Sure, if we were the ones getting a million dollar advance from a major publisher, we would feel hopeful about our future.
Otherwise, the feeling is one of despair.
Sure (sorry to use the word again), there may be some sour grapes behind our feelings when we read articles like Betting Big on Literary Newcomers.
After all, with the promotion, glitz, buzz and hoopla behind a book with a million bucks behind it, we could skip all the years of being anonymous, of writing novels many people like but that still don’t have the clout to get editorial reviews, of being asked what we’ve written and then getting a blank stare when we list a few of our novels.
As Jennifer Maloney writes in the Wall Street Journal article about betting big, “Social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads have contributed to a culture in which everyone reads—and tells their friends about—the same handful of books a year. It’s increasingly a winner-take-all economy, publishing executives say. ”
That’s the why behind our despair when we read about such huge advances. If your book is not one of these books, or if you’re not already a big name author, you book basically doesn’t exist in spite of all the blog tours, Amazon sales days, and GoodRead giveaways.
Our argument–as the writers down in the steerage section of the publishing ocean liner–has always been that literature would be better served if that million bucks were dedicated to the promotion of, say, ten books for one hundred grand each, or maybe twenty books at fifty grand each rather than being lavished in an advance to one person. That million doesn’t include the advertising budget.
Sometimes BIG BOOKS turn out to be really good, even wonderful. But they’re bad for literature because–like black holes–they suck all of publishing’s efforts into a small minority of what’s out there. We understand, of course, that publishers claim that the profits from big books help fund little books. Maybe, but I never see any evidence of it.
The authors who write the books that jump into the stratosphere like this worked just as hard as the authors who didn’t. But their work is being turned into a fabricated event. Big advance = lots of buzz = justified large promotional and advertising budget = high sales and many articles and book reviews. The publisher has paid to put the book on top from the starting gate.
Yes, I read these books when the critics have good things to say about them. I’m tempted like everyone else to the books I hear about. Unfortunately, like everyone else, I miss the books I don’t hear about because no advertising or promotional budget brought them to my attention.
What a shame.