Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Write A Book, Get Rich--In Your Dreams

Well, the floodgates on Scott McClellan's book What Happened really have opened. Six days before the official publication, Google is already linking to no fewer than 364 news stories about it--testimony, I guess, to the remarkable power of The Politico to set the agenda for the rest of the media.

As everyone connected with the book expected, the reactions are all over the map, and some are harsh. As is true of any author, Scott and his book are fair game, of course (though it would be nice for people to actually read what he wrote before they start attacking him). But one idea that seems to surface any time someone writes a book really deserves to be debunked. This is the notion that book authorship is a road to wealth, which leads to accusations of people "cashing in" or "getting rich" off their tell-all memoirs.

Of course it's true that a handful of book authors make millions (as for example Obama and Hillary Clinton have done). But just a handful. The vast majority of authors, even of relatively successful books, earn royalties that total in the four or five digits--after spending hundreds or even thousands of hours in writing. Figure it out on an hourly basis, and you find that the typical book author earns less than the minimum wage. It's sad but true.

I'm not asserting that this will be Scott's fate--it's much too soon to tell how well the book will fare in the marketplace--but I would point out that his publisher, Public Affairs, is well known in the industry for the relatively modest advances they pay. Authors who sign with them do so because they value the high-quality editorial and marketing guidance they receive, not because of the lucre they expect to reap.

Go ahead and criticize Scott's book; impugn his motives if you like. But don't accuse him of getting rich off the misdeeds of the Bush administration. That's not really how book publishing works.

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