I am a little confused about the “wads of cash” statement. I would not bring it up except Jessica Faust said one time on her blog that if a book is successful you should be able to pay the light bill one time maybe.
That statement made me wonder how agents stay in business. 15% of diddly doesn’t stack up to the kind of rent I used to pay when I lived in Manhattan. And no, I did not live on Park Avenue, either, although Murray Hill then was not too shabby.
In those days a lot of old ladies used to carry grocery sacks of cash around for the Mob and do well, and guess what? Nobody ever mugged them. It’s been so long since I was in town I don’t know if that career opportunity still exists or not. Giuliani, you know. It would be interesting to know if writers in NY carry grocery sacks around that do not contain groceries.
Well, we pay our writers by check so I'm thinking the grocery sacks are full of body parts or organic veggies.
But to your question: how do lit agents stay in biz.
The answer to that is backlist. Backlists that consistently earn royalties aren't going to buy me an apartment in Murray Hill or even the basement of Murray's Cheese, but over time they're going to keep the lights on and the metrocard current. And if you've got 15, 20, 25 of those books, well, then you've got some lovely lolly twice a year.
The books that don't earn royalties have hopefully brought in big advances that ease the pain.
I know some books will sell for $5K. I know some books will sell for $50K.
What I don't know is which books are going to earn out and which books aren't. Mostly the answer is they aren't.
That means I need to sell mostly for big advances rather than hope for royalties. Thus, the wads of cash comment.