Jane Friedman

Do Men Receive Bigger Book Advances Than Women?

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:

… 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:

A few caveats:

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:

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.

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.

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Percentage of Total Deals by Advance Range

Nice Very Nice Good Significant Major
Male 46.28% 14.05% 18.18% 7.44% 14.05%
Female 42.07% 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.

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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.

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Debut Middle Grade Deals

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

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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.

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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.

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Debut Thriller Deals

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

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Debut Science Fiction & Fantasy Deals

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

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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.

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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.

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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.