Money Talks.

10 Oct

Just this week, while Penguin was suing one of its bestselling authors for thirty-three thousand dollars, Random House was throwing three-point-seven million into the bank account of a writer who’s never written a book before. (Who hasn’t even written more than the vaguest of proposals for the book under discussion, come to think of it.)

What’s wrong with this picture?

Other than everything?

First, I have no idea why Elizabeth Wurtzel (author of Prozac Nation), has failed to turn in the book that she currently has under contract to Penguin. I would like to think that if I were in her shoes, I’d have gotten the job done and moved on. But that’s just me. I don’t know the specifics of her story—and frankly, I don’t care too much about them. Not after learning that the advance money she got for her next book came to a measly thirty-three grand.

Good God. How many copies of Prozac Nation did Penguin sell? Tons and tons. Certainly enough that they must have had a spare thirty-three thousand kicking around to fund Wurtzel’s next book, strings attached or otherwise. (Even though, as I’ve said, I’m of the opinion that turning in contracted work in a satisfactory and timely manner is a very fine policy. Kind of like honesty.)

Anyhow, I was just getting my head around the notion that one of the Big 6 could go after one of their bestselling authors for an amount of money that would put an American family only four thousand dollars above the poverty line, when I got wind of the 3.7 million that Random House had just thrown at Lena Dunham.

Lena who?

Well, yes.

Lena Dunham, it turns out, is the 26-year-old writer and star of an HBO series called “Girls,” which began airing six months ago. In other words, Random is betting that she’s their next Tina Fey. Tina Fey without all those years on SNL and Thirty Rock, of course, Tina Fey without the brilliant Sarah Palin schtick, and Tina Fey without the movie career.

You know—Tina Fey without the fame.

Maybe they can make something out of it. Who knows? In the book business, which is painfully short on glamour to begin with, the first step in making something out of nothing is always to throw an obscene amount of money at it. Money builds buzz. Money gets people talking. People, in this case, like the New York Times, the New York Daily News, and, most insightfully, Salon

People are talking about Penguin’s going after Elizabeth Wurtzel for their thirty-three grand, too—at Business Week, where publishing attorney Jonathan Kirsch says, “Publishing is in so much economic trouble. You have a distressed industry asking themselves, ‘Where can additional revenue come from?’” And at the Reluctant Habits blog, where you can find the details of each suit Penguin is pursuing. (Spoiler Alert: One of the advances is exactly ten grand, and only two of them break the fifty-thousand mark.)

Money talks, all right. And when you compare Penguin’s cashing out Wurzel’s track record for $33,000 against Random House’s $3,700,000 bet on Dunham, it’s easy to hear what it’s saying. It just doesn’t sound good.

What do you think?

8 Responses to “Money Talks.”

  1. rragains October 10, 2012 at 9:07 am #

    We live in a world where Snooki got a book deal with Simon & Schuster… Needless to say, I’m not surprised by much.

  2. Paul Hughes October 10, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    Quite possibly Tina Fey without the funny.

  3. Pat Paltiel Fowler October 10, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    Jon- wasn’t it something like $41 Million that Borders owed Penguin? Plus all the other millions that the other publishers allowed the Borders management to get away with… And then I hear stories at trade shows about accounts receivable calling an indie bookseller if they are 1 month overdue for $2000. Looks like the publishing life is not fair.

    • Jon Clinch October 10, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

      Straining at gnats and swallowing Kamils.

  4. harrymvt (@harrymvt) October 11, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    To quote Rob Spillman’s Facebook post: “I like Lena Dunham. But her book deal is what is wrong with corporate publishing. For 3.7 million dollars they paid Dunham, Random House could have paid 370 $10,000 advances. Off the top of my head I could give you a list of 370 writers who would write books that would have longer lasting cultural impacts than Dunham’s 15 minutes of publishing glory.”

  5. Daren Wang October 15, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    I watched half of an episode of “Girls.” That was enough. I’m guessing that the marketing meeting at Random House had a lot of “access to an untapped demo” going on.
    They are hoping for Helen Fielding, not Tina Fey. They won’t get her.

  6. Jon Clinch October 11, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    Well, isn’t this just the coolest. Brand new blog makes Book Riot’s Critical Linking. Country boy makes good.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Critical Linking: October 11, 2012 | BOOK RIOT - October 11, 2012

    [...] it or not, books are business. Money talks, but as readers, we don’t have to listen; we can just [...]

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