Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Capping, The Art of and Reasons for

How many "nice" advances could Doubleday have offered if they hadn't gone haywire on THE TRAVELER?

A friend of mine (who has access to a Nielsen Bookscan subscription) tells me that current sales of THE TRAVELER by John Twelve Hawks (a pseudonym, by the way) total no more than 16,400 units (granted, that does not cover total sales; some stores are missed, like Wal-Mart.) Sound good? Not to Doubleday/Random House.

Here is the "deal info" for THE TRAVELER from back in March of 2004 when it sold (courtesy of Publisher's Marketplace):

"Debut fiction: John Twelve Hawks' THE TRAVELER, the debut novel in a thriller trilogy that mixes science fact and science fiction called THE FOURTH REALM, reinterpreting history as an ongoing struggle between "the Vast Machine" -- forces dedicated to a virtual panopticon of surveillance and control -- and "Travelers" -- visionaries dedicated to spiritual enlightenment, (already being called "Philip Pullman for adults" according to the agent), to Jason Kaufman at Doubleday, in a major deal, for seven figures, by Joe Regal at Regal Literary (world).German rights have gone to Bertlesmann, for mid-six-figures."

That 16,400 isn't looking so good anymore, is it. Add to that a six-figure (I was told) publicity/marketing effort and, barring a miracle, this book will never even come close to earning out its advances/costs. And who pays the price (besides, eventually, Mr. Hawkes)? Every other writer trying to open Doubleday's front door.

Successful writers (rewrite: authors who have earned a spicy advance) are always the first to come down on publishers like Macmillan for trying to set-up a new paradigm for finding new authors (rewrite: not paying a cent in advance of sales.) In the Guardian article regarding the new Macmillan effort, author Hari Kunzru thinks ill of it:

"Hari Kunzru, author of The Impressionist, has described the initiative, in which writers receive no advance and may have to bear editing costs, as 'the Ryanair of publishing; it's like having to pay for your own uniforms'."

Of course, he would say that.

Here is Kunzru's deal info (once again, courtesy of Publisher's Marketplace):

"Hari Kunzru's first novel THE IMPRESSIONIST, to Carole Baron and Trena Keating for Dutton/Plume, for $1 million in a two-book deal, by Emma Parry of Carlisle & Co. (NA)."

I am all for advance capping (though let's be honest: my deal for two books would certainly fall under any advance cap anyway.) I am all for seeing the money spread around the publishers, to see publishers start taking chances again on more titles. I'd love to see an author go with a smaller house because he/she believes in the editor/publisher (but who might not have previously because the bigger/generic houses could outspend the smaller one.)

I am also all for spending big money on proven authors--that makes fiscal sense and an author who has proven himself should reap the reward. But debut fiction?

Take your $40,000 and thank God. Or your lucky stars. Or both.


A retraction of sorts:

What has become of me? I have suddenly fallen to the dark side of the POD debate and inappropriately pounced on PublishAmerica too soon. It appears that perhaps the $24 e-book thing was a glitch at Amazon and not a PA scam as I suspected.

Rather than simply delete my post from yesterday, I'll leave it--so you can indeed see how fallible I am. For Pete's sake, what is this blog about? Finding good books.

And PublishAmerica has some in there too.

I think.