L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

28 September 2006 Blog Home : September 2006 : Permalink

Bonne Chance, Mais...

As an optimistic (wildly oprimistic according to She Who Must Be Obeyed) sort of chap, I don't want to be the thunderstorm of depression at a fellow blogger's celebratory garden party. Especially when said blogger seems to have struck it lucky after a fairly rough few months. But I'm going to do so anyway. Not you understand that I don't wish her every good fortune because I do its just that the way she has struck it big comes mere days after my reading a couple of related stories that combine to make me think that she's got a potential problem.

The story so far: Petite Anglaise was dooced and then got lots of yummy publicity and (a certain amount of non-yummy publicity from the Daily Mail: "Prize for my least favourite paper goes to the Daily Mail for being the people who managed to sniff out my surname, use it against my wishes, send a journalist to my parents house and reproduce sections from my blog after I expressly refused my permission") and this has led to a new career as an author which sounds jolly good at first sight:

As I have reported, briefly, in The Daily Telegraph, the woman behind the nom-de-blog, Catherine Sanderson, has landed a highly impressive deal to write two books for Penguin.

Bloggers among my readers – and among hers, come to that – should take heart, not just from the romantic aspects of Catherine’s rise from humdrum office life to celebrity and success, but from the hard-nosed detail.

No one likes talking figures on these occasions, but I have reason to believe the contract is worth in the region of £400,000 and that more may end up going her way from deals with America and the rest of the world.

And this is where I get to be the party pooper. You see first of all I read this from the Boston Herald:

Not so long ago, having a popular blog was the ultimate “in” to get yourself a book deal.

Now? Not so much.

Bloggers, buoyed by site meter numbers and Internet buzz, were the darling of the publishing world about two years ago. But when books hit the shelves, sales fizzled, and now it takes a lot more than a laptop and a blogspot account to make it onto Amazon’s top 100.

“They haven’t performed as well as publishers hoped,” said Boston-based literary agent Jill Kneerim. “It is still a phenomenon that people are hopeful about, but in many cases, people who are fans of the blog have already read the content. So what’s the point in buying the book?”

Stephanie Klein, whose blog “Greek Tragedy” at www.stephanieklein.com netted her a six-figure, two-book deal, released “Straight Up and Dirty” this past spring. It wasn’t the grand slam publishers expected. One agent told The Book Standard, “Paying $500,000-plus for that Greek Tragedy blogger was pretty dumb.”

Other hyped blogger books such as “Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq” (riverbendblog.blogspot .com), “Anonymous Lawyer” by Jeremy Blachman (anonymous lawyer.blogspot.com) and “I’m Not the New Me: A Memoir” by Wendy McClure (poundy.com) weren’t anything to, well, blog about.

Well you might claim that this is just America (and you could be right) but - although she (not unsurprisingly) fails to give details - Belle de Jour seems less that perfectly pleased with her book sales and I'm fairly sure that Tim W's Blogged is now on special 2 for the price of 1 discount at your local remainder store. So a £400,000 2 book advance looks like a bad move from Penguin because, at least in N America, the blogger-authors are less than commercially successful.

Well you say so what? Petite gets the moolah so if the book doesn't earn out she's going to cry all the way to the bank. And I have to admit that might have been my opinion too had I not read the related post by Tor Editor Anna Louise Genovese:

I have received several emails from agents lately that make me want to reply with one line: Is this a joke? I am completely baffled by agents who obviously do not have the best interests of their clients in mind. On one hand, I completely understand that agents want the best deal they can get for their clients. On the other hand, the best deal is not always a tremendous amount of money.

It's not just a crazy urban legend, you know. Too many authors find their careers in tatters because they took that $150,000 advance thinking the publisher was going to push the book harder because they paid more money for it. That is hardly ever the way it happens. The book prints 250,000 copies, but 225,000 copies sit in the warehouse while 25,000 copies sit on bookshelves. Then the book goes to remainder. The author never earns back the advance, and can't get another contract to save his/her life. So very often, despite one or two successful books, this particular book (and maybe the second one on the contract that only prints 25,000 copies and sells 15,000) ruins the author's track record.

Time to start over with a pseud. But that's hard--it's hard to get a book published, period.[...]

Anyway, I'm frustrated, because sometimes the best deal isn't the most money, and I don't understand why some agents don't understand that. The end.

And if that were not bad enough as she explains in the comments people saying "so what? I'll take it anyway" are missing the point that these telephone number amounds of money don't get transfered in one easy to pay tax on lump:

Okay, so you'd take the $150,000 for two books--minus your agent's 15%, spread out over the course of at least five payments (on signing, delivery & acceptance for #1, delivery & acceptance for #2, on publication for #1, on publication for #2--maybe even two more payments if the book is done in hardcover *and* paperback...), minus state and federal taxes... What are you left with? Not all that much money, and no career in publishing.

So here's the optimistic possible deal - if the first book sells well and the second shows up before the buzz has gone away she's OK and a budding new JK Rowling has been born. Then Hollywood gets in on the act, a yorkshire "Bridget Jones" film gets made, is the sleeper hit of 2009 and Petite gets to buy one of the gin palaces in Port Vauban and a "cozy cottage" in the country. Cool.

Here's another possible deal - the first book, despite being written amusingly and having a gienormous print run, goes down like a lead balloon, never makes it beyond a rank of 3 gazillion at Amazon and is widely seen in all good remainder shops adjacent to John Prescott's Memoirs ("Three Shags, Two Jags, One Fist in the Gob") just in time for Christmas 2008. Penguin publish the second contracted book at a much reduced printing, make a mental note never to be so stupid again and their editors, in the gossipy way of the book trade tell everyone they know at parties that Petite can't write to save her life so don't take the risk, and the other publishers take their advice. Petite having spent all the advance on riotous living, childcare, mortgage payments etc. now needs to look for a new job in a new field because no one wants to publish her third book or see her name in their magazine.

Do you reckon life is more likely to follow scenario 1 or scenario 2? Yeah me 2.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin