No Advances, No Returns: Lit Agent Jennifer Rudolph Walsh Shows Great Restraint

Walsh Photo: Getty Images

"I’m not cynical about it, and I’m open to ideas, but I think it’s too soon to say what the validity of it is," William Morris literary agent Jennifer Rudolph Walsh tells the Times about HarperCollins's newly announced publishing unit, as yet unnamed, which intends to upend the traditional economic model of book publishing. Robert Miller is leaving his post at Hyperion to create the unit, which will not give authors advances and will not accept returns from bookstores. Walsh is showing great restraint, we think, because this is not a business model that benefits literary agents, whose 15 percent of those advances is often the only payment received for months or years of work on a manuscript.

The new imprint — Miller calls it a "studio" — would make a nice home for certain kinds of books: evergreen titles that will sell steadily, ones that don't need bookseller support, ones that don't require much outlay or time on the part of the author. But we suspect that most booksellers will respond as we would have when we were a bookseller: They just won't order that many of the HarperCollins books. And most agents, behind closed doors, likely have a much less measured response than Jennifer Rudolph Walsh. We know we would have made the new HarperCollins unit our house of last resort — the imprint we'd submit to only if everyone else said no.

New HarperCollins Unit to Try to Cut Writer Advances [NYT]