Because the publishing industry took two big hits over the past decade, the discussion of advances has included historical data. The same is true for a full understanding of advances for nonfiction books.
In 2010, during the economic downturn and digital disruption, advances for nonfiction books were about $40,000 to $100,000 for established authors. Those offered digital-only deals saw advances around $5,000, and debut nonfiction authors saw averages from all publishers (not just the Big Five) between $10,000 and $50,000 as an average.
In 2013, only 6% of nonfiction books received advances higher than $100,000. In 2012, the average was less than $80,000.
Why such low numbers? Nonfiction is bought in much higher numbers than fiction because the number of books sold is generally higher. However, most titles don’t sell very well. You could say the same about fiction but the idea here is that readers generally are more open to trying out nonfiction because it offers advice and insight into topics of interest. Fiction is more esoteric, and therefore a bigger risk for readers….and publishers. So there’s a numbers game at play: publish many nonfiction titles and see what sticks. That translates to lower advances in general.