As a writer, you have a better chance of falling into a pot hole on main street and ending up among talking rabbits and erasable cats than snaring a publisher’s advance in the millions. Yet it happens. Yann Martel is apparently getting somewhere around three million for his new novel. More incredibly, a woman in Nanaimo is pulling in over a million for her first, repeat, first novel. Yes, it does happen.
Don’t forget, this is the writer’s own money. The publisher is betting the writer’s work will bring in enough to make it up out of his or her earnings. It’s a gamble, since if the book fails to earn big bucks, the publisher is out of pocket, not the writer. But it is also something of a self-fulfilling prophecy since the publisher has a vested interest in extravagant marketing, beginning, of course, by flaunting the huge advance.
So why am I writing about this? Because most writers are professionals: that means by definition that there is not a direct correlation between what we do and what we make. Some medical doctors bring in more than Yann Martel, some work as an act of grace in places God forgot. Most writers are artists: that means by definition that there is not a direct correlation between what we make and what we are paid, whether it’s music, sculpture, or a book worth reading. When a professional artist like Martel strikes it rich, it’s not because he’s the best, but because he’s very good at doing what we do and vicariously I’ll dine out on his fortune. As for those writers like the woman on Vancouver Island who candidly admits to writing as a business project or Dan Brown who markets a product with amazing success, I wish them well, the same as if they’d won the lottery or invented a widget and struck it rich. Good for them but it’s got nothing to do with me and my life.
I write mysteries, Martel writes parables. We’re both listening to the world and we hear some of the same voices, share some of the same visions. Well done, Yann. I’ll enjoy my dinner at your imagined expense.