Guernica: Is there ever a situation where you’d advise an author not to take a big advance that’s being offered?
Chris Parris-Lamb: No, not really. Which is not the same as saying they should always take the biggest advance that’s being offered. But I’d never advise an author to turn down an advance because it’s big. Statistically, your book is more likely to do well if you receive a big advance. There is more pressure on the publishers to make it work and get their money back if they’ve paid out a large advance. The downside of any advance is always the same—your book might not sell. That’s a risk if you get a small advance, and a risk if you get a big advance, so if there’s a big advance on the table, take it, and use the money to write your next one.
I think there’s this idea that if you receive a big advance and then the book doesn’t work, it’s a disaster, and your career is ruined. That’s just not true. If your first book doesn’t work, it’s always going to be harder to sell the second book, and that’s the case regardless of whether you were paid a big or small advance. If someone wants to make a bet on you, why not take it? If your first one doesn’t work, you might have to take a haircut on the advance for the second, but so what?
–Literary agent Chris Parris-Lamb, in a Guernica interview with Jonathan Lee. Parris-Lamb has represented authors including The Art of Fielding author Chad Harbach, and he helped get a nearly $2 million advance for the forthcoming Garth Risk Hallberg novel City on Fire.