How eager are publishers to find the next JK Rowling? Apparently, quite a lot. Forbes has a piece on Samantha Shannon, a previously-unpublished 21-year-old British writer, who was discovered through being an intern for a literary agent. Bloomsbury is going to publish her first book, the first in a 7-part young-adult dystopian series, for a “mid-six-figure” advance, and hope that it takes off like Harry Potter.

Forbes throws around some perhaps startling figures on this. Of the 400-highest-selling titles in 2012, the Fifty Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games trilogies combined accounted for 25% of all copies sold, and they took all six top slots on the year-end bestseller list.

The unprecedented success of the Fifty Shades series was the principal factor in a 75% jump in profits–to $431 million–at publisher Random House from 2011 to 2012. So immense was the windfall, the company gave each of its employees a $5,000 bonus–laughable on Wall Street but a very big deal in the threadbare world of publishing. Sales are likely to surge again when a promised film version arrives in late 2013, just as the March 2012 release of the first Hunger Games movie pushed those books back up the bestseller lists.

How many midlist or even ordinary best-sellers do you think that windfall amounts to? Is it any wonder that many publishers would rather chase after the next hungry grey twilight potter than pay attention to the “little” people? People make a lot of noise about how publishers can provide all these extra services that self-publishing authors have to pay for or skip, but given the paltry reward most books bring to publishers by comparison to mega-hit bestsellers, how much attention is the average book worth?


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