Mugging the Muggles?

“The savviest agents for the biggest authors . . . figure out in concert with the publisher finger-muggerhow many copies they think the book should sell . . . and get an advance that is equal to a startlingly high percentage of the revenue that sales level would produce.” — Mike Shatzkin, 6/26/13

Ever since the dawn of time, when I launched my publishing career as an editorial assistant at Harper & Row’s new West Coast branch, publishers have vigorously defended their habit of paying giant advances to already-successful writers.

Common sense suggested that emptying the coffers to sign the next Valley of the Dolls (or Harry Potter) would leave no advance money, and scant enthusiasm, for books in the not-soon-to-be-a-major-motion-picture class.  On the contrary! ran the mythology. It’s the little guys we truly value, and it’s our prodigious income from Jacqueline Susann (or J.K. Rowling) that enables us to publish them.

It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now.

The latest Shatzkin Files turns a spotlight on financial finagling between authors, agents, and editors. It seems the hardship level of the big publishers, like that of Wall Street, has been greatly exaggerated. It also seems that the rising tide has not lifted all boats — only the yachts.

“A must-read piece,” says Digital Book World, and they’re right. Check out The Shatzkin Files at The Idea Logical Company: