While I'm still pinching myself to see if my contract is real, you know, not fraying in its special holder or the words fading into invisible ink, another debut writer is being published. When I first spoke to my new editor, he raved about the authors he had already signed to the new imprint, Del Rey UK, part of Random House/Ebury. One of those authors was Liesel Schwarz, and he sent me a proof copy of her first book, A Conspiracy of Alchemists. I loved the writing, the world, the plot and the characters and have sung its praises here. But now, Liesel has gone through the launch/book signing razzmatazz, and is now looking at things like reviews and sales.
When I did my MA, one of the speakers was Will Atkins, then editor of Pan Macmillan's New Writing. He pointed out the one difficulty for writers with the advance system was that so many new authors do not 'earn out' their advance. The maths are simple: the publisher 'advances' you a lump sum, in chunks, against future sales. Instead of getting royalties, a small percentage of the price of each book pays back a tiny part of the advance. You have to sell many many copies of a book to pay back even a moderate advance, and authors who don't are less likely to be bought again.
Now Liesel, like every author, is waiting to see how her book sells. It isn't immediately clear to authors how their book is doing, because many books sit on shop shelves waiting for a new owner, and the more publicity the publisher provides for a book, the more likely people are to look it out or look on Amazon. So I was thrilled this weekend to read a review of A Conspiracy of Alchemists, and a feature on its talented author, in the Independent on Sunday. I loved the piece, and it was glowing about both the book and the author. As someone trailing eight months in her wake, I am thrilled to be watching her success and learning from her experience.
One thing Will Atkins pointed out is a multiple book deal means that the publisher is giving a little room for a readership to develop, and over the three books the expectation is that the author will earn out their advance. Time to establish a following, and in Liesel's case, expand the whole genre of Steampunk to a new female fan base. I am confident of her success.
Meanwhile, I potter along creating a credible version of book 2 (which is going well) but wonder what will happen when my scribblings go through that same process. Like most writers, I was all 'got to get a deal', without really thinking that there are more hurdles up ahead. The reality is that the marketplace is fickle, most books published don't attract the kind of reception Liesel's book has and relatively few earn out their advance. As the euphoria/shock wears off the nerves begin again...