Have we seen the demise of the advance? I’m talking about all these print-on-demand companies (POD) that are masquerading as “traditional” publishers. With the advent of POD, we’ve seen a proliferation of publishers hanging out their shingles, writing glowing mission statements, and proclaiming that they are bonafide royalty paying publishers. We’ve had about what, ten or more years of this? They often convey lofty ideals that appeal to the “dreamers”, “rejected”, “hopeful” or newbie writers. Without doubt, most of these pub outfits are run as hobbies, in garages or spare bedrooms, with limited staff and resources. Many of them went through Lulu or iUniverse to publish their own tomes, and decided they liked the idea and had enough business savvy to open their doors to fledgling writers. Friends and associates jumped in to help out with book cover art, editing, shipping and mailing. These contract employees are internet acquaintances. This so called workforce not toiling under the same room at a business address, working as a real publishing team. So when they all come together, we have a…
Presto, we have a publisher!
Not. These people usually have little or no experience in the trade and don’t belong there. They offer higher royalty percentages (they claim), but what they don’t tell you is that those percentages are based on “net” sales, or the profit they actually receive. No advance means a very low startup cost. If they request that an author supply them with a large list of friends and relatives, you can bet that they know purchases from THAT source will compensate them for their initial print order. What’s their initial print order? However many free copies they promised the author—usually 2-5 copies, rarely more than ten. Where are the sales going to come from? From that list you sent them. Plus…You. First-time authors are so enamored with their books that they’ll gladly lay down hundreds of dollars for crates of their own product. And those that do make these large outlays—congratulations! You have just become that publisher's unpaid sales force. Now they’re raking in profits from the sale of your book back to you, less their printing cost, of course. The solution is to print as many authors as possible in a given year—quantity over quality—the K-mart mentality.
Where is their incentive to offer you an advance now?
An advance is a publisher’s faith and conviction in a book that they expect to sell to the general public—that is the vast reading audience out there. They fully expect to see their books shelved in brick and mortar bookstores. This is the way it’s handled in the big leagues. An advance also confirms to the writer that they are being professionally dealt with, and this money gives them a little leeway and time for them to write the next book. It’s also validation. An advance-paying publisher almost always uses an offset print run. Offset is much cheaper to produce thousands of copies. An advance publisher employs/utilizes hard-mail color catalogues, sends dozens, sometimes hundreds of books to reputable book review sources, have a tradeshow presence, retain a small advertising budget, have a publicity manager on deck (bet you didn’t know that), radio, TV and newspaper coverage, and a real sales force that door-bangs on the thresholds of distributors, wholesalers and book shops. They rarely, if ever ask for any list of friends and relatives. Author copies number in the dozens and the author discount is always up in the 50% bracket.
I can’t think of more than 15-20 major publishers in my genre that provide an industry standard advance. That’s about $2,000 to $5,000, and that’s low-ballin’. There are a few dozen (maybe) who offer a few hundred dollars. But there are thousands who are offering zero. The zero people, I like to call them, think that they are revolutionizing the industry, fixing something they believe is inherently broken, saving paper, and leading the way into the next millennium. They are quick to offer up excuses and proclaim that they are ready to get behind a book that proves itself. The trouble is, none of the books reach this milestone. Why? Because there was no advance.
Advance means a publisher is serious about entering the trade. It means they have enough clout, prestige, and confidence in their ability to MOVE product. It means libraries and bookstores will take them seriously, because they receive the best discounts and quality books. It means that publisher has a real address, is working full time, and houses enough professionals to get the job done. An advance-paying publisher BELIEVES in you, the author.
The zero people have vision problems. They claim that once they are solvent things will change. Things never have to change when the profit is so good. Things can’t change, really. It all goes back to that money thing again, the same reason why they didn’t offer an advance in the first place—too much overhead. Take the risk out of the publisher and slap the author with it—much safer that way.
So the next time you receive a contract from a publisher who does not pay an advance, has no marketing or distribution, pays on net, asks you for a friends and relatives list, doesn’t do offset, or can’t even qualify for Ingram’s, all you have to ask them is, “Are you SERIOUS?”
But you’ll already know the answer to that, won’t you? Well, won’t you?
BEWARE OF PUBLISH AMERICA!!!
Causes Chris Stevenson Supports
Ophra's Literacy Program. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Absolutewrite.com.