It's not just Pippa Middleton: how on earth did they get that huge book advance?

Big fees don't always mean big book sales, so why do publishers keep paying them? Tim Walker finds out

Pippa Middleton begins the introduction to Celebrate, her new collection of home entertaining tips, by saying that she is "by nature an optimist". Which ought to come in useful, given the book has only sold around 2,000 copies in its first week on the shelves, and was at No 180 in the Amazon bestseller list at the time of writing. This comes in spite of a 50 per cent discount on the cover price, and a considerable publicity campaign by Penguin, which paid a reported £400,000 advance to publish Pippa's poorly-received tome. So far, that's about £200 per copy sold.

As a celebrity publishing flop, Middleton is in illustrious company. Julian Assange was supposedly paid £500,000 for his memoirs, which sold just 644 copies in its first weekend. Arnold Schwarzenneger's stellar career and scandalous personal life could shift no more than 27,000 copies of his autobiography Total Recall in the month after its publication. He reportedly received a seven-figure advance from his US publishers. In 2006, Wayne Rooney agreed to write five books over 12 years for HarperCollins. His advance was £5m. The second book sold just 6,000 copies in six weeks.

If she never earns any further royalties on the book, Middleton can still comfort herself with that £400,000 advance. The picture is less pretty for Penguin. Depending on formats and discounts, a publisher that spends half a million pounds on a book might have to sell three times that many copies to justify its magnanimity. Editors at major publishing houses have the budget and power to make offers of up to six figures. But a six-figure advance such as Middleton's would likely be signed off by the head of the Penguin division responsible. Anything larger than that – Tom Wolfe's $7m (£4.4m) for his new novel, Back to Blood; Keith Richards' $7m for his memoir, Life; the estimated $3.5m advance for the forthcoming Not That Kind of Girl: Advice by Lena Dunham – would go straight to the very top.

"There's a lot of pressure on editors to buy celebrity titles for autumn to corner the Christmas market," Tom Tivnan, features editor of The Bookseller, explains. "You often see some panic buying of B- and C-list celebrity memoirs. A lot don't make their money back. " Many such books are hostages to fortune: a handful of England players earned payouts from publishers prior to the 2006 World Cup, but when the team failed to perform, so did the books. Still, says Tivnan, without big advances, celebrity books might never be written at all: "Celebrities are being asked to do something for well beneath their usual salary. If you offer to pay Wayne Rooney £250,000 for a book, that's his weekly take-home [pay]."

Not every big advance ends in a Christmas turkey. Richards, for instance, sold well over a million copies of Life worldwide. Dawn French was paid £1.5m for her autobiography Dear Fatty; According to Nielsen Bookscan, it's now the UK's 67th bestselling book of all time.

What an advance gets you in sales:

* Dawn French: 800,000 copies for a £1.5m advance: £1.87 per book

* Keith Richards: 1m copies for £4.4m: £4.40 per book

* Wayne Rooney: 6,000 copies (after two months) for a £1m: £166 per book

* Pippa Middleton: 2,000 copies (after a week) for a £400k: £200 per book

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor