Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Advances in Retreat

'Writing, the No-money Game' - now there's a title you can't resist: this is the area debated in Jean Hannah Edelstein's Guardian blog -
What has given rise to it is a proposal by an imprint of HarperCollins to dispense with writers' advances and instead give them a bigger cut of the royalties. On the face of it, I'm in favour of that. The reading public often has no idea at all how small the writer's cut is. When I signed copies of the £17 hardback of The Chase when it came out, many were the signees who seemed to think I was earning all or most of that £17. Hah! At most, £1.70, my dear - and don't even mention paperbacks to me - pennies, my love, mere pennies. Then again, my advance - like most advances - was pretty small. So I would welcome more than 5% or 7.5% of the price of my book as reward for my labours - but is it a good idea to get rid of advances? There are two major problems with this: the first is how long it takes to write a book. The Chase took me six years. At least with an advance, you at last get some sort of reward, divided into instalments at the signing of the contract, at the delivery of the final manuscript, and on publication. With no advance you would have to wait another year for the book to actually hit the bookstalls, then for the income from it to filter through the Byzantine and slothful accounting systems of your publisher. Secondly, most writers are aware that the amount of marketing effort your publisher puts into your book is commensurate with the amount of the advance paid. If it's a large advance, the publisher will make more of an effort to recoup that investment. So, all in all, I do think advances should stay and royalties should increase!

The Guardian blog has, as ever, given rise to debate by the old faithfuls who love to comment on it - the debate is interesting, often eccentric and self-indulgent, and at times acrimonious. It veers off the point of advances etc to return to that hoary old chestnut: that somehow writers, being such noble souls, should write for the love of it - not for dosh, not to satisfy ego etc. Do take a look and see what you think. When I'm teaching creative writing I always ask my students to examine their motivation as honestly as possible. And yes, we writers do have ideals, and many of us could not conceive of giving up writing even though we never gain any reward or recognition for it, and many of us look askance or with a snobbish superiority at those who turn into cash cows for their publishers. My own feeling (and my feelings are complex at present, as I am engaged in a personal struggle with my own writing and motivation) - is that it's perfectly OK to want to earn money from your talent. And why not a lot of money? The problem just now is more to do with the limitations of the celebrity-driven commercial world of publishing, which seems to be in a state of feverish pursuit of ... what? The sure-fire, the done-before, the lowest-common-denominator insult to the reading public which assumes they have no spirit of adventure and must not have their horizons broadened, by a process that demands books be written on the ever-more-speedy production line, by an artistic environment -as in films and music - where the artist, the actual creator of content and 'product' is devalued and exploited.

Whew! I leave you with a quote from Jane Holland in the debate after the blog - she has several comments there, including a scary resume of just how much money she (did't) make from one genre novel - '...there seems to be an absurd assumption hereabouts that writers should write for sheer pleasure and artistic integrity, and that if they're lucky enough to be published, to accept that as the pinnacle of their achievement. Any unholy desire for filthy lucre - i.e. a few quid for a poem, and if you're really lucky, a couple of grand for a first novel that probably took you several years to write - is to be rejected as a soiling of the artistic dream.'

Artistic integrity? Filthy lucre? As Harry Hill would say: 'There's only one way to find out! Fight!'


Denise said...

"Writing, the No-money Game" would also be a great book title, bet it would sell loads!
Having heard so many stories about how little writers make from their novels, I have always gone under the assumption that I would earn pennies at best. Doesn't put me off, but then writing my first novel I'm not under any time pressures. Having to balance a job, writing to a deadline and thinking I was going to be very poorly paid for my efforts might change my opinions. I think my delusion is that the second would be much more profitable!

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Lorna F said...

Thanks for your comment, Denise! As always, it's good to hear from someone who's reading my blog - I've taken a look at yours and enjoyed it. I see you mention the Writers' Conference at Winchester, so I may well see you there. You're also interested in science fiction - Juliet McKenna is a very friendly and positive person and I'm sure will give a very interesting class. I could try to find out how much of the focus would be on fantasy as opposed to SF, if you like - let me know.

Denise said...

Thanks for the offer, but I've signed up for the pitch and presentation course instead. Time to see if I can put all your good advice, from your evening course a couple of years back, to good use!

Lorna F said...

Hi, Denise! I didn't know you were the Denise on my course! I'm glad to hear that you're still writing, money or no money, and that you'll be at Winchester.

Jane Holland said...

Hi Lorna

Thanks for quoting me here. The fight to pay writers a decent cut continues!


Lorna F said...

Hi Jane,

Glad to oblige! I've had a look at your blog and I love your version of The Wife's Lament - I did Anglo Saxon, Old Norse and medieval literature at university many many moons ago. You've captured the melancholy resigned tone so well while making the poem your own and of now. You've made me want to go back to the original too, although my knowledge of AS in incredibly rusty. I remember loving this poem and Wanderer and Seafarer. To this day I can quote from memory two lines from The Battle of Maldon which sum up the AS spirit: Hige sceal the heardra, heorte the cenre, Mod sceal the mare, the ure maegen lytlath