No Advance or Be Damned – Part 2

Read Part 1.

“Jeeves. There’s a strange gentlemen at the door suggesting publishers should stop giving authors advances.”

“Wooster! How ridiculous. The idea is simply preposterous! Send him away and finish preparing my Eggs Benedict and ironing my morning newspaper.”

“Actually, Jeeves, I found the idea rather novel and somewhat intriguing. So much so—I’ve invited the gentleman into the parlour for tea and a light scone with warm butter. I do hope you don’t mind.”

“You invited him into the house of Jeeves Publishing & Sons & Illegitimate Sons!”

“Yes, Jeeves. You seemed wholly perturbed. Am I to be punished?”

“Punished, punished?”

“I’ll fetch the cat-o-nine-tails from the cupboard at once, sir.”

I do not suggest a ‘No advance’ term lightly to any publishing contract. The size of advance offered by a publisher can underline the publisher’s belief and commitment to an author, but more often it is borne out of an inflated market for established, best-selling authors and innate industry brand preservation. ‘We paid $x million for that book!’ Really…bully for you.

If author advances were to disappear overnight—I would suggest—the established, best-selling authors would be the least hard-pressed about their loss. In fact, it is our dear humble mid-listed who would toss and turn most during those first few ‘no advance’ nights. Any author who invests time, energy and talent into writing a book should be rewarded for what they have produced by a prospective publisher. But the thing is, they are—the reward is already called a royalty—the profit on each book as it is sold.

Consider Randall Radic, author of ‘A Priest in hell’ and ‘The Sound of Meat’ and his comments on the first part of this article:

Advances should NOT go away. They are the element that keeps writers writing and dreaming. They’re part of the American Dream. Writers with a track-record of sales should be rewarded for their platform. It’s like a signing bonus in professional sports. You have talent so you get paid. Even the rookies have the opportunity of ‘big bucks’ if they’re talented enough or lucky enough (they can fill a niche). Removing advances is nothing but a blatant attempt at equalizing the playing field. And sadly, everybody ain’t equal. Some writers are definitely better than others, even if it’s just at promoting themselves. Why should they be punished for having talent or ability or promotional skills?

Super-models get the big bucks. Semi-goodlooking models get to be in the Sears catalogue. Super-writers get the big bucks. Semi-talented writers get to be mid-listers. If you want to be in the Victoria’s Secret catalogue, see a plastic surgeon or complain to your parents. If you want a bigger advance, write better. Or get a better agent.

If a financial advance is the reason why an author keeps ‘writing and dreaming’, then I would have taken the advice of many writers when I was a young slip of a lad—‘If you want to make money, then there are far better ways than writing.’ —brutal honesty from writers themselves. And if advances are the elements which keep writers writing and dreaming and they are ‘part of the American Dream’, then God help us. It would appear that once again the centre of the publishing universe is America, with its affluent New York offices of marble and stonework—the Vatican of the publishing world. But let us not entirely cast the American Dream aside, as Randall Radic suggests, it encapsulates an aspiration of success, beyond wealth, every author wishes for. I just do not believe getting an advance from a publisher is going to weaken or strengthen that desire. What will strengthen the author’s desire to write is the sale of bucket loads of books and the deserving kudos, not from the publisher, but from the readers of the author’s book. The question is—should the publisher offer an advance on those sales without the benefit of a crystal ball? I do not believe they should.

The reasoning for an author advance was borne of a time when fewer people were literate, newspapers were bought by those literate in the working classes, and books were bought by the educated and successful. And the educated and successful were both the authors and the publishers who moved often in the same social circles. It is a little like the self-publishing world now—those who self-publish are often in the same circle as those who review self-published books. It is the result of modern social networking. Networking which did not exist at the time of literary greats such as Hardy, Wilde, Dostoevsky, Dumas and Wolfe. A publisher’s advance was seen by the author as a form of support and sponsorship—not an upfront handout.

There is an argument that an author cannot write without knowing their endeavors can be financed so they can wholeheartedly write. If an author is writing a book on crime in South America and has the interest of a publisher, then, yes, of course, a publisher should finance the author’s expenses on travel or research on any such book project if a contract in principal exists. No payment by a publisher should ever be made based on ‘expected’ or ‘imagined’ sales of books.

Steve Webber of Webber Books asks what is the upside of a publisher who does not offer an advance;

If there’s no advance, there will be very little upside to trade publishing anymore, in my opinion — especially for nonfiction authors who have a platform. If the author can “afford” to complete the book without an advance (and hire their own editor), why not self-publish? Then, instead of waiting for royalties, you take everything after costs.

If publishers can’t afford to pay advances, then they have to provide *some* other incentive for an author. What will that incentive be, when advances are no longer customary? The prestige of having a certain imprint on your book?

The fact is, more often, authors are concluding there is no real upside beyond brick and mortar distribution clout, and decide that they can go it alone using an author solution services to self-publish their book and their own social network to reach their clients. The upside to traditional publishing is becoming less and less. Already, publishers use agents not just as their gatekeepers, but more, because publishers are unwilling to sift through piles of manuscripts to find that gem of a book. The modern professional agent feels it necessary to ensure a manuscript is ‘as near as published quality’ reducing the potential rejection, re-writes and heavy editing required, say twenty or more years ago. It is easy to forget that not so long ago we did not have word processors with grammar and spell checks and formatting at the push of a button. The job and pre publication requirements are far less now than they have been in the past and aging editors wearing wire-rimmed spectacles leaned awkwardly over hundreds of pages of hand written manuscripts.

For ‘no advance’ publishers—there simply is no excuse. You bought the book for nothing—you sell it and by all means most authors will willing help considerably with the marketing of their book. How well a publisher demonstrates their marketing ability remains to be seen? An astute author learning of a ‘no advance’ deal will test every fathomable depth of water and there is no reason why they should not.

The true publisher wants to sell books, so, I suspect in the future, without advances or at least sizable advances, they will trade first paperback rights as a one off deal; they will contract solely on one book, and the publisher will have to offer substantial royalty terms of up to 50% and many other inflated terms. Without providing an advance publishers, will have to offer support finance on non-fiction books and will have to outline more the financial plan they intend to invest in an author’s book and not just the fly-by-night 90 day hit or you’re out the door for every published book.

The only thing a conventional publisher brings to a deal is access to brick and mortar channels of bookselling, brute force distribution and heavy promotion. This is how “best sellers ” are made.

The above is attributed to Francis Hamit of BrassCannonBooks.net, understanding how it should be.

How things will shape in the future remains to be seen. But things must change if publishers are to warrant their own existence. The path of fast-tracking a book to publication using an author solutions service and selling directly to the reading client is becoming a greater and often more lucrative option.

Thank you all for your comments on the previous article.

  • Randall Radic

    Francis Hamit said it well: “the only thing a conventional publishers brings to a deal is access to brick and mortar channels of book selling, brute force distribution and heavy promotion.” Well, in my opinion, those three things don’t look so “only.” Those are three things the self-publisher can’t do for himself, unless he’s independently wealthy. And even then it will be tough.

    Distribution to the brick and mortar bookstores is the big hurdle facing self-publishing. If someone can jump over that problem, then self-publishing will become a realistic alternative to traditional publishing. Eighty percent of all books sold are sold in brick and mortar stores. Why doesn’t someone start a distribution company for self-published books? The self-publishers might have to pay for the service, but hey, they already paid to have their book published. So I don’t see them balking at paying for decent distribution. Of course, that would mean catalogues and a sales force, which are two more items big publishers bring to the table. Still, though, a distributing company for self-publishers could be viable, if an entrepreneur of talent decided to take on the project.

  • “Why doesn’t someone start a distribution company for self-published books?”
    Randall Radic.

    I think Randall has hit on the key elements of what is required for selp-published authors – Distribution and promotion.

    When Borders had their backs against the wall, (and still do), I suggested across the blogsphere and writers forums that this could be an opportunity for a really dogged and entreprenurial figure to come in and seize a potentially lucrative channel in publishing. While ‘how to’, ‘spiritual’ and ‘business’ books can do extremely well in the self-publishing market, I still think we are some way off someone risking this kind of brick n mortar venture.

    I know RJ Communications who run (Selfpublishing.com) offer a distribution service for self-published authors through THOR, but at the moment self-published authors fair better approaching distributors directly if they have a proven sales record for their book(s).

  • The real problem with “brick and mortar” access is the news block out that keeps self-published books from being reviewed and their authors from being covered in the mainstream media. In my nasty and more paranoid moments I suspect a vast conspiracy, but then I remember that one never ascribes to malice what can be explained by simple incompetence and laziness.

    Book reviews are supposed to be an important part of the so-called “cultural conversation” but they were being forced off newspaper pages even back when I was a regular reviewer for the Los Angeles Daily News. There was also the sheer volume of material with every book reviewed meaning about forty that didn’t get a notice or rating. That right there biased the coverage towards big brand-name authors.

    These days, those same publications don’t bother but just run cheaper syndicated reviews from the few newspapers that still do them. (Much cheaper than paying a local writer to do essentially the same thing). The number of voices has shrunk and the conversation is more like a deafening silence most of the time.

    But the absolute prohibition against the self-published book is something that must be overcome to get those books into the brick and mortar space. Otherwise worthy books will continue to be shut out from the most viable sales channel because they are somehow, per se, unworthy.

    That’s a stupid way to run a business. Little wonder that big chain bookstores are dying and sales are down. Hey guys! If Amazon.com is as big a threat as you think it is, and they sell everything, shouldn’t you be trying to do the same thing?

    It’s a paradigm shift. If we keep pounding on the door, sooner or later they have to let us in, right?

  • It is a great feeling when your book gets published but I do agree we need more help for the promotion and marketing of our books.

    My book is entitled Classes Apart.

    This is an adult sporting comedy that follows the fortunes of Paul Marriot, the secretary of the Barnstorm Village Sunday soccer team and coach of a school cricket team in Yorkshire, England. The story describes the remarkable camaraderie between the players and supporters of this little club and their desire to achieve success. Nonetheless, the team is known more for its antics off the field, rather than their performances on it.

    During his time at the club he meets and becomes involved with Emma Potter, who is the sister of James Potter, a major player for their bitter rivals Moortown Inn. Thus, begins an entangled web of romance and conflict. He also begins working at Derry High School, a school with a poor reputation of academic success, where he becomes coach of the school cricket team. Here he develops an amazing relationship with the children and embarks on an epic journey.