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The Amazing Shrinking Book Advance: "$125K is the new $250K" is the new BS

Industry blog Gawker shared this semi-discouraging word yesterday:
Book-buying editors sound like they're feeling the heat more than ever. What at least one big-house big-wig editor is telling the cute young novelists this week is that, in the current thinking on author advances, "$125K is the new $250K." We imagine what this really means is that he's damn sick of paying a quarter of a million bucks for a novel that has a 1 in 800 chance of earning out.

You know...yeah. It might mean that. Or it might mean that publishing is like any other industry in America. Top heavy. People at the top expect and receive huge money, while people at the bottom get squat, because that's what they expect and accept.

A lot of people want to write books, but only a few actually do it, and even fewer do it well. So why are those vanishing few not valued in our culture in general or our industry in specific? And why are so many authors willing to settle for sweat shop money?

Answer to both questions: Because we don't value ourselves.

We accept statements like "Nobody's paying more than $125K" (or "nobody's paying more than $5K") without challenge. After having our feet held to the fire by editors, we don't turn around and hold the publisher's feet to the fire, demanding an accurate and prompt accounting of how the book's PR budget was spent, exactly how many books sold through, and what the TRUE average advance is for the type of book we're writing.

The most common excuse for a crap advance is the poor performance of an author's previous title. Supposedly, you're only as good as your last book, and if a book tanks, you assume -- along with everybody else -- that it's your fault, when in fact, writing books is the job of writers and selling books is the job of publishers. Somewhere, someday, a midlist author will step up and say, "If it's possible to market a pet rock, for Christ sake, it's possible to market my book, and somebody in the marketing department should have by God done it."

And then a piglet will fly by outside the 32nd floor window.

So many people want to be published -- and they want it so badly -- we're willing to believe just about anything that begins with the words "We love your book." But for our own sake and the sake of our art, we need to start calling BS on any theory that tries to justify the shrinking value of our work.


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