reporting debut novel deals—Fiction: Debut—which is not genre specific. So I’m using the term “General Fiction” as a catch-all category where no specific genre was identified or apparent in the report. I also searched for the keyword “debut” to uncover all debut deals reported, since some debut novels are reported under specific genres, not under Fiction: Debut.

Debut Young Adult Deals

As reported to Publishers Marketplace (2010–2014), and only those reports with information about the size of the deal. Pro tip: Be a woman writing YA fiction to sell your next book for a large advance.

Debut Young Adult Deals

click to enlarge

Debut Middle Grade Deals

As reported to Publishers Marketplace (2010–2014), and only those reports with information about the size of the deal.

Debut Middle Grade Deals

click to enlarge

Debut Children’s Picture Book Deals

As reported to Publishers Marketplace (2010–2014), and only those reports with information about the size of the deal.

Debut Children's Picture Book Deals

click to enlarge

Debut Women’s/Romance Deals

As reported to Publishers Marketplace (2010–2014), and only those reports with information about the size of the deal. There are men who write romance, but often under female pen names. I did not research whether the women landing debut romance novel deals were really women.

Debut Women's and Romance Deals

click to enlarge

Debut Thriller Deals

As reported to Publishers Marketplace (2010–2014), and only those reports with information about the size of the deal.

Debut Thriller Deals

click to enlarge

Debut Science Fiction & Fantasy Deals

As reported to Publishers Marketplace (2010–2014), and only those reports with information about the size of the deal.

Debut Science Fiction and Fantasy Deals

click to enlarge

If there is a potential case of advance disparity in publishing, this might be it. Still, this does not mean there weren’t any female authors in SFF who didn’t receive higher advances or in the same numbers as the men; they may not have been reported.

Debut Mystery/Crime Deals

As reported to Publishers Marketplace (2010–2014), and only those reports with information about the size of the deal.

Debut Mystery and Crime Deals

click to enlarge

Again, keep in mind this does not mean there weren’t any female debut authors in the mystery/crime genre from 2010–2014. Rather, there was no financial information associated with their deals, and they may not have been reported in the first place.

Debut Digital-First/Only

As reported to Publishers Marketplace (2010–2014), and only those reports with information about the size of the deal.

Debut Digital First or Only

click to enlarge

This category includes all genres, but indicates indicates books from digitally-focused imprints, who generally publish digitally only or digital first. Since categories such as women’s fiction/romance do well in digital formats, and there are a high number of digital-only imprints in that particular market, that may be the reason for more female authors here.

Other Types of Deals

I also counted one nice deal and one good deal for “new adult” novels by female authors (“new adult” is similar to young adult), and five nice deals for female authors in the inspirational novel category.

Your Interpretation?

What’s your take on this data? What surprises you—or not? Let me know in the comments.

Many thanks to Michael Cader of Publishers Marketplace for granting permission to share this data from the deals database, and to both him and Sarah Weinman for reviewing this post in advance of publication.

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Posted in Publishing Industry and tagged , , , .

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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