My last post touched on publishers paying out-of-whack advances in order to attract the hoo ha authors and their hoo ha stories and, in the process, are going belly up. Everyone dreams of the gynormous advance – buying small islands, telling one’s boss to go blow themselves, playing Hemingway and writing and boozing it up while raking in grand royalty checks. But reality is far less forgiving and far more cruel.
What goes up, can come down
I know any number of authors who received some pretty hefty advances – at least 50k – and are now without homes. Or agents. I’ll rewind to a few years ago. Their agents sold their stories to Big Hoo Ha Publishers for some nice coin, even though they were debut authors. The books came out and…and…didn’t do as well as everyone had hoped. The authors didn’t earned out and their sell-throughs were dismal, so the publisher was out the advance and all the investment they put into producing the books – including the big print run.
Within a year or so, the books were quietly taken OP (out of print), and they were dumped. Their agents also dumped them because they knew none of the Big Hoo Ha publishers would touch them. See, authors who don’t earn out are generally given wide berth, in case their lack of success is akin to germ warfare and they’re contagious.
They go from on top of the world to scraping the bottom of the barrel because they were given a set of parameters they couldn’t meet – such as that big advance.
In another case, the author had a three book deal and a very hefty advance. The publisher decided to stick it out because their investment made it too big to fail in their minds. So they poured more money into the series and gave it a huge promotional push. The author was sent on book tours and a few TV events.
And the book still failed to meet the financial outlay. It didn’t come anywhere near to advancing out. The books are still in print, limping along, but she will never get another deal with the publisher. What went up, came crashing down.
But what if…?
But let’s say their advance had been modest – then what? Well, for starters, they would have advanced out in a blink of an eye and began earning royalties almost immediately, depending on the size of the print run.
The advance has traditionally been tied to the print run – the bigger the advance, . The size of the advance has been the equivalent of saying, “we believe in you.” The bigger the advance, the more books they need to ship out because they have a bigger belief the book will be a hit. But that belief is a crapshoot because we can’t control the one thing that our success hinges upon – The Marketplace, which is a very fickle mistress.
Some books become major hits when no one expected it. Conversely, expected hits have tanked. A huge advance puts a lot of pressure on the author to perform or be deemed unsuccessful. Problem is, once the book is published, it’s pretty much out of the author’s control. Yes, they can promote heavily, but you can’t control what readers buy.
Traditionally, large publishers print up very large numbers of a title in order to saturate the marketplace with that book. They have to do this in order to earn back their investment. And if it fails, they’re left holding the bag. The first person they’ll blame is the author, and they do that by bidding them adieu.
Where Reality and Dreamland Collide
So that large advance you or your agent is pushing for may be your downfall by adding undue pressure for you to succeed. You’re a debut author without any kind of track record or readership, so it’s a scary time. And let’s say you earn out and your book enjoys a pretty good sell-through. You may be offered a contract on another book. And guess what? Your advance will be even bigger, and the print run will be astronomical. To me, this is a setup for failure because they keep raising the bar. At some point, the bottom will fall out – and guess who eats it? Well, yes, the publisher, but also the author.
Once you’ve bottomed out, you’re damaged goods, and no one will touch you.
This is an infinitely stupid way to run a business. Why should it be so hard to tailor one’s business in order to enhance the success for everyone? The Big Gun mentality is to make bigger bucks with fewer authors. This means a lot of risk AND a lot of great books that won’t be included in their lineup. But that’s the way with conglomerate publishing. They are owned by companies who know squat all about publishing, yet they insist on fantastic results.
Let’s face it, getting the big bucks is great. Fan-freaking-tastic. But just know what befalls you on the other side of that coin. These are tough times and publishing is in a state of evolution. Be sure that you have all the facts in order to make decisions that will ensure your success rather than becoming yesterday’s news.