Claire King


The Six Figure Advance

Posted on: November 29th, 2011 by Claire - 21 Comments

So, Pippa Middleton has signed a contract with Penguin to publish a book on being a perfect party hostess. The book is to launch 2012 and the advance is reported as £400,000 or thereabouts.

Cue people going nuts. Authors, agents, all manner of literary types. “It’s not fair!” They cry. “It’s a travesty.”

People are being rude about Pippa and her family. They are being rude about the book. And they are being rude about the publishing industry as a whole, taking this as a sign that it is terribly, irretrievably broken.

Can we just stop here for a second? What exactly is broken here?

Is it the author?

Pippa is the media-appointed celebrity sister of the Duchess of Cambridge. She never asked for that celebrity, nor any of the personal infringements it entails. It seems to me she bears it with good grace. If you suddenly had a money tree growing in your front room, wouldn’t you pick the fruit?

Is it the book?

The book was sold on concept, it’s still being written, so I’ve no idea.

Is it the publishers, then?

Because you know, it wasn’t just Penguin. There was an auction. Editors fought each other with cheque books. Why? Because their publishing houses know that in the UK and the USA there will be a huge market for a ‘celebrity’ book of this kind. And party planning seems to fit neatly in alongside celebrity chefs. Poor Pippa would have found it tougher if she’d been an investment banker. ‘Pippa’s guide to mergers & acquisitions’ doesn’t have the same ring to it, eh?

So what is it, then?

‘Readers’/Buyers of celebrity-top-ten-best-selling-autobiographical-tell-all-memoirs, spin offs and the like. I’m talking to you.

There is a big fat advance for this book, I think, for the same reasons there are helicopters circling Pippa’s home. Because there is a market for it. People will pay actual real money for this. No $2.99 e-book for Pippa. The voracious mass market hunger for voyeurism – living vicariously through others, watching them rise and fall – seems insatiable.

So, as businesses, publishers want to publish these kinds of commercially viable books. Book sellers will want them on their shelves. There is money to be made. Made from you, and your interest in ‘celebrity’ (or of course, your interest in parties, and who doesn’t like a nice party?).

It is what it is.

Writers – is this really relevant to us? We cannot compare our journey to be published to this phenomenon. It’s apples and oranges.

Pippa’s advance has absolutely nothing to do with my advance, for example. Not just because we’re with different publishers. I’m not entirely sure how it works in publishing, but I doubt Penguin would have said at the editorial meeting “Well folks, we’ve got half a million, so we can either publish fifty novels, a few literary, a Regency Romance or two, some YA, perhaps some crime thrillers…or we can take Pippa’s party book. What’s it to be?”

There’s still a market for the books we write, and most of us will not be earning the six figure advances.

If the idea of Pippa Middleton’s deal leaves you incredulous you are probably not the target market. But there is a market. Let’s move on?

21 Responses

  1. Thank you for saying what I’ve been thinking, Claire. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’d love a little of the money – who wouldn’t…but I just don’t get the whinging here. She’s got a product to sell, in addition to being a product herself. It will all sell! If it sells well (and not just here – USA will buy squillions of copies – ) the publisher will reap the benefits, and will be a more solid business than they were before.

    I dont get the assumption that somehow, publishers aren’t businesses that exist to make profits, but something else. Why do people think they are there? And why on earth shouldn’t people want to buy books by Pippa Middleton, Jordan, and whoever else is of interest?

    I might buy a copy meself – throw a few parties that are something other than sausages on sticks and charades until guests scream to be let out….

  2. Nettie says:

    I know there is a market for this book, but it saddens me that as a society we are so obsessed with Jordan et al. I’d rather read a good book that have something that was associated with a sleb just for the sake of it.

    • claire says:

      You just taught me a new word, Nettie. ‘Sleb’. Lovely! I’m not a celebrity watcher either, it seems to take time and money that I don’t have to spare. I don’t know why our society has gone that way.

    • Cherry Mosteshar says:

      Nettie, I agree with you 100%. I know all the arguments here are valid, but it just feels wrong. I will be using Sleb from now on.

  3. I agree with all you’ve said. Publishing is a business and just like any other business, it wants to make a profit.

    Perhaps if all writers were working on party planning books, it would make some sense to yell “foul” and point to Pippa’s connections giving her unfair advantage.

    We writers should just keep on working hard on our stuff and ensuring that our stories are the very best they can be.

    There’s room for us all.

    • claire says:

      Yes, if I’d been working hard for the last couple of years on a party planning book and was now taking the gruelling submissions ride, I can see I would be seriously nonplussed by this news. Glad I’m not!

  4. martha says:

    Grabs brother, polishes his head, kicks him through the front door with instructions: ‘Go Find Princess’. Mwah ha haaaaah, the money, it will be mine, MIIIINE.

  5. Pete says:

    I think the world of celebrity books is far away from the world of ‘proper’ books. They seem to just pop out with effortless ease whilst everyone else toils away. However the general leadership for this type of book is also very different. It’s a bit like comparing the wage of a premiership footballer to a man in the street – different world.
    I’m sure I saw somewhere that her parents run a party planning business so if there is something to impart about planning a party beyond inviting people and buying the wine and crisps, I’m sure we’ll be much wiser.
    Publishers can pay huge advances but equally those kind of books can often found in bargain book stores and charity shops for years to come when it goes wrong. 12 months is a very long time in sleb land and releasing a book on parties after another 12 months of a harsh economy in the UK and US might not fit the zeitgeist. Good luck to her for pitching whilst she’s in vogue and for getting such a good deal.

  6. Debi Alper says:

    Am I her target readership? No. A party to me is good friends, each of whom has brought a dish to share and something to drink, and some fab music playing. I don’t need a book to tell me how to do that. Do I look down (or possibly up) on people who will buy her book, or one (supposedly written) by Jordan, or Dan Brown’s books? No, I don’t. Who am I to think I’m ‘better’ than all of them? Does the obsession with slebs worry me? Well, yes a bit. It doesn’t say good things about the health of our culture IMO. So where does that leave us? Personally, I hope the book sells zillions of copies. The money will be fed back into the industry and that has to be good news for the rest of us. The worst scenario is that it’s a turkey (probably organic and presented in flaky pastry parcels)and flops. Then we can all cry about the waste of resources.

  7. D.J. Kirkby says:

    Quite! Well said Claire. I can’t deny that I am envious but I also can’t pretend that I could write the book she has been given the advance and contract for. I’ll get over it and keep writing the genre I am good at. So should everyone else 🙂

  8. Jane Smith says:

    I agree with you, Claire. This doesn’t affect the Ordinary Writer On The Street.

    It’s also highly possible that the advance isn’t all it seems. I plan to blog about how that works in the next couple of days.

  9. Catherine says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Claire. Regardless of how we feel about celebrity, etc. publishing is a business.

    I don’t think many writers understand that regardless of how they feel about “celebrity” books, the money they bring in for publishing houses – and they do, generally, bring in LOTS of money – enables them to take a chance on books that mightn’t sell as well, i.e. debut novels. It’s how they spread risk. So instead of spitting bullets about how she doesn’t deserve it, blah, blah, blah, they should be thanking her – her book’s profits might be a debut author’s advance one day! 🙂

  10. Sarah Salway says:

    Hmmm… I think that actually most people (ok, most writers) I’ve heard are complaining, not about the advance or celebrity books, but about the fact that the agent and publisher aren’t acknowledging that it’s been sold because of this…” There is a big fat advance for this book, I think, for the same reasons there are helicopters circling Pippa’s home.” Instead the press release talked about the articles she’s written for her parents on-line magazine etc etc. I think everyone hopes that it sells bucket-loads, but there’s a danger of reinforcing the fact that many people think it’s easy to write a book. Heck, they’d do it if they had the time.

    • claire says:

      Good point, Sarah. I’ve read a few of the press articles, they do skirt around the issue rather…I can see how people who don’t read between the lines might think books are easy things to ‘knock out’ and how that might affect the thinking of many these days who expect to buy books by non-famous folks for next to nothing.

    • Catherine says:

      Ah, I see. Yes, that IS a bit annoying!

      It occurred to me this morning that I’m being a bit hypocritical over this because about ten years ago, when a certain blonde girl the same age and nationality as me (I’m Irish) got a seven-figure deal (incl. foreign rights) for her first novel based on, what I was assumed, was her famous father, a former prime minister, and I was at home crying into my Cornflakes about how all I had to show for my novel-writing was rejection letters, I wasn’t taking THAT news half as well! So as another commenter said above, maybe I’d feel differently about this if I was writing party books…


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