There's a link going around to a Salon article by an anonymous writer talking about how difficult it is to be a midlister. It's an interesting article, but by the end of it, I was frankly fed up with anonymous writer. Basically, she's upset because her first book got her a six-figure advance but didn't do well, and her next three books have gotten her smaller and smaller advances--barely five figures!--and only one has earned out, and that one that's earned out was the smallest advance of all, and she's all sad because she's had to take a day job.
Excuse me while I tune up the world's tiniest violin.
I think big advances are a big problem. Agents push for them because they get paid right away, writers want them because hey, money!, and publishers--well, I have no idea why publishers offer bloated advances. I do know that the higher the advance, the longer a book takes to earn out. Duh. That was fine back in the olden days when only, like, four books were published every year and they stayed on bookshelves for decades before being returned and remaindered. Things move a lot faster now. Oh, and there's a recession on.
So no, I'm not very sympathetic to an author who's written four books in two decades and is whining because she finally has to get a day job. My advice: write more books and branch out into genre fiction if you really want to keep the money coming in. In the meantime, I'll be cranking out one or two books a year and hoping to eventually sell one to a big publisher and get a low four-figure advance. I won't be able to quit my day job, but I never expected to.
My thoughts mesh beautifully with Aaron Polson's post today about short fiction pay rates, incidentally. Also, I'm seriously considering writing one of those cheesy category romances. Apparently that's where the money's at, if you write enough of them. The advances are low, but they almost always earn out.