Jim Is a Bond
As the fire-spider turns another drink into a flaming cocktail, the author leans over the bar, leather jacket filled with pockets.
"Hines. Jim Hines."
"Funny," I said. "I thought you were David Levine."
Er... not that kind of bond.
Over at SF Novelists, Jim C. Hines blogs about his changing advances over time. (And by the way, congrats, Jim!)
It's worth reading, as it's a nice endcap to the "First Novel Survey" from earlier this year, but Jim's publishing history also shows something about the traditional publishing industry.
(I'm going off memory as my internet connection is spotty right now, so I hope I don't get something wrong...)
The first Jig novel - Goblin Quest was originally picked up by a small publisher. It was only later obtained by a "big NYC publisher", who also picked up the rest of the books in the trilogy.
Since then, Jim has steadily produced quality novel-length fiction.
Jim is an asset to a publisher.
Think of stocks and bonds. Jim is currently a good, solid stock to buy. Consistently turning over decent profits and quality goods, he's a pretty safe bet. After finishing two series of books, he's shown that he can perform - so they invested nearly twice as much in his next two books. Does this mean they think his popularity is going to double? Not necessarily.
Remember that bringing a book to press and getting it distributed is still a capital (money, for you economic purists) intensive process. Every time a publisher puts out a book, they're making an investment. (If you don't quite understand this, go back and read Kris Rusch's "Changing Times" series of blog posts. If the book fails to be successful, the publisher eats the loss. The publisher has absorbed all the risk.
Any investor has a mix of "risky" and "safe" investments. Smart investors put most of their money in low-risk investments that will pay off. The publishers are pretty sure that they'll make their money back - even if they give Jim more money up front. If I were to land a book deal with the same publisher - even if I could write rings around Jim (which I can't) - he would still get a bigger advance because he's a proven quantity, and so a safer bet.
As authors, we like to think that payment (both royalties and advances) are measures of how talented we are. We have to remember that publishing is, first and foremost, a business.
This also illustrates one of the ways that different models of publishing - ones that are low in financial capital - can really upset the cattle cart. Apple cart. Whatever. By distributing the risk among multiple parties - even on a per-project basis - riskier projects can still be profitable for all involved.
And those projects can just as easily come from small folks as they can from big publishers.