Unsolicited: In Defense Of Big Dumb Deals

I think we can all agree, stupid people are everywhere. Even in publishing. Especially in publishing! And nothing makes putative authors' blood boil more than hearing about a six-figure deal based on a gimmick, a movie, a (god forbid) blog, or something else that doesn't smack of years and years workshop-attending, literary-magazine courting, and MFA-garnering. What are these publishers thinking, doling out (comparatively) measly advances to mid-career writers who've spent years honing their craft and then shelling out the big bucks to whatever corporation is putting together BoratSecret?

Well, they're thinking about the bottom line — and here's why their approach makes sense (well, as much as anything ever does):

I'm not whistling Dixie when I say that most publisher higher-ups aren't total idiots. Yes, it's frustrating that HarperRandomHachetteHoltzPenguinWhatever is throwing money at things that suck when there are plenty of well-written novels and fascinating non-fiction tales languishing in the land of "nice deals" on
Publishers Marketplace. But, let's be realistic: It's not stupidity paving the way for these six-figure deals. Believe it or not, it's the bottom line. Because, you know what? Publishers are not in the charity business. They're not even in the literacy business. They're in thebusiness business. They exist to make money. And every successful businessperson knows, in order to succeed it's necessary to take (possibly stupid) risks every once in a while. And that's what all these six-figure bonanzas are - calculated risks. (Literally
calculated. Because you can bet they've got a P&L that supports the advance, regardless of how pie-in-the-sky those sales numbers are.)

How much would I love to find a manuscript that is so fantastic I stay up until 3 in the morning reading it and can't wait to get to work that morning so I can start talking it up to anyone who'll listen, especially the people who control the purse strings? (It's rhetorical, but in case you're wondering: I would love it long time.) I'm sure I don't have to tell you what pays for that glorious manuscript. The revenue from the much maligned bestsellers that were often the product of much maligned six-figure deals, naturally.

All I'm saying is, fuck, if someone wants to pay $1 million for BoratSecret, why not? Frankly, that's a steal compared to Apehouse.

Unsolicited is written by a hoary old publishing-industry veteran.
Earlier: You're Not The Boss Of Me Now