Little more than two weeks after a widely circulated article on the fading of a genre, “Killing Conservative Books: The Shocking End of a Publishing Gold Rush that discussed “the gutting of the conservative book market” and that too many books and too many publishers “made the economics of their genre much tougher, with an ever-increasing number of books competing for an audience that hasn’t grown much since the ’90s”, came news that Texas Senator Ted Cruz agreed to a $1.5 million dollar advance from HarperCollins.[Disclaimer: Different imprints of HarperCollins published both of my books.]
In a Washington Post article, Paul Bedard writes that Cruz’s advance is even more than Sarah Palin’s check after her entrance onto the national stage.
Let’s go back to the BuzzFeed piece, authored by McKay Coppins…
The crux of the piece is that publishers are basically obligated to sign up books by presidential hopefuls, in the event that they are eventually elected to the White House. However, in the chase for those politicians, many publishers sign deals with conservative politicians that don’t pay off in terms of sales. Coppins’ article points out that Jeb Bush’s book has only sold about 4,600 copies and that Rick Santorum’s 2012 book American Patriots only sold about 6,500 copies.
For example, Tim Pawlenty, a short-lived presidential candidate in 2012, received an advance of around $340,000 for his 2010 book Courage to Stand. But the book went on to sell only 11,689 copies, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks most, but not all, bookstore sales. What’s more, Pawlenty’s political action committee bought at least 5,000 of those copies itself in a failed attempt to get it on the New York Times best-seller list, according to one person with knowledge of the strategy.
So what happens when you have a genre in decline? Pay a shit ton of money to someone in that genre.
Now, it should be stated that Cruz is a giant name in the conservative movement and Coppins’ article specifically states that some books do perform well and that it’s the midlist that struggles. Certainly, Cruz isn’t going to be a midlist author.
Nevertheless, this kind of news is what leaves many aspiring authors and publishing industry observers shaking their head, and more than a few critics applauding the so-called “death of publishing.” This isn’t about left or right, liberal or conservative politics. It’s about an industry observation that got a large amount of discussion about the struggles to recoup advances that face a genre and then, two weeks later, a giant advance is paid out in that same genre.