Very few ever thought they’d live to see the day when the words “indie author” and “seven-figure advance” were uttered in the same sentence – and yet, it appears that this auspicious day has come. A few weeks ago, it was announced among publishing circles that indie author Blake Crouch had landed seven figures at Crown for DARK MATTER, his science fiction novel. While seven-figure book deals aren’t necessarily a novel concept in book publishing, these deals seem to be happening with more frequency these days.
Publisher’s Weekly reported that before this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair in early October, not one but two seven-figure deals for debut works were fait accomplis by the Big Five houses. The New York Times announced the first deal about the waitress who’d landed a six-figure advance followed a short while later when news leaked that St. Martin Press had paid seven figures for a debut novel by New York Times reporter, Stephanie Clifford. And then came the deal with Blake Crouch.
Many in the industry like George Gibson, publishing director at Bloomsbury USA, has indicated that these big deals happen “fairly regularly during the year”. That may very well be, but even Mr. Gibson has acknowledged that the publishing business has changed, especially for the Big Five, where highly sought-after projects have become extremely important. He rationalizes that, “the game plan to make your budget, or exceed it, relies on having bestsellers”. Apparently, since both midlist and backlist titles aren’t selling as well as they once did, the “big books” – the ones with all the zeros in the advances – are the important ones that hold promise of being tomorrow’s bestsellers. Stacey Glick, a Vice-President at Dystel & Goderich, has felt that some of these recent big-moolah deals may be attributed to the fact that the Big Five have a need to show that they’re still powerful forces to be reckoned with, especially with more and more authors finding success in self-publishing.
It’s also been reported that many of the bigger deals of late have been for debut works by first-time authors. While that’s certainly a cash cow lottery win for the first-timer, it unfortunately sets up an expectation level for an author that more often than not cannot be met. And let’s not forget about the ugly elephant in the room – the pressure – to move heaven and earth to achieve that anticipated commercial success, which may or may not happen. If the book doesn’t do as well as expected, that new author’s career may be damaged in the long run in terms of future books. That’s certainly something to think about before eagerly reaching for the pen to sign on the dotted line.
If anything is to be taken away from this insanity in the face of seven-figure advances, that would be that in the world of legacy publishing, backlist titles aren’t selling but in the world of indie publishing, backlist titles seem to be the indie author’s bread and butter, so to speak…