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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Agassi’s ‘obscene’ advance

Girl Friday at The Friday Project squirms over the latest news on the front of publishers’ advances:

Over $4 million for a book by a man whose personal fortune stands at around $162 million. Good God, like he needs the money. Maybe all of this obscene advance will go to his Preparatory Academy but my real question is Publishers! What are you thinking? How many copies of the book will you have to sell to come even close to earning that astronomical advance back? How many new authors could you have taken on, nurtured and made into successful writers at just a fraction of that cost?

Thanks to Paul for this one.

15 Responses to “Agassi’s ‘obscene’ advance”

  1. Hi John,

    On the upside, celebrities with the exception of a few like Joan Collins have not yet dabbled in adult fiction – and I believe even she has stopped – & I know now that no matter what booksellers say, the publishing industry IS thriving.

    On the downside, in selling their souls to the highest bidder, literary agents dismantle the sacred territory of the written word. They betray the many dedicated writers who have put their trust and lovingly-written manuscripts in their hands for a fair game. Except that every now and then, such shocking episodes show that it’ not.

    jb says: Hi Susan. Not easy to get your head around something like a $4 million advance for a non-book in the same week that Waterstones plan to close 30 stores and Borders announce they are pulling out of the UK market altogether.

  2. In fair response to your reply Mr. John Baker, I’d say on reading it that I was…
    in a mild state of confusion & smiling wryly. 🙂

    jb says: You have to smile.

  3. Paul says:

    How can such a major industry, cocoon itself from contact with its production line (writers) and its consumers (readers) and still expect to flourish? Any involvement in long term planning seems long ago, to have been sacrificed in favour of short term gains and high-profile, bandwagon deals. The book trade bemoans its future, but takes little responsibility for influencing it. There are vast new markets out there, but what does the book trade do to identify or develop them, or are they leaving it all to “Richard and Judy” and “Harry Potter”? Remind me again – How many times was J.K. Rowling rejected?

    jb says: OK, it’s short-term again, but this is one of the ways.

  4. Paul says:

    Sorry John. I let my words run away with me when I saw that someone was actually trying to encourage some debate on the future of literature in the UK. The poor old high street retailers have enough problems.
    My comments on the “book trade” were actually directed at the big publishing houses. It’s they who have the resources and therefore the capability (if not the will, or wit) to influence the future. There just seems so little evidence, in what they do, of solid market research, innovative drive, and creation of new markets – Just more of the same.

    jb says: ‘More of the same.’ Strange, but that’s what editors usually ask for when a writer’s next book is being discussed. They want more of whatever the current best-seller is composed of. ‘More of the same. Gimme more like JK Rowling; gimme more like Dan Brown.’ This attitude goes to extraordinary lengths. If the current best-seller has 330 pages, guess what, they are looking for more of the same with 330 pages. If the current best-seller is based in the ‘sixties, then that’s what they want more of, more of the same based in the ‘sixties.

  5. Extreme stupidity in my eyes and I’ll stop there.

    jb says: Admirable restraint, CFR.

  6. susan abraham says:

    Paul, I must also add if somewhat hesitantly now – facing up to your vehement passon – that the reason I mentioned literary agents was nothing to do with the future of literature in the UK but simply from feeling that they hold equal power with publishers these days; they are the ones who cajole for monstrous amounts on selected titles ruthlessly. I believe they’re also the first door that any aspiring writer or celebrity would pass through when you think mainstream book publishing. They appear to call the shots. This is easily seen in their websites and they demand the kind of titles that want reading, publishing & selling.
    I believe too that these are the partial technicalities of an entire publishing process that eventually has a domino effect on any book retailer. The last stop!

    This is not a debate at all. I understand your feelings and hope you will make room for mine.

  7. c/o jb

    Do you mean me, Paul? Well, I wasn’t trying to encourage any kind of debate at all. I’m not for debates. What I wrote was a one-off personal comment and it still stays my present observation even if it’s one of isolation.

  8. Paul says:

    Susan, I apologise if I’ve expressed myself badly and caused offence. My eagerness to comment was born from the frustration of dealing with literary agents, who – often do not have websites, rarely update entries in Yearbooks, have no readily discernible specialities in terms of genre, insist on hardcopy submissions and exclusive consideration, work to Victorian timescales, rarely give meaningful feedback and then complain about the size and quality of their slushpiles. (Why 2-3 chapters, when they all say they can judge from the first page). They now seem to be moving to considering only referrals from critique/editorial services (which some of them also provide) and M.A. courses, which will put 2 intermediaries between publisher and writer.
    My comments, in welcoming “debate” were addressed to John – a thank you for the opportunity to raise issues which are outside my ability to influence in any way. To me the industry seems gripped by “acceptance of what is” and ruled by “more of the same.” Yet the big publishers have the power and resources to change things for the better. Perhaps I’m wrong, I’m not part of that world.
    Apologies again, Susan, but I wasn’t disagreeing with what you said. Apologies also to John for the word count. I’m afraid I’m new to the world of blogging.

    jb says: You’re doing good, Paul.

  9. c/o jb

    No need to apologise for anything at all, Paul. 🙂 There is no offence; none whatsoever. I was concerned I may have upset you with my first remark. You are right about everything. And I’ve learnt quite a bit.

    Im going off-course here but
    now that I’m in the process of submitting my own manuscripts to literary agents in the UK, where mainstream is concerned anyway, they appear to have taken over the slush piles almost completely, from publishers.

    If you are interested in the updated versions of literary agent websites, I would recommend AC Black that contains one of the most legitimate worldwide lists and there’s also which supports theatre work – like playwrights etc but they do take on fiction & non-fiction as well. One of the lesser known sites but very good & a lot more variety than AC Black in the London areas alone.

    I think you will find greater comfort in these lists, Paul. Many other agent sites on the Internet are presently outdated. Scroll down to the end and check the copyright year of the directory – that would be a good way to tell.

    The Victorian timescales are sadly true. But some like MacFarlane Chard Associates (in or Diane Banks Literary Agency, Robin Wade & Eddison Pearson allow submissions by email and have a much shorter waiting period.

    From my own submissions right now, I see that smaller book publishers don’t require agents. You can go directly on.

    Paul, I would be cautious of those that insisit on using their critique/editorial services as a compulsory measure in the first instance because I think those agents may be collecting kickbacks. Unless of course, you submit your manuscript as a wholly learning experience and not hope for any kind of guaranteed acceptance from the said agent, afterwards.

    I was just reading of how HMV is closing 30 of its 329 Waterstone’s stores but they blame it all on cheapter Internet sales that accounted for their loss.

    If you are interested in sinking your teeth into more of these issues, Derek Landy who was paid £1million for his children’s novel Skulduggery Pleasant will have the first of a trilogy launched in a celebrated worldwide fanfare next month. It is HarperCollins biggest global deal and they’re hoping his fictional hero may take over from Harry Potter.

  10. Minx says:

    I did, at one time, consider having my breasts pumped up to 34GG, wearing very small clothes, dumping my family for a short Australian and changing my name to ‘Organ’ in order to secure a fat book deal. It was a hopeless quest – I can’t write but I can sing.

    jb says: Perhaps a bridge too far, Minx? Jane Austen is going through a makeover at the moment, so you’re not alone. But back when she was breathing better than she is now, Jane thought the best way of increasing her book sales was to eat a goose on Michaelmas Day.

  11. Minx says:

    Jane Austen has had hair extensions, a nose job and a cap removal – I have discussed the matter a-blog (it is not happy reading).

    I shall attempt to promote sales of my book with the goose strategy – I will let you know.

    jb says: We’ll all come over to you to see Jane’s nose job, and follow your goose strategy experiments with bated breath. And then in your own time, no rush, it would be good to have 34GG decoded. It’s quite graphic as it is but I’m not sure if numbers and capital letters (albeit twins) quite convey the texture, weight and feel that the publisher with the huge advance would be looking for.

  12. Lee says:

    Susan, you’ve provided some very good advice, so thanks. Have you seen today’s article in The Guardian about first time novelists?
    Here’s the link for the curious:,,2042135,00.html

    jb says: Thanks for this, Lee. I’d just read the article as your comment came through. The line that stuck in my mind was this: “Kate Saunders(one of the judges for the Orange prize), while reading for the Orange Prize, felt that ‘publishers seem enormously scared of too much originality. Many of the first novels we had to read this year appeared to be watered-down copies of something else.'”
    In my experience this hits the nail on the head. Publishers don’t trust us (readers), they want to treat us like children. And that will be their downfall.

  13. c/o jb

    Thanks Lee. 🙂
    Yes, I read the chilling article yesterday.
    Looks like I’m entering a horror house of no return.
    It was lovely knowing you. tee-hee!

  14. Paul says:

    Susan. Thank you for your good advice, and for the care and sensitivity that shines through it. I sincerely wish you all the best in the future. Apologies to John for using his site as a message board.

  15. Minx says:

    Mister Baker – you saucepot. I am Agassi-ed!

    jb says: Does this mean we don’t get it decoded?