7.02.2005

An Author, A book tour, a complaint

So you want to know what it's like from the author's side? Here's one way of looking at it from Hillel Halkin at the Jerusalem Post. One point in the article that I'm happy someone brings up is about the co-op at the chains. Oh, we all know about co-op at the chains and have taken it as expected- this is part of the business of books. As is the realization that editors aren't solely responsible for creating a good product, but they need to figure out the financial well-being of the books they hope to acquire. Now if Arnold Hopeful is getting $25,000 as an advance and selling 20,000 copies I would congratulate him. There are thousands of authors who get advances of a lot less and end up with hardly a review or a royalty statement to show for it. And knowing the publisher Hillel Halkin chose to publish his book, he could have let Arnold look at a different way to structure the deal. Say Arnold doesn't get an advance and instead goes in with the publisher on a plan where they share costs and profits. Let's let Arnold write the book and send it to the publisher who then copy-edits it, re-copy-edits it because the author didn't like the suggested cuts, proofreads, sends the manuscript to the lawyers for a legal read, designs both the interior page layout and the jacket, prints, and finally distributes the book. At this point a marketing and publicity plan are put in place and the costs for these are split between the author and the publisher. And the book sells. As the receipts come in the money at first goes to recoup the costs of production and then for marketing, and then the 2 partners, Arnold and publisher, begin to share the profits. If the book fails in this way Arnold can't just blame the publisher as there's a partnership and the author has an even more vested interest in making the book sell. Yes, I'm afraid it means Arnold needs to turn on the charm and sell, sell, sell the book. But there are thousands of Arnolds out there trying to sell, sell, sell their book.

Now, on to Nathan Flashpan. Assuming that the manuscripts are of equal merit and the publisher foolishly falls into an auction where he pays $500,000 for the book of the same quality, we'll see one of 2 things happen. Either the book will sell in the same number as Arnold's book or it will get a little boost from the publicity and sell a few more copies. Let's say Nathan sells 50,000 copies due to the added publicity. The book is still an abysmal failure. The only way the publisher can make back their initial advances is to hope the book becomes a best-seller and even a million dollar ad campaign will not guarantee that. (As an aside, I would like to point out that I don't find it realistic that the publisher would pay twice what they paid for the book on publicity.) Nathan also has to deal with the thousands of Arnolds out there and if he doesn't and the book ends up still in the red two years later, Nathan is going to have a much harder time selling his next work. Arnold has proven his books to be a profitable venture and any good publisher will see that there's potential for growth on the previous sales. It's not good business sense to go after Nathan's next book (and if you don't want to deal with the business of books become a reviewer or a librarian). This pass on an option should be a red flag for the next potential editor. Luckily, Nathan might be able to find a young editor who is looking to make a name for herself who once again foolishly overspends for his book. Good for Nathan, bad for the industry. But the better bet is Arnold who has proven that his books can make money. Sure it's not the risky option and some publishers love to risk it, but those publishers don't stay around too long.


As a reader, I second Mr. Halkin when he writes "it might be best at this point to declare a 100-year moratorium on all book writing so that readers can be given the opportunity to catch up with what's already on the shelves." Even as a publishing industry drone whose living is tied to books being produced, I've often thought this. There's just too much out there.

And for Hillel Halkin himself? I recently picked up his latest book, A Strange Death: A Story originating in Espionage, Betrayal, and Vengeance in an Old Village in Palestine, because of the cover and it looked really interesting.

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