Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Joy of Low Advances

For those of you who don't know Anon 7:55, check out the replies in the previous post. As he actually asked a valid question, I'll answer it here.

Unpleasant Anonymous Poster said...

I concede. As far as it is possible to discern talent by prejudice alone, your book has every possibility of success. Although, I have a few more questions, just to show I'm not affected by the fact that everybody has turned against me. (They always do that, so I'm used to it. I actually think it makes a man stronger to have lots of enemies and no friends.)

This may just be my interpretation of it, but generally having lots of enemies and no friends means that you have poor social skills, not any particular kind of character-related strength. It's a negative thing.

Why would you accept such a small advance, even for genre fiction? Back to the subject of self-respect: If it's that good, then it deserves more money. At least the same amount as the average book of its category. And in response to all my enemies, I apologize for expecting more from you, The Rejecter. Are you just hoping it will earn out the advance? And if it sells only a few thousand copies, will you be disappointed? Are you taking commercial success into consideration? If you're so good, you should want to make all kinds of money, so you can write another one, where you won't be distracted by any preoccupation.

Why did I accept such a low advance? Aren't my years of patience and time and money spent honing my craft worth some kind of reward, preferably in the form of a pool filled with dollar coins that you can swim in like Scrooge McDuck? I deserve compensation for the hours I spent at the computer when I could have been out drinking and partying and being a normal, functioning member of society and not a shut-in.

Fortunately I paid enough attention during the first submission attempts to learn that that wasn't going to happen. The market is hard on new fiction writers; you're lucky to get in at all. I got an offer, I got an agent - I had it all. Except money, but that seems to concern my agent more than me. Sure, I could have taken that risk and walked away from the initial offer to hunt for a higher one at other companies, but had that attempt failed, I would be back to square one. And you know what? Square one sucks. I want to be published.

That said, there was a more practical reason to accepting a low advance. If you're offered a good one, man, reach for that star. But you probably won't be offered a good one, and if you're hopig to be a career writer like me, that might not be a bad thing.

For those unfamiliar with the term, an "advance" is what it is - an "advance" on future predicted royalties you will be earning from the book. The good news is that even if the book doesn't sell enough copies to earn that amount of money back for the company, you get to keep the advance money. The bad news is that the company does detract your first royalties and keeps them until you "earn out your advance" and go into royalty territory. The company has seen its investment returned, and you get paychecks again.

"Earning out" is an important thing to do if you have the intention of trying to sell future books to that company or other companies, because they will look at your sales record and see not only how many copies sold but how much money the book actually made for the company. If I had a half-million dollar advance, man had my book better be a bestseller, or I'll have a poor record as an overpaid author. Considering I've written something that is a niche genre, that's unlikely.

With a low advance, I'm more likely to see royalties because there isn't that much to earn back. When I go in with the second novel, they're more likely to buy it - and for a decent amount of money. Hopefully.

This is a practical concern. If you don't make enough money, you can't afford to spend all your time focused on developing your talent, getting better, which is all any serious artist cares about. Genius is eternal patience. You need unlimited free time to have eternal patience.

Are you writing from some kind of alternate dimension where eating, sleeping, earning money, and the normal spectrum of human activities don't consume most of your time, and you find yourself sacrificing your free time for just a few hours of writing a day? If so, where is this dimension and is there a bus from the NYC Port Authority that goes there?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Who's On Your Side?

But one question--is a publisher LIKELY to pull something like that if it jeopardizes their relationship with an author? Or does it all depend on just who that author is?

Yes. No. Maybe.

This summer at the publishing institute I got to hear from a lot of editors. Most of my contact, aside from at the BEA, has been with agents. Sometimes they're on the same side of the field, sometimes they're not. Sometimes it seems like one's on your side and the other isn't, but you may be wrong. Or it may not matter. I'm being very helpful, am I?

Everyone involved in the publishing process obviously has a vested interest in having the author succeed. They also have a vested interest in making sure that they are compensated for their time and avoid any legal issues while doing so. So everyone is sort of working together but sort of not. I got a first-hand taste of this this summer, when I was offered a book contract by an editor and ran off to find an agent. It was a long and complex process that I don't want to get into because it involves specific people, but the point is, suddenly after many years of rejection, the spotlight was on me and my commercially viable manuscript. I didn't mention it at the time on the blog because I was having the argument with Jill about her book contract, and I was sure it would just confuse the issue, which was unrelated. But anyway, yes, G-d willing, I am going to be published sometime in late 2008.

Despite having worked for an agent and taken an publishing course, picking an agent was a maddening process. The editor didn't want me to get an agent. Some editors simply don't like working with agents; they feel they drive up the price. They don't like the middleman. (These editors accept unsolicited manuscripts) On the other hand the advance was very low even for genre fiction, and the agent wanted to threaten to walk away and take a chance with other publishers, while I wanted to take the offer on the table (with some re-negotiations and revisions that I needed an agent to do) because damnit, I wanted to be published, and I knew a lot about the publishing company and I knew they would do a good job and probably eventually pick up the whole series. I called around to former bosses and co-workers and they all gave me different advice, and really wondered what the hell I was doing, and then wondered, "Wait, I work in publishing. How do I not know what I'm doing?" A lot of guessing and going with gut feelings was involved.

Currently we're in contract revisions similar to the one in my previous post. A lot of people who knew me asked me why in the world was I looking for an agent who would just take a cut of my pay when I knew all about the job and already had a book deal. Couldn't I do it myself? I decided to let someone else do the nitty-gritty of the contract, which turned out to be a big deal, which is why I'm relieved and heavy on the "you need an agent" recommendation for most authors.

That doesn't mean that the publisher was trying to "screw me." The publisher presented a contract that would give me an advance and future royalties if I earn out my advance, and they would get a lot of rights. It wasn't bad; I just knew I could do better.

Take the example of the previous post to this one. The publisher has a valid reason for not wanting to have to contact the author prior to revisions. Revisions are expensive, so chances are they would be minor anyway, and what the publisher is trying to avoid is a situation in which the author disappears (dies, moves to another country, etc) and the publisher is unable to contact them to inform them of revisions, so they're not able to republish. The publisher could very well have had every intention of informing the author prior to publication with the old wording, but wanted to safeguard themselves against extreme cases that could become a legal mess. Or, maybe they just really didn't want to be hassled and were being sort of sneaky.

No one's really evil, but no one really wants to be hassled when they're trying to do their work. Agents don't want to be hassled by their clients when they're in a waiting period and can't do anything for them anyway, publishers don't want to be hassled by agents demanding every last word be changed in some way, and nobody wants to hassle the author too much if they're an earner because they might jump ship with the next book and/or fire their agent.

So, it's one of these. (waves hands up and down like a measuring scale)