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Thanks so much for joining me today, writers! I hope things are going well for you as the days start to get shorter and the air cooler (at least where I am in Boston).

It’s also the season of flus, cold, and of course, Covid, so take care of yourselves. I myself am just getting over a nasty cold I caught from my toddler, but I’m glad to be on the mend now.

One of the main goals of my podcast and coaching work is to help people demystify the academic publishing process.

I have a huge pet peeve about how little clarity or uniformity there is when it comes to publishing a book.

Not only is it challenging to write the damn thing, but then it’s left up to you to figure out how to get it out into the world and into the hands of readers!

When I was a junior scholar who was struggling to revise my dissertation into a book, I was so confused because everyone around me seemed to have a completely different path to publication.

I knew folks whose advisors introduced them to their editors. Others were highly sought out by presses because they won prestigious awards.

And then I noticed that some people had advance contracts while others had regular contracts.

I had no idea what the differences were between the two and also had no clue how to go about getting either one!

So, today I am going to try to clear up some misconceptions about contracts and clarify whether or not it’s in your best interests to obtain an advance contract for your manuscript.

In a nutshell: it depends! And I’ll explain all the reasons why and help you sort this out for yourself.

What is an advance contract?

So let’s start by talking about what an advance contract is and how it’s different from a traditional book contract.

The short explanation is that an advance contract is a legally binding document that publishers issue to authors based on a proposal and typically 1-2 sample chapters.

Basically, if you receive one, it commits the press to sending out your manuscript for peer review when it is complete and then publishing your book if those reviews are positive.

If you sign it, it commits you solely to this press unless something happens and you need to be released from your contract.

For the most part, an advance contract demonstrates clear interest and investment on the part of the press.

And although there’s no real data on this, it seems that the vast majority of people who receive advance contracts do go on to have their books published by the press.

In fact, editor Laura Portwood Stacer ran a Twitter poll on this very question and found that less than 1% of advance contract recipients had their contracts canceled by the press, while another 1% chose to break their own contract.

In short, the work of issuing advance contracts takes acquisitions editors considerable time and effort, so you can rest assured they have substantial confidence in your book project.

Not all presses offer advance contracts!

It’s important to note that not all presses offer advance contracts, especially when it comes to first-time authors.

For example, for my first book with Stanford University Press, I initially submitted my proposal and three chapters to then acquisitions editor Jenny Gavacs.

She expressed interest, but stipulated that the press wouldn’t send anything out for peer review until the manuscript was complete.

While I was disappointed, it was still a wonderful experience because she met with me several times throughout the next year to develop my ideas further, which really strengthened the manuscript.

What’s also great is that Jenny and I are still working together—now she’s a developmental editor helping me develop a proposal and intro chapter to my third book!

So as you’re talking to acquiring editors, you need to clarify whether they will offer an advance contract.

But first you need to decide whether it’s worth it to YOU to try to get one.

Pros and Cons of Advance Contracts

To help you figure this out, first I’m going to list out all the pros, followed by the potential cons.


1) It can help your career.

Advance contracts can be useful if you’re on the job market, applying for fellowships, or going up for tenure.

Since it’s a legal document, you can write that your book is “under contract” with a specific press on your CV.

Contracts are impressive. They help you stand out from the crowd and might even count towards your publication record—though this is something you’ll want to clarify with your department and institution.

2) It can provide external motivation, reassurance and accountability.

For many first-time authors, receiving an advance contract when they are partway through writing their manuscript is the motivation they need to keep going.

Knowing that a press is backing your project provides a huge boost of confidence.

You can also relax knowing that your book will most likely be published by this particular press and you won’t have to go through the whole courting process again.

You also have an editor who is now committed to working with you that you can bounce ideas off of as well as a final deadline that you are working towards.

3) You receive feedback at a critical juncture.

I always advise my authors who are trying to secure advance contracts to submit their strongest proposal and at least two chapters, one of which is the introduction.

These materials should be honed—meaning revised multiple times with feedback provided by several other readers—and give the editor and reviewers an accurate sense of what the overall product will look like at the end.

The nice thing about submitting a partial manuscript is that you get some useful feedback from reviewers that you can incorporate as you continue to write your manuscript and expand your ideas.

However, I wouldn’t expect TOO much feedback and direction, to be honest, but that’s more the nature of book reviews.

It’s ironic but reviews of book manuscripts tend to be far shorter and less in-depth than what you receive for peer-reviewed articles.

A friend of mine once said she thought it was easier to get a book contract from a top-tier press than publish an article in a top-tier journal, and I’d have to agree with her.

But you WILL get an overall sense of how others perceive your work and envision the whole book.

This all sounds great, so what are the potential drawbacks?

Let me list out a few for you.

1) You are bound to the press, but the press is not bound to you.

So what does this mean? Essentially, because this contract is issued in advance of seeing your full manuscript, the press could legally cancel it if the second-round reviews are resoundingly negative.

Again, the likelihood of this happening is very, very low, especially since presses try to send the full manuscript to your previous reviewers.

But what this means is that you are legally bound to publishing your manuscript with this press after the full review, even if another, more ideal press comes along and expresses major interest in your work.

In essence, you’re limiting your options. Some folks might feel better about this than others.

2) Your manuscript needs to go out for a second round of review.

The fact is that you will need to face another, more extensive round of review. This could be helpful and make the book a lot better.

Or, for some folks, it’s torture to think about having to go through this process twice. So you should really consider your own threshold for being evaluated.

If you’re in a more fragile emotional state and know that waiting for months on end for reviews to arrive will do a number on your mental health, it might not be the best idea.

3) It might be additional work without major benefit to you.

So this depends on where you are in your career. I work with a lot of folks who are already tenured and therefore in a different position in terms of career stability.

They might not be going up for review for years and don’t have the same pressure to pad their CVs as postdocs, VAPs and pre-tenured folks do.

Plus, it’s important to know that some institutions don’t count advance contracts as part of research productivity.

And like everything in academia, unfortunately, things very much depend on the status and ranking of the press.

Some lower-tier presses are very proactive about seeking out authors, sometimes even reaching out to them before they’ve even finished writing their dissertations.

Therefore, depending on how much the press’s status might mean to your career, you may want to wait to submit a full manuscript rather than obtain an advance contract from a lower-tier press that you wouldn’t otherwise consider.

Presses Can Bend Their Own Rules

I know I’ve listed out a lot of reasons why you might or might not want to pursue an advance contract.

But say you’ve decided you want to pursue one, but your dream press tells you they will only consider full manuscripts. Is there anything that can be done?

I just wanted to share a story from an amazing client of mine that shows that even top-tier presses can bend their own rules when it serves them to do so.

Before we started working together, my client, who I will call “J”, met with an acquiring editor at their dream university press. At that point, J had a proposal and a few semi-polished chapters.

The editor expressed interest in J’s topic but conveyed that the press doesn’t offer advance contracts and to come back once the full manuscript was completed.

This felt like a rejection!

When we started working together, J felt totally dejected and was having a hard time moving forward on the manuscript.

After a few months of coaching, J decided to pursue an advance contract and sent four different presses the proposal and three chapters, which by this point were highly polished.

All of them expressed interest, including Dream Press.

In the end, J decided to send materials out for review with two of the presses and ended up receiving an advance contract from Dream Press within the span of about two months.

Long story short, if your ideas are compelling enough and other presses are interested too, the ball is in your court.

Summing Up

So I hope this episode has helped to shed some light on the issue of advance versus regular, traditional contracts.

I’m of the opinion that advance contracts are a good thing to have. They are motivational, provide accountability, and give you feedback partway through the writing process.

But ultimately, the decision is yours as it depends on where you are in your career and what you want to get out of the publishing process.

And if you’ve got any more questions about this, send them along to me!

Take care of yourself, and I’ll talk to you next time.