Issendai (issendai) wrote,

A Dangerous Weakness, by Lorna Page

90something woman with a little experience as a ghostwriter writes a novel. Daughter-in-law finds the manuscript, reads it, and convinces woman to publish it through AuthorHouse. At the same time, woman sells flat in Surrey and buys a 5-bedroom house in a small country town, planning to move in as many friends as she can afford so that they don't have to go to truly horrible care homes.

Woman, now 93, tells journalists that she plans to use the proceeds from the novel to support her friends.

Journalists report that she bought the house with the advance from her book.

Her book shoots from rock-bottom on Amazon--as would be expected of a self-published book--to #38,075 in the U.S. and #806 in the U.K. It's #26 on the U.K. romance list.


I'm not quite sure what I think of this, partly because I'm still not sure how much of the story is true. Public records confirm that a house sale for the reported amount took place in the reported town at the reported time; people who know the U.K. housing market say that the sale of Lorna Page's flat could easily cover most or all of the cost of the much larger house in a less expensive location; and who knows how much of the "93-year-old author's advance paid for the house" angle came directly from the family, and how much was overeager journalists reading into the situation? Page's intention to use the proceeds to support her friends is noble, so it's hard to criticize the family for milking that angle for all it's worth. And now it looks like there might be some money in the book after all.

Meanwhile, the story is suctioning common sense out of novice writers' heads as we speak. Because OMG, AuthorHouse paid a $600,000 advance! To a first-time author! She could afford a mansion and everything! The next one could be ME!

Soooo, a quick reality check:
  • AuthorHouse doesn't pay an advance. No scam press does, with the exception of PublishAmerica, which pays $1 so you can say you got an advance like a real author and PublishAmerica can say it's "a traditional advance and royalty paying book publisher." It's not, but it can say so because technically all those words are true. The difference is in the connotation, not the denotation.
  • If a legitimate publisher paid a 93-year-old woman a $600,000 advance for a racy romance novel, it wouldn't be a human-interest fluff piece. It would be front-page news in the entertainment section, there would be tidbits about the author's scandalous youth, critics would be publishing reviews left, right, and center. The book would be spread out over the biggest display the publisher could afford in every major bookstore. You would have heard about it. Lots. Everywhere. Tie-in exposes about conditions in U.K. care homes would be leaking out your ears. The publisher would throw their advertising department at the book, and lo, it would be advertised. If that didn't happen, then either the publisher isn't legitimate, or the advance isn't real--or both.
  • If a vanity press decided to break with tradition and offer an author a huge advance, that too would be in your face. The vanity press would be eager to show that it had become a real, live publisher, industry pundits would discuss what the change in tactics meant, and everyone would want to sell books.
  • If a vanity press-published or self-published novel didn't get an advance, but sold enough books to earn its author $600,000, you'd hear about it. That amount represents six-figure sales. Traditionally published books don't sell six figures without making book news. Self-published novels don't make six-figure sales, period,* so if one did, that would mean it was a megahit, the Harry Potter of self-published books. Real publishers would line up five deep to offer the author seven-figure contracts. There would be magazine articles and TV spots and Youtube videos and fan clubs and blog interviews and water-cooler conversations across the country.
If a book sounds like it's doing incredibly well, but you've never heard of it, watch out. Something smells.

I'm looking forward to the first reviews of Lorna Page's book. From the excerpt, it's not awful--mediocre writing, not enough of a sample to show much about the storytelling--but it's not going to set the world on fire. The reviewers will be painfully kind regardless, squirming inside. It'll be most entertaining.

* Note that I said "novels." Self-help books are one of the few self-published books that sell well, and there are probably a few that have sold six figures.

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