Thursday, 10 April 2008

UK Outcry revisited

Following on from David’s post about HarperCollins, Will Atkins sent over a link to the Guardian Blog which is debating this whole issue. Oddly enough, the blog is worded to seem like Macmillan New Writing are jumping on the band wagon, when in fact it is quite the other way round – but hey ho… We know who got there first, right?

Anyway, judging by some of the comments on the blog, it appears the same issue of advance vs a greater cut of the profit is rearing its head again, and I wonder what any of you think? After all, for the second timers the rules of the game change, with a clause giving Macmillan the option for a third book but under the advance/less royalties contract.

Personally, I’m at odds with advances because I look at being a writer pragmatically. In my day job I’ve never been advanced anything. I get paid on a monthly basis on the work I’ve just done in that month. And I’m guessing that most of you in day-jobs are paid similarly. I’ve never been loaned money by my employer for work I might do over the next 6 months, and would never dream of asking for an advance amounting to five years worth of output (which big advances usually amount to, and that’s if the publisher actually makes that money out of the author by the end of it). Despite the slow decline in the publishing industry, big advances are still fashionable. Last year, David posted a great blog entry on one such ludicrous advance, and just scrolling down the comments on the Guardian blog you can see that the world of crazy advances is alive and kicking.

Without intentionally loading the shotgun and aiming it squarely at my toes, I would rather have a smaller advance that just gets me there followed by a greater share of the profit, than be in debt to my publisher for the next five to ten years.
I think in a lot of ways, writing is about freedom, and having an albatross like that around my neck as a new writer is not something I’d find terribly appealing…


Tim Stretton said...

In general, I agree with you, Matt. The advance is really only about cashflow: if you don't need the money up front, the royalties-only deal has a lot going for it.

Having said that, I'd take this advance (from the BBC yesterday) - although surely it's madness on Hodder's part...

Beat bobby lands publishing deal

A police officer has quit his job after landing a £800,000 publishing deal to write crime thrillers.

Pc Matt Hilton worked as a beat officer in Cumbria before securing the five novel deal with Hodder and Stoughton.

The 42-year-old, of Carlisle, says he has finally achieved his dream after working for the police and in security.

His first book, Dead Men's Dust, will be published in June next year and the later novels will be released at six-monthly intervals. Web Admin said...

Hi, Tim

Just read this now. Like you, I thought this mental on Hodder's part. Afterall, they took him from the slush-pile so he wasn't going anywhere else, was he?
Why spend £800K on fireworks for an already captive audience when £80K would do?

Unknown said...

I read somewhere that any time you read about a huge advance you should divide the amount by at least 10 to get closer to the truth.

If I'm being very honest, I'd say that recently the idea of an advance has become more important to me. It would mean the publisher felt confident about me, and about what they were getting. As an untried author, why should I be paid in advance? But as one with a few books behind her, offering a continuation of a series, I'd be foolish to deny that I live in a world where we rate value according to how much we spend on something. I would feel more valued if I was given an advance this time around. Such is the world we live in.

Or the one I live in, anyhoo.

Tim Stretton said...

As someone with a track record in terms of delivery and sales, I think you've every right to expect an advance, Aliya. Although £800,000 might seem at the optimistic end of the spectrum...

David Isaak said...

Nothing wrong with advances per se.
Their purpose, though, has morphed over time.

Lots of advances back in the Golden Age were a modest sum of money paid out on the basis of an outline or treatment, so the author could eat while getting the book written. And the advance was sized so that the author expected to receive royalties.

Not many writers these days sell their books on the basis of outlines or synopses, but this was still common practice up until the 1970s (though not for debut authors, of course). The equivalent today is the multibook deal.

Except in the case of blockbuster authors, huge advances nowadays are often more of a publicity stunt than anything else. And, yes, 800 K is a massive advance, but I'd be interested to see how that payout is structured over the five novels and how much he has in hand at the moment. (And, as Aliya points out, it would be interesting to know if that is really the amount or just a brag number.)

Len Tyler said...

I had (and still have) no problem at all with the lack of an advance on the first two books. Early on in your writng career, when you still have the day job, an advance is nice, but not essential. If not paying advances means that more people have a chance of publication then that has to be a good thing.

For those writing full time it's a bit different. From typing "Chapter One" to receiving your first royalty cheque takes a minimum of a couple of years. Nobody - not builders, not project managers, not lawyers - would agree to wait until the end of a project for their first payment.

David is absolutely right about the staging of payments. Matt Hilton will probably (OK - I'm guessing) get only about a third of the advance on signing. Still, a third or even a quarter of £800,000 sounds good.

Still, from a personal point of view, I can't see any downside to an immorally large advance. (Will, if you're reading this, please note .... )

David Isaak said...

The only downside to an "immorally large advance" as far as I can see manifests if you don't even come close to earning out. In this case, it tends to be the author who is blamed.

Agent Simon Trewin had an article (which I'd link to if I could find it) where he says the popular pastime amongst agents and editors at book fairs is a "Where are they now?" game with the big-advance, super-hyped new authors from a year or two back.

Not many authors launched with huge advances go on to further success in terms of sales. (Right off hand, I can't think of any, though there must be some.) But perhaps a huge heap of cash takes some of the sting out of that...

In any case, if someone offers an author an ungodly advance, I'd advise them to seize it with both hands. It's not good for the industry, certainly bad news for other authors, probably not good for the soul, and almost certainly causes tooth cavities in children as well as various forms of cancer in laboratory tests on mice, but grabbing it is still probably smart.

As Jack Benny once said upon being given a major honor for his contribution to comedy, "I don't deserve this award. On the other hand, I have arthritis, and I don't deserve that either."

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