Carolyn Decries Huge Advances as Damaging
for Readers and Publishers Alike
before the movie and sometime after we saw COLD MOUNTAIN mass displayed
in every airport in the nation, Charles Frazier was “given”
an eight million dollar advance after he, according to The Desert
Sun (Palm Springs, CA), sent Random House a one page proposal for
his new book, set to be released in 2005.
that Clinton received ten million from Knopf, this doesn’t
seem unusually high. After all, Frazier does much more with words
than tell insider secrets or expound-- text book style--on politics.
That may sound judgmental, especially considering I haven’t
seen Clinton’s book yet; it is just that these two scenarios
are part of the reason I am ticked off about advances.
know that advances are only part of a big business picture. We are,
after all, a free market society and publishers must make money
in order to exist. We want them to do well, because we want to buy,
borrow and read good books. Nevertheless, considering that a close
author friend of mine just received $3,000 (got that? do the math!!)
for an exquisitely written literary novel every bit as good (in
my opinion) as COLD MOUNTAIN, and that another author who has written
a book with an underlying theme about the lack of tolerance in America
for atheists (an unpopular subject however important, however needed),
these monster-advances are patently ridiculous.
large publishers squander all their eggs on advances and promotion
for those books they are sure will sell well, they will have little
left over to cultivate new artists or books that broaden literature’s
themes. They, in turn, will have little to promote these books—and
all of us in the industry know that precious little of that goes
on! Further, no book, not even books by Hilary, her husband, or
for that matter Frazier, are sure bets and it takes mind-boggling
sales figures to cover whopping advances like these.
am not saying that Frazier’s work is not worth this kind of
an advance. I am glad that someone besides Steele, Grisham, King
and Rice is going to make some money. It’s a cantata to my
ears that that a literary author has been recognized with cold,
hard, green cash. It’s just that, if the big publishers would
trim their expenditures on what they believe will be profitable
ventures and put it into buying and promoting some new guys and
gals, they would end up with a longer string of novelist’s
names that carry the clout of the favored few; that is a long term
business consideration, rather than short term, but one that is
essential if books, as we have come to know them, are going to continue
to be available.
publishers took a tiny share of the gargantuan expenditure to expose
the unpopular or experimental, they could help keep alive the kind
of literature (Joyce’s, as an example) that was unpopular
when it was published but manages to continue to sell, sell, sell
in every decade since it hit print. In either case, writers and
readers would benefit. It would also—imagine this!—be
good for the book biz including small, independent bookstores, chains
and the publishers themselves.
the way. Frazier’s next book will be about a white man raised
in the 19th century by Cherokee Indians. Yes, I think we should
all buy it. We don’t want Random House to go broke on this
book, or any other. That is what could happen if sales go down while
they keep forking out dollars to appease the profit gods while neglecting
their mandate by readers to find and expose great new authors and
works for this and the next generation.
Press is a site where authors can offer promotional products
printed with little or no investment. A romance author might
wear T-shirts printed with hot pink to book fairs; literary
authors might give mugs imprinted with their book cover art
to reviewers and interviewers who, after all, deserve a little
something special for helping to keep good books on the shelves
at bookstores. Go to: http://www.cafepress.com/cp/info/sell/
Tip: I’m going to tell
you a secret. The blurbs that you read on the back of books
are all part of the publisher’s insider’s game.
If you want to know about books, go to the newsstand and choose
a nice, slick magazine that uses independent reviewers who
know how to give you an appraisal in 500 words or less. After
all, you want to spend less time on reviews, more time reading
your selection. Or, use sites like MyShelf.com.
course, book sections come at no additional cost with your
Sunday paper. The downside is that many are so erudite or
academic you’ll have to slush through 5,000 words to
get an opinion. I also avoid reviews with a rundown of the
plot. I’ll get that when I read the book, thank you.
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