The Book Deal Budget


I’ve always dreamed of scoring a book deal. Growing up I studied each and every magazine writer that I admired and their respective path toward becoming a published author.

Although the thought of having my own piece of work on bookshelves was motivation in itself, I also looked to netting a book deal as a means of making money. That is so long as my book didn’t end up in the dollar bin.


But, I’ve noticed over the last year or so many writers have complained that the days of big book deals paving the way to riches are a lot harder to come by.

I’ve purposely tried to ignore such talk, but after reaching out to a writer I greatly respect – who after co-writing books with the likes of Faith Evans and Frank Lucas – has finally scored an offer for her debut novel, I’m getting a much needed reality check.


“The call from my agent was supposed to change everything for me.

‘Hey Aliya. We got an offer for your novel. How does XYZ sound…’

The number was enough to make me clasp my hands together, fall to my knees and then burst into tears.

I stayed on the floor, my head in my hands, for a full minute.

Mostly, it was because my novel was going to be published. But the money was a very nice bonus.


Writers dream about getting a book deal. And we fantasize about getting a healthy advance.

So why am I still counting every penny, brown-bagging my lunch and biting my lip nervously when it’s time to pay the bills?


Even a very nice book advance is no yellow brick road to financial freedom. 

At least not for me.

The truth of the matter is, I’ve been very fiscally irresponsible. Now it’s time to play catch up.


Let’s not talk about my non-existent 401K. And let’s not talk about how much I have in emergency savings. (*cough cough NOTHING! cough cough*)

Let’s not talk about my student loans from undergrad that should have been paid off by now.


Let’s not talk about my oldest daughter’s private school tuition and my baby’s daycare tuition.

Let’s not talk about the house I bought last year and the constant repairs that pop up on a 100-year-old Colonial.


Let’s talk, instead, about how advances are broken down for writers.

I’ll be paid in three installments: First, when the contract is signed. Then, when the edited manuscript has been accepted and then finally, when the book is actually published.


If I got hit off with the advance in one fell swoop, it would be a true windfall. But in three parts, it’s a different story. Still a blessing, no doubt. But different.

So the first third comes through. And my wonderful agent gets his 15%. (And he earns every penny…)


Then, Uncle Sam gets his 20%. (Gulp…)

In a perfect world, what I have left over would be more than enough to pay my bills until the next payment.


But in that perfect world, I’d still have my day job as a freelance writer.

And the truth is, that job is really shaky right now.

KING magazine, a publication I wrote for regularly, has shut down. Many of the music magazines I write for are turning in-house for celebrity features. And it’s getting harder to place investigative features, which is my specialty.


Print media is really scaring me right now. And the truth is, if I had not sold my novel last year, I might be working part-time at The Gap right now.


So freelancing + novel = decent existence.

But just selling a novel = you’d better make each payment stretch as long as humanly possible.


I’m budgeting like mad.

I’m actually spending less money now than I did when I really didn’t have the money to spend, if that makes any sense.


Every dollar must be accounted for. Every item must be justified.

If I want to continue to earn my living by writing, I’m going to have to tighten the belt—a lot.


I always thought that if I got a decent book deal, I’d be set.

I was wrong.

Now if I sell the rights to my novel and it gets optioned for film…

I’ll let you know what happens…”

-Aliya S. King

Aliya is a writer based in New Jersey. Find her at


So much for my plan to be trifling and wait for someone to christen me the colored David Sedaris then give me an advance that will chase all my debt away.


But will those fortunate enough to secure their book deal dreams have to fall into the Gap if they’re not too careful with their finances? I’m not sure if you all have noticed, but not many people are shopping these days. What if there is no Gap by the time I get a book deal?

What then?

E-mail me at

Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.