If you're a writer and have a pulse, you probably have seen this news story (or this one or this one) about Lorna Page, the 93-year-old British author who hit it big with her debut novel, and with the proceeds bought a large house in Devon so that her elderly friends could live with her rather than in a nursing home.
Despite some discrepancies (some of the news stories report that Ms. Page received "a significant advance" for her novel; others just mention sales proceeds) this heartwarming tale is getting huge press coverage. If you type "Lorna Page" into Google News, you'll see articles in half a dozen languages from news sources all over the world.
However, there's something odd about this story. Ms. Page's book, A Dangerous Weakness, is published by AuthorHouse.
As I'm sure all Writer Beware's readers--unlike, apparently, much of the press--are aware, AuthorHouse is a self-publishing service, which not only doesn't pay advances, but charges a fee to publish. Average sales figures for AuthorHouse books, based on AuthorHouse's own statistics, are around 150 copies.
So what is going on here? Has AuthorHouse made an exception to its no-advance policy? Has Ms. Page's book, against all the odds, sold well enough to enable her to buy a house that reportedly cost more than 300,000 pounds? Or is this (as some people have theorized) a clever publicity stunt designed to drive sales?
My hunch: none of the above. I think it's just sloppy journalism.
Have a look at this press release about Ms. Page and her book, dated June 26, 2008, which says: "A 93-year-old woman is having her first novel published and with the book's proceeds plans to buy a large house in Devon so she can give a real home to some of her friends who are currently in nursing homes."
Take a look also at this article from BBC News, dated August 11, 2008 (and listen to the video clip that accompanies it). Nothing at all is said about Ms. Page using the proceeds from her book to buy the house in Devon. The article simply reports that "A 93-year-old woman who has had her first novel published has bought a house in Devon so she can help friends stay out of nursing homes...She hopes the book's royalties will pay enough so her friends do not have to move into nursing homes, something she dreads."
I suspect the newspapers used both these sources and made a leap of logic, assuming that, since the house had been bought, the hoped-for proceeds were already in hand. In some cases, they further assumed that "book proceeds" equaled "advance." That, and the human interest angle, spurred the current rash of what I believe is inaccurate reportage.
Why am I so sure it's inaccurate? It's possible that under some circumstances AuthorHouse might make an exception to its usual policy, and pay an advance--but I'm not aware of a single instance in which that has ever happened. Also, even if Ms. Page's book has sold extraordinarily well--and to generate more than 300,000 pounds in royalties, it would have to have sold like hotcakes on steroids; it's hard to imagine a POD service being able to keep up with that kind of demand--it has a publication date of July 12, 2008. According to its Author Agreement, AuthorHouse remits royalties quarterly. Brisk sales or no, Ms. Page hasn't gotten a royalty check yet.
By making this post, I mean no disrespect to Lorna Page and her family, or to their worthy and warmhearted dream of helping elderly people avoid nursing homes. They are not responsible for journalists' cock-ups, and if any of my guesses are wrong, I will humbly apologize. But I can already imagine the self-publishing booster mill ramping up to trumpet yet another tale of Self-Publishing Success. Because of the hype, myths, and misconceptions that surround self-publishing, I think it's important to present an alternative view.
Ms. Page's book currently has a very low ranking on Amazon UK and is temporarily out of stock, suggesting that the news stories have spurred sales. I hope Ms. Page makes a lot of money.