The One with Full Disclo$ure
Just a short publishing-related post before I jet off to see the fam in Arizona. I'll be there working on revisions and enjoying the amazing 115 degree weather. Holler if you see me (or call for an ambulance if you see me passed out on some sidewalk)! The other day, as I was engaging in some serious self-punishment by perusing the graveyard of happiness and joy known to the world as GoodReads, I noticed a couple of review comments (on other books, not mine) relating to the advance that book received. I mean, I've always known that announcing a high book advance is similar to dropping a lead crown on it head. There's a lot of curiosity and interest, as people tend to want to know what about the book (writing? plot? characters?) merited a 7-figure deal, but... it can also be a hurdle that the book has to overcome, because there's always a chance that readers in-the-know will open the first page already biased and looking for flaws. It seems like the better the deal, the better people feel about shredding the book in reviews. I'm not saying that all "big books" are amazing/incredible/heartbreakingly good, but maybe it eases the reviewer's conscience to know that the author can always dry their tears on their wads of $100 bills? (She says, with a wink.)
But I noticed that one of the comments posed a great question: If publishers know this, then why disclose the advance level to begin with?
I'm not sure there's a right answer here, but I do know of a few reasons why it's beneficial.
First, in case you have no idea what I'm talking about: Publishers Marketplace has, for years, had listings of the most recent book acquisitions. They look something like this:
June 26, 2006 Children's: Young Adult Author of The Underland Chronicles Suzanne Collins's THE HUNGER GAMES, a sci-fi trilogy set in a dystopian future, in which a 16-year old girl offers herself as a "tribute" in a series of deadly war games to save her family, to Andrea Pinkney at Scholastic, in a significant deal, by Rosemary Stimola at Stimola Literary Studio.
All kinds of books are listed--adult, non-fiction, genre titles, picture books, etc. Before the internet, I'm assuming that these same listings were featured in the different industry magazines. (I know Publisher's Weekly still lists a few every week in their magazine.)
You'll also notice the phrase "significant deal." Since this is a gentlemanly industry (ahem), they don't generally list the actual advance figure. Instead, PM uses ranges:
"nice deal" $1 - $49,000 "very nice deal" $50,000 - $99,000 "good deal" $100,000 - $250,000 "significant deal" $251,000 - $499,000 "major deal" $500,000 and up
Both agents AND publishers submit the listings, but, in my experience, it seems to fall mostly to agents to post them. And with good reason.
Something important to understand is that these listings aren't really meant for the general population/reader community. They're meant to be used within the industry and related industries, like film/television/audio. If I had to give one primary reason for why the advance is listed it's this: to catch attention.
A high advance tends to say a lot about a project: that many editors wanted it, that the topic is hot, or, more importantly, that a publisher is going to throw a lot in the way of marketing and publicity behind it. I'm sure you've all gathered that the higher the advance, the more likely it is to get attention in house--not even necessarily because the project is good, but because the publisher always wants to recoup its money, and to do that they often have to throw even more marketing $$ at it.
A high advance naturally sets up expectations within the industry. A high advance catches the attention of foreign publishers and book scouts (who read these postings religiously), the attention of film/TV agents, the attention of film/TV studios. It also catches the attention of other editors/publishers, because it's important to watch for titles that might compete with something on their list, or something they're thinking about acquiring. Put simply, it's a positioning statement, both in-house and in the larger industry.
And, you know, sometimes they're a lie. Sometimes, if a title is between two ranges, agents and editors will use the higher range in the listing. Sometimes the actual advance wouldn't qualify a title for a certain range, but they'll factor in sales bonuses. Sometimes they won't list the advance level even if it is high, because they don't want to clue other publishers into the fact that they think something will be hot. (And on that note, sometimes they won't list a range because they don't want subagents and scouts to know that it DIDN'T go for a huge amount of money.) Stuff like that.
That's pretty much all I have to say about that. Like I said, that's what's I've gleaned--I'm sure there are countless other reasons, too. :)