Friday, September 28, 2007

I totally think publishing companies should have some recourse for getting back at authors who have accepted advances for books they never bother to

This New York Sun article goes into details about how in 1998 Penguin paid this guy, David Brinkley, $200,000 as an advance on a biography of Jack Keruoac that would be published in time for ON THE ROAD's 50th anniversary.

The manuscript was due to be delivered in 2001. And it wasn't.

Now Penguin's suing, and I totally take their side (although, as THE SUN points out, publishing industry convention is to eat the loss--really unfair, and we don't like it, but the fact is litigation often costs more than we would end up redeeming, and on top of that authors usually manage to dispose of all their movable assets promptly. And authors and agents wonder why we try to advance as little money as possible!). Even if, as Brinkley says, the manuscript is late because he's taking his time to make a really good and worthwhile project, the fact is Penguin paid as much money as they did for the book because they had planned to time publication with a major marketable event. The book is just not worth as much without the publication strategy, no matter how good it is. The advance for a "really good" book on Kerouac that they planned to make into a solid backlist title would have been worth a different amount of advance. That's just how it works--if we can't justify our cash flow we can't afford to publish.

My take--even if he had been running late for issues of quality control, there is a way to run late without breaching your contract. Almost all editors would rather have a book delayed and better than delivered on time and subpar (there are situational exceptions, of course--like this one; on the other hand, there were SIX YEARS OF LEEWAY here!!!). If you talk to an editor nicely, they are usually able to work out a delivery due date extension amendment in about NO time flat. If the author is in good faith about his project, he should work this out with his editor.

In the meantime, Brinkley has written and published a book on Hurricane Katrina. Hmmmm.

Brinkley has described the whole lawsuit as a "snaffoo" between parties, and has claimed he didn't even know there was a problem until Penguin broadcast news of the suit. Whatever.

Ugh. I hate thinking about this. We get totally shafted in profit margins even on the best of books in this industry, and then there are assholes eating away at our barely-surviving bottom line. And THEN agents have the balls to complain that advances are too small? I know that it's going to cost your author money to take the sabbatical to write the book, but that's not something I can help you with because there are assholes like Brinkley making it really, really hard for us to trust us (not to mention to go grocery shopping once a week). We're all just doing out best to keep our noses about the water here. Boo to scumminess. Boo.


Jill Myles said...

We get to take a Sabbatical???

Bernita said...

I think the six years gives the lie to the claim of "snafu."

Susanne said...

Hey, it's SNAFU, and acronym meaning "Situation Normal: All fucked Up". It can't be spelled "snaffoo", sorry. And it really should be in all caps if we're being disciplined.

Maprilynne said...

This is why first-time fiction authors must finish their books before selling it at all.

Personally, I don't think you can justify saying that authors should receive smaller advances based on this. As I mentioned above, fiction writers have to finish their manuscripts, but even so, they have more books to write if they gets something like a multi-book contract. Often, the next book will be due before this first is published. If the publisher wants to be able to expect the author to work hard to produce said next pice or to do great edits on the first piece, the author needs something to justify the work. Technically, for us, an advance is generally backpay. We've already done the work! It's before you do your work as the editor and publisher, but as writers, we've already done the longest and hardest part and we greatly appreciate being paid for it.

Unfortunately, it does allow for things such as this. It seems like even the middle ground will, in many cases, rape one or both sides. *sigh* From the author's poin t of view, I am all about getting more of the money up front, but I can certainly see how it is a risk for the publisher.

moonrat said...

seriously?! it's actually an acronym?

and AGAIN i will refer you to the disclaimer in my upper right-hand corner (cf accurate spelling is not among my interests...).

moonrat said...

and Aprilynne--these are all fair points; that's why we have advances in the first place.

i personally try to buy as many finished nonfiction books as possible--that way, the odds of THIS happening are low.

hmm, i feel a whole nother post coming on.