June 5, 2014

Crunching the numbers: does gender matter in book advances?


Jane Friedman at Scratch Magazine wondered whether there was a gender disparity in book advances, and decided to crunch some numbers. Using data from Publishers Marketplace, Friedman narrowed her study to debut novelists who had their deals, including the advance amount, announced on Publishers Marketplace from January 2010 through May 2014. Using those 392 case studies, she broke out the deals by genre and by gender to determine whether there is, in fact, a disparity. As Friedman notes, Publishers Marketplace is not comprehensive – the only deals on the site are those that are self-reported (or rather, reported by agents and publishers) and many don’t include the amount of the deal. With that said, what did she find?

For all debut novel deals, regardless of whether a deal amount was included, the gender breakdown is surprisingly skewed toward women: 70.8% female versus 29.2% male. Friedman doesn’t offer theories as to why reported debut deals are so skewed by gender, but it’s an interesting question.

Digging into the specifics, Friedman broke out the deals by the size of the advance (nice = up to $49k; very nice = $50–$99k; good = $100–$249k; significant = $250–$499k; and major = $500k and up).

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%

Friedman then went further, looking at the numbers by genre. She looked at “General Fiction,” “Young Adult,” “Middle Grade,” “Children’s Picture Book,” “Women’s/Romance,” “Thriller,” “Science Fiction & Fantasy,” “Mystery/Crime,” “Digital-First/Only,” and “Other.”

Friedman pulls out what looks to be one of the only firm takeaways of the study when she writes: “Pro tip: Be a woman writing YA fiction to sell your next book for a large advance.” Indeed, women dominate YA and, unsurprisingly, romance, and men totally own the Mystery/Crime genre, at least in reported deals. There were some interesting findings in the SF & Fantasy data; although the number of deals looks to be almost evenly split by gender, apparently none of the female authors rose above the “nice” deal range. Male authors with SF & Fantasty deals were well represented in all advance ranges.

Of course, as noted earlier, this does not include all deals, just reported deals. Overall, it’s an incomplete but interesting look at how advances break down by genre and gender. There are many more charts to check out at the link.


Julia Fleischaker is the director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.