Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

The Jon-Jon Goulian Bubble Bomb

Inexplicable east coast elite media obsession and former assistant Jon-Jon Goulian—"another of the season's publishing darlings"! "the cross-dressing literary sensation"! "a kind of mascot for the city’s literary A-list"! says the New York Times, in three different articles, apart from his memoir's two reviews in the paper—is apparently a $700,000 bust for Random House. "The book has sold 957 copies in its first month, according to sources with access to Nielsen BookScan, which monitors 50 to 75 percent of total sales. Insiders say Random House would have to move about 200,000 copies to see a profit. The hardcover was ranked at a lowly No. 116,210 on Amazon yesterday," says today's Page Six. And then the publishing industry abruptly stood up as one and decided to stop overspending on ridiculous advances for things that make no sense! Nope, you guessed it: totally kidding about that.

12 Comments / Post A Comment

1901gunner (#14,290)

Yeah, not so shocking. I never heard anything about this book (or had ever heard of Goulian at all before, actually) outside of its review in the NYT Book Review. An advance that large for this project is quite shocking though…

brad (#1,678)


zidaane (#373)


Smitros (#5,315)

Everyone would be better off if there were a large number of not so big advances and more for the writers on the back end.

I think.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Go to the head of the casino.

jfruh (#713)

Yeah, dude doesn't even have a Wikipedia page! Pro tip: do not give a six-figure advance to memoirs from first-time authors who do not have Wikipedia pages.

propertius (#361)

It seems I read about this character in the NYT Thursday Styles wad. Kind of strange.

Anyway, no one knows for sure whether Euripides ever cross-dressed, which ignorance now strikes me as quite ok.

Smitros (#5,315)

Page Six is also clearly not most authors, for whom a rating of 116K on Amazon is a good day.

portmanteautally (#1,015)

His name should be Julian.

ejcsanfran (#489)


Hi, Choire. A few notes:

1. It is a falsehood (and one that very much benefits publishers, who are happy to continue to propagate it) that a book needs to sell on the scale you're talking about to earn back its advance. Let's look at the numbers. Jon-Jon's book costs $25. When all is said and done, the publisher will receive not much less than 50% of that, between $11 and $12. Given the number of books a place like Random House publishes, overhead is negligible, but let's say very generously $50K. Printing costs for a 250-page hardcover are between $2 and $3 a book, depending on how many your print; let's say 100K, for a total of $250K. In the end, we're looking at between $9 and $10 per book sold. Our total outlays (generously) are $1,050K. So how many do you need to sell to make back the $750K advance? About 100K in hardcover, and that's probably overestimating both overhead and printing costs and assuming the book doesn't sell a single copy in paperback. The number I've heard from publishers when they're being honest is 10% of the advance in hardcover (in this case, 75K).

Publishers have P&L statements for editors that occlude all this. But most editors know what those are worth.

2. The sales of a book in its first month aren't the end of the story. Random House will own the rights to this book for as long as it wants. What if it gets adopted by high schools?

3. Most important: Have you read the book? It's not very long. And it's good. It's a book about refusing to grow up, and what that looks like nowadays–how it may be the only way to become a real human being. Should Random House have paid $750,000? Beats me. I don't run a $25 billion corporation (that's Bertelmann's annual turnover), nor a $2 billion one (that's Random House's annual US revenue, approximately). Is it worth $25? I'd say yeah.

Thanks for the opportunity to clear all this up. Maybe it will be helpful when Random House publishes Dale Peck's book that he got a million or three million or however many dollars for.

NinetyNine (#98)

@Keith Gessen@twitter So many numbers! I am not good at math. It certainly seems like 200,000-957 is a really big number. Do you think 75,000-957 is a big-ish number as well? Or is it merely medium-ish?


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