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John Grisham reveals his biggest money mistake

25 October 2017

From MarketWatch:

It’s of little surprise that the consistently best-selling John Grisham regularly lands on lists of the highest paid authors. But the feat becomes particularly impressive when you consider he probably could have earned millions more if not for an early career decision to listen to his agent instead of his instincts.

“Oh huge, huge, huge mistake,” Grisham said of the decision in a recent interview with MarketWatch on the occasion of the release of his latest book, “The Rooster Bar.”

After Grisham’s second book, “The Firm,” debuted to much acclaim in 1991, fans began searching for his first novel “A Time To Kill.” Grisham and his reps begged his small publisher at the time to print more copies, but the company was on the precipice of bankruptcy and so couldn’t afford to pump more out.

They offered to sell the rights to “A Time To Kill” back to Grisham for what he described as “almost nothing.”

. . . .

Grisham said he wanted to buy the rights, but got talked out of the decision by his agent at the time. Though that agent had consistently given him good advice, Grisham said “I knew in my gut it was not the right decision.”

His publisher, Doubleday, bought the rights instead a few months later and started printing paperback, hardback and other versions of the book, Grisham said. “They’re still printing ‘A Time To Kill,’” he said. “I don’t even want to think about how much money that cost me, but it was millions and millions.”

Link to the rest at MarketWatch and thanks to Al for the tip.


23 Comments to “John Grisham reveals his biggest money mistake”

  1. Did I just hear someone’s head hitting her desk out on the west coast?

  2. What was he going to do with his book rights in 1991? Print a bunch of copies and ship them from his garage? Or negotiate a better deal with Doubleday directly? His agent might have talked him out of becoming a one-hit wonder.

  3. Ouch.

  4. Dexter von Dexterdorf

    He got nurtured hard.

    • No, his agent wanted to keep getting their cut.

      Funny how often following the money explains why someone said/suggested something.

      • Dexter von Dexterdorf


      • How does the agent get a cut of that? If he had bought the rights back he could have had the agent resell them, probably to DoubleDay. Doubleday bought them from the original small publisher anyway, without involving Grisham or the agent. It almost looks to me like the agent missed out, unless DoubleDay perhaps quietly advised the agent on what *they* would prefer to happen. That’s an awfully cynical assumption though…

        • I think this is the correct read. The agent lost out on 15% of however much he could have sold A Time to Kill to Doubleday for.

          I’m sure his fear was that Grisham would turn around and self-publish the book, which WOULD have cut him out of the loop. Grisham had previously hand sold 1000 of his original 5000 print run for that novel, cutting his agent out of those sales.

          • this was in like 1990, so no.

            • Let me restate that second paragraph for you:

              I think his agent might have feared he would cut him out by self-publishing. Since by this time, he had the option money from both The Firm and The Pelican Brief, which both came out in 1993, he probably had the resources to do so, and someone, somewhere may have been willing to negotiate distribution based on those options.

              Its all supposition, since none of us were in anyones heads in 1991, when all this occurred. You’re certainly entitled to your suppositions.

  5. Interesting. I’m always curious about the contracts the biggest trad-pub authors live under, who owns their rights and controls how they’re exploited, etc.

    • I think he may have sold his first book before he got famous.

      • That’s too much logic for me, PG.

      • Grisham was an unknown when his first novel was published.

        • John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, bombed on its initial release. Had a first run of 5,000 copies and did not sell out the run, did not earn back his advance. His publisher refused his second book without reading it.

          Grisham’s second novel, The Firm, became a bestseller and a better movie. (I read the novel and saw the movie. The movie is better.)

          A Time to Kill shines in the reflected glory from The Firm.

          I don’t get the deal with John Grisham. IMO there are many legal thriller writers who do a better job. John Ellsworth, where are you?

  6. What he doesn’t clarify are the arguments the agent made against buying the rights.

  7. What kind of literary agent advises you not to buy your rights back when they’re offered for a pittance?

    • One that doesn’t want authors to be independent. That is, most of them.

      The literary agent makes their living as a middle man. Most work more for the big publishers than for the authors.

      • Grisham has never been “independent.” And if he he had bought back the rights to hus first book, he probaby would have had his agent negotiate the resale of said rghts to another publisher.

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