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…