aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

George Pelecanos and the $1.5 million challenge

There was an interesting artice in the NY Times July 26 about George Pelecanos. He'll have a new book out this month, the Night Gardener.

Pelecanos writes well, and is definitely a literary writer who chooses to write about crime (as well as race and family and music). I've never met him or even heard him speak.

The article says, "So far, that critical acclaim has failed to translate into the kind of sales that Mr. Pelecanos's publisher, Little, Brown, believes he deserves. According to Nielsen BookScan, none of his last five books have sold more than 13,000 copies in hardcover; Little, Brown contends that the figures range from 17,000 to 21,000 copies." The article also says Michael Connelly has sometimes sold more than 30X that number.

The publisher is making a real effort for this book (and note that these are things the writer can't do. A publisher has to choose to do them.)

NYT says: "With The Night Gardener, Little, Brown is making an all-out push to vault Mr. Pelecanos to commercial success. It is spending $150,000 on a marketing campaign, including national cable television advertisements, and has purchased Mr. Pelecanos a spot on one of Barnes & Noble's coveted "stepladders," special displays at the front of the stores that publishers pay for. It has also moved the novel's publication date to August from its traditional berth for Mr. Pelecanos in February or March, when the market is more crowded with other crime writers. The novel will have an initial print run of 55,000 copies."

It also says he sold his first book in the early 1990s to St. Martin's Press for $2,500. He wrote five more books for St. Martin's but was never paid more than a $7,500 advance. Even for 10-15 years ago, that's low. But SMP is notoriously cheap.

Then he sold King Suckerman to Little, Brown for $45,000 to Little, Brown in 1996. Film rights went to P Diddy.

In 2004 Little, Brown paid him $1.5 million for a three-book contract.

Some thoughts:
- I'm not sure a story like this will help his sales. Then again, any publicity is good publicity, and everything it says about the new book is very positive.
- The chance that he really got $1.5 million in his pocket are slim. They can jigger around the accounting so much, splitting up payments and making them be dependent on certain things happening. The $1.5 million might have been just bandied about to attract attention.
- Even if it's a lot less, the chance that he has earned out are zero. Or will ever earn out.
- If you ever get a big advance, assume it's the last time it will ever happen and bank it. Because it probably will be the last time.
- Unless SMP starts you out with a big advance, you'll never get one from them.


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