Monday, December 06, 2004

No nannies needed for them

Once upon a time there were two smart girls, Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin, who worked as children's nannies to wealthy New York families. In the course of time Kraus and McLaughlin wrote a novel (The Nanny Diaries) about a girl who worked as a nanny for a wealthy New York family. The book was, no doubt, complete fiction from beginning to end.

The Nanny Diaries was reportedly a substantial success, selling two million copies. Thereafter, however, things did not go altogether smoothly. The girls changed agents, changed publishers, and were, as you might expect, subject to a certain amount of backbiting and jealousy among the writing community. Who were these two upstarts? And where did they get their creative-writing degrees? What? They haven't got degrees? Banish them to outer space! Rumour had it, moreover, that the two girls had lost their heads altogether and were demanding to be treated like movie stars.

Well, on Friday last the Rocky Mountain News published an interview with our brave girls which proved that most of these rumours were, also as you might expect, more or less complete balls. The girls are currently touring the US to plug their number two book, Citizen Girl, which is about a young lady who is pursuing a career rather than bed partners.

'A lot of the reporting on us and our publishing journey is frequently made out to be infinitely more dramatic than it is,' said Kraus, adding that changing agents and publishers is much more common than gets reported.

The publishers of The Nanny Diaries declined book number two because it was too different from the first one. You see? Haven't I told you, over and over again, that if you do have a success your publisher will expect you to rewrite it, year after year, until well beyond retirement age. But these two young ladies had the balls (metaphorically speaking) to say no. I salute that.

Then they signed with Random House, a contract which was reportedly worth $2 million for a two-book deal. Eventually they hit an impasse with Random House, and they had to pay back the advance to be free to go elsewhere. And here is the bit which really caught my eye. Paying back the advance was not all that difficult, the girls say, because the money was to be paid 'in very tiny increments parcelled out.'

This confirms another of my contentions, which would be hard to prove because it is in everyone's interests to lie -- but I have long maintained that many of these big-money contracts are not worth nearly as much as the announced figures would suggest, because of the small print.

I would be willing to bet quite a lot of my own cash that almost any advance which is newsworthy enough to get reported in the press is in fact hedged around with so many conditions and clauses that the quoted figure has only a tenuous relationship with reality.

So the girls weren't too bothered by the fact that, with two books under their belt, they were already on their second agent and third publisher. And, having read their interview, neither am I. It seems to me that Kraus and Laughlin have (if I may mix my metaphors somewhat) their heads screwed on straight and their feet planted firmly on the ground.

These two are in the business of writing commercial fiction. And, despite some iffy reviews of Citizen Girl, they seem to be making a pretty good fist of it. Naturally, none of this goes down well with the literary brigade, whose heads are well above cloud level, and who live in a dream world.

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