Tuesday, 17 March 2009


These days, if you want an agent or editor to consider your work (especially if you are an unknown like me), the manuscript has to be word perfect. Don't you dare have a spelling mistake, or a typo, or the teensiest bit of iffy grammar. Don't even think about bucking convention and daring to use anything so out of fashion as dialect (despite the fact that this faddish dislike amongst agents has left us with a slew of books that sound like a bunch of 1940s RADA trained actors doing lower class accents). Try any of that and your submission will spend about six seconds on a desk before being shunted along to the shredder (or the post room if they can be arsed to slip your work into the prepaid and addressed return envelope, which some clearly aren't - do they steam off the stamps and use them elsewhere? isn't that theft?).

On the other hand, if you can raise a $5m advance for the US rights on your second book, guess what? Your agent and your editor will work on it for you. Allegedly.

How does that happen?

Sounds to me a bit like a few people got pissed over lunch, added a few too many zeros to the cheque, sobered up, thought 'Shit!', and are now doing what they can to the manuscript to justify such an obscene amount of money.

Yep. No other word. Obscene. Kick in the teeth to a lot of hard working midlisters. Crap from a great height on all the hardworking writers who do get it word perfect and celebrate with a box of chocolates if their advance looks like it might cover last quarter's electricity bill.

If this book is such a sure-fire bestseller (apparently literary and commercial, as if that has never been done before), why not a reasonable advance on US rights ($100k) and let the writer earn their money from royalties? Because it seems to me, OBSCENE (just in case you hadn't got the point) advances are going to make a writer lazy. Really. Why bother when you are now a millionaire and you know that other people are going to do all the boring re-writes for you?

I have no objection to writers earning a decent living and raking in the royalties on a popular book. I do get kind of pissed at this way of running the industry. You spend that kind of money on an advance, you are going to make damned sure you do all you can to sell the book. It will have a huge marketing budget, lots of exposure, lots of sales as a result (and lots of almost immediate re-appearance in second hand book and charity shops), and all the tossers involved will slap themselves on the back convinced they know how to spot a good book. Self-fulfilling. In the meantime, all that money that has gone round in a big circle and done nothing but pay for itself could have gone round in scores of more modest circles and given us a great deal more genuine choice. For that kind of money we could have had 100 new books (each with a very respectable advance) and of that 100, one could have been this so-called best-selling comlit work, and a whole range of other stuff including some genuinely innovative work.

OK. The needle's stuck. I'm sure you must be bored hearing me go on about this. But every time we get a story like this touted as some sort of success, I will snap back about the blatant hypocrisy of it all. Because it is time that people in the publishing industry stopped behaving like all the merchant bankers out there. The government ain't gonna bail you all out when your business goes belly up. Most politicians wouldn't know a book if it bit them in the arse, and those that recognise what they are really don't give much of a f*** about them (unless they are on the receiving end of one of those OBSCENE advances). No. When the publishing industry goes belly up, those of us at the bottom end of the food chain, the ones that do all the work, will celebrate their freedom from all the leeches who feed off their hard work. Then they will make use of modern technology to carry on doing what they love - writing and selling their work.


Un Peu Loufoque said...

I think I would be terified to the point of petrification if any one offered me a vast obscene advance. Id be sure I wouldnt live up to it!

Graeme K Talboys said...

It might be fun trying. But I know what you mean. I'd never be able to stop thinking of all the authors who didn't get a chance because all the money was wasted on me.