Do Million Dollar Debut Authors Help or Hurt Publishing?

Million Bucks

Point One: Book publishing, like the entertainment industry at large, relies on a few breakout successes to overcompensate for the projects which don’t succeed. Point two: We as humans are wired for “narratives” in our lives-thus we seek opinions which confirm our pre-conceived notions, rather than being challenged.

For book publishers and authors, nothing beats a “rags to riches” narrative, given the struggles of pretty much every author who has a book, many who may live in poverty or low-income conditions, who see their work come to life via publisher. They watch the book become a hit, get rich, and stand tall as the next wave of eager beavers send in their manuscripts, in the hopes that their book might be the Next Bit Thing (NBT). The desire to stand on top of the mountain and shout to everyone behind you “yes, you can do it. See me? See me? I did it and perhaps it could be you.” Whether that desire is eager optimism to help fellow authors or a cynical ploy to sell “services” or “advice” to wannabes, depends on the author.

The desire to find the next breakout story drives publisher to seek the NBT. The problem is, it’s not really clear why some books do phenomenally well and others don’t. If it were, publishers and agents would only accept authors with a 95% chance of that book hitting the bestseller’s list. (Subscribe to my blog for a future post on this 95 percent confidence interval and what it means). But since determining those books is difficult without market research (which I don’t see them do for most books), they are left to what we used to call in grammar school “educated guesswork” or “guesstimates”.

The Wall Street Journal had a recent article about the “millionaire debutantes”- authors who got $1 million or more for their first book. This is like the legendary City of Gold or Shangri-La for authors, since it’s so rare to ever hear of an author receiving an advance this big. Or is it?

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, a former marketing copywriter in Los Angeles, dreamed for years of becoming a novelist but never had any illusions about earning a living from it. Her goal in writing her first novel, “The Nest,” which she tackled in her early 50s, was merely to finish it.

In a whirlwind week as publishers read the manuscript last December, HarperCollins’s Ecco editorial director Megan Lynch made a pre-emptive offer to publish the novel for at least $1 million. “I never imagined people would respond that way in a million years,” said Ms. Sweeney, 55. The book, about four adult siblings whose anticipated inheritance has all but evaporated because of one brother’s bad behavior, is scheduled to be published next March.

Literary fiction, long critically revered but poorly remunerated, is generating bigger and bigger bets by publishers. Thanks to a spate of recent runaway hits such as “The Goldfinch” in 2013 and “All the Light We Cannot See” last year, publishers are increasingly willing to pony up enormous advances to secure potential blockbusters.

Social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads have contributed to a culture in which everyone reads—and tells their friends about—the same handful of books a year. It’s increasingly a winner-take-all economy, publishing executives say.As a result, publishers are competing for debut literary talent with the same kind of frenzied auction bidding once reserved for promising debut thrillers or romance novels. “If they feel they have the next Norman Mailer on their hands, they’re going have to pay for that shot,” literary agent Luke Janklow said. “It’s usually the result of a little bit of crowd hysteria in the submission.”

“They’re basically betting on the book establishing itself as an important book in the canon,” Jane Friedman, co-founder of e-book publisher Open Road Media and former CEO of HarperCollins said of Knopf’s deal for “City on Fire.” “You’re betting that this is going to be the most-read book of the year.”

The lack of a sales track record is one of the factors that makes debut authors most appealing, publishers say, because there is no hard data to dampen expectations. “You can pin all your hopes and dreams and fantasies on a debut novel,” said Eric Simonoff, an agent known for negotiating seven-figure advances.

Some worry that large payouts for debut novels could do more harm than good. They put pressure on first-time authors and consume resources that otherwise might go to authors who have posted moderate sales, some agents and publishing executives said.

“It’s not that they’re betting on the wrong writer, it’s that the bet’s too big,” said Morgan Entrekin, publisher at the independent house Grove Atlantic, who noted that Grove can’t afford seven-figure advances.

Moreover, if the book doesn’t turn a profit, the relationship between the author and publisher can sour. And those disappointing sales figures are available for any other publisher to peruse when the author tries to sell her next novel. “That is a scarlet letter that you don’t get out from under,” Mr. Janklow said.

Indeed, million-dollar investments in debuts often don’t pan out, publishers and other industry experts say.

Read that quote by Eric Simonoff again and scratch your head. Is that how a business should operate? Committing millions of dollars to unproven projects because you could project your fantasies onto them?

Authors, unlike musicians or actors, are generally not public figures and rarely have the extroversion needed to build a massive social media or TV following to sell books. Whose fault that is you can argue all day. But the point is, you don’t see any reality TV shows featuring the writer’s life or asking aspiring writers to read their best flash fiction on-air for judges. Just imagine if publishers took most of that over-sized advance and instead committed it to marketing their books. Might they not sell more, especially of the ‘midlisters’?

The whole point of an advance is to provide authors with a source of income for their writing while they waited for their books to sell and collect royalties.But how can you justify handing one author a million bucks, probably 20 years’ of pre-tax pay for their job, when other authors barely get enough to pay their mortgage or rent? Or get nothing at all? Especially when who gets what is based on guesswork and not data.

The bottom line is, in an age where Amazon and self-published authors are taking market share from the traditional publishers of all sizes, the last thing the Big Five need is to spend millions on “guesstimates” of which books will succeed, enriching a tiny, tiny number of lucky authors while leaving the 99.999% out to dry, and focus on marketing the titles they already have. Then they might not need to rely so much on blockbuster titles.

photo: http://mymoneycounselor.com/net-worth-how-are-you-doing/million-bucks

 

Why Should I Get Married? Is Marriage Obsolete?

“Should I get married?” This is one of the questions raging around our single society now with no end in sight.

I am in the prime marriage age group of 25-34. This is the time when most of my friends start-gasp- getting engaged or actually married. This is the time when not only family, but friends, have begun asking things like:

“Sooo…what’s new?” (Translation: Any dates?)

“Sooo..are you bringing anyone to the wedding/hangout?” (Translation: Any dates?)

variant: “Soo…how many people are coming?” (Translation: Any dates?)

my answer: ranges from “I just haven’t found ‘The One’ yet to ‘just me’.” What else am I supposed to do? I have heard all the reasons both for and against getting married. I want to talk about the economic forecasts for our society if more and more people people stay single and/or childless.

Today’s article is brought to you by the American Enterprise Institute’s Nicholas Eberstadt. (bold emphasis mine and article slightly truncated):

“All around the world today, pre-existing family patterns are being upended by a revolutionary new force: the seemingly unstoppable quest for convenience by adults demanding ever-greater autonomy. We can think of this as another triumph of consumer sovereignty, which has at last brought rational choice and elective affinities into a bastion heretofore governed by traditions and duties—many of them onerous. Thanks to this revolution, it is perhaps easier than ever before to free oneself from the burdens that would otherwise be imposed by spouses, children, relatives or significant others with whom one shares a hearth.

Yet in infancy and childhood and then again much later, in feebleness or senescence, people need more from others. Whatever else we may be, we are all manifestly inconvenient at the start and end of life. Thus the recasting of the family puts it on a collision course with the inescapable inconvenience of the human condition itself—portending outcomes and risks we have scarcely begun to consider.

As of 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just over 40% of babies in the U.S. were born outside marriage, and for 2014 the Census Bureau estimated that 27% of all children (and 22% of “White” children) lived in a fatherless home. But the opt-out from the old family norm is even more advanced than these figures suggest. A 2011 study by two Census researchers reckoned that just 59% of all American children (and 65% of “Anglo” or non-Hispanic white children) lived with married and biological parents as of 2009. Unless there is a change in this “revealed preference” against married unions that include children, within the foreseeable future American children who reside with their married birthparents will be in the minority.

Now consider Europe, where the revolution in the family has gained still more ground. European demographers even have an elegant name for the phenomenon: They call it the Second Demographic Transition (the First being the shift from high birth rates and death rates to low ones that began in Europe in the early industrial era and by now encompasses almost every society). In the schema of the Second Demographic Transition, long, stable marriages are out, and divorce or separation are in, along with serial cohabitation and increasingly contingent liaisons. Not surprisingly, this new environment of perennially conditional, no-fault unions was also seen as ushering in an era of more or less permanent sub-replacement fertility.

Europe has also seen a surge in “child-free” adults—voluntary childlessness. The proportion of childless 40-something women is one in five for Sweden and Switzerland, and one in four for Italy. In Berlin and in the German city-state of Hamburg, it’s nearly one in three, and rising swiftly. Europe’s most rapidly growing family type is the one-person household: the home not only child-free, but partner- and relative-free as well. In Western Europe, nearly one home in three (32%) is already a one-person unit, while in autonomy-prizing Denmark the number exceeds 45%. The rise of the one-person home coincides with population aging. But it is not primarily driven by the graying of European society, at least thus far: Over twice as many Danes under 65 are living alone as those over 65.

Lest one suspect that there is something about this phenomenon that is culturally specific to Western countries, we have Japan, whose fabled “Asian family values” are now largely a thing of the past. Contemporary Japanese women have lifestyle options that were unthinkable for their grandmothers, including divorce, separation, cohabitation and remaining single. Japanese women are availing themselves of these new choices.

Much the same has been taking place around East and Southeast Asia for at least a generation. From South Korea to Singapore, China is rimmed by countries where marriage is being postponed or, increasingly, forgone; where networks of extended kin are withering due to extreme sub-replacement fertility; and where childlessness is on the rise.

Thus far the Chinese mainland has been conspicuously resistant to these trends. Yet according to the 2011 Hong Kong census, 22% of the Chinese territory’s women in their late 30s were unmarried—almost the same as for Japan. Further, over 30% of Hong Kong’s women in their early 40s are childless, more than doubling in 15 years. Similar, albeit somewhat less accentuated, tendencies are reported in Taiwan.

America, Europe and the highly modernized reaches of East and Southeast Asia are affluent and “globalized.” But the undoing of previously accepted family arrangements is also under way in seemingly traditional low-income societies—Muslim-majority societies in particular. Although it has attracted strangely little attention, a flight from marriage within the Arab world is in process, led by masses of women who wish to bend or break the rules of family life to which their mothers had submitted.

According to the U.N. Population Division’s “World Marriage Data 2012,” the proportion of never-married women in their late 30s was higher in Morocco in 2004 than in the U.S. in 2009 (18% vs. 16%). By the same token, the percentage of single women in their early 40s was higher in Lebanon in 2007 than in Italy in 2010 (22% vs. 18%). And nearly 32% of Libyan women in their late 30s were unmarried in 2006—20 times the percentage barely two decades earlier, even higher than for Denmark in 2011 (29%).

Our world-wide flight from family constitutes a significant international victory for self-actualization over self-sacrifice, and might even be said to mark a new chapter in humanity’s conscious pursuit of happiness. But these voluntary changes also have unintended consequences. The deleterious impact on the hardly inconsequential numbers of children disadvantaged by the flight from the family is already plain enough. So too the damaging role of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing in exacerbating income disparities and wealth gaps—for society as a whole, but especially for children. Yes, children are resilient and all that. But the flight from family most assuredly comes at the expense of the vulnerable young.

That same flight also has unforgiving implications for the vulnerable old. With America’s baby boomers reaching retirement, and a world-wide “gray wave” around the corner, we are about to learn the meaning of those implications firsthand.

In the decades ahead, ever more care and support for seniors will be required, especially for the growing contingent among the elderly who will be victims of dementia, or are childless and socially isolated. Remember, a longevity revolution is also under way. Yet by some cruel cosmic irony, family structures and family members will be less capable, and perhaps also less willing, to provide that care and support than ever before.

That contradiction promises to frame an overarching social problem, not just in so-called developed countries but throughout the world. It is far from clear that humanity is prepared to cope with the consequences of its impending family deficit, with increasing independence for those traditionally most dependent on others—i.e., the young and old. Public policies are the obvious candidate for the task. But as the past century of social policy has demonstrated, government is a highly imperfect substitute for family—and a very expensive one.”

Marriage doesn’t seem to be treated as a big deal anymore, except Same-Sex Marriage (which I believe, once fully legalized in all 50 states, will be treated like straight marriage in every way), and while I have many more friends who have or would tie the not than those who haven’t or would not, there are many people I suspect won’t go for it. And of course even among those who are married, many are choosing to not have kids or limit themselves- why isn’t the point of this blog, except that from an economic standpoint a gray wave means more need for services for seniors but fewer workers able to provide. Japan is the future of what will happen to American in about 25 years. Already my home state of Delaware is slowly aging. 25% of residents in Sussex County are seniors and that number grows as retirees move in and young people move away.

Then there’s the cultural mentality: Girlfriends and wives are referred to as a “ball and chain” who keep guys like me from having sex and achieving our dreams because they nag all day. For women, men are either perceived by the media as pathetic, useless losers who need their wives/girlfriends to save them, or absent/unimportant altogether. Then there’s an entire legion of women complaining that a lot of guys would honestly just rather play video games and eat Hot Pockets than get a job and have a serious relationship, leaving guys like me surrounded by a whole culture of Pick Up Artists and those seeking Tinder-style hookups. And yes some women are just as bad as any of these guys.

Now most of us guys are not Christian Grey-billionaires with hardcore sexual fantasies (another definition of ‘ball and chain’ if I ever needed one) but, fantasy fiction aside, I want to hear what you think: Does marriage still matter? Am I weird if I still think it does? Or is it much better to stay single than have one’s life ruined by divorce?

note: this article also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, published February 23, 2015:

Should Celebrities Take Stances on Controversial Issues, or Avoid Them Altogether?

 Feel free to share your thoughts: Do you take stands on controversial political issues, or do you stay away from controversy so you can focus on the noncontroversial part of your platform?

Politics and entertainment have mixed for as long as human civilization has been around. In the 5th century B.C. Aristophanes, a Greek playwright, used political satire of the times in his play and was one of the founders of comedic satire (Image if the Daily Show existed back then). He was one of many examples of politics and social commentary used in fictional works in the ancient world.

Sports has also played a big part in politics. In the 20th century integration of athletes from diverse backgrounds was part of the success of ending racism in America, in 1972 the world saw Palestinian terrorists massacre 11 Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympic games which has been one history point in the century-old battle between Jews and Muslims in that part of the Middle East, and Billie Jean King’s victory over a 55-year old Bobby Riggs was one historical point in the battle for equality for women in athletics. Whether intentional or not, these points became rallying cries for the mixing of politics in sports.

However, what is unique about the 21st century is that we have social media and lots of forums for celebrities to post, tweet, keek, pin, snap, or otherwise share their photos, videos, and thoughts. Many celebrities choose to be as apolitical as possible in their public lives so no one can get angry at them for taking sides and thus hurt product sales or reputation. But some celebrities do wade into the political arena and the question is: does being political impact your brand positively or negatively, and when do you want to be involved?

I picked four recent cases of people who  were involved in controversies involving politics when they are not otherwise political people (reputations not built on politics). These are randomly picked but they all had one thing in common: New Media made their opinions much more well-known than they probably would have been in the pre-internet age where news traveled more slowly and was less readily accessible.

Rupert Murdoch, founder of News Corporation, would come off as more political since he owns Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. Last week Murdoch posted a tweet reading “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter author, then tweeted back, “I was born Christian. If that makes Rupert Murdoch my responsibility, I’ll auto-excommunicate.” She then compared asking Muslims to be accountable to Jihadists the equivalent of holding Christians accountable for the Spanish Inquisition.

Then there were the double killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The tension between those who believe Brown and Garner were victims of cops deliberately targeting Black youth as “criminals” versus those who believed Brown and Garner were at least partially to blame for their demise ran high (for the record I was more surprised by the Garner verdict than the Brown one, though I didn’t follow either case closely). After the verdicts athletes like LeBron James, Derrick Rose, and Reggie Bush wore  “I can’t breathe” shirts during pre-game warm-ups last month. Six St. Louis Rams players put their hands up for “hands up, don’t shoot” and angered the police in St. Louis for doing so.

And who can forget earlier in 2014 when the Clippers, during Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors, tossed their warm-ups to the ground and turned their pre-game shirts inside out to hide the Clippers logo over what they believed was a racist comment by then-owner Donald Sterling towards Black people?

The one odd one was Liam Neeson, whose Taken 3 movie was just released in theaters. He told gulfnews.com, “there’s too many [expletive] guns out there, “Especially in America…There’s over 300 million guns. Privately owned, in America. I think it’s a [expletive] disgrace. Every week now we’re picking up a newspaper and seeing, ‘Yet another few kids have been killed in schools.’” Given that his movie involves him shooting guns and is marketed towards a diverse audience I have to believe this will hurt Taken 3’s total take since I believe this comment will be perceived by many to be “Elitist” and “Hypocritical”. A similar situation happened with Exodus and they suffered at the box office because of it.

Where I am going with this is on when otherwise non-political people make political statements and whether it helps or hurts their brand. Rupert Murdoch, whose name and companies have been involved in politics in nature, might be expected to make comments (and his comments probably won’t cost him viewers or readers in the end). Ms. Rowling’s books and movies are already out so I’m not sure how much her tweet at Murdoch will hurt her in the long run. Probably none of the athletes who made statements supporting Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, or Eric Garner will suffer either, but I really do think celebrities should be careful with what they say before taking sides.

So should you be political with your brand, or not? I think it depends on what you want to be known for and who you’re trying to appeal to. Some people benefit by taking public stances on issues, exercising their rights to free speech. Others like to shut up as to not offend anyone. Your personal brand is yours and it’s entirely up to you what you want to do with it. Just accept that stating your opinions in public risks offending people who disagree with you and who will boycott you to make a statement (not saying it’s a bad thing, just stating the obvious here). And in the age of the internet and social media, anything you say absolutely will be used for and against you in the court of public opinion.

Thanksgiving Turkey Facts

Here in the States it’s Thanksgiving Day, which means Go Eagles and Lions! Here are a few interesting facts about Thanksgiving, courtesy of trove.com:

1. There are three places in the US named Turkey. 
Three small towns in America are named after the nation’s favorite bird. There is Turkey, Texas; Turkey, North Carolina; and Turkey Creek, Louisiana, according to the US Census Bureau. Turkey Creek, Louisiana is the most populated, with 441 residents.
There are also two townships in Pennsylvania called Upper Turkeyfoot and Lower Turkeyfoot.

2. The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade used live animals from the Central Park Zoo.
Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York took place in 1914 when Macy’s employees dressed in vibrant costumes and marched to the flagship store on 34th street.
The parade used floats instead of balloons, and it featured monkeys, bears, camels, and elephants all borrowed from the Central Park Zoo.
It was also originally called the Macy’s Christmas Parade, but was renamed the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1927.

3. Jingle Bells was originally a Thanksgiving song. 
James Pierpoint composed the song in 1857 for children celebrating Thanksgiving. The title was “One Horse Open Sleigh,” and it was such a hit that it was sung again at Christmas. The song quickly became associated with the Christmas holiday season, and the title was officially changed in 1859, two years later.
4. The night before Thanksgiving is the best day for bar sales in the US.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is responsible for the most bar sales in America, more than New Year’s Eve, the Super Bowl, or even St. Patrick’s Day.
It makes sense, since nearly all Americans have Thanksgiving off and dealing with family members can be very stressful. (But at least stuffing your face with fatty Thanksgiving foods is a perfect hangover cure.)
5. Thanksgiving leftovers inspired the first-ever TV dinner. 
In 1953, the TV dinner company Swanson overestimated the demand for turkey by over 260 tons, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
The owners of the company had no idea what to do with all the leftovers, so they enlisted the help of company salesman Gerry Thomas.
Taking inspiration from airplane meals, Thomas ordered 5,000 aluminum trays, and loaded them with the turkey leftovers to create the first TV dinner.
6. Thomas Jefferson canceled Thanksgiving during his presidency. 
George Washington was the first to declare Thanksgiving as a holiday, but it was on a year-to-year basis, so presidents had to re-declare it every year, according to the Washington Post. Jefferson was so adamantly against Thanksgiving that he refused to declare it a holiday during his presidency, and many say that he called the holiday “the most ridiculous idea ever conceived.”
Most historians agree that Jefferson really refused to declare the holiday because he fervently believed in the separation of church and state, and thought that the day of “prayer” violated the First Amendment.
It wasn’t until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a federal holiday, that our beloved turkey day was officially scheduled to fall on the fourth Thursday of every month.

9. FDR tried to change the date of Thanksgiving — and it caused a lot of problems. 
In 1939, Franklin Roosevelt changed the date of Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the second-to-last, according to the US National Archives.
The change was made in an attempt to lift the economy during the Great Depression, the idea being that it would give people more time to shop for Christmas.
But it ended up making everybody confused. Most states held Thanksgiving on its original date, and three states — Colorado, Mississippi, and Texas — celebrated the holiday in both weeks, according to the Wall Street Journal.
It caused such a public outcry that people began referring to it as “Franksgiving.” After two years, Congress ditched the new policy and set the fourth Thursday of November as the legal holiday.

two more from The Blaze site:

Many credit Harry S Truman for being the first president to pardon a turkey, but the Truman Presidential Library admits there’s no documentation to substantiate that claim.

Truman’s successor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, admitted he ate the two turkeys presented to him at the White House for Thanksgiving each year during his two terms in office.

When President John F. Kennedy was presented with a turkey wearing a sign reading, “Good Eatin’, Mr. President,” Kennedy simply responded, “Let’s just keep him.”

When President Ronald Reagan was asked about possible pardons for Lt. Col. Oliver North and national security advisor John Poindexter in the Iran-Contra affair in 1987, he joked about pardoning a turkey, but the practice of “officially” pardoning the bird wasn’t formalized until 1989. Since then, each president has “pardoned” a turkey each year, allowing it to be spared from the roaster to instead live out the rest of its natural life.

One of the most ardent advocates for an annual national day of Thanksgiving was Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Ladies Magazine and “Godey’s Lady’s Book.” Hale began lobbying for such a day in 1827 by printing articles in her magazines and writing to elected officials. After 36 years of persistence, Hale won her battle. Buoyed by the Union victory at Gettysburg, President Lincoln proclaimed that Nov. 26, 1863 would be a national Thanksgiving Day and that Thanksgiving would be observed each year on the fourth Thursday of November.

So there you have it. To all Americans, Happy Thanksgiving! And if you’re not American or you aren’t celebrating, Happy Thursday!