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7-figure deals for debut novelists

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The Wall Street Journal has an article, "Betting Big on Literary Newcomers," on the recent spate of 7-figure deals for debut novelists who write literary fiction:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/betting-big-on-literary-newcomers-1447880214

The piece includes this curious statement:

"The lack of a sales track record is one of the factors that makes debut authors most appealing, publishers say, because there is no hard data to dampen expectations. 'You can pin all your hopes and dreams and fantasies on a debut novel,' said Eric Simonoff, an agent known for negotiating seven-figure advances."

For me, this is hard to fathom: so publishers, unsentimental business types that they are, are relying on "hopes and dreams and fantasies"?

Providing examples of a dozen or more deals (it doesn't specify whether adult or teen/children's), the article notes that in about two-thirds of them, the publisher has not broken even.

This seems like another economic universe.

Best,
Gatz
#1 - November 20, 2015, 11:53 AM
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Gambling doesn't exactly seem like a proper way to run a business, no? But nobody can really predict which books will become best-sellers and which not. Oh, I read debut authors but my mainstays are tried and true, those authors who continue to write great books.

This reminds me of another conversation we had about 6-fig deals: https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=75813.msg939581#msg939581  and how funny, you started that thread too :grin3

Thanks, Vijaya
#2 - November 20, 2015, 01:26 PM
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Vijaya, I started the 6-figure thread as well. But this instant millionaire stuff is almost unfathomable. I wonder how an unknown author gets multiple houses to bid on a first book. She or he must have a world-class agent.

Gatz
#3 - November 20, 2015, 10:02 PM
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I suspect it's platform.
#4 - November 20, 2015, 10:04 PM
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Vijaya

I would think you would need an name like Patterson or somewhat like to get that kind of book deal(7-figures). I hope to be offer the middle 5-figures when I sell my first book( I know, wishful thinking, but any thing can happen).

#5 - November 20, 2015, 11:28 PM

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David, I'm hoping for 5 figures too, but I suspect the 7 fig deals are for high concept books. The thing is when I read their summaries, it's not a book I'd pick up. Different tastes, that's all.

Vijaya
#6 - November 21, 2015, 08:58 AM
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I am hoping that the book publishing industry is not like the magazine market. There, if you are and unknown, you are paid from the bottom up. In magazines, if you are an unknown, you are paid next to nothing, but as you get known you are paid more. I would say to get 7-figures, it would have to be high concept and to have an big name.

My uncle's last name was Patterson(not related to James), do you think it would help me to mention that? LOL
#7 - November 21, 2015, 09:35 AM

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It would be life-changingly awesome to get a newsworthy deal like that BUT I think it might be better to start (much) smaller. I can't imagine the pressure a writer would feel wondering if their book will deliver. Maybe those who get them don't feel that way, but it would be super intimidating to me! ;)
#8 - November 24, 2015, 12:15 PM
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Did somebody say 7-figure deal? This was just in PW Children's Bookshelf today: http://bit.ly/1MB5nNW

 :sadcry   :envy
#9 - November 24, 2015, 03:56 PM

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Wow, Anne! It's only 6 figures (ha! I'll take it!) but still, it's like every writer's wildest dream come true.  :cloud9

He broke a few "rules" too, such as sending a self-published book to an agent. Shows that for every rule there is an exception and one should never say "never."
#10 - November 25, 2015, 08:35 AM
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Actually, Barb, his freelance editor took the book to her neighbor next door, who's an agent. A couple of agents I've been following on Twitter have tweeted, or re-tweeted, words to the effect that "Clearly, I need better neighbors!"
#11 - November 25, 2015, 08:49 AM

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Actually, Barb, his freelance editor took the book to her neighbor next door, who's an agent. A couple of agents I've been following on Twitter have tweeted, or re-tweeted, words to the effect that "Clearly, I need better neighbors!"

 :lol4
#12 - November 25, 2015, 11:32 AM

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Scott Bergstrom had an name in the publishing world before this. That was what I was talking about. This may had been his first novel but
he was already known.
#13 - November 25, 2015, 12:41 PM

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought smaller advances is both better for the publisher and the author?

Obviously you can't live off your advances. But it's far easier to exceed your advance if you're an author, and then far more likely to also break even on the publisher end.

I'd honestly be more worried about if I was given a five figure advance from the get go.

As totally bizarre as this sounds, I'd be more honored with a 100 dollar advance. Because they'd essentially be saying 'your book is going to sell more than this, but to be safe this will be your starting paycheck.'

Granted if given a $5 advance that's another problem in itself, because even if you sell beyond it doesn't necessarily mean being a big seller at 150 dollars the money will surely pay for things like editing and print costs on future books.
#14 - November 29, 2015, 03:49 PM
« Last Edit: November 29, 2015, 03:54 PM by SarahW »
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I know of one author that didn't get any advance for his first book. Just an contract and royalties. When he call the editor to ask why, he was told that because he was unknown and have no track record, that the publishing house was taking all the risk.
The book sold almost 250,000 copies over two years. He submitted his second book three years later and was given an 10,000 dollar advance that time. Both of his books was mystery sex novels.

That is why I say advances are paid by how big of an name you are and experience(publishing credits).
#15 - November 29, 2015, 05:50 PM
« Last Edit: November 29, 2015, 05:52 PM by david-poston »

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That is why I say advances are paid by how big of an name you are and experience(publishing credits).

I'll have to disagree, as my first advances were well into the five-figure range, and I had zero publication credits and no name whatsoever. The amount of advances is reckoned on multiple factors, on a case by case basis, and not just those factors.
#16 - November 29, 2015, 06:46 PM
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Yes, most times it does go by an case by case basic BUT in some genes that case by case basic rule is thrown out the window. I think it boils down to the publishing house as to what happens.

I am taking an course in children literature right now. Am working on an manuscript for YA mystery for the final exam.

May take up where I left off, back in the mid '80s, with mysteries. Have not made my mind up as of yet. But am leaning towards YA mystery romance.
#17 - November 30, 2015, 01:04 AM

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I'll have to disagree, as my first advances were well into the five-figure range, and I had zero publication credits and no name whatsoever. The amount of advances is reckoned on multiple factors, on a case by case basis, and not just those factors.

I agree with Marissa. My first book got a five figure advance that I'm told was well above average for all MG advances at the time, and I was similarly unpublished and unknown. I have more name recognition in industry circles now, and the advance for my second book was noticeably smaller than for my first. Case by case. Now, I do think there are deal pre-existing name recognition for one reason or another, but I consider that to be a specific case, not a rule that applies across all advances. Debut authors who are complete unknowns also land six-figure deals sometimes.
#18 - November 30, 2015, 08:28 AM

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