Back at the dawn of my career I interned for a romance author who was forever being considered by publishing houses only to be rejected. Finally I contacted a friend at one of these houses and she explained that editors had a limited budget for new work and were reluctant to take a chance on an unknown unless they could be sure of sales. And this was before the phenomenon called the Celebrity Novel on which publishers pin hopes of jackpot dividends. Alas, for every Tina Fey whose $5 million advance produced a book that sold out within six months, there’s a Graham Nash whose $1 million advance barely sold 31,000 books.
However, the trend continues. Actors, musicians and reality show darlings still get big bucks for putting their name on a book. Among those who have won the literary lottery are Demi Moore ($2 million advance), Keith Richards ($7 million), Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak ($7.5 million), and Lena Dunham ($3.7 million). While it’s true that Kaling and Dunham are gifted writers, the practice of publishers spending big bucks on questionable books from celebrities is crippling literature and publishing houses, argues Scott Timberg on Salon.
I don’t know if it’s still true, but back in the day it was said that Stephen King didn’t take advances in order to encourage his publishers to take a chance on up-and-coming talent. Imagine the break this could give thousands of writers we have yet to ready and enjoy.