Six figure advance for novice novelist

Eighteen year old Abigail Gibbs landed a six-figure deal with HarperCollins this week. Her book, The Dark Heroine, reportedly started life on inspiration from Twilight. Another one

I’m in two minds about this emerging trend. Good on authors like Gibbs and E. L. James for succeeding, and boy do I wish I got six-figure advances for my books. The other half says – well, isn’t this close to leeching off somebody else’s creativity? I mean, it’s ironic; these are books about vampires, yet the inspiration trail itself seems to be a kind of literary vampirism.  I’m not surprised it’s taken off, though. Trends do rise and fall; and publishers are going where the money is.

Which is a problem for me. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read Twilight. The world is full of real vampires, one way and another (I don’t mean undead blood suckers, either – think about it) and the human condition offers us more than enough horror. We don’t need to imagine more.

But maybe I should check it out. Mills and Boon. With blood. And fat advances for writers. Hmmn…

What do you think? Would you write a book like this? Are you going to read Gibbs’ book? Have you ever read Twilight? Or contemplated fan-fiction based on it? And do you think novels ultimately derived from fan-fic are vampirising other writers?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012


28 thoughts on “Six figure advance for novice novelist

  1. Twilght is comfort-food for my inner-teen, Harry Potter fan-fic, my secret writing project. So when I see the success that some people have by reworking other people’s work, it makes me think two things: first, why am I not doing this and second, where do I find an agent who will hook me up with a six-figure deal? Seriously, it does seem that the mass of readers are sucked into the same types of stories, so why not write one of those if one fancies oneself a writer. With self-publishing, what’s to stop someone with ambition?

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  2. The trick is to step back a bit to that broad genre level (‘vampire romance of some sort’) and find a new twist to add – create an original story, with original plot and characters, that takes the new trend a step further. Maybe mash in another genre from the past, just as Rowling herself did. I mean, who would ever have thought that old-style boarding school stories could ever be made cool? But she did it. Originality counts, even when trying to build something for a popular genre.

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  3. In a way they are, but consider this – the demand is too high for one author to satisfy. Also, what if you could only eat pasta in the restaurant that invented it. As long as the work is not totally plagiarised I think it’s actually a compliment to add to the genre. When I was teenager I loved Len Deighton spy books but Robert Ludlum and Ian Flemming were probably the leading writers in that space. The market will dictate when it’s had enough. Could I write one? No, they’re not the kind of thing that interests me so I’d get no enjoyment from the writing. You?

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    1. I agree. The onus is actually on authors to add to the genre – and that’s good, especially if they can do it in a way that creatively extends the genre without alienating the audience. But like you, I draw the line at plagiarism and derivative works.

      Apropos myself – I have to write what interests me. Spy stories, maybe. Sensitive new-age vampire fiction? No.

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  4. Goodness Matthew, you sound surprised? While Harry Potter got a lot of people reading again, wasn’t it all a total leeching of all the traditional symbolism and existing mythologies, and look what J K Rowling did with it. I cried over such merging and melding of classical material for mass consumption. I have seldom found an original character or story in the last twenty years, hence I tend to read more reference materials and journals, particularly focussing on history. That way I learn more about what has already existed and spot the copies so easily. I have some wonderful favourite novels, but nearly all would be over twenty years old.

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    1. Isn’t there a case to be made for these contemporary authors bringing these storylines to new audiences? David Cameron’s Avatar being a case in point – totally copying Pocahontas for instance.

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      1. To me, Rowling’s work was a derivative of the boarding school story genre that was popular in the 1930-50-ish era. Into that she stirred some pretty cliched ideas about magic. The thing was, though, that it worked – and brilliantly. Nobody had done that combination before. And if her material was pedestrian at times and her plots needed editing in spades ….well, she got a lot of people reading.

        I have a post scheduled for this weekend on what constitutes timelessness in a novel.

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  5. I think these novels are vampiring the publishers who still haven’t learned. Until lately they’d publish nothing but celeb autobiographies. One of the reasons why they’re in such trouble is their obsession with profit over quality. Well, that’s how it seems to me.

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    1. It’s definitely an issue, particularly these days with falling print sales and profits. The big thing in New Zealand is cookbooks. Once, a few years ago, I very nearly managed to dislodge those from the top 5 sellers – my book on Kiwi engineering achievements, much to my surprise, shot into the best seller list and stayed there a while. But I didn’t quite knock over the gustatory enthusiasms of the readership!

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  6. Good point. I think a lot of books come out on a low-quality disposable basis – they don’t have a ‘long tail’ of sales, nor are they intended to – but they do make a fast buck for the publisher in the moment. I’d be surprised if any of these ‘vampire derivative’ novels have anything like the endurance of (say) ‘The Lord Of The Rings’.

    Brad Geagley (over in my links list) recently published an interesting post about how a US publisher made an author he was working for stick to the original pitch for a book, even when it was superseded by events, because it was more marketable.

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  7. I have not read Twilight but I did see the DVD. Though I write fantasy, I’m not a huge fan of vampires. I do think you are right that a trend cycles. The trick is to find the new twist that starts a new cycle. It will be interesting to see if a paranormal teen romance series can stand up to the test of time in this ever-changing high speed information age.

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    1. Absolutely true – innovation is so important in writing. The scary part about the current trend is that apparently Twilight, itself, was derivative (in the genre sense) of Anne Rice’s books – and, by my reckoning, Fred Saberhagen’s hilarious ‘The Dracula Tapes’. which I must get around to re-reading one of these days.

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  8. I think it is pathetic. Another Twilight, really? I read Twilight and it was good because at that time it was original, after awhile I saw shelves full of vampire love stories that were quite bad. It gets me upset because agents are so fussy, first they want original plots and excellent language skills and they want a memorable everything and then they go reject original stories with good writing from hard-working creative people with original ideas and get another copy-cat published. They do it because it will make good money and they probably don’t want to take a chance with something new. I think that is kind of spoiling the readers’ habits. Wouldn’t it be better to give the readers new original ideas and let their imaginations grow?

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    1. I agree. Innovation – creativity – and broadening the horizons are all essential to writers – and to readers. The problem is overcoming the risk-aversion publishers have these days in a changing world.

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  9. I made it about halfway through Twilight. Mostly I wanted to see if there was any substance behind the buzz, and of course my primary reason behind that was, Can I Write Something That Sells Like This? Well…maybe…but I doubt it will be about vampires. To provide context, I’m a fan of Bram Stoker’s original Dracula, even if it was about the only thing Stoker wrote that I like. Somehow, even over the century-plus since it was written, there’s something eerily compelling about the tale that modern writers like King and Rice (good in their own way) don’t match. I’ve often wondered what it would’ve been like to sit in the audience in 1932 when the original Dracula movie with Bela Lugosi came out. We’ve been fed such a diet of vampires and unquiet spirits since that that’s a difficult feat, for me, at least; but in the spirit of modern horror, some years ago I was watching the original Godzilla movie. I’d also been reading a history of the B-29 fire-bombing campaign against the Japanese home islands at about the same time. So when Godzilla started wrecking Tokyo it occurred to me, somewhat forcefully, that the audience in Japan at the time of the movie’s original release would have included a substantial number of survivors of the fire raids on Japanese cities. What did they think, one wonders, watching that cinematic monster crush Tokyo under his radioactive paws?

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    1. I enjoyed the original ‘Dracula’ immensely; it was a thriller, and it tweaked the sensibilities of stuffy middle-class Victorians no end. Something, I suspect, that neither Rice, nor Mayer, nor their imitators, have quite managed to do – I mean, ’50 Shades of Grey’ doesn’t really challenge any of the key social issues or debates of our time in any sense of literature, or even as Stoker did in 1893. Sure, it’s salacious – unusually so, I’m told, for a mainstream novel. But it’s also gratuitous, and to me that certainly doesn’t constitute good story telling.

      Good point about Godzilla – it never occurred to me. And now I wonder, too. Kind of chilling, to think of that. A few years back I published some eyewitness accounts by Kiwi sailors from HMNZS Gambia, who entered Tokyo Bay with the Allied fleet the day after the surrender ceremony in 1945. The men were keen to get some shore leave, and some landed to find only ruin. The place had been annihilated.

      I have vague memories, though, of another in that series – ‘Mothra’, in which a giant moth attacked the USA and destroyed ‘New Jack City’ from the air. Extremely silly, but I suspect there was an element of metaphorical revenge there, just as Honda wrote Godzilla as a deliberate metaphor for the follies of the nuclear age.

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  10. Six figures for someone else’s concepts? Sheeesh.

    Why can’t I stitch up a six figure deal for a memoir? 😆 Don’t answer that!

    I am a bit of a sci-fi fan, but vampires don’t interest me. I agree, there are enough of them in real life, they just don’t have pointy teeth, they suck our life blood in more material ways!

    To answer your question, no, the idea doesn’t appeal. Mills and Boon? Can’t read it. 50 Shades of Grey? Not in your life.

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    1. I can’t read them either, which is a major downer because that is apparently where the money is. NZ’s richest author, as I understand it, writes vampire romances and is a NYT best-selling author. There’s another not far behind who writes Mills & Boon. History, meanwhile – which is mostly what I do – languishes in an indifferent market and the vicious territorial defences mounted by the so-called academic and ‘professional’ history community here.

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  11. I find it very sad that someone could get an advance like that for a novel idea inspired by an utterly rubbish book such as Twilight. And while the temptation is quite high to write under a pseudonym and pour out book after book of that type of story, just to make a bit of money, I still don’t think I could bring myself to do it. Especially as I can’t bring myself to read even Twilight, which is comparatively better than a lot of the other vampire books that have been released as part of this trend. I did read a few pages of Twilight, but I kept laughing and apparently I’m not supposed to! 😛

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    1. You’re ahead of me – I couldn’t even bring myself to read it at all! I completely agree with you about rejecting the lure of pseudonymous tripe-writing. Money is always short for (real) authors…but there are standards – and there’s that niggling thing about personal integrity!

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  12. Perhaps this is the book industry equivalent of what sells in a recession – like in the film industry when they tend to make sequels and reruns because no one wants to take a risk on an unknown and they believe viewers want comfort in the familiar.

    Sounds a little like recession-proof type of behaviour, but ultimately they must believe it’s really going to sell. Trying to guess the tipping point is a risky game though, especially when following the trend and not creating it. I think the wind is changing direction and the next big thing will be something entirely different, not a rerun in any form.

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    1. I agree. The question is what will next seize the imagination – and that, alas, is likely to be something we can’t predict exactly, though I’m prepared to bet that it will probably address something fairly fundamental to us as humans, one way or another. Vampire stories did once, too, it’s just that they’ve lost the plot (pun intended…)

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  13. True writers create a piece of work because they love to write about things that they love. Anybody who writes something with the sole aim of ‘just to make money’ rips the soul of their creation and readers are not stupid. They will ‘sense’ that the writer doesn’t really care about their creation.

    If you don’t read ‘Twilight’ or find the paranormal romance genre of interest, then don’t write a book about it. If you do, you are not a true writer. Be happy for other people’s success, but stay on the path that you began and stay true to what interests you.
    All the best,
    L.J.R. Worrall

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