Criminal Advances in Book Publishing

Let's boycott books by Blagojevich, Condi, and other non-writers

Earlier this month, Rod Blagojevich received a six-figure book contract.Lately, I have been reading some "how to" advice on putting together a book proposal strong enough to garner an actual book contract. Most of these "how to" tomes emphasize, underscore, and insist that putting together a book proposal is really hard. Most proposals run anywhere between 40-100 pages-almost a book in themselves. Prospective authors must write a sample chapter, and preferably three. They need to know the market in and out, citing which other books have been published on the subject on how theirs will offer something new. One baseball writer explained that he quit his job, lived off credit cards, and followed a minor league team throughout one entire season just to get enough material to put together a good proposal for a book. The bar is high, one learns if one reads such books, because editors need to know prospective book authors understand their material inside and out, and are extremely strong writers.Once you have completed the Herculean proposal task, you need to find a literary agent, no easy feat. Then, the agent must entice an editor. If you are lucky, you might receive a sizeable advance. According to Publisher's Lunch, a "nice deal" is an advance between $1 and $49,000. A "very nice" deal runs between $50,000 and $99,000. A "good" deal is between $100,000 and $250,000.Now, since I spend far too much time watching MSNBC and reading paper copies of The New York Times, old media girl that I am, I know Rod Blagojevich has been been busy for the past few months and let me just say: I am so impressed! All those interviews and the appointing of senators and the impeachment trials, and he still found the time to write such a sterling book proposal that he received a "super stupendous" deal! And during such dark days for publishing to boot!

Blago is not the only secret, surprisingly diligent writer we the public know as some other professional. Chesley Sullenberger received a two-book deal worth $3.2 million, with one book being a collection of "inspirational" poems. Condoleezza Rice received a three-book deal worth $2.5 million. And Kathy Griffin-yes, Kathy Griffin-also received a $2.5-million book deal. (One comment on the excellent Galleycat blog notes that Chesley's "$3.2 million would have financed a 3-4 percent raise for 1,000 people" at Harper's." Not to mention preventing dozens of layoffs).I am starting to feel like a real dupe. Clearly, I have been recommended the wrong books about how to score a book deal. And I am feeling very sorry for that minor-league-baseball-player-book-writer, who is probably still paying off the credit card bills from his months slaving over a book proposal (he got a "nice" deal).I am no expert on the publishing industry, but I know book editors have been laid off recently, and fewer and fewer authors are receiving book contracts as the industry contracts.However, non-writers-a white collar criminal, an airline pilot, a Bushie, a comedian-can now purchase whole swaths of the Icelandic coastline by telling an editor at a beleaguered publishing house they will give this book writing thing a whirl.True, one bestseller can pay for one hundred struggling mid-list writers' advances. But why not just give 50 struggling mid-list writers a decent advance, and then hustle to make one-or a dozen of them-into bestsellers?Giving Blagojevich a million-dollar advance is literally criminal. Buying his book would be too. Maybe we consumers can exercise some nominal control over this insanity by refusing to buy books by celebrities, no matter how many banner ads we see for them. How about this for a slogan: "Only Buy Books Written By Writers!" Or just "Buy Writers," a la "Buy American"?
via Douglas Muth / Flickr

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