Finished? Okay then.
First up, I agree with John that his model could be better for the industry. I would love to have higher royalties.
However, the only agents I’ve known who’ve asked for them have not had much success. I don’t have as much faith as John does that it’s a possibility for writers like me i.e. for solidly successful mid-list writers who have never had a six-figure advance. I’d love if he was right and that was about to change.
I have much less faith than John does in the rationality of publishers. (I’m not saying writers are particularly rational either. I happen to think that most people aren’t rational and that’s what’s wrong with most economic models.)
Here’s the only way I would agree to be paid under John’s proposal:
- There would have to be a minimum of four royalty payments per year. Though I’d prefer six. Under the current model authors get their royalties twice a year. That’s a very long waiting time. Hard to pay your bills without a decent advance when money’s only coming in twice a year.
- Publishers would have to guarantee up front that they’d put money into sales & marketing as well as publicity for my books. My getting a higher percentage of royalties means the publisher has given up some of its cut and thus has less invested in my books selling.
The problem with no. 1 is that royalties paid twice a year is a very convenient arrangement for the publisher. Pay outs to gazillions of authors twice a year is way less of a headache. I can hear the accountants screaming at the very idea of having to do that four or six times a year. Two payments also means they get to hang onto the money for much longer, accruing interest. I can’t imagine publishers being in a hurry to change that arrangement.
The problem with no. 2 is that publishers frequently make promises about publicity and sales and marketing when they’re bidding on a book but sometimes they do not do what they said they’d do. I’ve been extremely lucky on that front. Bloomsbury and Allen & Unwin have done every single thing they promised they’d do for my books. I trust them to do well by my books. But there are publishers who don’t stand by their promises. Sometimes that’s because the person who made those promises is gone. Sometimes it’s because there was a misunderstanding about what they were promising. And sometimes, well, sometimes it’s hard to come up with a charitable explanation for the behaviour. (Just as it can often be hard to come up with charitable explanations for some writers’ behaviours. People aren’t rational.)
I have seen many writers get huge advances and in almost all cases the publishing house put a lot of muscle behind those books to promote them. I have also seen publishing houses put a big push behind a low advance book but no where near as often. And usually the publisher doesn’t do that until they see external signs of enthusiasm for the book, such as a strong reaction from big accounts and big sell-in, great word of mouth and reviews etc. I have also seen publishers see all those strong signs of enthusiasm for a low-advance book and STILL not get behind it. Whatever John may say, big advances do concentrate the minds of publishers most powerfully.
Also many of the big advances I’ve seen have not been irrational. Paying a six-figure advance to a proven bestseller is not a huge risk. I’ve seen many six-figure advance earning out. I think publishers are being totally rational paying a known earner a big lump sum to write books. It works for the author; it works for them. And that big lump sum gives the author breathing space by taking financial stresses away thus allowing them to write more.
Where I think publishers are nuts is when they pay crazy money to unknowns or non-writers (think all those failed books “by” Hollywood stars). That so rarely works out that it bewilders me that they haven’t learnt their lesson.
But, hey, I keep sticking my fingers in electrical sockets. We’re not all rational.