Publisher: “So, I understand you want to write a book.”
Author: “Yes, that’s right. I have a unique connection to some of the people who helped transform role-playing games from geeks gathering using paper and dice to a massive online multi-billion dollar industry. I’ve been part of that world, and they trust me.”
Publisher; “Our research shows that there would be a market for that. And it says here you’ve written books before?”
Author: “Yes, I’ve sold ten books before, and three of them have made it on the bestseller list. I have 100,000 Twitter followers, and a blog on the industry that is top-rated.”
Publisher: “Mm-hm. We do think we can do business here. How long would it take you to write the book?”
Author: “I can have it finished in a year. I’m going to have to travel to cons…those are conventions…to be able to meet with some of these people. I’ll also need to make some acquisitions in terms of collectible games.”
Publisher: “Well, in order to promote it properly for next year’s holiday season, we’d need the finished manuscript by August 1st. We can assign a top pop culture editor to the project, and we can give you some logistical help. Does that sound like it could work?”
Author: “Sure, no problem.”
Publisher: “Excellent. We think this will sell, and you think it will sell. We’ll give you an advance on the royalties from those sales…your agent said $75,000 would provide you with sufficient resources?”
Author: “Yes, yes, that’s a good number.”
Publisher: “We look forward to seeing your work.”
Three months later
Publisher: “How is that gaming book coming?”
Editor: “I’ve been given about thirty-five pages, and it does look good. There’s some really inside stuff, and once we strip it of some jargon, I think it has crossover potential.”
Publisher: “How about the speed?”
Editor: “It’s going to depend on how it goes over the summer. These conventions ought to give us a lot of material…I’ve asked the author to focus on a couple of big ones, so there’s enough time for actual writing. Apparently, though, the small conventions might be better human interest…that’s what I’m told, at any rate.”
Publisher: “Keep an eye on it…there’s a big videogame movie coming out next November, and we want to ride that wave.”
Editor: “Will do.”
Six months later
Editor: “You’ve really got to focus on the writing.”
Author: “I just sent you fifty pages.”
Editor: “Come on, you know I can’t use that. You can’t just send me game rules…I’ll never get the clearances. The publisher wants your experiences, not what somebody else wrote.”
Author: “Oh, I’ve been having some great experiences! I’ve gotten some great interviews.”
Editor: “Where are those?”
Author: “I just need to get them written up.”
Editor: “Remember we’ve got a deadline.”
Author: “I know, I know.”
Editor: “How’s your advance holding up?”
Author: “I wanted to talk to you about that…some of the games were more expensive than I thought, and hotel prices have really gone up.”
Editor: “I can’t get you any more with what I’ve got so far. There are people above my head who are losing faith in this book. You’ve got to give me good stuff so I have something to back me up.”
Author: “It’s more complicated than you think.”
Editor: “Scale it back and get me something…I’ll help you out with it.”
Three months later
Publisher: “This is the deadline…where’s the book?”
Author: “It’s close, it’s really close. Another three months…and another ten thousand dollars would do it.”
Publisher: “We’re already missing the marketing for that movie.”
Author: “There’s always another videogame movie, right?”
Publisher: “Not like this. Maybe we can push the book to the summer to go with the DVD release. Your editor tells me that what you’ve written is good, we just don’t have enough to make a book.”
Author: “You will, you will…how about that ten thousand?”
Publisher: “Ten chapters first, then we’ll talk.”
Six months later
Publisher: “I think it’s time to pull the plug on that game book.”
Editor: “I hate to say it, but I think you’re right. I just can’t get the author to focus on the writing! Talented, great writer, has a good following…but no discipline. You’d think somebody who can play a game for eighteen hours straight could sit down and write for two hours.”
Publisher: “How about a ghost writer? Could somebody else finish it?”
Editor: “There’s not enough there. It all hinges on those interviews, and I don’t even know if there are notes on those…I can’t get a look at anything. Looks like $75,000 down the drain to me. Too bad we can’t get that back.”
When we look at the paths to publication, and compare going with a tradpub (traditional publisher) versus indie (independent publishing), advances have always been an argument on the side of the former. Indies need to carry the financial burden of writing the book, often by having a “day job”. A tradpub has the financial resources to support an author while writing a book, and can do a good job of estimating how much money something will make. Authors may tell you that the advance never seems to get paid off…royalty checks may not show up for years.
On the other hand, the publishers have really taken a chance with those advances…it’s been a gamble. If the author doesn’t actually deliver the book, it’s been a hit on the balance sheet.
That may be changing.
In a move that surprised people in the industry, Penguin is suing authors to recover those advances on books it says weren’t delivered, or otherwise became unpublishable:
This is part of the changing dynamics. Indie publishing, contrary to what many people might think, can reduce the risk for traditional publishing. It’s sort of like having a farm team for Major League Baseball. Indies take on the financial risks themselves, and can prove their market value at their own cost. Indies can perhaps make enough to support their writing (even as a second income), and traditional publishers can cherry pick authors who have already been “beta tested”.
That may make tradpubs less willing to front the money.
You might think publishers would be afraid of driving away authors, who now have the option to independently publish…or go with someone like Amazon’s new publishing division. A lot of authors like having a tradpub, though, and those media giants have a lot of marketing power. It’s still difficult for an independent to get booked on major talk shows, for example.
Tradpubs may also be able to leverage that power to book things like lectures (which can be quite lucrative), again, in a way that’s difficult for indies.
Publishers may need to take fewer risks in the short run…that could mean paying more to reliable performers, and not playing around with authors they see as more of a risk.
It’s definitely an evolving industry…and that includes the relationships between the major players.
What do you think? Are advances a thing of the past, or will they increase for brand name authors? Can indie e-book publishing be good for tradpubs? Is Penguin playing hardball going to be a wake-up call for authors…there are a million new options out there for tradpubs? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.