Monthly Archives: November 2015

Million Dollar Debuts

The Wall Street Journal published an article last week, “Betting Big on Literary Newcomers,” that looks at a burgeoning trend of large advances for literary debut fiction. The writer attributes this trend to the recent success of some literary novels. The bestseller list is not just for genre fiction authors like James Patterson and Danielle Steel anymore, and so publishers are looking for the next big literary book and making bets on debut authors.

This fall, Garth Risk Hallberg’s, City on Fire, got attention for the $2 million advance he got for the book, making it one of the largest advances ever for a literary debut. And yet it was one of a handful of books coming out this year, and next, for which publishers paid over a million dollars for a debut novel. But for an author to earn back an advance of that size, at least 200,000 books need to be sold. That’s a lot of books. And a lot of pressure on a new author.

What I found interesting about the article is that it described a “winner takes all economy” that is emerging around debut books, where the books with big advances get more attention, either through social media, advertising or word-of-mouth, than other debuts, and while many of these authors never sell enough books to pay back the advance, they sell a lot for an unknown writer. And what that does is make less room for debuts with smaller advances or those that are published by independent houses.

This article reaffirmed my desire to focus my blog on debut books. There is no science to selling a book. And as one of the people interviewed in the article said, this is a business built on hunches. New authors earning large advances don’t have the same struggles as authors who publish with a small press, but it is hard for all new authors to build an audience and establish themselves in the literary marketplace. I look forward to discovering new voices in the years to come…





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Academy Street, by Mary Costello


Academy Street

Mary Costello

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014

145 pages

This is a slim novel (145 pages) that tells the life story of Tess Lohan, an Irish woman who moves to New York in the early 1960s. The book begins with her rural Irish childhood and moves on to chronicle her life in New York, where she works as a nurse and raises a son on her own. The writing it taut and slim, capturing her solitary life with a spareness that reminded me of another Irish writer’s recent debut novel, Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart.

I enjoyed this book for its language and Costello’s ability to distill a life history into so few pages. There is not a lot of story to follow, instead the book chronicles the ups and downs of Tess’s life. But there is something captivating about the book and if you enjoy a small story, this book is worth your time, as Costello deftly captures the two worlds she narrates from. I felt right there with Tess both on her Irish farm, where she loses family members, including her mother at a young age, and in New York, where she builds a life for herself as a single woman and experiences 9/11.

Costello lives in Dublin and I found this nice interview with her, about her writing process, and career, that published a few years back after her debut story collection, The China Factory, came out.

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