Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My looong response to John Green's post

So, I’ve been wanting to respond to John Green’s fantastic, insightful post about large advances versus smaller advances since it was posted. I haven’t until now because I kept thinking, “Yeah, well, I’m a newbie, who cares what I think?” but I couldn’t NOT post about it. Take my opinion for what you will, but here’s what I think:

(Quick warning: (LOL) I went off on several tangents and am not nearly as eloquent as John. But I tried.)

To break down my writing career: I’ve got an 8-book contract for a middle grade series. These books are bi-monthly.

There is NO ghostwriter and I’ve had a half-dozen people wink at me in person or e-mail me and ask who is helping me write these books.

No one. I’m writing them with the never ending support of my fab editor. I swear.

Moving on…

If *tomorrow* I was offered Shiny Big Advance from Different House (than my current house) that was a significant bump from what I’m currently making per book, here’s what I would consider:

· What’s the marketing plan? But I’d take into account that LOTS of things are promised in plans that are never carried out or so I’ve heard.

· Who is the editor? What’s his/her reputation?

· What’s the house’s track record with YA or MG in this specific line?

· Do I see a future for myself as a house author? Because really, I want a home. I do not want to bounce from house to house. I want to make a nest where I can stay and where marketing, sales, editors, art, etc will know me and want to get behind my books. Yes, I’ve heard the argument that it’s “risky” to put all of your clichéd eggs into that basket, but I disagree. That’s another topic entirely.

But ultimately, if it came down to Big Shiny Advance from Different House and Same Advance from My House, my answer would be:

I choose Same Advance from My House.


I am not making Stephenie Meyer money.

I am a full time author.

I am not going to the movies every weekend or shopping at Saks.

I do go out some nights and enjoy NYC with my friends.

I worry about my career and if it will disappear after Canterwood.

I do not worry that I have a rep as a diva author or someone who is hard to work with.

I wake up sweating some nights thinking that all the Canterwood books only count as “one” and no one will ever like/buy another project from me that’s unrelated to my tween horse fiction.

I have days when I write 5000 words and am in love with my book.

I have moments when I hate myself for writing a chapter that makes no sense.

But I keep writing. And if I can’t write, I switch over to marketing or PR.

This (IMO) is the norm—the ups, downs, worries and triumphs.

I think it was Lisa McMann (please forgive me if I’m wrong) that made a comment at John’s blog that houses appreciate an author who does his/her own marketing. Sure, it’s another conversation entirely about what works, what doesn’t and if we can even really ever tell what translates into sales. But Lisa has a point—houses heart authors who work for their books and do not sit back and expect the house to do all of the PR. Consider the number of titles a marketing team has to work with—even if they had a giant budget, they’d never have time to work to the fullest extent on every book. Not because they don’t want to, but just because it’s physically impossible.

The week (June 2007) that I got my book deal, I went to Books-a-Million and bought two books on author promotion. I highlighted sentences, put sticky notes on every other page, read them at least three times and took those tips and applied them. After that? I realized every other author was reading the books and doing the same thing. It was time to get creative. I’ve tried to do as many different things as I can from vlogging to direct contact with my target readers to joining up with a major cosmetics company. Did any of it make a huge difference in sales? Would readers have found my books anyway? Who knows! I’ll never know. But I *tried.* I can sleep at night knowing I’ve done and continue to do all of the PR I can while still writing books and meeting my deadlines.

Yes, I am an author. But with that, IMO, one HAS to be a marketer and publicist. It’s now YOUR job as an author to step into those roles as need be. You’re no longer just an artist—you’re a business person.

Taking this in a slightly different direction, I also want to step in to defend editors and their role in this whole thing.

A *great* editor, no matter what advance he/she offers (it’s not a random number, it’s hours of paperwork and figuring profits and losses that would give anyone a giant headache) will fight for his/her book at EVERY meeting. This editor’s a$$ is on the line with every project.

Every project.

It’s stress on the editor as well. Perhaps more than on the writers. I know I’d be more stressed as an editor than a writer.

Think about it. If the *editor* acquires a book for a crazy amount of money and the book flops—it goes on the editor’s permanent record, too. It’s not just about us—the writers. It’s not the author vs. editor and how little editors are really trying to pay us as so many people think. I wholeheartedly disagree with that. Editors are trying to keep their jobs, make their lines a success and work with authors they believe in. They’re not sitting around trying to figure out how little they can offer an agent. Maybe some are, but I have yet to see it.

I’m over the “authors vs. editors” vibe. Just over it. We ALL work together. We have to! And this wasn’t even brought up in John’s post—I’m just tossing it in mine. It’s been floating around for a while and I just don’t see it as an “us vs. them” situation.

When TAKE THE REINS was on submission, I was incredibly intimidated by even the idea of an editor. I thought they were people with magical powers who ate caviar for lunch and bought books. I thought they read all day and spent nights at Broadway plays or at cool clubs. But they’re really JUST people, too, with high-powered jobs that are stressful. (EK, totally not saying you’re without magical powers!) ;)

I was offered an advance that allowed me to become a full time writer out of college. (Please note that I realize I do not have a family, owe a mortgage, etc—I know. It’s been pointed out to me many times.) It was amazing and terrifying at the same time. Amazing because I had four books to write. Terrifying because I had four books to write! But my advance was one that I made a goal for myself that I wanted to earn it out ASAP and always felt that it was a realistic possibility.

I’m *glad* my books didn’t go to auction and that I wasn’t offered a huge deal at twenty. That makes me think of messed up child stars. Maybe I would have become the LiLo of tween books. LOL.

I kind of like that I go to author drinks nights and am super intimidated by everyone. (I was that girl hiding behind my editor at a party when I saw Elizabeth Scott walk by because I admire her writing.)

I’m thrilled that my house backs me because I’m willing to play author, publicist and marketer even while on intense deadlines.

I’m happy that even when I sent my editor a note with my fifth book, it still said something like, “I think parts of this really, really suck! Argggh!! Please help me make it sparkly.” What would my note to her been like if I’d had Twilight money on the line?

As I think John or one of the commenters said (sorry, I don’t have time to reread the 100+ comments), the “hype” of auctions and six or seven figures for a book is overrated in many cases. Not all, but some.

Yes, one could quit his or her day job. Yes, that gives the person time to write the book. But it’s also an enormous amount of pressure. If that advance is not earned out, then what? It’s on your record. Houses see it when you sub Sparkly New Project unless you change your name. It would terrify me, personally, to have a giant advance and to worry about earning it out. I just got started in this business and I wouldn’t take the risk. But to those who can—I applaud you.

If I could continue to write tween for the same amount of money and do edgy YA, I would be thrilled. That’s my dream. I want to build a career for myself—not just one or two books and then POOF—disappear as a used-to-be writer. But John’s right, too, that much of this depends on the house. But it also depends on the editor. A house is a corporation—a business. An editor is real.

I have worked with many, many editors—I’m speaking more to mag eds since I’ve only had two book editors. Some editors (at now defunct magazines) couldn’t have cared less about my article, fought with me on every paragraph and made the entire process miserable. Or, they didn’t edit at all and ran the piece as it was. And guess what? I’m embarrassed by how bad some of those articles are when I look back on them now. When I went to different magazines with editors I knew and trusted, my pieces were better. I was a better write because I cared about impressing the editor and wanted to do the best job I could. We depended on each other and it built trust.

That’s how I feel about my books. I would *never* leave my editor, no matter how much money was thrown at me (groan and say “yeah, right” all you want—I get that everyone’s situations are different.) because my books would not be the same without this person’s input. Try to imagine Moulin Rouge directed by James Cameron instead of Baz Luhrman. Bad comparison, but both directors are SO different.

On the bi-monthly pub schedule that I’m on, it would be an unimaginable stress to work with someone I didn’t click with. The schedule is a strain enough, but I’ve got a team of people who truly care about my books and make my job easier.

That is why, again, IMO, high advances don’t automatically equate to a wonderful book. It’s the editor, marketing, sales, publicist and author who make a great book. And I’m NOT saying my books are great—I’m saying it takes many more things than a large advance to produce a fantastic book. It takes a collaboration between an editor and author who are willing to work more than you’d ever thought possible to create a book.

And, FYI, I like shiny, pretty things as much as the next person (and, I am a girl, hello!), but I also love the direction of my career and wouldn’t have wanted to build it any other way or with anyone else. Believe me or don’t. I would continue to write a book every five-ish weeks if it meant I could keep my career as an author, earn out my advances and have people in my house say positive things about me when they hear my name instead of groan and think about how much money I lost them.

And it’s time for me to stop talking.

I went sooo far off topic, it’s ridiculous. Thank you, John, for starting this subject. I’ve enjoyed it and have learned from every comment on your post.


nisha said...

Hey Jessica,

I think you are completely right. I agree with you and I loved John's post because it sort of gives people a reality check.

by the way, do you by any chance have the names of those two author promo books you got? I could totally use them about now. :-) Thanks!


Jessica Burkhart (Jess Ashley) said...

Hey, Nisha,

I sure do:


Both are really quite good! :)

Stephanie J said...

Great insight! I was drawn into John's post yesterday and Mary and I were engaged in a mini discussion about it. The only thing that's frustrating with those posts is keeping up with all the comments...there are just too many but I want to read all of them!

I like your points about the importance of author promo and building a relationship with the house. You bring an interesting perspective considering you're published and on this 8-book track.

Here's a question tho -- would you be satisfied having one highly successful and memorable book (like Harper Lee) with a big advance or is the long term career what's important to you?

Jessica Burkhart (Jess Ashley) said...

Hey, Steph!

First, you guys need to come visit! :)

Being totally honest, I would rather write commercial fiction (YA and MG) and have a steady career of books pubbing instead of one that had enormous success and a giant advance.

Lewis Harris said...

Great post, and I totally agree. My debut came out this month and I feel…like I've got a load of bricks on my shoulder. What? I know—it’s ridiculous. But it’s a happy load, and I’ll carry it until I earn out my advance (fingers crossed). I’ve been on the go, go, go with promotion. But am I doing enough? Are my efforts making a difference? Only time will tell. I want readers to buy my book, love my book, and clambor for more. I want a writing career, but publishing is a bottom-line business. A story needs an audience. And I especially agree with your remarks about editors, but I love my editor, so that was easy.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that at such a young age you have thought all this out and realize the value of things that are just not financial. You have learned something that alot of people never realize-the value of other things involved in a work relationship besides the money. Call me when you get the chance. Those things are priceless.
A. Lorrie

Sherrie Petersen said...

Excellent points, Jessica. I've always appreciated how level-headed you are and what a hard worker you are. For what it's worth, I don't think I would have bought your books if you weren't the PR Ninja that you are! So, yeah, it's paying off :)

Keri Mikulski said...

Very insightful, Jessica! And so true.. There is sooo much to think about when we're building our careers.. So glad you posted this.

Heidi R. Kling said...

Andrew Karre sent me over on Twitter-this is wonderful! So honest and true. It's great to have house support and find "a home."

I also love your statement about Baz Luhrman (whose work I totally admire, except maybe Australia, yet I digress...)

Anyways, thanks!

Jessica Burkhart (Jess Ashley) said...

Great thoughts, everyone.

Wow, Sherrie. Then I'm doing *something* right. Thank you! :)

Heidi, I ADORE Baz. Moulin Rouge is my fave movie. I need to see Australia, but now I'm afraid...

And Keri, thanks!

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