Broken Promises: Reasons an Author Must Return Money to a Publisher

A literary agent discusses when a book author breaks their promises to the publisher and must return their advance.

Our article, How Book Authors Are Paid, discussed how you get money for authoring a book, which is usually done via a system of advances and royalties, plus an overview of how these work for both fiction and nonfiction authors.

In that article, I said that the advance is the upfront money, and that you get to keep this money even if the book is not successful, in fact, even if not a single copy is ever sold.

The exceptions

But there are times when the author must return their advance money. While rare, this will happen when you break your promises in the publishing agreement. Here are a few examples:

  • If you fail to deliver the manuscript to the publisher within the contracted deadlines, the publisher has the right to cancel the book and then you must return the advance money.
  • If you deliver a manuscript that is poor in quality or it does not match the contract description of the book. The publisher usually has a procedure that allows the author to remedy the situation within a certain number of days. If the author fails to do this, the publisher cancels the contract and the advance must be returned.
  • If your manuscript contains plagiarized text, a very serious offense and a violation of the contract provisions, the publisher will cancel the project and the author must repay all the advance money.

Copyright 2007 by Barbara Doyen. All rights reserved.

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