No Advance or Be Damned – Part 2

“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 Randal 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 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 Randal 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 endeavours can be financed so they can wholeheartedly write. If an author is writing a book on crime in South American 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 jem 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 mosts 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.

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