In short, we are no longer offering advances to new authors. About a year or so ago, we decided to change our contract and begin offering advances against royalties to authors. Our goal was to be more competitive. We knew from past experience as literary agents that this endeavor carried with it inherent risk, but we decided to try it because we felt our business had flourished and we wanted to pass an incentive along to authors. Suffice it to say, what followed indicates that we need retire this idea permanently.
Advances are loans. When a publisher offers an author an advance, the message sent should be that publisher has faith in that author’s product and, as with any product offered to consumers, the author of that product will put forth every effort necessary to make his/her product a success.
However, it seems we have had, in some cases, more faith as producers of the product than the creators of the product. It’s been our experience that new authors to whom we give advances actually put forth less effort into trying to make their product successful than those to whom we offered no advances. Rather than use a monetary advance to help promote their books, it seems some authors look upon an advance as a gift, or perhaps a payment for all their hard work. Either way, the result is the same: most, if not all, marketing efforts cease and author focus turns toward the next book.
We saw this happen numerous times during our agenting years, and not just with small publishers. Authors with mid-size and large publishers, such as Kensington and Random House, who got mid-size and large advances, also have succumbed to this. Ask editors at the majors what their biggest pet peeves are and among the top five will be paying an advance on a great book that never goes anywhere because the author quit marketing him/herself the day the check arrived in the mail.
Usually, when one loans someone money, that person tries hard to repay that loan. This should be even more the case when doing so is advantageous to one’s career. Not so the case with advances. Are they looked up as entitlements? Is it because advances are so common? Do authors believe receiving a loan shifts all marketing responsibility away from them and onto the product producer? It would seem so.