Tuesday, May 30, 2006

There's no pleasing some people.

I see the Observer carried another piece by Robert McCrum fulminating about the parlous state of the British publishing industry. I have to admit I read it with apprehension, bracing myself for another attack on Macmillan New Writing. (Crikey, I thought, what if he has a go at my book?) But there was a different, though connected, target for his Olympian bolts this time: first time novelists who receive over-inflated advances.

Hang on. I'm a bit confused here. He didn't like Macmillan New Writing, which pays no advance, just royalties, to its authors. But he's against the so-called conventional route, which pays new authors an advance in proportion to the amount the publishers think they are going to make back out of the book.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Mr McCrum just doesn't like new authors.

So what is the ideal advance for a writer (first time or otherwise) according to Mr McCrum? He seems curiously attached to the figure of £250, provided it's accompanied by a long lunch at L'Etoile.

Whatever you say, Robert.

7 comments:

Fiction Bitch said...

Yeah, there was some lack of clarity, but the point about big advances is complicated. I know from bitter experience that if an agent pays you only a small advance they have invested so little they also have little to lose if they don't bother to market and publicise it properly, and the late agent Giles Gordon championed big advances and set the ball rolling for this very reason. But it's gone so far that you can now suffer, as the Londanstani guy apparently has, from too big an advance. An advance has to be earned back via sales, and unless you're a Zadie-Smith type success in terms of sales you just won't, and the publisher will not be interested in your next novel, cos they lost money on your last. (which is why they're always on the lookout for the Next New Thing who could be different). In other words, a big advance can have built-in failure for all but the odd first-time novelist. This is what I think McCrum is on about, and why he says that failure just can't be allowed for in today's literary world.

roger said...

Hi Fiction Bitch, thanks for looking in. To be honest, I think I got the point about the downside of big advances, and maybe I was a bit naughty in the way I simplified Robert McCrum's argument for my own purposes. (Writing to an agenda, moi?) But what I was getting at was the inconsistency of his position. In another article, McCrum famously attacked my publisher, Macmillan, for setting up Macmillan New Writing, which is to my mind an honest attempt to publish new writers, indeed in a way that will allow them to grow and possibly even 'fail', if failing means only modest sales. I can't help thinking that what Robert McCrum writes is driven by the simple need to fill his column. The article in the Observer this weekend seemed a bit sloppy to me. I'm not sure how much 'pain' went into it (which seems to be a prerequisite of literary quality to him). In fact, it wouldn't have been out of place in one of the blogs he so sniffily disdains.

Fiction Bitch said...

Yeah, McCrum can have some elitist blind spots and his swipe at McMillan New Writing was pretty enraging. Ridiculous when it's been set up to combat the situation he's now on about. Congrats for being one of their first authors. Would you mind if I made a link from my blog to yours?

Will said...

What a old humbug McCrum is. He spends so much time pontificating about the publishing trade, yet the Observer's own review content which he's supposed to edit is the patchiest of all the Sundays...
I'm afraid, however, my comment has an agenda tha.. I want to direct you towards my site www.unmadeup.com and ask if you'd like to make some contribution to it...

roger said...

Greetings Will! Thanks for popping in. Hey, what a great site unmadeup.com is. I would love to send you something. Indeed I have something in mind to send you. Something true. Something you couldn't make up. It may take me a little while but I will get something to you.

Great to meet you!

Fiction Bitch said...

Thanks for the link, Roger, and the sympathy. (Where's the tea?) Not that I'm letting the bastards grind me down...

Fiction Bitch said...

Just re-read my first comment here and saw the typo ('agent' for 'publisher'as the payer of the advance). Maybe it was a Freudian slip and, as Macmillan say, it's the agents who are the real villians of the piece in that they set the agenda when they first began demanding big advances.