The Million-Dollar Debut


While most debut novelists are seeing advances shrink, a handful of authors are seeing the reverse: million-dollar paydays. Consider Garth Risk Hallberg‘s City on Fire, released earlier this year. The 900-plus-page book earned a $2m advance. The novel will have to sell more then 300,000 copies to earn back the money. The Wall Street Journal dives into the big money book deals and attempts to explain why publishers are forking over the sums:

It’s increasingly a winner-take-all economy, publishing executives say.

As a result, publishers are competing for debut literary talent with the same kind of frenzied auction bidding once reserved for promising debut thrillers or romance novels. “If they feel they have the next Norman Mailer on their hands, they’re going have to pay for that shot,” literary agent Luke Janklow said. “It’s usually the result of a little bit of crowd hysteria in the submission.”

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →