Stacey Jay and The New Author Advance
I am going to assume here that you are familiar with the recent Stacey Jay story and the backlash which caused her to cancel a Kickstarter program shortly after she had launched it. If you haven’t read about the incident there are links at the bottom of this post which will give you some background.
An introduction to the author advance
I think most people are at least aware that in book publishing the way things work is that a writer (or more likely their agent) sells a manuscript to a publisher. During that deal the writer/agent negotiate with the publisher that the writer will get a certain percentage of the proceeds from the sale of each book (this percentage can vary on several factors). Also during that book deal the two parties will agree that a certain amount of the money will be paid up front to the writer. In all likelihood this is the only money that the author will receive from the publisher for the actual printed book. The author may get more money if the book sells really well or someone buys the movie rights or something. This amount of money that is paid to the writer is called an advance on royalties or more commonly an “Advance”. The
When you go to Barnes & Noble and purchase a print book you are, in part, paying the publisher back for the advance that they gave to the author when the book deal was signed. It’s a complicated process but that is in fact what you are doing. Which, when you think about it, makes the argument that Stacey Jay was somehow over stepping her agreement with the backers of her project by stating that some of the funds of her project would be spent on living expenses totally ludicrous because most of all advances are spent by the author to live either while they write a book or during its publication.
What happened to the author advance?
The advance became a thing in book publishing decades ago and with some exceptions it is still the standard way of doing things. A big advance was a way to attract the types of authors and manuscripts that would make a publisher successful. As the budgets of publishing houses have decreased those publishers have had to look for places to cut costs. The two places where they saw the opportunity for cuts were marketing and advances. Over the last few years the amount of the standard advance that has been offered to writers has been steadily decreasing except in a very small percentage of books where the author is very well known or the content of the manuscript is obviously going to be a commercial success. As the amount that publishers are able to offer writers continues to dwindle a new system is going to have to move in to takes it’s place if we are going to have a healthy publishing ecosystem.
The possible new system
I feel pretty strongly that when you are funding a project on Kickstarter, especially if the person running the project has explicitly stated so, that you are supporting the writer’s life not there lifestyle. Stacey Jay wasn’t asking people to buy her a new pool. She was asking for the basic living expenses that she would need to live while creating the work that her readers wanted. Without the money that is needed to pay basic bills she would never have the ability to write the book in the first place. Unless you always want writers to be writing books on the side then this is going to become a more and more common way to do things.
Reaction from Bibliodaze: http://bibliodaze.com/2015/01/stacey-jay-and-the-politics-of-the-crowdfunded-author/
NYT overview of the author advance: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/12/books/review/Meyer-t.html?_r=0
Originally published at johnmcalester.com on January 26, 2015.