Friday, June 3, 2011

Does a Huge Advance and Hype Kill a Story/Book?

Years back, when an Indian book was in the news for the phenomenal advance  the writer got, there was major hype around the book. Everyone waited eagerly for the book to hit the bookshelves. So did I. When the book finally arrived, I am sure most readers read it to see whether the book justified the 7 figure advance it got. Many felt it was not worth the money paid to the writer. Whatever the feelings, the book sold really well.

The same thing happened last year. Another book was in the news for all the wrong reasons- the huge advance the writer was awarded. I read quite  a few of the reviews; for many the book was not worth the  huge advance.

 These  big advance hypes  create a huge buzz around the books. There is an overwhelming curiousity factor. More often than not, people buy the books, but do not like the stories. By themselves the books may be wonderful, but, when compared to the vast amount of money, the stories definitely pale in comparision. The big advance I feel increases people's expectations. However wonderful the book, it eventually falls short of people's expectations.

I read both the books. They were good. But, most people kept the advance in mind while reading the book. It was like they were weighing each word  against  a currency note. The words then looked small next to the money they had  earned before even a single copy was sold. One book has become a benchmark for other Indian books. The second book has just died a  hasty death.

One thing I realized was that all the hype about 6-7 figure deals  create a major buzz around the book. The book  gets a golden aura.Whether it lives upto to that aura or not,  plenty of copies  are sold.  Sometimes I wonder whether people in the publishing business deliberately create the hype, otherwise how else will they publicize the book.        

Is a big advance a measure of a writer’s craft? Shouldn’t a book be judged by its literary merit, by the story, words, character, plot and world building? By the connection the story has made with the readers. I have loved several books that  did not make much money. Do you equate a huge advance with a great book? Have you ever felt that a book was not worth the advance  it got? Do you feel over hyping a book can kill it? I would love to hear  everyone’s views. 


  1. Hype can work both ways, but like you I feel it kills the book. People start expecting a lot from such books.

  2. I think it depends. There's no doubt that a lot of hype raises awareness of a book. And yes, I agree, a reader can be thinking about the money while they read the book.

    The amount a publisher pays isn't so much about how good a writer the writer is, or what it may say about the writer's craft, I believe it's more about how marketable a publisher believes the book is. And also, what impact it will have on the reading public.

    Great post! Definitely one to think about. Have a great weekend.

  3. I suppose the big advance is like saying this book must be phenomenal to garner so much money. Sometimes it lives up to the hype, sometimes not. Reminds me of the NFL draft: sometimes the football players with the biggest deals have awesome seasons, and sometimes you're left wondering why the heck they paid so much for such a lackluster player.

  4. I think the book should stand on it's quality, how well written it is. I understand the reason for hype sometimes, but I don't see it justified a good bit of the time. This goes along with one of my pet peeves, how a celebrity gets a book deal solely because of who they are, while many wonderful writers have to struggle to make it happen. Good topic for discussion, Rachna!

    Have a great weekend,

  5. If it's quality work then no, but woe unto the mediocre.

  6. Interesting question. I think the book itself may sell a lot, but the author's career can often stall after that. If their second book doesn't earn as much as the first, the publisher will drop them, and the writer can end up being toxic in the industry.

    I was just remembering an instance of that today--a writer I heard speak at a writers' conference after making a huge book deal. The book sold a lot, and was made into a movie, but his book is out of print, and he never seems to have published another one. So writers should squirrel away that huge advance, because it may be all they'll ever earn.

  7. "It was like they were weighing each word against a currency note."

    Ha ha, I'd probably do the same thing, to the detriment of my reading enjoyment.

  8. I wonder that the hype surrounding a huge advance is often so the publisher can get some money back.

    In the UK, much is made of the memoirs of former Prime Ministers and other high office politicians and the advances they receive are huge. My view is that, if I didn't believe their rhetoric in office, I'm certainly not going to believe a book and line their lockets with my money!

    I really love it when a little known title starts a buzz by word of mouth.

  9. The hype will get copies sold... to a point. The story has to sell the rest.

  10. Has to be quality. If it is then fine. Make as much money as you can. But Rachna, I've read stuff from famous authors that was AWFUL, but they commanded huge advances, because of their earlier and much better works. I don't think about that stuff when I read, but I guess folks who don't write do?

    I hate it when someone famous makes bookoos of money for a rotten book or a book they never really wrote to begin with. Grrrrrrr

  11. I definitely think it can be a fine line. I recently read a book that had been hyped like crazy, and I didn't like it. In fact, I liked it LESS because I was expecting so much more out of it.

    Interesting topic!

  12. I think it's only normal for most people to be intrigued by something that garners the writer a big advance. Especially if that's what's fixed in their minds by the media. Personally, I don't read any books with that topic in mind. I'm much more interested in the story itself then what the writer made from it because I know how misleading those numbers can be.


  13. Great topic. I guess it becomes a shame when a lousy book is given so much promotion to the detriment of really good ones... but like the Little Engine that Could, we just have to believe that the good stuff will prevail; and the little guys will reach their rightful destination!

  14. @ Seema..most of us expect too much from books that are overhyped.

    @ D.U. Okonwo...I too feel that publishers see the marketability of a book when they hype it. If it can be marketed, then they go berserk.

    @ Laura...many times I have felt that certain books did not deserve the hype or the advance.

    @ India too, books by celebrities are talked about and they get deals while a good writer is struggling to get his/her book published.

    @ Tana...quality work gets around by a word of mouth publicity.

    @ Anne..I too believe that writers with huge advances should definitely squirrel away the money as it may be the only advance they will ever receive. I hate to say this, but most of these people end up becoming one book wonders.

    @ one point I did weigh the story against the money it had earned.

  15. @ Margo...I have also seen that in U.K lots of memoirs by former Prime Ministers are getting into bookshelves and have read about the money such books get.

    @ Lynda..hype can get the initial copies sold, after that the book is on its own.

    @ Robyn...thats my pet peeve too. Books by famous authors who are definitely past their prime but are still bagging big deals is a sad situation.

    @ Shallee..I read one such book and I hated it. It was really pathetic.

    @ are lucky, my mind somehow hangs on to the advance bit and then I start wondering was the book worth that much money.

    @ Cheryl...yes, ultimately the good stuff will prevail.

  16. I think you're right. I think people have the book on an impossible scale weighing it against a huge stack of gold it can't possibly balance out. You see that in several American authors - There's one romance author who I think really gets a lot of backlash because folks know how much money she makes. It's an ugly mixture of unrealistic expectations and jealousy, but I guess it's human nature to react that way.

  17. I wrote about hype at length a while ago. I don’t put much faith in it. Books have to be marketed, yes; advertising is a part of our lives and a necessary part too but where hype differs is that it builds up an unreasonable expectation. Years ago I learned that there was to be a new Batman film (what turned out to be Tim Burton’s first film) and I read every scrap of information I could about the film so that by the time it came to watch the actual film nothing, no film could possibly live up to my expectations. I ruined it for myself. That is what hype does, it oversells and ultimately disappoints.

    You need to watch when you hear that people have had big advances. The word itself is the key. It is an advance. If the subsequent sales do not meet expectations that advance can be clawed back.

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  19. Great point! I think that advance is indicative of how marketable the book is, not necessarily how amazing the writing is. A lot of books are really good, and the publishers know they'll gain a wide audience, but it doesn't mean the writer is more skillful than other writers.

  20. Good questions Rachna. I do agree that a large advance raises expectations, and the reader can get caught up in the hype. I've read a couple books by my favorite authors that the advances were publicized, and I was disappointed by the story. I'm not sure if it was the story itself, or if my expectation was so high I couldn't read it without the interference.

    Not that I'm not dreaming about being THAT author someday :)


  21. The very nature and purpose of hype is to jack up sales by whipping up curiosity, and does not actually reflect on the value of the content in the book.
    I too get caught up many a time and buy a book. However I do not weigh the story or writing per se against the price the writer has got for it. To me if I enjoyed it, it was my money well spent, if I didn't like it then I just say the author was indeed lucky and wonder if his luck will hold least I would be more wary in future.

  22. I think that when you hype a book so much, it works as a kind of spoiler. Your mind goes into the book ready to be amazed, when quite a lot of the time that will not happen. I have had that problem with quite a few books that were supposed to be 'the greatest books ever' but then after reading them I wasn't impressed.

  23. I think it can work both ways. Hype creates big sales, and if it is as good as the money justified, then it will continue to sell well. But sometimes I will avoid a book because of the fuss; I want to read a book for the story itself, not how popular it will or has become. Does that make sense?

    Ellie Garratt

  24. I would have hated being that author if the book fell flat but hey, he got his advance:)

  25. I think its planned and deliberate. Its also brilliant. Big books are going to be made into big movies so when they advertise that Author XYZ just got paid 3 million dollars to write a new book, they know full well that they are going to make that back in spades. The old saying "money talks and bulls--t walks"

    Remember when Terminator 2 came out. Arnold was paid $15mill for a 700 word script. $21k for each spoken word. I can only hope that one day I get paid that much!

    Even if the hype ruins a career. They still made enough to laugh all the way to the bank.