Pub Rants

Shown The Money?

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STATUS: I’m starting to, gasp, feel normal. Surely this is the end of bad cold?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU BELONG TO ME by Anita Baker

I just read on Galley Cat that Audrey Niffenegger, author of the very wonderful TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, just sold her next novel for 4.8 million.

Sources close to the negotiation say….

This cracks me up. If the publisher or the agent really didn’t want the public to know what a book sold for, trust me, the word would not get out. Unless a leak happened of course. (There are many tales of editorial assistants being bribed for info but I have to say, I never could confirm any of these tales. And I imagine all the EAs out there are wondering how to get that gig!) Regardless, either a leak happened or the parties involved wanted it to be known.

Now my blog is not about whether Audrey deserves said advance. That’s really not the point. Her first novel did well; based on sales numbers alone I’d say that advance is commensurate* with performance. Now it didn’t state this in the article but I’m sensing this was a complete manuscript she sold (as it’s been six years since the release of her prior novel).

[side story: I was at the 2003 BEA in LA when I happened by the MacAdam/Cage booth to talk to an editor friend of mine. She mentioned this debut author of hers so I wanted to stop in and lend support. There in the booth was the editor, the author, a large stack of galleys, and not too much traffic. I sat down and had a cup of tea and some lively conversation. I took a plain blue cover galley home with me. Yep, you guessed it. I have an original galley of THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE—which I read and loved.]

But that’s off topic. Basically, and here’s the point to my blog entry, wait for it, I want to say that I think Audrey was smart. She wrote her next novel and then sold it. Actually this is all speculation as I certainly don’t know if that’s what she did but it sounds like it from the article.

Talk about significantly alleviating the pressure of performance for a sophomore effort.

We don’t talk about it much in publishing but I do think it can be rough on an author to do really well with book 1, do a big deal for a next book, and then have the pressure on for the writing of said second novel.

I know what you’re thinking. Cry me a river. You’d like to have such a problem.

[*thanks for the typo catch! I laughed when I reread my entry this morning.]

33 Responses

  1. Tara Maya said:

    I can think of few things more intimidating and creativity-crushing than having a best selling first book. Unless it is to sell the second on spec. *shudder.*

    I really do feel sorry for authors in that situation. Their very success not only puts tremendous pressure on them, but also draws out the schedenfreuders who delight in tearing down anyone with commercial success.

  2. Treethyme said:

    Well, yes, as an unpublished author, the idea of a sale like that boggles the mind.

    From my standpoint, anything that isn’t a flat out rejection is something to get excited about.

    Yes, I’d love to get an agent. Yes, I’d love to sell a book. But the reality is, none of my stories are publishable yet, so my work isn’t done.

    And even when it is done, there will be more revisions if I do sell it. And if I sell it, I’ll have to worry about the cover, the marketing, the reviews, the sales, and so on.

    If a miracle happens and the book sells well, that’s still no guarantee the next book will be received as well.

    I have author friends who have sold multiple books, many of them best sellers, and yet they still go through the same stress I experience, it’s just about different things.

    The fact of the matter is, it never gets easier. Writing is hard work, and we are lucky if we succeed. I’m not being negative, but, clearly, there are no guarantees.

    That hasn’t stopped any of us from writing yet — we’re obviously all masochists at heart.

  3. Jane Smith said:

    I read an article yesterday which stated that she DID have a full manuscript finished and that’s what led to the high advance.

    Do you know how many copies her first novel sold? I wonder what level of sales would lead to an advance that high. And if the book will ever turn a profit or eventually earn out at that level.

  4. Meg said:

    I would do it the same way if I ever have such an awesome selling book. 😀

    That is such a sweet deal for her.

    I’m not so great when the pressure is on. At least not yet. I think I will be, someday, when I’m a better writer than I am now.


  5. Angie said:

    I’m actually heartened to hear that you can do it that way. I was under the impression that after you’d had a successful sale, it was all partials and advance contracts. I don’t handle that kind of pressure well, and the thought of having a contract (having to write an outline for a book I haven’t written yet? then having to follow it??) makes me want to hide under the bed. It’s great to know that the option of writing and then submitting is still there even when you’re no longer a newbie.


  6. DebraLSchubert said:

    That’s a big, fat chunk of change! Good for her. Apparently, there is still money to be spent. I wonder if an advance that big keeps new writers from getting sold. After all, there are only so many dollars to go around… (Great story about the 2003 BEA – You may want to put that galley of The Time Traveler up on E-Bay!!)

  7. Carradee said:

    I actually find this heartening. (And I’m reserving The Time Traveler’s Wife at the library.)

    The idea of on-spec contracts makes my stomach churn. I don’t like the thought. I’ve seen the results of hasty writing and editing in the books of authors I like, and it ain’t pretty!

    The size of her contract is also heartening. People are still making money, and a lot of it.

    I’m glad you’re doing better!

  8. Holloway McCandless said:

    Would be very interesting to know if she turned down a 2-book contract initially.
    Freudian Slip Dept: “commiserate” or “commensurate”? For the unsold, perhaps the former.

  9. Elise said:

    I love “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, it is one of my favorite books.

    Good for Audrey, hearing things like this helps reaffirm that not only are people still reading, but Publishers are taking notice 🙂

  10. JES said:

    Time Traveler’s Wife was one of the most stupendous books I’ve read in recent years. I have no idea how well it sold and, well, don’t really care: in my opinion she deserved an advance like that just for karmic reasons. I’d pay an author who could write TTW at least that much just for continuing to write at all!

  11. Anonymous said:

    In all honesty, she can afford to wait and take all the time she needs to write her sophmore effort because she can AFFORD to.

    If you have royalties like that coming in, well, yeah, you don’t have to force another book out of yourself because your bills are paid for awhile. You could go on vacation, revive, take time and enjoy life a little, and come back to your computer when you have that next big idea hit you, and even then take your time with it.

    Then the “next book” becomes even more of an “event,” because it’s hyped because of the “time it took to write it.” The author of Cold Mountain did the same thing (not saying that’s wrong.)

    It’s not that other authors don’t have that same restraint, it’s that they can’t afford to. Their bills are not going to wait six years to be paid.

  12. Marianne Mancusi said:

    Anon 7:48

    This is something Kristin always schools her authors about. (And I, never the good student, have had to learn the hard way!) You should NEVER be depending on an advance to pay your bills until you are extremely well established and have a ton of cash in the bank. There are so many things that can go wrong and if you and you and your family are depending on that next royalty check or manuscript delivery check, you end up in serious financial straights–especially in this economy.

    For example, what if the book you turn in isn’t accepted by your publisher? You have to go back to the drawing board for another six months to redo it. No check until it’s passed in. And if you were depending on that check for rent or mortgage -well, you’re doomed.

    Or what if you’re expecting a royalty check and the publisher doesn’t add in that big foreign sale you were counting on cause the publisher overseas didn’t pay? Again, you’re in trouble if you’re depending on that money to buy food.

    Also, the longer I’m in this business the more I realize that selling on partial (except in the case of a series) can have you end up short-changing yourself in the long run. This is especially true in traditional children’s publishing. They usually offer better advances if they can see the entire manuscript. Not to mention, the rush and pressure of having to deliver on deadline can seriously screw with your finished product and hurt you in the long run for future book deals.

    I hear so many authors (esp in romance) say “OMG I have to write this book in 2 weeks!” I mean, how good can a book really be if it’s written in 2 weeks?

    Selling books is exciting and fun. And the temptation for that quick sale – that writer’s high and promise of profits, is usually too enticing for an author to resist. But it definitely, in my opinion, can hurt the product.

    For me, my next book (which will be my 14th – it’s taken me a while to learn this lesson!) will definitely be a full before I put it out there for sale.


  13. Lisa Iriarte said:


    Watch out for those outline requests. I don’t yet have an agent, but one I submitted to wanted to see the outlines for books two and three in the series I’m writing at the same time she considered representing book one. I’ve been carrying this series in my head for a long time, now, and know exactly where it’s going, but writing those two additional outlines wasn’t easy. I will say, though, that having them on paper now, is wonderful. It is making the actual writing of book two infinitely easier than book one. And no, I don’t expect to stick to it exactly, but I think it will be close.

    I can certainly see that writing an outline for an unwritten book that ISN’T part of a series would be rather terrifying, though.

  14. Maggie Stiefvater said:

    Fascinating post — both because I loved THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE and was watching the news of the auction with a lot of interest, but also because of the writing on proposal/ writing a full novel to sell discussion.

    Personally, I’ve now sold two books on synopsis and two completed, and there are pros and cons to both, I think. There’s an amazing amount of security in knowing what you’re working on is already sold and you don’t have to worry about its fate. However, there are also the odious deadline and expectations already in place. The first book I wrote to synopsis, BALLAD, I was terrified would read worse than the book that took me several years to write . . . but I think it’s stronger.

    I do think it’s possible to write well (and relatively stress free) on a partial sale, but it requires a really flexible editor and motivated author. Thank goodness for editors who trust me enough to let me toss out early synopses and go in an entirely different route than I had originally thought.

    On the other hand, however, I think that a book that simmers in an excellent author’s head for several years has a certain depth to it that is hard to achieve in a four-month draft. It’s sort of like a stew or a wine — the maturing and blending of flavors just seems to do well with time. I have an uncontracted standalone now that I’ve been working on for a year in between contracted projects, and *I* can see the difference in it. It will be interesting to see if readers can too.

  15. Madison said:

    If I could sell a book for that much, not only could I move out of my parents house and buy myself one, but I could also pay for my education and pay off the house my parents just built. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? 😀

  16. Maggie Stiefvater said:

    Kristin – just a thought too, if you’re reading these — you might talk (again, I’m pretty sure you’ve talked about this at some point) about the staggering of advance payments that happens, particularly with an advance of this size. It’s not quite like just having a giant check for 4.8 million signed over to you . . .

  17. Julia Rios said:

    I’m delurking to say, hey, thanks for posting about this. It does sound like a really smart approach, and I’d never considered it that way before. I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife, so this also gives me something to look forward to. Yay!

  18. Jenny said:

    Hi Kristin, I’m so glad to hear that you are starting to feel better! I found a great article a month or two ago in New York Magazine that discusses the affect that huge advances tend to have on the publisher, et al. It’s a little lengthy, but has great info! Here’s the link:

    Even though the article raps publishers on the knuckles a bit, I still say congrats to Audrey!

  19. Solvang Sherrie said:

    I loved the Time Travelers Wife. And yeah, I’d love to earn that kind of money. So while I’m shopping my first novel, I’m working on my second. And third. And hopefully I won’t have any sophomore slump…

  20. hope101 said:

    Until I read this post, I had no idea how much the idea of being on a publishing treadmill was intimidating me. Thank you for this. It’s good to know that there is a different path to follow than the one I’m always hearing about.

    Also, this reminds me of an Elizabeth Gilbert video that’s making the rounds, discussing genius and the huge pressures authors feel when their first work was a breakout success:

  21. NerdSnark said:

    The sophmore novel, regardless of how well the first one did, puts pressure on the author. Was the first sale a fluke? Am I really any good? I have to do better this time around.

    Yeah, so she is smart or she did succumb to the pressure and disappeared off the face of the Earth to write the second book.

  22. Angie said:

    Lisa — my issue with it is that I don’t outline. [wry smile] I never have, or rather, never have successfully. Even at uni, when I was writing huge research papers with triple-digit footnotes, I never outlined. The one time I decided to do it “right” and fully outline a novel, I lost the story; it’s like so much energy went into the outline that when I sat down to actually write, there was nothing left. :/ I’ve been a pretty dedicated pantser ever since.

    If I can write the book first, they can have as detailed an outline as they want. 🙂


  23. regal said:

    I have a Google alert for Audrey’s name and have been watching the response to the news of the sale, and since this particular thread seems to be from a thoughtful group of writers, I thought I’d take a chance and weigh in.

    First, as Audrey’s agent, I very much fought against the news of the sale coming out. It seemed likely to stir resentment, and I already expected reviewers to approach the book with knives drawn before any leak of the money involved. For instance, since the NYT never reviewed THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE in any way, shape, or form, how could they say positive things about the new book and not look kind of foolish? In my submission letter, I specifically mentioned this likelihood and begged editors not to discuss the potential auction – or eventual sale price – with anyone.

    Needless to say, word got out. I tried to talk Motoko Rich out of doing a piece, but the leaks were so broad that there was really no chance. Thus my somewhat exasperated comments in the article, once I realized the piece would run whether I participated or not.

    Another reason to keep the news quiet was precisely because of the inevitable Charles Frazier comparison. It’s a hell of a lot more than a nuance that, unlike him, we sold a completed novel, a brilliant book that is a step forward for Audrey as a writer. It’s weird, inventive, original, singular, and not necessarily as commercial as the first book, but she handled the second novel challenge by pushing herself to grow as a writer, with new parameters (more characters, different setting, different thematic preoccupations), none of which had anything to do with sales. All she could control (as I noted in the article) was the actual writing, not how people responded to it. So she focused on that and wrote a truly remarkable novel.

    That the industry responded so positively isn’t just because of her track record; people genuinely loved the book. A few editors told me, “this is so much better than TTW!” That irritated me, because I think TTW is a great book, but I got the point: editors recognized that she had grown as a writer. So, combine a great book with a great track record, and you have the closest thing to a sure thing in a very uncertain market, and publishers were eager to pay handsomely.

    The key takeaway here is simple: write the best book you can and then sell it. Arguments that “she could take her time to write her second book because the mortgage was covered by her success” are way off the mark. She didn’t sign a two book deal with the first or second novel because she knew how hard it is to write a good book and she didn’t want the pressure of a deadline hanging over her. (It’s hard to herd cats on a schedule.) Maybe if you’re a genre writer, it’s possible, perhaps even necessary, but otherwise, keep your day job and write a great book and sell it when it’s done. In Audrey’s case, she kept her day job for years after publication of TTW; she was careful to live in a way that put the ability to do her work her way, on her schedule, before any other material needs. She protected her priorities. That’s discipline, and she had been practicing it on modest means as a visual artist for decades before she became a writer. It’s a very smart way of approaching the creative life, uncomfortable though those limitations can be at times.

    I hope this is useful information. All best wishes to the writers here doing the best books they can.

    Joe Regal

  24. Maureen McGowan said:

    OOOO… I’m so glad she’s written another book. I LOVED TTW.

    Such a complicated and well crafted book and even if she could’ve sold a sophomore book on proposal, and whipped it out a year or two after TTW it would almost be guaranteed to disappoint, I think.

    I agree she was smart to take her time. Really hoping the new one lives up to TTW. The huge advance is giving me hope that someone thinks it will.

  25. Kristin Laughtin said:

    Wow that’s a huge advance.

    I’m with Angie here. Many agents have made it sound like if your first novel sells, and especially if it does well at all, the publishers will want you to hurry along with the next book so it can get out there too. (This would make sense for series, obviously, but it often sounds like this is the scenario for standalone novels, too.) They almost make it sound like the only way to get around that kind of pressure is to be established in your career already–although, thinking about it, with the amount TTW sold, she may have earned that status. It’s nice to know you won’t always have to rush the second novel.

  26. David Dittell said:


    People often forget that if the news reaches you, it’s because the newspaper benefits from it. And if the news hits the newspaper, it’s because the newsmakers benefit.

    There’s always an agenda, and this case it’s probably just to get some publicity because of the number (it’s getting a lot of publicity, so that’s working), to get the name of the novel into people’s subconscious, and to remind people of the author and how much they liked The Time Traveler’s Wife.

    Now, for most people, the release of any one piece news also benefits them — providing talking points, content generation, or a reminder of something important or valued — so the system’s working. But it can’t hurt to remember that information rarely leaks on its own.

  27. Jenna said:

    What I think is nutty is that the .8 is almost all the Agent’s money. 15% of 4.8 mil is $720k. Not so bad, and you still have the rest of the year!

    Granted, agents have rent and staff, but still, the agent alone earned in one auction what I would earn in 27 years at my current pay rate. I can work ’til I’m 60, and he made more in this one transaction. That is frickin’ crazy! ( I got to stop thinking like a poor person!)

    The author will only get to keep about $2.4 mil – Uncle Sam gets the rest. Still, quite respectable. If I took home that much, at 5% return, I could live off the interest at the rate of $120k/year. Again, SO not shabby!

    I offer a heartfelt congratulations to both author and agent. Hopefully, I’ll get something half so nice one day.

  28. Angie said:

    Jenna — it’s a lot, yes, but 15% is 15%, and if you go in knowing that’s your agent’s fee, then there you go. And if I had someone offer me something in the seven figure range, I’d darned well want a really good agent to go over the contracts and make sure everything’s cool. I think the more money you’re making, the more necessary an agent would be (to my own peace of mind if nothing else) and therefore the more they deserve to share in that big payday.

    And another way of looking at it is that the occasional big hit, or the hope of one, is what keeps agents going, doing (I’m assuming) about the same amount of actual work, in hours, for some writer whose advance is only $5K and never earns out. When I get to the point of needing an agent (I’m with a small press right now and don’t) I figure my starting checks are a lot more likely to be in the $5K range than the $4.8mil range. [wry smile] If the hope of making three-quarters of a mil some day on one deal is keeping the agent perky and enthused about tiny little deals like mine, that’s cool with me. 😀


  29. Maggie Stiefvater said:

    Jenna — also, keep in mind that an advance like that is NOT a lump sum. Advances are generally broken down into pieces that are doled out when certain milestones in the book’s “life” are reached: part on signing, part when the ms is edited, part when the book goes to publication, etc. So in all likelihood, that agent is not going to be making $720,000 in a year.

    Also, as someone who has an agent who took her book to auction, I have to say that I have never, ever resented the 15% my agent takes, because without her, I would a) just not have gotten the same kind of deal, b) have to spend much of my day dealing with the business side of publishing, and c) have to have both a business and editorial relationship with my editors. She more than earns her 15% of my income and I can imagine that the business concerns that loom in a deal of this size and to someone as well known as Audrey are significantly larger. You’ll notice that her agent appeared here to set the record straight about the deal — that’s part of his work day. A good agent is worth every bit of his/ her 15%.

    I just had to pop back in here and say that!

  30. Kiskadee said:

    ” You should NEVER be depending on an advance to pay your bills until you are extremely well established and have a ton of cash in the bank. There are so many things that can go wrong and if you and you and your family are depending on that next royalty check or manuscript delivery check, you end up in serious financial straights–especially in this economy.”

    The story of my life! And then I found I couldn’t write Novel Number Four the way my editor/aquisitions team wanted it. The previous three novels never earned out their advances and so, when I rebelled and wrote what I WANTED to write instead I got a resounding rejection.
    The fall was hard. I wrote three follow-up novels — all of which I believe are better than the first three — but once you’ve had your shot you are judged a failure in the industry and it’s harder than ever to climb that mountain again. Back then, my agent told me “either you;re big or you’re nothing” and I didn’t believe her; I tried the maverick thing and it didn’t work.
    I’ve been in the financial doldrums for five years now; but for some insane reason I just keep writing, keep trying. I;ve learned formmy mistakes and I believe I’ve become a better writer.
    Congratulations to Audrey; I haven’t read TTW but will do so now!