Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Book Advance Jackpot

I'm a bit late, here. My reason is not as exciting as Charles', though not without its charms. I just returned from Sierra Vista, AZ, where I presented a workshop on historical mystery writing. Sierra Vista is a town of about 40,000 which is located almost 200 miles SSE of the Phoenix area, about an hour east of Tucson and 20 miles north of the Mexican border. What, you may well ask, do 40,000 people do for a living out in the middle of the Sonoran desert mountains among the saguaros (those are the really big cactuses with the arms)? Allow me to enlighten you. Sierra Vista is the location of Fort Huachuca, a huge Army and Marine base that was originally founded after the Civil War. The 24th Infantry, (Buffalo Soldiers), was stationed there for the purpose of trying to control the Apaches. I believe that now the fort is a missile proving ground. In any event, the town is full of shaven-headed young men with good posture, retirees, and a surprising number of authors. In fact, all of southern Arizona seems to be quite an enclave for authors -- I can think of at least half a dozen off the top of my head, some of whom are extremely well known. I can only guess that the spectacular weather and even more spectacular scenery attracts them, just like it does everyone else who lives in that area. (Southern AZ is full of Brits. Paul McCartney has a place near Tucson. I assume they come here to dry out and warm up.) Since I don't live in a handy spot for attending East Coast events, this is useful for me, since there is always some book event going on down there.

Speaking of the book business, there was a fascinating article in the Arizona Republic this morning entitled "Book-Deal Bonanza." It was written by reporter Kerry Lengle, who is one of my favorite journalists, since he wrote a feature on me for the Republic back in '05, after my first book came out.

"In the competitive publishing industry," this morning's article begins, "some authors hit the jackpot, most don't. Contrary to the apocalypic prognostications of digital doomsayers, books aren't going the way of the dinosaur quite yet. But for would-be Hemingways (Aside - Hemingway would never have written a sentence like that) hoping to make their fame and fortune on the best-seller lists, the publishing business is looking more like the world's biggest casino: A few lucky souls hit the jackpot and the rest are out of luck."

The article goes on to talk about the big publishing houses, desperately looking for the next Dan Brown, offering a few select authors six- and even seven-figure advances for their first books. Barbara Peters, the founder of Poisoned Pen Press and my editor, is quoted as saying that "this is part of the blockbuster mind-set that has taken over...They would rather spend a fortune on an unknown author with marketing potential than develop a small career into a big career... the reverse of it is the midlist author is disappearing, and I find that very sad. It particularly affects me in the mystery genre."

I e-mailed Barbara this a.m. to say that I had seen the article and I thought it was describing a depressing state of affairs, but she replied, "Not depressing. You (for instance) are right where you should be." And in fact I had just been thinking how grateful I am for quality presses like Poisoned Pen. Would I have ever gotten the series I'm writing published anywhere else? I doubt it, or even if I had, it would have been a long, horrid ordeal. But Poisoned Pen treats me exponentially better than most other houses treat their authors, and because I have this venue in which to develop, I actually think I'm getting better.

Kerry's article tells of Scott Barone, who got a $200,000 two-book deal for a book titled Dawn of Empire. He says that when the book came out, the publishers threw it out there with no support and no marketing, so it never took off. Sales didn't make up the advance. He published his two novels, but is now out of a publisher. As for me, I have three in print and a fourth on the way, and I feel like I have a home for this series with Poisoned Pen. Not that I couldn't do with $200,000, but I do appreciate the fact that I'm able to keep writing and getting published.

6 comments:

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Donis, I. too, feel lucky to be with Poisoned Pen. Still, it is a shame that big publishers aren't willing to invest in a writer for the long run. I don't understand the economics of paying huge advances and having a commercial flop as opposed to smaller advances and building sales. What am I missing?

Donis Casey said...

I'm missing it, too, Debby, whatever it is. However, on the opposite end of the stick, I hear that one of the large houses (is it Harper?) is starting an imprint that offers its authors NO advance at all, but strictly royalties. Do they support the release? That's what I want to know. I can't decide which trend bodes the most ill (or is that 'illest'?)

Charles benoit said...

The shape of things to come? I just finished reading a fine article in Wired magazine about the the next big trend in marketing. Free: Why $0.00 is the Future of Business (by Chris Anderson) talks about how more and more companies are giving away the product so to better gain something of greater value - for example: Cable companies give away a $140 DVR because they know that they will recoup that loss in less than a year with people recording premium cable shows - which are expensive. Sooo...will we see the day when books are given away free because they contain X number of key product placements (if this is the case and you are looking for a corruptible, co-optable author, call me!)Or are they given away to passengers on flights or to people who book at a certain hotel chain? Think of it in pure dollars - a hardcover would cost the business about $12 in bulk - for top-end businesses and retailers, that's a cheap giveaway. No matter what happens, there's one thing you can bet on - the author will get screwed.

Rick Blechta said...

No matter how much some things change, others always stay the same...

Martin Edwards said...

I'm rather late to this discussion, but as another PPP author, I very much agree. So is the future for the mid-list author bleak? I hope not, but it is a worry. I would like to think that the innovative use of technology in both publishing and marketing (for example, by way of good blogs like this one) offers at least part of the solution.

Rick Blechta said...

Martin,

It's my believe (hope) that for authors in our position, electronic publishing and POD printing will be especially good. Not so much for new releases as for keeping our back list titles available. Most small(er) publishers can't afford to sink the cash into another print run for a book that might sell only a few hundred more copies. On top of that, there's warehousing and other such considerations.

As Charles points out, the thing to watch will certainly be what we get paid for electronic books -- especially. In a lot of contracts I've seen or know about firsthand, electronic publishing has been almost an afterthought clause.

Expect that to change in a very short time. Next contract you sign, pay attention! I know that I will be.

Thanks for stopping by...