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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

Cold Mountain, a novel about a Confederate soldier's journey home, was a surprise success for first-time novelist Charles Frazier. The book sold over four million copies, won the 1997 National Book Award, and was made into a movie.

Now, Charles Frazier is back with his second novel, another epic love story, Thirteen Moons, in stores today. His new publisher, Random House, paid the author a hefty advance - about $8 million - certainly not a record, but a noteworthy sum for a novelist.

Joining us to put those publishing dollars into perspective, is Charlotte Abbott, senior editor for Publishers Weekly. Good morning.

Ms. CHARLOTTE ABBOTT (Senior Editor for Publishers Weekly): Thanks for having me.

AMOS: How does an advance like this rate?

Ms. ABBOTT: The advance for this book is not the biggest on record. That honor goes to Mary Higgins Clark, who got $65 million for five books in 2001. Tom Clancy is number two, with $45 million for two books, which shakes out to about $22 million per book.

It's not a surprise that Mary Higgins Clark and Tom Clancy are really at the top, because they're brand name authors with a strong track record. And they both wrote many, many books before they got to the point where they were getting these massive, multimillion dollar advances.

What's different about Frazier's deal is that it's a second novel by a literary author. He's not a commercial author who's turning out book after book, year after year.

AMOS: Cold Mountain was a surprise success. But does that mean that his second book, Charles Frazier's second book, is an automatic homerun?

Ms. ABBOTT: Very little is sure in publishing. Right now things are looking pretty good for him. The pre-publication reviews have been absolutely enthusiastic. All the book sellers are making a point of reading the book so that they can sell it to their customers, you know, through verbal recommendations.

What I'm hearing is that many of them like it, if they don't love it. But all of that plus the media attention that comes with an advance of this size, and writing a second book after your first book has become a massive phenomenon, pretty much ensure that this book is going to be hard to ignore.

AMOS: Charlotte, walk us through this process. I had read that the first book, Frazier got $100,000 as an advance. Now, it's $8 million. So how does a publisher calculate the dollar amount of that advance?

Ms. ABBOTT: An advance is a lump sum paid before a book is published, and in Charles Frazier's case, before it was even written. It's based on anticipated sales for a book in the first few years, but, as you might guess, there is a courtship at work before a deal is signed. And during the course of that seduction, a publisher's high hopes for a book can widely inflate the advance that they're willing to pay.

AMOS: But even for a publisher, $8 million is a lot of money. So, what does a big lump sum like that mean to a publisher, and what does it mean to other authors? And finally, what does it mean to us, the readers?

Ms. ABBOTT: Well, the upside of large advances like this one for publishers is that they make headlines and they make an author into a star. And that helps a book get media attention...

AMOS: Like we're giving it today.

Ms. ABBOTT: Like we're giving it today. The downside, I would say, is the same as for the Hollywood star system. Publishers can only make a few big gambles, and there are a lot of authors out there writing books that are just as good as this one who don't get anything like this kind of financial support or media attention. And you can certainly argue that that weakens our literary culture.

AMOS: Thanks very much. Charlotte Abbott is senior editor for Publishers Weekly.

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