Do Not Take Publishing Advice from the Folks at Pajamas Media

(Also, Bill Hobbs, when one is the “brains” behind the Cartman Republican Strategy–“Fuck you, I do what I want.”–perhaps one wants to stay away from using terms like “master’ when talking about the people you think are going to rule Obama.  Most folks get the benefit of the doubt, but I think we all know that the benefit of the doubt doesn’t even take your phone calls.)

So, apparently John Rosenthal just discovered that Obama wrote some books and that SHOCKINGLY he makes money off of them.

The Obamas’ most recent 2007 return lists a staggering $3,279,000 in income from Random House plus another nearly $816,000 from literary agent Dystel & Goderich, adding up to over $4 million in book-related revenues in all. (As so happens, Jane Dystel is Obama’s former literary agent, whom he is reported to have unceremoniously dumped before signing the Random House deal. That Obama should be receiving such large sums from Dystel & Goderich suggests some sort of complicated settlement between the three parties and this suggests in turn that the sums could well represent additional indirect payments to Obama from Random House. In any case, it is unusual for an agent to be paying a client rather than vice versa.)

This has, quite possibly, got to be one of my favorite conspiracies, right up there next to “Obama is the secret son of Malcolm X.”  Apparently, now, it’s nefarious and suspect for a man to write a couple of best-sellers.

Anyway, I don’t know the terms of Obama’s book deals and they’re actually not that interesting to me.  That he earned four million dollars in royalties and rights fees in 2007 seems completely reasonable to me.  Most authors earn about a dollar a book for every book sold (sometimes more, if they have a good agent, sometimes less if they are a scholar).  In 2007, it became obvious that Obama was going to be someone interesting in the Democratic party.  Does it seem unreasonable to think that almost four million people AND LIBRARIES would have wanted to have his books?

Not to me.  That sounds about right.  Then, remember, the publisher is getting paid (and splitting the fees) with Obama every time someone quotes at length from one of his books or runs an excerpt in their publication.  Again, it makes sense to me that he would have made a boatload of money off that, too.

But, what I want to address is this comment: “It is unusual for an agent to be paying a client rather than vice versa.”


The biggest scam unscrupulous agents run is to take money from you up-front (supposedly for copying and postage and the like) and then they sit on your project.  After all, they just got $300 from you (or however much) for doing nothing.  What does it behoove them to do anything?

Usually, what happens is that the agent makes the deal with the publisher and the publisher sends your royalties to your agent.  Your agent takes their 15% cut and sends the rest to you (which is how you might end up getting $900,000 from your agent.  In the case of Obama, depending on how Random House does their accounting and how the agent does hers, it could very well have been that the $900,000 was royalties minus the agent cut from 2005.

The second most usual arrangement is for the publisher to pay 15% to your agent and the rest directly to you.  So, again, a big payout from Random House is not unusual, and doesn’t necessarily raise any red flags.  Even if Obama “unceremoniously” dumped his agent, she would still be getting paid for the deal she made–either directly from Random House or from Obama, but only for the work she’s already done.

It’s just not true that authors don’t get money from agents.  Authors get their royalties from agents all the time.  It’s one of the standard arrangements.

Paying an agent is not.

5 thoughts on “Do Not Take Publishing Advice from the Folks at Pajamas Media

  1. I am laughing so hard at this one that I can hardly type. It doesn’t matter whether the old agent was fired; s/he will still spend years receiving revenues on deals worked out when s/he was the agent and passing them along (less her/his cut) to the client. I can only conclude that neither John Rosenthal nor any of his friends and associates at Pajamas has ever made any money from a book deal, any other kind of publishing deal, a recording deal, or any other deal involving creative work represented by an agent.

  2. Prior to the election I got some of those crap e-mails about Obama’s nefarious ties and questioning how did he get the money to buy that big mansion etc.
    I replied back that the cash flow probably came from the enormous number of books he was selling. Logic should win out in these arguments, but it so rarely does.

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  4. Oh, how the wingnuts do violence to irony. You almost have to forgive the jackals who write for Pajamas Media and other right-wing outlets for not knowing how normal publishing capitalism works. They are most likely recipients of some form of Wingnut Welfare. Obama makes so much money from selling books because customers are buying them. Conversely, right-wing chicken-scratch books might post higher numbers, but they don’t bring in as much money per book because the Wingnut Welfare sugar daddies (like Regnery Publishing) use all kinds of tricks to inflate their sales numbers (tricks like deep discounting, giveaways, and buying up their own books).

  5. Who are these people and what publishing world are they talking about?

    Actually I do know and respect many of the PM bloggers, but it seems clear they have not always the best insight into the structure of the publishing world.

    Also, ‘ha’ at Cartman Strategy.

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