One of the hot topics on the internet in the writer’s world the past few weeks is the two million dollar advance that Amanda Hocking just accepted from a traditional publishing house. And while it’s been analyzed to death by people a lot smarter than me, I do have some thoughts on the whole episode.
There are a good number of big-time authors who are loudly disagreeing with the assessment that Ms. Hocking will suddenly have more time to just write now that she has signed a contract with a publisher. When you figure in all the additional work she may now have to do like agent calls, publisher calls, talking to the design staff and all the new business and marketing expectations that accompany a traditional publishing contract, Ms. Hocking will probably end up with less time to just write. And then when her books actually come out, I’m sure the publisher is going to want to ship her all over creation to promote the books in person so they can earn back their advance. All that travel and promotion will certainly cut into her writing time as well.
I’m just not convinced that Ms. Hocking is going to have more time to write by signing up with a major publisher. A two million dollar advance comes with expectations that are significantly higher than a new author would normally face. Not to mention the pressure to produce something worthy of that advance, as well as the scrutiny of everyone in the industry. I think that Ms. Hocking just signed herself up for a pretty intense pressure cooker of stress and expectations for the next few years. I don’t care what the publisher may have told her, they are handing her a two million dollar advance. There are expectations attached. No publisher is going to hand out that sort of money and not exact some sort of a return. Also, publishers are expecting authors to handle a lot of the promotional aspects of their own careers regardless of their contracts. Look around at all the authors promoting themselves on Facebook and Twitter and through author websites. A good portion of the marketing responsibility is being shifted back to the author, so what exactly is Ms. Hocking going to get from her publisher. They will no doubt expect her full cooperation and attention in marketing and promoting those books so that publisher can earn their advance back.
Only then will Ms. Hocking begin to earn royalties on her work. We are talking about five hundred thousand dollars per book in pressure. Which is more money per book that Barry Eisler was offered as an advance, and he is a New York Times Bestselling author. (Eisler was offered a five hundred thousand dollar advance for his next two books and he turned that down to self-publish. Which is a post for another time.)
Some publishers were quoted as saying they were “vindicated” by the news as it proved they were not disposable commodities in an age when anyone can self-publish on Amazon.com and other outlets. I maintain that just because the publishers said they were vindicated by the news doesn’t mean they are any more relevant than they were before they got the paperwork signed with Ms. Hocking. There was a bidding war for her next four books, and every major publisher was trying to get the contract to try to prove that they still matter in the industry. All it really proves is that major publishers will spend a whole lot of money to prove a point. The odds of her earning out on her contract are fairly slim if you research the state of the industry today. The publisher is probably not going to sell her eBooks for .99 or even $2.99 as Ms. Hocking and others have in the past. So you are going to have a large group of fans that are now going to be expected to pay somewhere between $7.00 and $14.99, or more, for something that they were getting for 2.99 or less. Somehow I don’t see her legions of fans gratefully coughing up that kind of money as widely as her new publisher is hoping they will. The publishers are late to the party and they are throwing a ton of money at Ms. Hocking to prove they still matter, when she is the very example of why they don’t matter anymore. We also need to remember that the publisher’s main focus is not on the author or the books, it’s on making money for its shareholders. So the focus is going to be on maximizing their sales
According to reports, Amanda Hocking made almost two million dollars last year, on her own, with nine books available in eBook format. With that sort of money, even after taxes she could afford to hire a copy editor, a graphic designer, an accountant, and a marketing team to help her manage her business and assist with her future books. Every one of those is a business expense and would offset some of her earnings and not only help her with her books, but also lessen her tax liability. Instead she chose to accept a two million dollar advance for those same services for four books. Four books that, if we assume will sell as consistently as her other books and could be finished this year, could have earned her another million dollars in the year it will take for her new publisher to actually publish the first of the books. Four books making her a million dollars a year would earn her the advance she got in two years. And the next two years would make her an additional two million dollars. I’m not sure that she is going to make an additional two million dollars in royalties over the four books of her contract. So the question becomes was this a good move to make? Was the two million dollar advance a good deal for her?
I firmly believe that for Ms. Hocking it’s not about the money. I believe it’s more about the exposure in traditional markets. I believe Ms. Hocking wants to see her books in bookstores where she can be exposed to an audience that does not currently utilize eBooks. I just hope she is being realistic in her expectations both in terms of her publisher’s support and her own time commitment. I’m simply not convinced that she is going to end up with more time to just write.