Monday, August 11, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- Tales of the Big Advance

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.

19 comments:

Neil said...

Amazon seldom holds stock of POD books, Victoria, unless some are sent by the 'puiblisher' on spec.

Another problem -- especially for the bigger POD companies -- is that Amazon has cottoned onto this lucrative end of the industry and has recently gone into the POD business themselves by buying the (then) small BookSurge outfit.

Many of the large POD companies that use Lightning Source International have had full Amazon services (like the 'buy now' facility) withdrawn and many POD titles are now available only through Amazon affiliates.

This policy -- introduced a couple of months ago -- is causing quite a stink.

Best wishes. Neil Marr

Sally Zigmond said...

Is there an update on this story, Victoria? I'm trying to get to the bottom of it but have had no luck. The Daily Mail's report seems the most inaccurate. It's also odd that I posted a polite, but incredulous comment on their website but it hasn't appeared.

Victoria Strauss said...

I'll be watching for updates, and will certainly note them here if they appear.

Victoria Strauss said...

Here's another article, this one from Sunday's (Aug. 11) Daily Mail, that appears to get it both right and wrong.

The article says that "[Lorna Page] pledged to spend all the proceeds from her book, A Dangerous Weakness, on moving into a bigger house so that they could come and live with her," but never says that those proceeds actually bought the house.

Contrast this with the headline: "Author, 93, uses profits from first novel to buy massive house to spare friends misery of care home."

Easy to see how a careless reading would yield the conclusion that she got a huge advance and used it to buy the house.

Tod said...

Good for her. I hope her self published book knocks that ghost written piece of crap, by the former model Katie Price, off the top of the bestseller list in the UK.

cate said...

Hi everyone. Glad to know some people understand what reporters can do to a perfectly average story about a grandmother who writes novels. Here are the facts; I wrote A Dangerous Weakness on the backs of envelopes and scraps of paper, and put them away in a suitcase which my daughter-in-law found about 8 months ago, and encouraged me to publish a book. It would all still be on scraps of paper if she hadn't found it. That's it. But, through it all, I think it is a good book. In fact, now I'm working on my second. The really wonderful part of my story is my son who left his home in America to come back to England to take care of me when I needed a little help. Lorna Page

Chris Wood said...

Yes, I believe it completely. Right. I would like to know why on earth anyone thought to put that out, unless it was a slow news day. Or they wanted to give a lot of other writers inferiority complexes.

Anonymous said...

I note that sales are rapid and Amazon rank high now for Lorna Page's book. So maybe the incorrect hype will have a positive end result for her and her friends after all!

Geoff

Victoria Strauss said...

Lorna, thanks for visiting and confirming my hunches. I wish you and your family the best, and hope all the publicity brings you many sales!

Anonymous said...

It's also odd that I posted a polite, but incredulous comment on their website but it hasn't appeared.

Nothing odd there. The Daily Mail is notorious for censoring forum comments that point out errors and/or disagree with its chosen editorial slant on a story.

BuffySquirrel said...

I have no pulse. Quick, CPR!

Victoria Strauss said...

I've been asked why I was so credulous as to assume that the comment signed "Lorna Page" really was from Lorna Page, since it appears to come from someone called "cate."

The contact person for the press release linked in my post is "Cate Allen," who I would guess is Ms. Page's daughter-in-law. Perhaps Ms. Page used Ms. Allen's Blogger profile to comment, or perhaps Ms. Allen made the comment on Ms. Page's behalf. Either way, I put two and two together--and hopefully, unlike the newspapers, did not come up with ten.

Victoria Strauss said...

The BBC has revisited the Lorna Page story. The BBC's Chris Vallance contacted Cate Allen--who, as I guessed, is Ms. Page's daughter-in-law:

"Cate tells me that instead of receiving an advance, they paid a small sum to have the novel published, as is usually the case with self-publishing. They chose AuthorHouse because Cate is herself published there. They are hopeful that the book will make money, and that this will enable Lorna to help her elderly friends, but it is early days.

Cate also told me that some media reports 'just made up facts'."

Shoddy journalism indeed.

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

Either this Lorna Page lady is the luckiest vanity-published author in history, or her daughter is a marketing genius.

In either case, I hope she doesn't pass away before receiving her first royalty check. (I have heard Author House is notoriously slow in paying royalties, and supposedly also often underreports actual sales; more so since the iUniverse acquisition).

Stewart Sternberg said...

There are several problems with POD. One is that the writer doesn't get a Nielsen rating, at least I don't think so, and therefore future books which might be marketed will not have a record for distribution purposes.

A second problem is that many POD books are not edited. I think some PODs may offer an editing package, but I'm not sure of the quality.

As for this story, I think there is something going on here. Maybe the publisher is putting out a marketing ploy; an attempt to lure in would be writers. Not sure.

June said...

Logic dictates Stewart that all books with an ISBN have a Nielson rating, regardless of how they were printed. Also don't ever make the mistake of assuming that all POD books are the same - some are badly edited (or not at all) but you can cannot and should not assume that this is always the case.

BuffySquirrel said...

A believer in conspiracy theories would surely see the widespread confusion of "POD book" with "self-published book" as a deliberate disinformation campaign.

Once more, for the crowd--POD is a method of printing. Any book can be printed that way.

'kay?

Stewart Sternberg said...

I was not aware that all isbn books have ratings. Thanks for that info.

Stewart Sternberg said...

june, just went to your site. I didn't see now why you are a tad defensive about POD. No offense was meant. My apologies.