Those big fat advances to authors…

Vikram-SethAre the big fat advances paid to authors a boon or a burden, asks Mandira Nair in The Week.

It has been a rather unsuitable thing to happen to A Suitable Girl, the much awaited sequel to Vikram Seth’s 1993 hit A Suitable Boy. Failing to meet the deadline, Seth was reportedly asked to return the $1.7 million advance his publisher Penguin Random House had paid him.

As the dust settles on the shock of Seth being asked to keep a deadline—it took him ten years to write his magnum opus—it brings to the fore a question that the publishing world has been asking for years: is a big fat advance (BFA) good or bad?

Seth, however, is not the only one who was given a BFA. Kiran Desai was given an advance of $2.5 million in 2010 for a book, which was reportedly due this year and is still forthcoming. Audrey Niffenegger of the Time Traveller’s Wife fame, got a $5 million advance for her second book. Closer home, Amish of the Shiva trilogy was offered Rs.5 crore by Westland. Ravi Subramanian, once Rupa’s mass market seller, has moved to Penguin India for Rs.1.25 crore. Yuvraj Singh’s book—ghost written for Random House—was bought at a Rs.60-lakh advance but has not recovered the cost yet. Pavan Varma’s foray into fiction got an advance of Rs.10 lakh. “The book could never recover that kind of money,” said a publisher on the condition of anonymity.

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