Thursday, November 13, 2008

as long as we're talking about what's wrong with book publishing

$7 million advances for celebrity books. GalleyCat, you know I love you, but how dearly I hope your source was wrong about this.

Huge advances like this will never earn out, ever. And this is money blown that might have been spent on any number of other things that you and I talk about here each day. It's like we're talking about the smart things to do, and no one's hearing us.

I have to run to an appointment, so I don't get to sit here and bore you with my top ten reasons about why huge advances for famous people suck. But does anyone disagree with me? Except maybe Sarah Silverman's agent?

36 comments:

David said...

It's worth pointing out that the problem includes huge advances to celebrity writers.

The Anti-Wife said...

Considering the state of the economy and dire predictions for the next 18 months, perhaps the geniuses that run the industry should take off their rose colored glasses, put away their abacuses and read the writing on the wall - or at least on the internet. $7 million could fund a lot of great authors who actually have something to say.

Lisa said...

I'm pretty sure I figured out the problem when I watched the audiences in a number of the political rallies during the recent election. Just sayin' we live in a market driven economy...

Wouldn't it be cool if suddenly being ignorant and superficial wasn't cool?

Ugh! I kid the...stupid people ;)

Kiersten said...

Wait--WAIT--you mean you don't think Lauren Conrad got that YA three book deal because she's actually a sharp, insightful, talented writer?

Blech. Don't get me started. I hope whoever the celebrity is at least pays their ghostwriter well.

ChrisEldin said...

How many books do they have to sell for this to break even?

What's wrong with negotiating a higher percentage? These high advance numbers are so discouraging. I mean, will Border's only carry two books in the spring?

Border's employee: "Over here, in the YA section, you'll find Jerry Seinfeld's new book. And if you have any problem locating the Jerry Seinfeld book, you can check the Inspirational and Self Healing section, the non-fiction section, and the Thriller section. If you still have any problems..."

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

Amen, Sister.

Anonymous said...

But don't they sell a lot of books? Doesn't that generate money for small advances on our debut novels?

graywave said...

Sarah who?

Seriously, I've never heard of half these so-called celebrities.

moonrat said...

Chris, to make this math as easy as possible, let's pretend the royalties are a flat 15% and cut out any escalator. Let's also assume the book is $24.95. Seems fair, right?

That means Jerry Seinfeld will earn back $3.74 toward his advance with each copy purchased by a consumer. That means that for his advance to earn out, he'd have to sell 1,871,658 copies of his book in the first year for the advance to earn out. (None of this takes into account marketing expenses etc which will be necessary to get enough attention.)

Jerry Seinfeld might be popular. But is he THAT popular?

But who knows. To put this in perspective, Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook has sold around a million copies.

But seriously. Why not make that happen in royalties?

Anonymous said...

ok ok. i am hearing the arguments. but lay off lauren conrad. she's my guilty pleasure (hence the anonymous post)...

/she says sarcastically

//sort of

jnantz said...

So Sarah Silverman's show gets moved around (or cancelled?) because she's NOT FUNNY, AT ALL, but gets 2.5 mil for a book no one cares about?

Man, I gotta get famous.

Ello said...

The bigger problem is that someone has made a business decision that the public will buy enough of Seinfeld's book to make up the advance and cut a profit. If it works, great, if it doesn't, well, that's when it really hurts all the other writers out there.

I understand that it is a business decision, but perhaps frenzied auctions are not a smart way for book publishing to work out. Even Hollywood doesn't work in this manner. I just don't understand this business model. Thrown in the 100% return policy - an publishing is a financial analysts nightmare.

Madame Lefty said...

You know every time I hear about these massive advances, I always naively hoped that the publisher was still making a profit.

It just seemed silly from a business perspective to commit the same failed practice over and over again.

However, I think if we're to be real, I don't know too many people, celebrity or not, who would turn down a $7 million advance.

JKB said...

Man this is infuriating. Thanks for breaking down the numbers too, Moonrat. The whole advance/earning it back thing is beyond me right now.

Whirlochre said...

I'm not sure that any human endeavour is worth this amount of money, particularly when, as a species, we're so useless at helping one another out.

And particularly when all too many writers have to set aside valuable time (which ought to be spent refining their skills) leading a pretend life.

Hopefully, the next few years will see this 80s-spawned fiscal greed backed into the same corner as dropping litter in public places and murdering babies.

I'm up there on a star for that one.

janeyolen said...

And alas, this nonsense is now seriously embedded in the children's book field, too.

I may have sold millions of copies of my books, but have never commanded even a 100th of the D List celebrity advances.

Gotta find me some tassels and practice my singing/dancing chops. After I make it big on my Virgin Grandma tour, I might be able to get me a real advance on my next book.

--Jane Yolen

BuffySquirrel said...

I suppose the celebs are accustomed to silly money, though.

Justus M. Bowman said...

I am much more sympathetic to giving Seinfeld 7 million dollars in advance than I am to blowing 2.5 million dollars on Silverman. I don't know anyone who would buy her book, but I will be surprised if Jerry doesn't earn his advance and then some. That's assuming his book isn't about stoicism and/or finding inner peace.

ChrisEldin said...

I'm not sure that any human endeavour is worth this amount of money, particularly when, as a species, we're so useless at helping one another out.

Amen.

Liz said...

Here in the UK celebrity books sell. But it has taken a big hit lately as people are getting a bit tired of it all - that and misery stories, as told by the poor celebs...seriously, what life has Scarlett Johannsen lead thus far that she can get her biography written?

But honestly, I don't think, unless you are Nelson Mandela that a £7m advance for your story is actually worth it...seriously folks, who has that much good stuff stashed away that you think people would want to read it? Mr. H Clinton? George Dubya? The mind boggles. These figures are ridiculous!

And Jane (Yolen), I'll be right there in the front row rocking to your Virgin Grandma tour as you truly do rock. We are inflicted with the Spice Girls and other pointless boy and girl bands who think they can write - the gods save me - they can't even get their lyrics to be spelled properly!

Colorado Writer said...

I wouldn't complain if it was my advance.

Briane P said...

My feelings on obscene amounts of money going to celebrities -- especially celebrities like Seinfeld who have a collection of Porsches parked in a carpeted garage-- are pretty well known among my readers. (Short version: they shouldn't have that much money).

Those feelings are only stronger when I realize that the money they're getting is on top of the money they've already gotten, and that the money they're getting could be used to pay for 3, 4, 10 other books that I'd rather see published.

But that's the key point: Books I, ME, would rather see published, not what EVERYONE ELSE thinks should be published. Someone's buying these books sell so well that the publishers feel its a safe bet to advance this money, and they generally do sell very well.

So I try not to judge the quality of the books based on the name of the author, and I just have to live with the fact that being famous opens a lot of doors and money generates money.

I wish he'd give some more of it away, though.

bootsandbibles said...

I used to work contracts for a major record company, and a friend of mine works them for MTV, and the payouts that these people get are ridiculous. Some are contractually guaranteed thousands upon thousands of dollars just to stand in front of a camera. Seinfeld would probably get that $7 million for gathering a crowd around him and passing gas. Celebrities no doubt feel entitled to such disproportionately large sums for even the most menial of tasks – how much more so for an entire book (even if it was ghost written?)

The issue isn't just idiotic editors willing to blow millions that could otherwise go to keeping a few more starving writers out of the dole queue for another month, it's also an issue of how overpaid celebrities are in general, and how much we as a society tolerate and even celebrate it. This, I think, is what needs to change.

Granted, when I figure out the solution to this problem, I'll probably only be a few paces away from unlocking the secrets of cold fusion...

Anonymous said...

JaneYolen: Ouch. What the hey...if you ain't cashing in what hope is there for the rest of us? You might want to give your agent a nudge on renegotiating your next book deal. If you're producing they should be compensating.

And no wonder the publishing industry is in the crapper. Those kinds of advances defy logic and certainly fiscal good sense.

Arrgghh. And they wonder why their margins are shrinking...and I'm not talking book page format.

JES said...

Trying to put a positive spin on this practice...

The best I can come up with is that such huge advances keep books in general in the public's consciousness; that they make their beneficiaries seem as "important" as top-grossing Hollywood stars. And thus do we all benefit -- thus are we all ennobled.

Or some such sh!t. :)

Crimogenic said...

I second (or third) the AMEN.

This is absolutely senseless. Hey publishing companies, add this to your list of why your profits are low.

Celebrity or not, why give a 7 million advance if the publishing house thinks it's going to sell that well? Let it sell and then the author gets his/her share. I'm all for capping advances. As a new writer who is likely to get 0 to a tiny advance (if I'm ever published), I'm willing to take it to get my foot in the door.

aafinga said...

Really? Never? I pretty much assume that the company laying down that kind of money has justified it somehow, to someone...and this is Seinfeld we're talking about. Silverman, I wouldn't have made that bet, but somebody must have.

Julie Weathers said...

I want to puke every time I hear about huge advances for celebrity books. Most of them are not that interesting. I still think the reason Clinton got that massive deal was because everyone hoped he would be sharing his adventures in dicktation.

Ugh, just, ugh. Pick up the National Enquirer and save yourself $30 for the celebrity drivel.

Charles Gramlich said...

It pisses me off. What a waste of money that, as you say, could be put into so many other things to help publishing out.

AG said...

It's figures like this that remind me developing a coke problem or sleeping with a Senator might be the true road to getting fiction published.

Thanks World!

Or maybe I should just sleep with my cousin while wearing a bear outfit or shooting moose.

Must ponder new marketing plan.

Linda said...

You can always vote with your wallet. That's why I do...

I hope/pray that publishers realize sooner than later that expending humongous advances (and the marketing to go with book promo, no?) for celeb (aka ghost-written) books doesn't help the bottom line.

That may be the only silver lining in the tanking economy... Peace, Linda

Lisa Schroeder said...

The rich get richer and the poor keeping buying into it. Ugh.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I think the 'savannah hypothesis' might come into play here.

The idea is that our brains haven't evolved to understand TV.. at a subconscious level, we feel like those people are really at our house, talking to us.

SO if you have Jerry Seinfield in your house for 30 min. a week for years, you begin to feel like you know him. And like him. And that he's your friend, and he MUST like you too, since he's always in your living room....

And if your very special friend writes a book, don't you want to go out and buy it? Just to be caring and supportive, if nothing else?

Sarah Prineas said...

Is it possible the amount of the advances is exaggerated for publicity reasons? Kind of the way print runs are?

It's just hard to fathom an advance that large...

BuffySquirrel said...

I do vote with my wallet, but it doesn't seem to make any difference!

Publishing Type said...

Wait a minute, I think there's a common error being made here.

You don't need for an author to earn out for a publisher to make money on this. The $7,000,000 investment is a sunk cost but it's your investment in acquiring the book.

Granted, it's not a slam dunk but based on a $25 unit price and standard royalties, discounts and marketing costs, a publisher would have to sell about 750,000 units for the publisher to break even on that advance. That seems in the realm of the possible. in fact, I bet the publisher is counting on selling 1,000,000 copies.

And that's before a paperback release and a fair life as a backlist title.

It's a very high number and higher than I would feel comfortable spending on a book but publishers will spend to have some certainty as well as tentpole titles on their list. If you're going to spend $7,000,000, Jerry Seinfeld is probably one of your best bets (him or Barack...).