So, Janet
Evanovich shifts to Random House's Ballantine
line after failing to
come to terms with St. Martin's. Even though nobody's saying as much,
it seems reasonable to think that Random House agreed to Evanovich's
reported demand for $50 million for her next four books.

How big a gamble is this?

Some thoughts:

— One, the deal is for two Stephanie Plum books (a series many Evanovich
fans think is on the wane) and two for a series that hasn't even
launched yet.

— Two, how much marketing money and promotional muscle will this deal
steal away from other Ballantine authors? (James Patterson's Little,
Brown deal has been shown to do this to other authors in the same fold,
according to a Sunday NYT piece on him earlier this year.)

— Three, Evanovich is 67 years old, and according to her Wikipedia page,
is known for her 50-writing-hours-a-week work ethic. No ageism here,
really, but can she keep up the pace?

— Four, with her money and family-corporate-machine muscle, Evanovich
could have easily self-published her works (and there was some dubiously
sourced speculation that she was looking into it). Would the perceived
loss in NY prestige have been balanced out by the additional money she
could have made by cutting out all the middlemen?

— At what point do superstar-hungry publishers have to say no to their
superstar authors? What determines the tipping point?

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Well, someone somewhere said she leaves much of the writing to her son. This will work. The books are short, and with that sort of investment, the publisher can write the books.
I wonder if that's true. Many people say James Patterson lets his co-authors do all the writing, but the NYT piece on him proves that's not accurate. One, he writes several standalone thrillers by himself. Two, the co-authored books are given to those co-authors only after a) Patterson writes a detailed 60-page outline for each; and b) heavily involves himself in the rewrites and revises.
As for her age I'd just say Elmore Leonard is 84 and doing some of the best work of his life. Up in Honey's Room was really good and I'm really looking forward to his next novel, Djoubiti aout a Somali pirate in New Orleans.

And speaking as someone published by St. Martins, I wonder if this means some of that marketing and promotional money Balantine is going to have to spend will be available for some St. Martins authors - maybe Loomis will get some ;)

And, I suppose the tipping point happens when books stop earning out their advace.
Good point about Elmore Leonard. I'd also let myself forget about another longtime favorite, John Le Carre, who put out one of his finest novels late last year at age 78.

It will be interesting to see how St. Martin's reacts.

And I have a hard time believing that Evanovich doesn't, and wouldn't, earn out her advances. Her sell-through probably isn't high because there's so many copies in print, but I can't imagine it's anything worse than adequate. I wonder if St. Martin's simply choked on the number "$50 million."
maybe Loomis will get some ;)


Actually, I see this as a very good thing, and a smart move for St. Martin's. $50 million is crazy, by any measure. It will certainly rearrange the pecking order, though I'd fall down in a dead faint if any of that money actually came my way.
It does appear that the onus is all on Random House. From

If Random House paid even a bit north of $40 million, they must sell approximately 1.25 million copies of the next Stephanie Plum book, according to Publishers Weekly. Fearless Fifteen sold about 977,000 copies, and Sizzling Sixteen, published last month, appears to be on track to hit a similar sales figure, but a big part of Evanovich's sales come from her extensive backlist, something Random House does not yet have. So if hardcover sales decline, there is no revenue from earlier titles that Random House can use as a buffer. Meanwhile St. Martin's still reaps backlist revenue without having to worry about spending money acquiring and marketing new books.


And what of the other two books in the deal? They are for the next installments of "The Unmentionables," a paranormal-tinged series spun off from the Plum books that launches in September. St. Martin's has set the first printing for Wicked Appetite at approximately 600,000 copies, but even Evanovich's dedicated fan base may not rush out to buy it. An earlier series featuring NASCAR-crazy heroine Alexandra Barnaby did mediocre business with HarperCollins several years ago, and it took a switch in format to graphic novels with a different publisher, Dark Horse Comics, to continue the series.

Now that the numbers are out there, this appears to have been a no-brainer for St. Martin's. I wonder if it would have turned down Evanovich if she's merely asked for another 4-year, $40 million deal.
Three, Evanovich is 67 years old, and according to her Wikipedia page, is known for her 50-writing-hours-a-week work ethic. No ageism here, really, but can she keep up the pace?

Sorry, but if that's not ageism, what is it? We're talking about writing here, not the fifty yard dash. Most of us get better and faster at it with age and experience.
My thoughts exactly Minerva
I think it's simple reality in many cases. Writers, like most other artisans and tradesfolk, lapse into ineffectual effectiveness with age. Stephen King, only 63, hasn't produced a work in at least a decade that's artistically on par with his 1976-1990 heyday. Other "literary lions" like Philip Roth, Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon have fallen into embarrassing irrelevance with drifting, noodling novel-length goofs that get dutifully positive NYT reviews before disappearing (and DeLillo's aren't even novel-length). Alice Munro, Alice Hoffman, Joyce Carol Oates, Marilynne Robinson, Joan Didion ... all still write well but their work lacks the anger and urgency and potency of their seminal work of the 1960s, '70s and '80s (in other words, all the qualities that made us stand up and take notice). In my opinion.

Of course, there are plenty of exceptions, as noted above. And many that we haven't mentioned, like Cormac McCarthy.

But the point here is that Evanovich is on the wane, and that's her own fans (and her sales figures) talking. It may not be age, but it sure as hell is something.

In my opinion, I should add.
Well, the paranormal thing, a spin-off from the Plum series (which was more about sex than other stuff) will arrive with such titles as WICKED APPETITE, and predictably goes for the same women readers as the Plum series. Besides, I don't think Cornwell's sales have fallen off. She still signs million dollar contracts, in spite of the fact that she has been notorious for producing terrible books for at least ten years now. When you have contracts that size, you can hardly say an author is on the wane. Those folks are self-perpetuating.
Looking at your pic, Jim, I'm guessing you're in your mid-30's, and most likely have a personal taste that coincides with your age. Generalizing that personal taste -- for 'anger, urgency and potency,' for example -- to the population at large, and then drawing broad conclusions about writers based on that, is erroneous at best. For instance, I'm a woman in my forties, and I probably enjoy books that would bore you stiff. It's not about the writer, it's about us.

I liked Evanovich's first couple of books, and Cornwell's, but then I got tired of them -- same old, same old. My guess is that both have lost readers not because of their age but because their work has become repetitive. Any writer can fall into that trap.
It's the trap when you're working on a series. Publishers want at least a book a year, same basic cast, continuing subplots, same basic feel, new villain scarier and more threatening than the last. I couldn't imagine doing more than five or six in a series--I'd end up jumping out a window.

That said, what Jim says is often true--many writers seem to peak in their thirties or early forties and then tail off a bit after that, although there are also plenty of examples of writers who don't really come into their own until later in life. I think it has less to do with age than ambition: when you're young, you strive to write a masterpiece. When you're a bit older you realize how foolish and arrogant you'd have to be to think that way.


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