Friday, 13 March 2009

Would you like a $4.8m advance?

The short answer to this is "yes", but that's not worth a blog entry of itself. There are a couple of fascinating posts on agent Kristin Nelson's blog on the whopping advance Audrey Niffenegger has received for her second novel. I'm always happy to see writers make money, and since The Time Traveler's Wife is one of my favourite novels, I'm doubly pleased to see Audrey getting the rewards her work deserves.

Both Kristin and Niffenegger's agent Joe Regal stress the point that she wrote the novel first and then sold it--despite the fact that she could have negotiated a sizeable advance on the back of The Time Traveler's Wife's extraordinary success. Regal, in particular, is trenchant in his attempts to distance this deal from Charles Frazier's astronomical advance for Thirteen Moons - a book which sold well but could never have earned out its advance: the episode killed Frazier's career. (David has a great post on this topic from a couple of years ago). Regal is also alarmed that word of the deal has got out (as if it could ever have been kept secret) as it might create a backlash against his writer.

A fascinating pair of posts on several levels:Regal concludes with the advice "write the best book you can and then sell it." It's an interesting perspective for those who think the agents' sole frame of reference is to chisel out early, vast advances for their writers. As MNW writers, of course, we don't have a choice--but it's interesting to see the approach advocated at the more cutthroat end of the industry.

And with my second novel, The Last Free City, submitted to MNW yesterday, the last thing I'm worried about is advances. "Yes please" will do just fine...


Matt Curran said...

Thanks for the great post, Tim

Advances... Crazy advances are, well, crazy in my eyes. Sure, she might have written a classic novel in The Time Traveller’s Wife, but why does she need $4.8 million in advance? The book is written already. She must have earned a great deal of money from the first book and the selling of the film rights. There is no need to give her an advance of $4.8 million, is there? I mean, can she really earn back that money for one book?

I've always been a believer that big advances harm writing. These headlines encourages people to only write books in the belief they too will earn "$1 million", and it takes money out of smaller advances for mid-list or debut writers. It's a complete nonsense.

And before anyone writes in saying, "sure, but would you say that if you were offered a big advance?" I would decline any six-figure or greater advance for one book (I said so in a recent newspaper interview). After all, an advance is an advance. You owe the publisher that money - and they'll see to it that you are contracted in someway to pay them back if it all goes tits up. You’re selling your soul for advance on that scale. Especially in this financial climate.

Give me Macmillan New Writing any day... (sorry, rant over ;)

Len Tyler said...

The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of my favourite books (see for the official and definitive list!) but I agree with David that excessive advances are bad for publishing as a whole. If a book is really good, it will earn royalties over the years anyway. Big advances are just about publicity. Of course the real test will be when we’re offered $4.8m. I’m sure we’ll turn it down …

Good luck with The Last Free City. We’ll all be watching out for news.

Doug Worgul said...

Best wishes on the second book, Tim.

(I'm about five chapters in to my second. At this rate, I predict I'll finish about the time Will enters a retirement home.)

doug worgul

Tim Stretton said...

Len - spookily TTW also features in my own published top ten:

The only book whose ending ever made me cry - but don't tell anyone...

Ellie said...

I am ashamed to say I still haven't read TTTW but this thread has convinced me that I must do so.

Ryan David Jahn said...

I thought a great deal about advances before signing with MNW for my first novel. One of the things I hadn't predicted, and this may only be me, is the fear that comes with the good news that someone wants to publish your novel: What if it gets terrible reviews? What if you've made some awful factual error and everyone will point it out every time your book is mentioned? What if your book is never mentioned by anyone, anywhere, ever?

Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled. This has been my dream for as far back as I can remember. But, still, fear.

The idea of a sort of low-key start to what will hopefully become a career appealed to me. The stress of worrying about earning out a half million dollar or more advance would not be something I'd want. At least, not at this point. And I can't image ever being comfortable with $4.8m riding on a single book.

I would like to eventually be able to earn a living doing what I love, and I would like to do it well, improving each step along the way.

Beyond that, I'm not ambitious.