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  1. #1

    Debunking the "advance" myth

    I think that our discussions here should be about ideas as much as possible, and not about personalities. I reject the notion that certain non-anonymous people in this forum are right in their judgments simply because of who they are. That seems to me to be a very unproductive way of having any kind of serious discussion about anything.

    I have been challenged here to produce my credentials so that the people reading my posts will then be able to believe the things I say. That is ridiculous. I don't have to provide my credentials to persuade anyone--and nobody should be persuaded by anybody's credentials. We should be persuaded by the facts alone.

    So now I am going to start posting links to articles that factually support everything I've been saying here.

    The first publishing myth I'm going to debunk is this business that Gary Kessler and others have been passing around that a large advance guarantees a publisher's commitment to your book. This is completely inaccurate.

    The following link goes to an article some of you may have read already--it is "The New Literary Lottery" by Alex Williams, which appeared earlier this year in New York Magazine. It supports many of the points I've been making here, but primarily debunks this nonsense that a large advance will force a publisher to commit to your book. (This myth, along with others, is also debunked in SuperAgent Donald Maass's excellent "Writing the Breakout Novel.")

    This article is subtitled: "Good news for aspiring novelists: Advances for first-time authors have blown sky-high. The catch? If the book doesn’t sell, the fallout can kill your career."

    I hope that we can stop discussing personalities and drifting toward flame wars, and concentrate instead on ideas. This article should make a good start:


  2. #2

    Re: Debunking the "advance" myth

    Go out and buy "Writing the Breakout Novel" and turn to pages 20-21 to read what Donald Maass says about "The Myths of Success." The first one he debunks is "A Big Advance Equals Instant Fame." He then lists a lot of authors whose big-advance books blew up in the starting gate and who are today nobodies, unwanted by any publisher.

  3. #3

    Re: Debunking the "advance" myth

    Although I *personally* believe publishing has cracked up just a bit in the last years, there we nearly always be some examples to "prove" any rule you want. Simply because a magazine writer espouses Blip's premise and can find people who also see things that way doesn't make it globally true.

    However, having said that -- the "throw money at it and that should make it work" mentality about a lot of things seems flawed at its heart. I believe it has hurt children's publishing -- in fact, I know it almost killed DK Publishing and forced the company into some very nasty things. Yes, if you throw enough money at an author up-front, that does create some small buzz within the industry itself. And when it was a novel enough behavior, it created some buzz in the reading public. Now that it has become a bit more commonplace, it's losing it's capability as a promotional tool. Eventually publishers will figure that out. Business seems prone to learning lessons slowly, but they learn them eventually. Hopefully, they will learn it before every writer in the world has embraced the same philosophy and thrown all their money into their own "promotion."

    Still, even though some big advance people end up with books that tank -- some end up with books that do great -- so which one defines the rule? Do we have enough empirical data (not anecdotal mutterings) to support a claim that a big advance causes books to tank?

    Even though publisher's still tend to act as though their promotional efforts are not something the writer needs to worry his/her pretty little head over (meaning, they don't tell you what they're doing) does that mean it automatically follows that they aren't doing anything? That's a logical fallacy many writers have jumped on -- I can't see my publisher doing anything therefore they aren't. People (meaning other writers who also can't see what's happening inside a publisher) tell me that publishers don't do anything -- so they must be right. People write self-help books about how nothing happens inside a publisher and give tips on how a writer can spend his/her advance on the possibility of buzz -- so it must be true because we all know that all nonfiction is accurate and true -- right?

    I do believe writers who want to step out of the crowd need to be involved in their own promotional efforts. I do believe it is all the more important if you get a really big advance (children's writers don't get those, but if they did -- I would hire a publicist who specializes in children's literature. I would not flail around, use up all my time and energy, then "claim" any sales that came along as mine, all mine.) I do not believe publishers do nothing after they cut the advance check -- but if you want to step to the front of their house's pack of authors, you're going to have to be involved in promotion (either personally or through a well-researched, well-recommended, professional level publicist -- but you better have made a potload of advance because those creatures are EXPENSIVE.)

    PLUS, you (and your book) are going to have to have that magical something that makes people buy your book -- you can promote down to your last dime and last drop of blood and end up with little to show for it (except an ability to cry that you didn't sell much but at least the sales were all your efforts alone since you bought totally into the "publishers don't do squat" truism) if your book doesn't have that magic ingredient that no one can really explain that makes some books sell and others that are equally promoted and equal (or better) in quality not to sell nearly as well.

    I believe when we begin shouting absolutes in this business:
    Publishers don't promote!
    If you got a big advance you're really doomed!
    Once you sold your first book, you're almost sure to be unable to sell a second!
    Publicists are all scammers!
    Agents are lazy and greedy!
    Editors are drunken louts!
    we limit our ability to really understand it. We become like the blind men who examined different parts of an elephant and came to totally different decisive conclusions about what an elephant really was. "It's like a snake," cried the man holding the trunk. Now that guy had a portion of very good data to support his conclusion -- but that still didn't make it right.


  4. #4

    Re: Debunking the "advance" myth

    Regardless of the back and forth arguing, as a newbie I find it helpful to have such links posted. I just read the article and found it fascinating.

  5. #5

    Re: Debunking the "advance" myth

    >>Publishers don't promote!<<

    Aside from sending out review copies, getting the books into stores, and maybe setting up a few readings, the publishers do absolutely nothing for the overwhelming majority of books. Donald Maass makes this point in his book, as do countless others elsewhere.

    >>If you got a big advance you're really doomed!<<

    I never said that. What I'm saying is that a large advance is no guarantee of a publisher's commitment to a writer's career, or even the book in question. However, if you're big-advance book *fails*, then you really are doomed.

    >>Once you sold your first book, you're almost sure to be unable to sell a second!<<

    Two thirds of all first novelists never go on to publish a second novel. I'm not saying "you're almost sure to be unable to sell a second." I'm saying "you're 66% sure to be unable to sell a second."

    >>Publicists are all scammers!<<

    I don't believe in taking a loss while promoting my work. In fact, not only have I done more promotion for myself than any publicist could possibly have done, but I have been *paid* to do much of it. Do you understand that? When I publish an article about myself and my book, *I get paid for it*. I get all the publicity, AND money up front. Anybody who would take money from me and not do as well with the publicity is in fact scamming me.

    Most of the publicists authors hire are like vanity presses. They print up the most expensive, useless brochures and send them to the author so he can impress his friends. Then they send these useless brochures and press releases to a few people who will simply dump them in the garbage. As with a vanity press, the author is paying for all this. I promote my book with this keyboard and an e-mail account. It doesn't cost me a dime, and in fact, as I said, I have often been paid to do it. If you are showing any kind of loss in your promotional efforts, you are doing something very wrong.

    That's how you can tell you're an author--when the money is flowing TOWARD you.

    >>Agents are lazy and greedy!<<

    I never said that they are . . . lazy.

    >>Editors are drunken louts!<<

    Mmm. Some of them are. Some of the agents are too. And a lot of the writers.

  6. #6

    A challenge...

    Now that we are moving away from the cult of personality that says a poster should be believed merely because we know who he is, I hope there will be no more of these silly requests for the anonymous professionals in this forum to out themselves.

    I believe our "credentials" should rest solely on the facts we present here, not who we are.

    Working from this belief, I am going to turn the challenge around, and dare anybody who has read any of my postings here to go out and find empirical evidence that I am wrong about anything and post the links to that evidence here. Let's see who really knows what he's talking about, and who doesn't.

    Anybody can come here and make assertions. Just because we know your real name doesn't make your assertions true. That's insane.

    From now on, everybody should put their URLs where their mouths are. If you've got something to say here, back it up with some evidence.

    There are hundreds or articles out there that support everything I've been saying, and from time to time I will be posting the links to them in this forum.

    Those are all the credentials I or anyone else should need. If URLs that successfully debunk me fail to appear here, I will consider that I have won the argument based on the *facts*, and not the irrelevancy of personalities.

  7. #7
    danielle S

    Re: A challenge...

    For newbies reading Blip's posts, to avoid hiring publicists who operate "like vanity presses" check with the Public Relations Society of America, International Association of Business Communicators or Women in Communications before hiring the likes of those Blip seems to have encountered.

  8. #8
    Nora Christie

    Re: A challenge...

    Yessir, Blip, should we line up and salute? Who are you to lay down the rules (or anybody?) as to how this forum works? ("Now that we are moving away from the cult of personality...") Just because you say so? Wow, you have got my hackles up with your superciliousness. People can post here any dang way they want to, short of pornographically and blantantly insultingly.

    For some reason you remind me of a minor British author named Mark Bastable. Could you be him?


  9. #9

    Re: A challenge...

    Thanks for the information about publicists' organizations, Danielle. You seem to know a lot about this subject. If I were to hire a person who belongs to one of those organizations, how much would it cost me, and what results could that person guarantee me?

    If they can't make any guarantees--and mind you, legitimate guarantees in any aspect of the publishing business are very hard to come by--then they will probably tell me that their results are unpredictable, right?

    I don't need to hire somebody to take a crap in the wind for me. I want a guarantee that somebody I'm hiring will get me better results than I've been getting on my own.

    So. What are the guaranteed results?

    I genuinely want to know. Because if you convince me, I just might hire a publicist for my next book. Larry King, here I come.

  10. #10

    Re: A challenge...

    >>People can post here any dang way they want to<<

    That's right, Nora. People like Gran and Mr. Kessler can come here and just make a bunch of assertions without backing any of them up, and maybe a few folks will believe them because of the names of the posters. Well, that's silly.

    I prefer to stick with the facts. You can listen to people who have the facts or, instead, to people who, as you say, "post here any dang way they want to."

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