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We May Be Novices But We Aren't Stupid

This morning I read a lovely post by Rachelle Gardner at her blog, which you can find here, about Advances on a book one would sell. It was to the point, kind, and informative. As I was reading the comments, someone dropped a link to another blog, by Joe Quirk, titled Authors: Just say "No!" to your advance.

And while he does make some good points, a few of which Rachelle did as well, his blog was more of a rant, belittling, rude, and crass. Here are some quotes directly from the blog, and my interpretation. But first, some backstory, which he himself provides.

Joe Quirk is a published author of four books and goes through Numina Press, a print-on-demand publisher. Print-on-demand publishers do just as they say- they only print once an order has been made, and normally only the amount that has been ordered, which basically means the authors do get more money in royalties. This is not to say I am for print-on-demand, simply some facts. Then he lists the objections traditionally published authors would make:

Your choice, living authors. Take home:
$1.50 from a $23 book, or
$4.50 from a $16 book.
Wait. You have to give up a lot of perks for this tripling of your pay, and my living author friends are quick to list their objections:
Big New York publishers will give me an advance!
Big New York publishers will get me publicity!
Big New York publishers will pay for a book tour!
Big New York publishers will get me book store placement!
But if I accept triple money with a print-on-demand publisher, Big New York publishers will punish me! My agent will be mad!
Okay, stop flapping your wrists like a pack of sissies. Let's walk through each of the standard fear-driven objections one by one.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/jquirk/detail?entry_id=46347&o=1#ixzz0QvQS7m4N
So right off the bat, he has something against the "Big New York Publishers." Huh. We'll see were that goes later on.
An advance is a chance to ruin your career. A big advance for a first or second book is a chance to almost guarantee your career will end six months after your book comes out, and nobody will tell you until you write and try to sell your second book. A gigunda advance? That spells an almost certain death.
The bigger the advance, the worse it is for the author.
I do not agree with the first sentence. I do however, concede with the last one. A gigantic advance can derail a new authors career, because there's more pressure to earn out the advance, meaning more books have to be sold, which is much harder for a new author than for one who has written several novels and developed a faithful following of readers.
Seventy percent of published books don't earn back their advance. Add to the balance sheet the costs of printing, shipping, and promotion, and that means even more than 70% of books lose money for the publisher. That means the majority of published authors get a permanent Big Red Mark next to their name.
I have nothing to say about this quote, but a question to ask: Where did he get this information? I saw nowhere were Joe could direct me to the hard facts, he just gave them to us. Have you heard that pun that says "37% of statistics are made up on the spot"? Yeah, thats what I thought too.
Publishers don't know why most books don't sell, nor do they understand why most of their riches are made off less than 5% of the new authors they publish, and they don't know what to do about their ignorance, but they do know how to do one thing: blame the author.
If your first book lost them money, they will not publish your second book, no matter how many copies it sold.
So move on to another publisher? Not so fast. Publishers share sales information with their competitors. That's right, competing New York publishers close ranks in solidarity against the authors who might have sold well but lost money. Most major publishers, before they read your new book, run straight to the stats and see how well your last book sold, how much money was spent on it, how much was earned back, and their eyes go straight to the bottom line: Did it lose money? If the answer is yes, they don't waste their time reading your new book.
And what's wrong with that? Would an employer read your resume and not call your previous employer to see if you actually did a good job? The same plays here. I will confess I don't know much about the process from first to second book, but I'm almost certain that this instance he's describing is not an absolute. This business requires subjectivity.
Because the industry-- the publicists and publishers who say they love you and your work-- pushes the blame for their crap-ass expensive publicity decisions onto the author, who had nothing to do with it. 
The author doesn't control the expenses. The publisher does. Yet the only thing that works in the trickle-down theory is the trickle-down theory of blame.
This is were Joe starts getting on my nerves. He's angry. I get that, but I don't get why until a little later. Next he talks more about what Advances actually are.
It ain't free money, ladies. It's a loan. It's an advance against royalties. What happens to your "credit rating" when you don't pay it back? 
The bad boys come to break your legs. You've heard of "legs" in the entertainment industry? My first book had legs. The damn thing is still jogging after more than a decade, but I don't get any money for it, and neither does my publisher. It's making money for all those used-books pirates selling it through the platform that amazon provides for them.
So, the guy who doesn't have room for the books he won't read again, or the family thats having a garage sale to find the money for the crib they need for the baby their having, or hell the freaking LIBRARIES that buy your book so underprivileged communities can enjoy them without a fee, they're all PIRATES, are they? And this is where you can tell that our lovely Joe has been burned.
The only thing harder that being an unpublished unknown trying to convince an agent to glance at your manuscript is being a bestselling author who didn't pay back his advance. Better the "slush pile" than the Red Name on the balance sheet. The "slush pile" is purgatory, and most writers reside their forever. The Red Name on the balance sheet is hell, and it's eternal.
You know what the "slush pile" is, right? It's your publisher's name for your manuscript. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Isn't that funny? You don't make art! You make slush!
Actually, quite a lot of us do write slush. It takes time and patience to hone the craft of writing, and even longer to create a novel that an agent feels compelled to represent. We get it. Its hard to break in. As for the "slush pile" dig, well, those are unsolicited queries, and as everyone knows or can guess, agents get a LOT of those. But then, how the hell are we ever gonna get those agents to read our works? Slush is not a derogatory comment to much of the writing that is found in that pile, its just the sheer number in it. Or at least, thats how I choose to take it.
When you get giddy because these folks bestow an advance upon your slush, you're admitting that you don't have faith your book will sell. When your agent sticks that carrot in front of your nose, and your eyes well up with joyful tears, your heart is saying:
"Now I get paid even if I don't sell books! How nice of my major NY publisher to take all the financial risk! No wonder they're called Saint Martins!"
Some of you poets and authors spend so much time thinking deep thoughts you can't figure out a basic business arrangement. The publisher is giving you a loan against money you haven't earned yet, and if you don't pay it back, the publisher will not forget this. The publisher is taking a short-term financial risk while making sure the author takes a longer-term risk of career catastrophe.
Now this is were I start getting a little pissed. The text that I've bolded so graciously for you all is were he starts making fun of us more insistently, and thats unnecessary. What he fails to realize, and to acknowledge of himself in his past (we'll see that later), is the amount of faith we have in our manuscripts to actually SEND THEM OUT to agents, knowing we'll get a fistful of form rejections in the fervent hope of getting an acceptance to have the novel represented. But it is true that the publisher is taking a small monetary risk in the face of a writers career risk. A catastrophe? I don't think so. A fluke? More likely. And if another publisher loved the book that didn't earn out, then they may give the author a second chance, albeit with a lower print run and advance. Not earning out is not the end of the road, just a speed bump, in varying sizes.
I've received advances everywhere from $255,000 (from Saintly Martins) to $1,000 (from Skorpion, my Croatian publisher, who at least chooses an honest name. If I founded a publishing house based on the NY business model, I'd call it Rat Snake Press).
255K to 1K? What's going on? Am I a big shot or a shlump?
Answer: shlump.
What drives an advance? 
Fear by the publisher that their competitor will get the book. Period. Publishers pay large advances to outbid other publishers from getting their claws on what might be the Next Big Thing. It has to do with pre-publication panic. It's got nothing to do with being nice to you. If publishers wanted to be nice to you, they wouldn't start your career placing you in debt to them.
Aaahhh. NOW we get to the gist of his angst. He's pissed! He's been burned! Saintly Martins trusted in his first novel so much, wanted it before their competitors got to it, and then it bombed! How shocking. NOT. Throughout the article Joe Quirk is snooty, callus, and bitchy. And this is why. But this is a business, like so many others that have to hedge their bets to get a head start. So were is he ranting about the hairdresser who has to take a loan to start her own salon?
Next time your publisher offers you an advance, turn it down. Earn your money by selling books. Why should you get money up front? Stop paying back huge loans from your big NY publisher with small espressos. See if your book is good enough to get accepted at a commercial print-on-demand publisher, and set up a relationship with your readers. They pay enough for a music CD; you get a sandwich. No bets, no debts.
He offers nothing else but the option to turn down an advance. Why? Why not accept a modest advance instead, insist on it? Furthermore, this is something you should be discussing with your AGENT. They are the ones who can lay down the facts. And quite frankly, a print-on-demand publisher isn't for everyone. Again, something to discuss with your agent, if that is a route you are considering. Like I stated above, you can read the whole blog and make your own opinions. Here's the link in its entirety. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/jquirk/detail?entry_id=46347&o=1

What bothered me about Joe Quirks article was not that he took a stand, but that he did so by talking down to his readers and making fun of traditionally published authors. He gave his opinion, but insisted we take his side. He didn't comment objectively on the practices of both types of publishing. He ranted. And as a best selling author, I feel he needed to be calm, cool and collected even as he sided against taking advances, or going with a print-on-demand publisher.

Rachelle Gardner, on the other hand, warns if there is snark in her blogposts, apologizes if she inadvertently insulted someone, and is generally even keeled in her blog. She gives advise, says "I think" if it is in fact her own opinion, and directs her readers to their own agents for all the information they would need. Most of all she is kind.

And in a business that is all about subjectivity, about whether an agent or publisher likes your book, kindness is very welcome, and being mean for the sake of being mean, or because you're pissed, is uncalled for.

Have your own thoughts on the matter? Drop me a comment!

One Comment

  1. RKCharron says:

    Hi :)
    Thank you for the great blog post.
    The Rachelle Gardener link was great.
    Your analysis of Joe's diatribe was spot on.
    All the best,

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