armchair cultural observation since 1995

What $3.7 million could buy

My publishing hero is Barney Rosset, the late, great founder of the Evergreen Review and Grove Press. Rosset was responsible for publishing Samuel Beckett, Pablo Neruda, Henry Miller, Jean Genet, William Burroughs and many other writers who have shaped our culture. They are also perennial sellers, forming a solid backlist that allowed Rosset to continually take risks and fight censorship battles. Rosset formed partnerships with his writers, was fiercely loyal to them and paid them small advances. But they were fighting the good fight together, and when the publisher made money, so did the writer.

Imagine what Rosset would have done with $3.7 million dollars? Let’s say he paid 370 writers $10,000 advances each. Odds are that 20 years from now, a handful of those books would have been cultural touchstones, each outselling Dunham’s advice book. Right now, off the top of my head, I could give you a list of 370 writers who would write books that would have longer lasting cultural impacts than Dunham’s 15 minutes of publishing glory. Or, let’s be more generous and more selective: Let’s give 37 writers $100,000 advances. Most struggling writers I know would kill for that kind of advance and could easily stretch that amount out to finish their books. Let’s say only one of these writers turns out to be a Lorrie Moore, Dorothy Allison, Karen Russell or Denis Johnson. Over time, they would surely outsell Dunham. And if two of the 37 turn golden? Let’s be ambitious. What if there are five brilliant writers in the group — roughly one out of every seven writers — we’ve chosen to invest in?

-Rob Spillman, writing for Salon about Lena Dunham’s $3.7 million book advance

via The Dish

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