New Authors Who Make Way Too Much Money
Most writers struggle to make money, so it’s news when relatively unknown authors get huge advances for their debut novels. Writers such as Stephanie Danler and Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney have received huge advances for their recently published debut novels, Sweetbitter and The Nest.
I’ll admit, the phrase “huge advance” is subjective. To me, if it’s enough money to live on for a while, then it’s a huge advance.
Giving out a huge advance for a debut novel is a risk for publishers. The publishing companies want to lock down a potential money-making writer, but if the public doesn’t respond, then the company is stuck with an overpaid author. A part of me thinks it’s impractical to give an unproven writer way too much money.
Then again, I don’t have a problem with some young writer making so much money up front. I’m jealous, but I don’t have a problem with it happening. If a publisher offered me 2 million dollars for my first piece of fiction, I wouldn’t say, “It’s way too much money, and I haven’t proven myself yet.”
An aspiring author like me has to be careful when writing about how much money another writer makes. It’s none of my business how much another writer makes. Another writer’s contract doesn’t affect me at all. If these young authors hadn’t been offered anything, it wouldn’t help me. Plus, griping about another writer’s financial success can come across as sour grapes. But as an aspiring author, I can’t ignore what makes other writers successful.
I began reading The Nest just to see what made publishers so eager to fork out money for it. Maybe I could learn something from this new author’s writing style. What did this new author have that I didn’t (besides talent)? I began with an open mind (When somebody else says that, I usually think “No, you didn’t), but I couldn’t get far.
Below is the first sentence (not first paragraph) of The Nest:
“As the rest of the guests wandered the deck of the beach club under an early-evening midsummer sky, taking pinched, appraising sips of their cocktails to gauge if the bartenders were using the top-shelf stuff and balancing tiny crab cakes on paper napkins while saying appropriate things about how they’d really lucked out with the weather because the humidity would be back tomorrow, or murmuring inappropriate things about the bride’s snug sating dress, wondering if the spilling cleavage was due to bad tailoring or poor taste (a look as their own daughters might say) or an unexpected weight gain, winking and making tired jokes about exchanging toasters for diapers, Leo Plumb left his cousin’s wedding with one of the waitresses.”
I have to give the author credit; I’ll always remember that sentence. But if I had tried to write a sentence like that in high school or college, my writing instructors would have criticized me. None of them would have appreciated that sentence.
Instead of such a long sentence, I would have been encouraged to write something more like:
“As the rest of the guests wandered the deck of the beach club under an early-evening midsummer sky, Leo Plumb left his cousin’s wedding with one of the waitresses.”
A sentence like that is easier to read, but nobody would remember it. It ticks me off when the stuff that I’ve been taught in school turns out to be wrong.
The other new novel from an unproven author was Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. This author also has received a huge advance for her book. I thought, maybe I could learn something from this novel as well. Again, I paused after the first sentence.
“You will develop a palate.”
I felt betrayed by my writing instructors! I was taught not to use the word “you” when writing. If I had begun any kind of writing with the sentence “You will develop a palate,” my instructor would have told me to rewrite the sentence. A better alternative (according to them) would have been:
“Everybody will develop a palate.”
Personally, I like “You will develop a palate” better than “Everybody will develop a palate,” but my writing instructors would have disagreed, and they were the ones with the power to grade my papers. But if Stephanie Danler had written “Everybody will develop a palate,” her manuscript might have been tossed aside.
In college, I wrote a short story in 2nd-person. I knew it was frowned upon, so I tried it, and then I got lectured in front of the class for trying it. All the students in the class nodded in agreement with the professor when he said that 2nd-person was inappropriate for fiction. Six months later, Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney became a best seller. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use it to bolster my case because it was a new semester, so the class was over. I hate it when I’m right but I don’t get the proof until after the argument is over.
To be fair, my short story probably sucked, but not because it was written in 2nd-person.
When it comes to 2nd person and long sentences, I don’t know who is right, my former writing instructors or the publishing industry. These rule-breaking opening sentences had to be approved by literary agents, editors, and publishers, but not by writing instructors. Maybe my writing instructors were correct, and the publishing industry is simply rewarding bad behavior. That happens all over society today. The law abiding rule-followers get punished while those who break the rules get rewarded. Maybe that’s the case here.
I’m not sure what to believe anymore.
What do you think? Would you continue reading a novel that starts like Sweetbitter or The Nest? Are publishers making a long-term mistake giving new authors huge contracts for their debut novels?
The first sentence isn’t very long, but I used the word “you” a few times later on to make up for it.