Monday, May 16, 2005

Anatomy of a Career

[This author's comments arrived yesterday in response to a January post on the topic of realistic advances. I don't know which I find more astonishing, the arc of the career or the fact that this happy story begins with--and didn't end on--the slush pile. Whoever you are: congratulations, and thanks for sharing this.--Max]

My first advance was $10K from a major NY publisher. (This was also, BTW, an unsolicited, unagented submission.) I earned back that first advance, landed myself an agent, and received a contract for a second book for $35K. In subsequent years, deals for my third and fourth novels followed, and each time my advances increased. Each time I earned out. For my fifth and sixth novels, I received my first 2-book deal and six figure advance. I am currently under a three-book contract for which I received a mid-six figures advance.

Perhaps most people would look at my early miniscule advances and sneer, and it could be said that a larger advance might have earned me more attention from the marketing department. However, I always made a profit for my publisher, and they stuck with me as I gradually built an audience. I've still never been on the Today show or had my publisher run a national ad, but my last two books both spent several weeks on the NYT extended bestseller list.

I give all the credit to my wonderful editor, agent, and in-house publicist who had faith in me and allowed my career to gradually build momentum. Would it have been great to receive a huge advance and publicity campaign for my first book? Well, maybe. I'm not so sure. I ended up at the same place; it just took a little longer.

No advance of any size could buy me what I have today: a great relationship with my publisher, an editor whom I adore, and the ability to continue to do the work I love.


Bob Liter said...

I understand this is the way publishers most often promoted writers in the past. Good to know it can happen now.
Bob Liter

Beth Ciotta said...


TLG said...

That's pretty cool :)

Happy endings help me resist the urge to jump off a bridge for another day :)

Holly said...

While it's a nice story, why is it anonymous? Since no actual hard numbers are given here (so no editors or publishers will be horrified or offended), seems the author of this particular piece should be willing to fess up a name and some titles.

Otherwise, to me, this doesn't exactly ring with truth.

Anonymous said...

Hi, it's me, the anonymous writer of the post Mad Max quoted.

Why would I lie? (I mean, aside from the fact that I do so professionally.)

Holly said...

The question wasn't why you'd lie. It was why you'd remain anonymous. Without being able to read your books and see how you've managed to pull off what is essentially the dream career for a published writer (I've been doing this full-time since 1993, and am now fully versed on all the ways not to have a dream career), your story is pretty, but useless. Without your titles, you've offered nothing solid to anyone who might hope to learn from what you've done.

Anonymous said...

It is exciting - congratulations! - but I, too, would like to know *how* it was done. Advances for first sales in sf/f/h genres are substantially lower, ($5k from what I hear) and in another blog the author of many, MANY books was actually accused of *bragging* about a $21k advance - so I would love to know more about this author's books and market since s/he has done much, much better.

Come to think of it, I wonder how these things differ across genres. Does a first-time thriller author make more than a first-time sci-fi author? How about romance, western, horror, and mystery? Are only literary and non-fiction making five figures right out of the gate?

Anonymous said...

I completely understand why this author wishes to be anonymous. This industry can be quite vicious, and if another author who didn't get the same "deal" from the same publisher (and there are hard numbers and, with the titles and names, people can put two and two together), the editors will have to deal with disgruntled authors (why did she get a two-book deal and you only signed me for one, but I've done this, this and this?).

My agent told me early on to refrain from talking any specifics about contracts with the writing community. It's good advice. Professional jealousy is sad but real. (And considering I'm new, some people will be jealous and some people will laugh that I'm happy with my advance.)

Anyway, the POINT of her post is that building a career can happen and does happen.

s/anon suspense writer

A VOCATION OF UNHAPPINESS [Courtesy Georges Simenon (1903-1985)]

"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."

PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]

"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."

PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]

"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."