Monday, February 09, 2009

It's Getting Ugly Out There

So my agent called me the other day to discuss some business and she proposed this topic for the blog, so I want to thank her for today's fodder! We were chatting about how brutal the current market is and how everyone's expectations have had to change about not only what you should expect for an advance, but whether or not your book is going to sell at all in the current climate.

It got me thinking because as of late, I've heard from a few friends that they've received less-that-stellar offers for their manuscripts, and they weren't sure how to proceed: do you turn down a lowball bid knowing that it might be your only chance at getting published (for this book, at least) or do you hold out for something better, either a better offer or a better time to shop it around, because you suspect that the book is worth more and you further suspect that this shoddy offers aren't going to help your book make much of a splash?

It's a tricky thing to consider, and I suppose that it all depends on what you can and can't afford financially, and what your expectations are in terms of sales, attention, and doing a lot of the work on your own. As someone who did walk away from middling offers (for the book I wrote between The Department and Time of My Life), I have ABSOLUTELY no regrets about it. But it was a different time in the industry: the middling offers indicated to me that I had to write a bigger, better I figured out a way to do that and promptly wrote TOML. But now, that isn't always the case: some of these lowball offers are simply what publishers are willing to offer period. Whether or not your book has breakout potential. So again, the question becomes, do I settle for this or do I hold out?

I don't really have any answers...I just thought it made for good food for thought. As I've discussed here before, whether or not folks like to hear it, it is very, very difficult for a book to break out if it's been sold for a low advance. This has nothing to do with the quality of the words inside, rather the attention and marketing money that will be devoted to it once it's in the publishing assembly line. But is it better to release a book that doesn't go gangbusters than release no book at all? The easy answer is, "Of course," until you consider that your future advances will be based on previous book sales...and if your book hasn't sold like crazy, well, your advances will remain low. It's a catch-22, a vicious cycle. And I don't really have the answers.

The best thing that I think you can do is trust your gut (I did when I turned down the three or four lower offers that middle book) and listen to your agent whom you hopefully trust as much as your gut. He or she should be able to give you an honest assessment of what your expectations should be with whatever advance you're receiving, and then you have to decide how that fits into your overall career game plan (and current financial needs). It's not pretty out there right now, but hopefully, with some smart strategizing, we can all make it through,

So what say you guys? Is it better to be published, even if your book doesn't make a huge splash, or do you turn down the low advance and hope for something better in the future?


Amie Stuart said...

Keeping in mind I write erotic and erotic romance--not a subgenre you see a lot of breaking out in--I say go for the low IF it's not slave wages LOL and it's the house and editor you want. You'll make it up on the back end.

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure there will be a better time--I'm wondering if advances will ever bounce back. I've heard things that indicate that publishing has changed in this way, permanently. If this is the case, you could be shooting yourself in the foot by not accepting the offer. And, if everyone else is getting the low advance--it might not be such a stigma for your future if this is just the way it is and now how it will always be.
Allison-what does your agent think about the future of advances?

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I think it depends. It depends what your expectations are, and it depends what "low" is. Want to give us some examples? Not sure I'd jump at a 5K advance, but 25K might make me listen. And they are both considered low by PM standards, it's in the bottom rank of 'nice deal' I think. I don't expect 6 figures. Not for my first book anyway. ;)

Anonymous said...

Honestly, if it's your first book, then I can't imagine saying 'no'. As long as you like the editor and the book is the type of book you want to keep on writing, and the best work you can do.

I wonder though, if you take a lower advance can you ever negotiate for other things, like guaranteed marketing? I'd be less concerned w/the advance if I knew the book was going to be marketed well. If you can ever know that kind of thing.

I can see being more concerned about a low advance on the second or third book though, once you are further along with your career.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

I think we're talking about 10k or so advances, Amy, to answer your question. I agree that 25k is a different situation.

And I don't know, I mean, I'm not sure that it's a no-brainer to take a low advance. Sales beget sales...and if you really don't have them for your first book, your next advances aren't going to be much higher. As far as building in marketing, I've been told that, unless you're really in the big time, this doesn't happen. Too much else determines marketing: they're not going to promise marketing when the sales team hasn't even taken it much depends on those orders that they aren't going to promise co-op or whatnot until they see the reaction from store buyers.

Oh, and I did follow-up with my agent who said, as I expected, that she and others don't see this as a forever-trend, just something reflecting the current state of the economy.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I so believe things happen for a reason. A while back I was on pace to query agent in January 09, but life got in the way and now I'm on track for April. I'm hoping that when I finally get an agent and he or she is ready to send my ms to editors, we'll be on the upswing w/ advances. Fingers crossed (although that makes it much harder to type).

Anonymous said...

Hopefully, you're dealing with people you trust, and you can make your decision by honest discussion. Also, I'd rather take a lower advance and then have the book perform better than expected and keep getting royalties. Every time I receive a royalty check, I get all warm and fuzzy -- really, they ARE the gift that keeps on giving.

Out of proportion advances put too much pressure on a book too early, especially if the author hasn't yet built the audience, in my opinion.

Amie Stuart said...

I agree w/Devon about the out of proportion advances. And here's a link to an AWESOME AWESOME interview with Chuck Adams of Algonquin books (he bought Water for Elephants and used to edit at S&S).