Digital Book World Panel Explores No- and Low-Advance Author Contracts
On Tues., Jan. 26, a panel of executives explored “Back-Loaded Book Deals: No (and Low) Advance Contracts, Profit-Sharing and Other Innovative Business Models,” during F+W Media's Digital Book World conference at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in New York City. The main philosophies driving the discussion: more mutually profitable arrangements for publishers and authors, true partnerships and transparency.
On the panel were: Robert Miller, president and publisher of HarperStudio; Roger Cooper, publisher of Perseus' Vanguard Press; Mary Ann Naples, co-founder of The Creative Culture literary agency; and Ira Silverberg, literary agent with Sterling Lord Literistic Inc.
Robert Miller—who made headlines industrywide with his 2008 launch of HarperStudio as a new unit of HarperCollins that would experiment with new publishing models that challenged the status quo—led the discussion.
Miller said the idea behind HarperStudio was that “it would be nice to keep more of the money we've made,” referring to high-advance contracts that may not sell to their expectations. The flip side of that, he said, is that low-advance contracts that outsell their expectations benefit the publisher more than the author. “The publisher or author used to always come out ahead with typical advances,” he said.
Designed as a solution for a more mutually profitable relationship, HarperStudio offers low advances, with a maximum advance of $100,000, and a 50-50 profit share.
Every decision made regarding a title—from print runs to marketing—is also a shared decision between publisher and author, Miller said.
Getting Back to the Business of Publishing
Cooper said the goal for Perseus' Vanguard Press was to “make contracts simpler” and to address a shifting publishing business. “It was moving toward a business where a huge number of books were being printed and shipped, but very few were being published the way I was used to,” he said, noting that many titles received less attention with leaner publishing staffs working on them.
Vanguard was founded as a no-advance model that pays “high, very high royalties,” he said. The company also guarantees a “substantial marketing budget for each book,” he noted.
The company operates with only three in-house staff, and hires an outside “team” for each title, including an editor, PR staff, etc.
Because authors and agents are foregoing an advance, the company pays royalties out monthly vs. the industry standard of 90 days or longer.
Both Vanguard and HarperStudio currently publish about two titles per month.
Literary agent Ira Silverberg explained that his company was formed when he and several of his industry peers left their roles as editors at publishing houses because they “wanted to work for the author, not for the man,” he said.
New types of publishing models like HarperStudio and Vanguard are a welcome shift in this direction, he suggested.
Agent Mary Ann Naples commented, “I didn't think in the past that I could have opened a conversation about profit share and had it met with any [reciprocity], but here we are having a conversation about it.”
A member of the audience commented, “This is the most hopeful thing I've heard in the last few years.”