The Real World Book Deal Descriptions

Now, if you’ve read the previous entry about Noreascon, you may have come away thinking that most of what writers do at conventions is drinking and carousing and then possibly drinking some more. And you’d be right. However, I don’t want you to think that nothing of value was accomplished there — or indeed that nothing of value can be accomplished even while drinking.

As proof of this, it gives me great pride to introduce to the world the Real World Book Deal Descriptions, as formulated at Noreascon 4 at the Sheraton Hotel Lobby Bar by a group of only somewhat inebriated writers including Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Kelly Link, James Patrick Kelly, Lauren McLaughlin, Eliani Torres, Shara Zoll and your humble narrator. A couple others were there as well (if you were there for it, feel free to chime in in the comment thread), but the point is, this is group wisdom, based on decades of collective writing experience.

Now, some background. One of the most widely-read e-mail lists in publishing is Publisher’s Lunch, in which various book deals are announced with certain euphemisms to describe what sort of money was involved. For example, book deals that get the writer up to $100,000 are known as “a nice deal.” $100K to $250 is “a good deal,” and so on up past the $1 million point, at which you have “a major deal.” And well, yes, if you’re up at that point, it certainly is a major deal, you bastard.

Thing is, for most writers (and I include myself here), about 80% of those levels never get used: The vast majority of book publishing deals are “nice.” However, using one adjective to describe both the $1000 book deal someone gets from a teeny university press and the $90,000 book deal from the major New York publisher is obviously ridiculous. A $1K book deal and a $90K book deal are quite clearly not equivalent; one is, oh, 90 times better than the other. If only for sheer honesty’s sake, there needs to be book deal rankings that accurately reflect what deals really get done and the financial quality of those deals for the writer.

So, after another round of beers, this is what we came up with.

$0 to $3,000: A Shitty Deal. Because that’s what it is, my friends. Possibly the only thing worse than a shitty deal is no deal at all. Possibly.

$3,000 to $5,000: A Contemptible Deal. The deal you get when your publisher has well and truly got your number, and it is low.

$5,000 to $10,000: A “Meh” Deal. It’s not great, you know. But you can pay some bills. Get a few of these, and a tolerant spouse with a regular income, and you can tell your day job to piss off. This year, anyway.

$10,000 to $20,000: A Not Bad Deal. Note that “not bad” here should be said with a slight appreciative rise of the eyebrows and a small approving nod — this is the level at which the money begins to look not embarrassing both to writers and non-writers. A couple of these, and you’ll definitely be punting the day job (I did, anyway).

$20,000 to $100,000: A “Shut Up!” Deal. This needs to be said in the same enviously admiring vocal tone as a teenage girl might use to her girlfriend who is showing off the delicious new pumps she got at Robinsons-May for 30% off, or the vocal tone (same idea, lower register) Jim Kelly used when one of our number admitted to having at least a couple of deals in this range. With this kind of money, you don’t even need a supportive spouse to avoid the Enforced Top Ramen Diet (although, you know. Having one doesn’t hurt). But it’s not so much that the other writers actively begin to hate you.

$100,000 and above: “I’m Getting the Next Round.” Because if you’re at this level, you can buy and sell all the other writers at the table. Get ‘em a friggin’ beer, for God’s sake (ironically, this is the only level not thought up at the bar, but in the cold hard light of the next morning, by Shara Zoll).

Think how much more interesting and useful the Publisher’s Lunch would be if these rankings were used:

“Joe Wannabe’s THE FIRST NOVEL IS THE MOST ANNOYING, a coming-of-age story about a not particularly interesting 20-something graduate student who is eventually dumped by his girlfriend for being a mopey, emo-listening sack of crap, to Random Small Press, in a shitty deal.”

“Susan Midlist’s THE MARY SUE CRITICAL MASS, the story of a world thrown into chaos when large numbers of bookish women spontaneously appear at critical events of historical importance and passively-aggressively demand to play a role, to Not Insignificant Genre Press, in a meh deal.”

“Neil Popular’s A DARK UNIVERSE FULL OF CASH, a tale of a man who wakes up one morning with fame and fortune but then must tolerate being accosted at random intervals by strangers who want to be his best friends and/or to have him blurb their own work, to Big Respected Publisher. He’ll get the next round.”

See, that’s much better.

The floor is now open to comments.

(Note: Those of you coming over from Publisher’s Lunch (hi there!) may also be interested in the follow-up entry you can find here.)

123 thoughts on “The Real World Book Deal Descriptions

  1. Can I quibble just a little and suggest that, perhaps, the granularity of the “Shut Up!” level needs more fine tuning. To my mind, a $25K deal is reasonable for “Shut Up!”, but an 88K deal really deserves more of a “Son of a bitch!” response…

    Jas

  2. Eh. I think “Shut Up” is fine, especially since the delivery can be fine tunes for the economic levels — encouraging to the writer at low end (“Shut up!”), and rather more envious at the high end (“Aw, shut UP”). There’s a lot to be said about intonation.

  3. You’ve realllllly got to get Jim Kelly to provide a sound file of his version of “Shut Up!”

    And, um, you got some typoes in there, buster:

    The vast majority of book publishing deal are “nice.” [please to add an "s" to "deal"]

    If only for sheer honesty’s sake, there need to be book deal rankings [add an "s" to "need"]

    This needs to she said in [I believe "she" should be replaced with "be"]

    but the cold hard light of the next morning, [[missing "in" between "but" and "the"]

    Excellent account of our hard work though I do believe that Kelly came in late when the categories had already been set. Not that it matters . . .

    Justine

  4. Pick, pick, pick! Edits made, with thanks. I usually edit, post and then comb through for additional edits (this is why I’ll probably never be paid to copy edit — although of course it’s easier to find errors in other people’s work than one’s own).

    Wasn’t Kelly there for part of it? It’s all hazy, and I don’t eve have the excuse of being tipsy. I think Karen Meisner might have been there for it too, although she was flitting in and out during the evening, social butterfly that she was.

  5. One more cause proofing you is much more fun than, say, writing the novel I got a “not bad” deal for:

    Think how much more interesting and use [that would be "useful" not merely "use"]

    I may go on to proof your entire site . . .

    Can’t wait til Publisher’s Lunch picks up our new terms.

  6. Oh yeah, the lovely Karen Meisner. She was there for at least part of the evening. I’m not remembering her rocking back and forth and screeching like the rest of us, which means either a) she wasn’t there for the coining of the new terms or b) she’s more elegant and sophisticated then the rest of us.

  7. Ack – with all this sudden citation you are shaming me into updating my site. It’s been 6 or so years – I guess it’s time. (No! don’t go look!)

    Not like I HAVE time what with moving this weekend or anything. Wanna know how long I spent waiting for my appliances to show up this morning? Wanna know what the delivery guys did when they got there? (Took one look at the stairs – declared it impossible with only two guys and left.)

    I’m never moving again. But thanks for all the attributions.

  8. OK. I admit it. I got a Shitty Deal. I say that in a nice way, because it is a decent press, but rankings are rankings, and I got a Shitty Deal. Hopefully, my agent can at least get me a Meh Deal, though I’d prefer either I’m Getting the Next Round or Shut Up! (with or without Jim Kelly on vocals. The money spends the same.)

    Of course, we all want the Major Deal. Until then, I’m sure I’ll hit that Megamillions someday. I mean my dad got hit by lightning twice, which is more unlikely than a lotto win or a Major Deal. So where’s my money?

  9. Oh and Justine – good for you! I usually IM or email him copy corrections. Now I realize I can post them publicly. Eeeeeexcellent.

  10. I would have been rocking back and forth screeching like a spastic chimp if I’d been there. I know for a fact because that’s exactly what I did later that evening when Gavin filled me in on what you all had come up with. Is it depressing that I currently aspire to “meh”?

  11. “Is it depressing that I currently aspire to ‘meh’?”

    As the owner of at least one “meh” contract, not in the least.

  12. “Neil Popular’s A DARK UNIVERSE FULL OF CASH, a tale of a man who wakes up one morning with fame and fortune but then must tolerate being accosted at random intervals by strangers who want to be his best friends and/or to have him blurb their own work . . . .”

    Gee, I wonder who this could be?

  13. Don’t forget the modifiers frequently used in Publisher’s Lunch and other periodicals (like Locus):

    “Joe Lit’rary sold two novels to Boutique Press in a mid-meh deal. ‘I’m glad to see Joe finally breaking out of the high shitties,’ his agent reports.”

  14. Gotta contradict Justine here — in “If only for sheer honesty’s sake, there needs to be book deal rankings,” “needs” shouldn’t have an ‘s’. “There need to be book deal rankings,” because “rankings” is plural (“there” is a false subject here).

  15. Dude! This actually, as I’m sitting here quite sober, similar to an SF non-Publisher’s Lunch webpage database I wanted to set up after talking to some other writers. If someone with a database could set up an anonymous deal list like the RWA has so that we could determine what the spreads and averages are…

    …man that sounded dorky.

    tobias

  16. Maybe if you all shut up and wrote some fiction instead of posting whiny/witty messages, you’d be able to ascend to the ranks of “nice.” By the way, who do you think has a cuter ass? Scalzi or Cory?

  17. Hmmm, tough call on the arse front. Mostly cause I can’t remember what either one’s arse looks like. Karen? Cory wins on the jacket front. He has a fine array of very nice jackets indeed.

    Hey, we’re not whingeing! We’re doing the support group thing. We know you Hollywood types could buy and sell us in our sleep . . .

  18. I trust you’re also aware that many of those announced deal sizes include all kinds of escalator clauses–additional advance money to be paid if the book hits the top of the NYT bestseller list, or Earth is invaded by bees from Venus. I’ve seen plenty of $25,000 deals become Six Figure Deals! by this means.

  19. I find this particularly amusing because I was probably sitting a few feet away in the Sheraton bar at the time you devised this, talking about similar subjects with a completely different group of friends. That’s also where we spent most of our Worldcon. (Though we were up at the Tor suite just in time for the first wave of “Shhh!” attacks.)

    Shame I didn’t recognize you and say hi to you. Ah well. Next time, when we both have Shut Up deals and can greet each other accordingly…

  20. PNH states:

    “I trust you’re also aware that many of those announced deal sizes include all kinds of escalator clauses–additional advance money to be paid if the book hits the top of the NYT bestseller list, or Earth is invaded by bees from Venus.”

    And indeed, I believe my Tor contract has just that Venusian Space Bees clause. Go bees! I negotiated that contract myself, you know.

    (To be clear, I’m quite happy with my Tor contract, as I’ve mentioned in other places in the Whatever. Not only did I get what I figured was a reasonable sum, I also got pretty much what *I* would have offered had I been in my editor’s shoes.)

  21. Somehow I managed to get through the entire convention without checking out either ass, so I’m afraid I can’t help with Lauren’s question. Cory does win when it comes to the stylin jackets, but he’s got the advantage of living in London as opposed to a cornfield in Ohio, enough said. Scalzi, it only goes to show that I respect you for your mind.

  22. Re what Patrick said: There is nothing better than having a “shut up” deal that steeply escalates into heady “I’ll be buying the drinks” territory. Or, ah, so I’ve heard . . .

    I, too, am very happy with all my deals past, future and present should any editor of mine or potential future editors stumble across this conversation. Editors good. Honest.

  23. Karen writes:

    “I managed to get through the entire convention without checking out either ass…”

    I don’t know which is worse: That my ass is up for voyeuristic consideration, or that apparently no one bothered to check out my ass at all.

    For the record, I believe my ass is a solid “Not Bad.” Adjusted for a Worldcon crowd, it may even rate a “Shut up!” I have to believe that Cory “Carbohydrates Make the Baby Atkins Cry” Doctorow is similarly endowed in the fundamental regions.

  24. Scalzi whinges:

    “apparently no one bothered to check out my ass at all”

    Don’t despair–the post that started this thread (from Lauren) pretty clearly implies that *she* was checking out your arse.

  25. ummm

    surley if you had been given a shitty deal you would not want to indicate to the world that you had. If I were you guys I’d keep to the nice wide catagory that the nice deal offers you so that you could easily pretend you had a shut up deal when if fact you only got a shitty deal….Justine -you’ve had TWO deals – cool…- should I have know that?

    ps: i am not a writer so I am alowed as many spelling and gramma typo’s as I like

  26. Don’t take it personally, I’m pretty sure I didn’t notice anyone’s ass during the entire convention. Except maybe Lauren’s, and that was only because she was wearing a really good skirt.

    I really want this to be the last time I type the word “ass” in this thread.

  27. Don’t take it personally, I’m pretty sure I didn’t notice anyone’s ass during the entire convention. Except maybe Lauren’s, and that was only because she was wearing a really good skirt.

    I really want this to be the last time I type the word “ass” in this thread.

  28. All this talk about deals and asses and jackets has been quite entertaining, but my brain keeps going back to the same thought:

    Who the hell is Susan Midlist and how did she steal my idea for a novel? Rest assured, once I discover the answers to these burning questions, there will be hell to pay.

    Damn that Susan Midlist! Damn her to hell!

  29. All this talk about deals and asses and jackets has been quite entertaining, but my brain keeps going back to the same thought:

    Who the hell is Susan Midlist and how did she steal my idea for a novel? Rest assured, once I discover the answers to these burning questions, there will be hell to pay.

    Damn that Susan Midlist! Damn her to hell!

  30. “Susan Midlist’s THE MARY SUE CRITICAL MASS, the story of a world thrown into chaos when large numbers of bookish women spontaneously appear at critical events of historical importance and passively-aggressively demand to play a role, to Not Insignificant Genre Press, in a meh deal.”

    In recent years, I distinctly recall many announcements of, and lamentations about, ‘The Death of the Midlist’.

    Is this a posthumous novel, or is Susan the widow or child of ‘the’ Midlist?

  31. “Susan Midlist’s THE MARY SUE CRITICAL MASS, the story of a world thrown into chaos when large numbers of bookish women spontaneously appear at critical events of historical importance and passively-aggressively demand to play a role, to Not Insignificant Genre Press, in a meh deal.”

    In recent years, I distinctly recall many announcements of, and lamentations about, ‘The Death of the Midlist’.

    Is this a posthumous novel, or is Susan the widow or child of ‘the’ Midlist?

  32. Well, now I know what the conversation’s going to be at the Bouchercon bar next month.

    You can tell Tor and St. Martin’s are corporate pinky pals, ’cause we have similar escalator clauses. Mine says that I get my bonus $$$ if Michael Connelly, Janet Evanovich, Harlan Coban and Nevada Barr get whacked by a serial killer within a one week period. As verified by police stations reporting to the NYTimes Serial Killer List, of course.

  33. Well, now I know what the conversation’s going to be at the Bouchercon bar next month.

    You can tell Tor and St. Martin’s are corporate pinky pals, ’cause we have similar escalator clauses. Mine says that I get my bonus $$$ if Michael Connelly, Janet Evanovich, Harlan Coban and Nevada Barr get whacked by a serial killer within a one week period. As verified by police stations reporting to the NYTimes Serial Killer List, of course.

  34. Hey little sister Niki who said:

    “Justine -you’ve had TWO deals – cool…- should I have know that?”

    I’ve had three deals as a matter of fact. Two with Wesleyan and one with Penguin/Razorbill.

    She also asked:

    “surley if you had been given a shitty deal you would not want to indicate to the world that you had.”

    We, sf and fantasy writers, are not like other people–we revel in our shittiness.

  35. Hey little sister Niki who said:

    “Justine -you’ve had TWO deals – cool…- should I have know that?”

    I’ve had three deals as a matter of fact. Two with Wesleyan and one with Penguin/Razorbill.

    She also asked:

    “surley if you had been given a shitty deal you would not want to indicate to the world that you had.”

    We, sf and fantasy writers, are not like other people–we revel in our shittiness.

  36. Well it follows that if Cory is being lauded for his style making suit jackets then none of us would have gotten to check out his Atkins Assisted Ass as it was undoubtedly covered by the aforementioned jackets.

    I’d rather check out a man in a suit/uniform/tux than one with merely a cute ass any day though.

  37. “breaking out of the high shitties”

    This makes me giggle every time I see it, so I’m posting it again.

  38. “breaking out of the high shitties”

    This makes me giggle every time I see it, so I’m posting it again.

  39. Book deals

    According to the Real World Book Deal Descriptions John Scalzi & Co. came up with at Noreascon, all my books deals have been Shitty. The categories are Shitty, Contemptible, Meh, Not Bad, Shut Up, and I’m Getting the Next Round,…

  40. Book deals

    According to the Real World Book Deal Descriptions John Scalzi & Co. came up with at Noreascon, all my books deals have been Shitty. The categories are Shitty, Contemptible, Meh, Not Bad, Shut Up, and I’m Getting the Next Round,…

  41. I should not have read this (and the collected comments) at work. Now everyone’s going to start thinking I just received some devastatingly tragic news, from the tears running down my cheeks (no really, it’s suppressed laughter).

    Although, come to think of it, maybe I did just get some tragic news… but then again, it’s nothing I didn’t get warned about already. ;)

  42. I should not have read this (and the collected comments) at work. Now everyone’s going to start thinking I just received some devastatingly tragic news, from the tears running down my cheeks (no really, it’s suppressed laughter).

    Although, come to think of it, maybe I did just get some tragic news… but then again, it’s nothing I didn’t get warned about already. ;)

  43. The thing that cracked me up the most was the Enforced Ramen Diet. ‘Cuz I just stocked up on ramen noodles yesterday. (I’ve got the obliging spouse, all right–but he’s a musician….)

  44. it isn’t the tiers that annoy me at publishers lunch — it’s the descriptions of the books. after reading a day’s worth of these i want to mostly kill myself. gah.

  45. or Earth is invaded by bees from Venus

    I personally think a bees-from-Venus clause should henceforth be boilerplate in Tor contracts.

  46. or Earth is invaded by bees from Venus

    I personally think a bees-from-Venus clause should henceforth be boilerplate in Tor contracts.

  47. Read this aloud to my boyfriend, who laughed at your descriptions of potential Publisher’s Lunches. We both said, “I wonder who Neil Popular is.”

    How does this relate to new writers and their expectations? I remember Jennifer Roberson once wrote an article or essay somewhere on her publishing deals and why she didn’t quit her day job immediately. And her deals all seemed to start at contemptible and work their way up to Not Bad? Should a first time novelist expect anything above the “contemptible” or “meh” deals? (If their work is on par with the average selling write–not necessarily if they were the best thing since sliced bread. I want to know about the average beginning writer, and not the wunderkind story.)

  48. Read this aloud to my boyfriend, who laughed at your descriptions of potential Publisher’s Lunches. We both said, “I wonder who Neil Popular is.”

    How does this relate to new writers and their expectations? I remember Jennifer Roberson once wrote an article or essay somewhere on her publishing deals and why she didn’t quit her day job immediately. And her deals all seemed to start at contemptible and work their way up to Not Bad? Should a first time novelist expect anything above the “contemptible” or “meh” deals? (If their work is on par with the average selling write–not necessarily if they were the best thing since sliced bread. I want to know about the average beginning writer, and not the wunderkind story.)

  49. $3000 advance = the expectation of selling at least 1,200 copies of a $27 hardcover at 10% royalty.

    Thatís 2,400 copies of a trade paperback at $13.50

    For a small publisher with a first time author’s fiction book, those are pretty respectable numbers. Shitty deal my ass. Particularly if you still have a piece of paperback or foreign language, or British rights.

    A $20,000 advance = “not bad?” Fuck that. A $20,000 advance could mean the end of your fucking career. If you don’t sell 7,500 copies of your book in hardcover, or 15,000 of your book in trade paperback, you didn’t earn out. If you don’t earn out, chances are your publisher just lost money on your ass, and your editor is getting heat from above. Chances are that editor is telling everybody in town what a bad investment you were…

    Now if that had been a $5000 advance, and you sold half that — 3,200 copies, you book would have earned out and made a bit of money, and would have been a good investment, and would probably get another contract.

    If you actually sold 7,500 copies after a $5,000 advance, you would have been a long shot that paid off big. Your editor would look like a genous, and you might get a 2 book deal, and… AND YOU WOULD HAVE STILL ENDED UP EARNING $2OK on the first book, after royalties were paid.

    Lets be realistic people. If your book sells, you get paid. If your book doesn’t sell, and you still got a big fat advance up front, chances are you won’t ever get a contract with that publisher again. If you think you can sell more copies then your publisher thinks they can, donít sell it to them, or self publish it, if thereís so much demand.

    Fucking unrealistic expectations are part of the problem in this industry. Arbitrary lists like this perpetuate this shit. Its more important to understand the economics of your trade (advances, royalties, trade discounts, distributor discounts, returns, Pay-for-placement in chains, etc etc), rather then memorizing some arbitrary range of “advances” and weather it was a good deal or not.

    The problem is most writers don’t know shit about the business they are in. and assfucks like Publishers Lunch don’t seem to be interested in helping them learn anything about it.

  50. $3000 advance = the expectation of selling at least 1,200 copies of a $27 hardcover at 10% royalty.

    Thatís 2,400 copies of a trade paperback at $13.50

    For a small publisher with a first time author’s fiction book, those are pretty respectable numbers. Shitty deal my ass. Particularly if you still have a piece of paperback or foreign language, or British rights.

    A $20,000 advance = “not bad?” Fuck that. A $20,000 advance could mean the end of your fucking career. If you don’t sell 7,500 copies of your book in hardcover, or 15,000 of your book in trade paperback, you didn’t earn out. If you don’t earn out, chances are your publisher just lost money on your ass, and your editor is getting heat from above. Chances are that editor is telling everybody in town what a bad investment you were…

    Now if that had been a $5000 advance, and you sold half that — 3,200 copies, you book would have earned out and made a bit of money, and would have been a good investment, and would probably get another contract.

    If you actually sold 7,500 copies after a $5,000 advance, you would have been a long shot that paid off big. Your editor would look like a genous, and you might get a 2 book deal, and… AND YOU WOULD HAVE STILL ENDED UP EARNING $2OK on the first book, after royalties were paid.

    Lets be realistic people. If your book sells, you get paid. If your book doesn’t sell, and you still got a big fat advance up front, chances are you won’t ever get a contract with that publisher again. If you think you can sell more copies then your publisher thinks they can, donít sell it to them, or self publish it, if thereís so much demand.

    Fucking unrealistic expectations are part of the problem in this industry. Arbitrary lists like this perpetuate this shit. Its more important to understand the economics of your trade (advances, royalties, trade discounts, distributor discounts, returns, Pay-for-placement in chains, etc etc), rather then memorizing some arbitrary range of “advances” and weather it was a good deal or not.

    The problem is most writers don’t know shit about the business they are in. and assfucks like Publishers Lunch don’t seem to be interested in helping them learn anything about it.

  51. Jeremy Lassen writes:

    “A $20,000 advance = ‘not bad?’ Fuck that. A $20,000 advance could mean the end of your fucking career.”

    Or really NOT, since that was the exact amount of the advance for my first book, and I’ve subsequently sold six more, including two more to the same company. Sometimes I get more than that $20K, sometimes I get less.

    You’re doing the same thing you accuse authors of doing, which is arbitrarily picking a number out of your ass and calling it “good” or “bad.” In my case, that amount was perfectly fine in terms of sales for that book and selling the next book. For someone else it might be too high or too low.

    What’s indisputable is that $20K paid my mortgage for the year. That’s Not Bad.

    Being the owner of a small press, allow me to suggest your championing of the “shitty” and “contemptible” deal is quite obviously self-serving. Mind you, I agree that when dealing with the realities of small-press publishing, expecting more than a shitty or contemptible deal is unrealistic. However, in the real world of an author paying rent and buying groceries — which you can expect this intended-to-be-humorous list is based in — that’s shitty pay.

    “The problem is most writers don’t know shit about the business they are in.”

    Yes, Jeremy. Poor stupid fucking writers. It’s a shame we have to pay them at ALL.

    Try not to have so much contempt for the people who drive your business, Jeremy. Word eventually gets around.

  52. Jeremy Lassen writes:

    “A $20,000 advance = ‘not bad?’ Fuck that. A $20,000 advance could mean the end of your fucking career.”

    Or really NOT, since that was the exact amount of the advance for my first book, and I’ve subsequently sold six more, including two more to the same company. Sometimes I get more than that $20K, sometimes I get less.

    You’re doing the same thing you accuse authors of doing, which is arbitrarily picking a number out of your ass and calling it “good” or “bad.” In my case, that amount was perfectly fine in terms of sales for that book and selling the next book. For someone else it might be too high or too low.

    What’s indisputable is that $20K paid my mortgage for the year. That’s Not Bad.

    Being the owner of a small press, allow me to suggest your championing of the “shitty” and “contemptible” deal is quite obviously self-serving. Mind you, I agree that when dealing with the realities of small-press publishing, expecting more than a shitty or contemptible deal is unrealistic. However, in the real world of an author paying rent and buying groceries — which you can expect this intended-to-be-humorous list is based in — that’s shitty pay.

    “The problem is most writers don’t know shit about the business they are in.”

    Yes, Jeremy. Poor stupid fucking writers. It’s a shame we have to pay them at ALL.

    Try not to have so much contempt for the people who drive your business, Jeremy. Word eventually gets around.

  53. I have never been able to remember the difference between a “nice” deal and a “good” deal in all the time I’ve been reading Publisher’s Lunch. Both words are really sort of hazy non-words, like “industrial” or “commerce.” Your ranking is not only realistic but memorable. Thanks.

  54. I just want a damn deal, shitty or not!

    Good stuff. Now if we can create a companion list for the agent rejections, like the one who put his pre-printed rejection card inside my SASE and stapled it (barely) shut.

  55. I just want a damn deal, shitty or not!

    Good stuff. Now if we can create a companion list for the agent rejections, like the one who put his pre-printed rejection card inside my SASE and stapled it (barely) shut.

  56. Something I don’t see mentioned here is how many books are in the deal. Is a $100K deal still “I’m getting the next round” if it’s for five books, rather than one, and is going to eat the author’s life for the next few years?

  57. Lawrence Evans asks:

    “Is a $100K deal still “I’m getting the next round” if it’s for five books, rather than one, and is going to eat the author’s life for the next few years?”

    I’m a proponent of the “per book” school of thought, personally, so I’d say that’s just a not bad deal, times five. Although I suppose if you’ve got the $100K *on* you at the time, you might as well buy the next round.

  58. Lawrence Evans asks:

    “Is a $100K deal still “I’m getting the next round” if it’s for five books, rather than one, and is going to eat the author’s life for the next few years?”

    I’m a proponent of the “per book” school of thought, personally, so I’d say that’s just a not bad deal, times five. Although I suppose if you’ve got the $100K *on* you at the time, you might as well buy the next round.

  59. I’ve only been a writer for the past ten years, consequently, I’ve only written 60 as yet unpublished novels, but what I found so disheartening, a year after I began writing, was that I spoke with several successful writers, and learned that although their books are distributed throughout many countries of the world, and in at least 7 languages, these writers realized a total of about $100 from their book over a 5 year period. They live on small government pensions after proving that they’re serious writers. At one time, many commercial artists were also the only slaves left in the free world until they got together and demanded a decent living wage, therefore, I think it’s about time authors did the same. Perhaps a boycott en masse. No writing ’til publishers and book stores stop grabbing 90% of the profits from each book written. Then there’d be less whining by authors who are laughingly looked at with contempt and ridicule by most of the publishing and marketing people. It’s like working your ass off and letting your employees reap the rewards of your efforts. Are writers wimps? Are they willing to sweat many hours a day for years to produce a novel, and then have the publishing establishment enjoy the fruits of the authors’ labors? Hmmm, I guesss so, huh? So pitiful. Oh, well, I’ll keep writing because I feel compelled to, and yeah, I always hear people telling me that I should be thankful enough that I get to have my name on the cover of a book, and that I should be satisfied with knowing that my book is, or will be, read by perhaps hundreds to thousands of people. I mean, hell, the majority of writers don’t even make minimum wage, and yet publishers and book dealers often make hundreds of thousands of dollars off the sweat of writers. I suppose this sounds like a helluva big bitch, and well, yeah, it is. Anyone for a union (of sorts) ? Let me know. Happy writing. John.

  60. I’ve only been a writer for the past ten years, consequently, I’ve only written 60 as yet unpublished novels, but what I found so disheartening, a year after I began writing, was that I spoke with several successful writers, and learned that although their books are distributed throughout many countries of the world, and in at least 7 languages, these writers realized a total of about $100 from their book over a 5 year period. They live on small government pensions after proving that they’re serious writers. At one time, many commercial artists were also the only slaves left in the free world until they got together and demanded a decent living wage, therefore, I think it’s about time authors did the same. Perhaps a boycott en masse. No writing ’til publishers and book stores stop grabbing 90% of the profits from each book written. Then there’d be less whining by authors who are laughingly looked at with contempt and ridicule by most of the publishing and marketing people. It’s like working your ass off and letting your employees reap the rewards of your efforts. Are writers wimps? Are they willing to sweat many hours a day for years to produce a novel, and then have the publishing establishment enjoy the fruits of the authors’ labors? Hmmm, I guesss so, huh? So pitiful. Oh, well, I’ll keep writing because I feel compelled to, and yeah, I always hear people telling me that I should be thankful enough that I get to have my name on the cover of a book, and that I should be satisfied with knowing that my book is, or will be, read by perhaps hundreds to thousands of people. I mean, hell, the majority of writers don’t even make minimum wage, and yet publishers and book dealers often make hundreds of thousands of dollars off the sweat of writers. I suppose this sounds like a helluva big bitch, and well, yeah, it is. Anyone for a union (of sorts) ? Let me know. Happy writing. John.

  61. Thank you John et. al for the lovely fun here. I’ve enjoyed it. I fell into the fine line between meh and contemptible, but have high hopes for the next time (well, at least mid to high meh). And more importantly, I look forward to Glasgow where the bar will be stocked with very very fine scotches . . . .

    Di

  62. Someone posted: “The best result of our more fine-tuned and honest categories was that we all started fessing up about our advances. That’s a very good thing. Writers need to know what other writers are getting.” (I think it may have been in the Lassen thread on the other page)

    This is SO important, and so difficult. Someone above mentioned RWA’s database of what the various publisher’s pay. Every genre should do that, in my opinion, and it just takes one individual willing to receive info via e-mail, strip identifying details and average it by publisher. (It’s not RWA doing that ongoing survey, for the record, it’s one author. Me. ) I’m hoping to come up with something similar for Novelists, Inc, which represents all different genres. It would be great if SFWA, MWA, etc. did the same. Knowledge is power, folks!

  63. Someone posted: “The best result of our more fine-tuned and honest categories was that we all started fessing up about our advances. That’s a very good thing. Writers need to know what other writers are getting.” (I think it may have been in the Lassen thread on the other page)

    This is SO important, and so difficult. Someone above mentioned RWA’s database of what the various publisher’s pay. Every genre should do that, in my opinion, and it just takes one individual willing to receive info via e-mail, strip identifying details and average it by publisher. (It’s not RWA doing that ongoing survey, for the record, it’s one author. Me. ) I’m hoping to come up with something similar for Novelists, Inc, which represents all different genres. It would be great if SFWA, MWA, etc. did the same. Knowledge is power, folks!

  64. I’ve heard of this database — I think it’s a great idea. I agree that the information is useful. But part of the problem I could see, when trying to construct a hypothetical database of this kind, was how the third/fourth/fifth and subsequent deals could be made useful information — because those are based on numbers, or prestige, or a variety of things that won’t be factored into the equation.

    How did you get around that?

  65. I’ve heard of this database — I think it’s a great idea. I agree that the information is useful. But part of the problem I could see, when trying to construct a hypothetical database of this kind, was how the third/fourth/fifth and subsequent deals could be made useful information — because those are based on numbers, or prestige, or a variety of things that won’t be factored into the equation.

    How did you get around that?

  66. Michelle, all I’ve managed to do is separate advance figures out by first books and subsequent books, but you’re right that all kinds of factors come into play, especially at the higher levels. That’s why my survey is MOST useful for first-time authors, since those figures tend to be much more consistent. And, of course, on the (rare) occasions that a really big-name author has sent in data, their figures tend to skew things dramatically, so I started adding range (lowest to highest) in addition to just the averages to help indicate that. Unfortunately, I’m no statistician, and this thing is starting to get beyond me after four or five years of updates. I’m looking at ways (with RWA’s help) to bring someone on board who can do a better job with all the raw data I’ve been collecting. I’m certainly not willing to let the whole thing drop, as useful as it’s proven to be for so many people!

    Justine, all this is really is a chart showing average advance, royalty percentage and earnouts (advances separated out by first and subsequent books) for as many romance publishers as I have data for. (I only include a publisher if I have at least 3 data points.) Very simple to do. The trick was getting enough people to trust me far enough to send me their data, since writers tend to be pretty closed-mouthed about money. That had to be built over time. Seriously, though, I believe all authors in all genres would benefit from similar info.

  67. Michelle, all I’ve managed to do is separate advance figures out by first books and subsequent books, but you’re right that all kinds of factors come into play, especially at the higher levels. That’s why my survey is MOST useful for first-time authors, since those figures tend to be much more consistent. And, of course, on the (rare) occasions that a really big-name author has sent in data, their figures tend to skew things dramatically, so I started adding range (lowest to highest) in addition to just the averages to help indicate that. Unfortunately, I’m no statistician, and this thing is starting to get beyond me after four or five years of updates. I’m looking at ways (with RWA’s help) to bring someone on board who can do a better job with all the raw data I’ve been collecting. I’m certainly not willing to let the whole thing drop, as useful as it’s proven to be for so many people!

    Justine, all this is really is a chart showing average advance, royalty percentage and earnouts (advances separated out by first and subsequent books) for as many romance publishers as I have data for. (I only include a publisher if I have at least 3 data points.) Very simple to do. The trick was getting enough people to trust me far enough to send me their data, since writers tend to be pretty closed-mouthed about money. That had to be built over time. Seriously, though, I believe all authors in all genres would benefit from similar info.

  68. Brenda: Separating it out even by first books and subsequent books is a great idea — the only data base that I could think of that would be of raw use was first books, because in many ways, the players are standing on mostly even ground. (peanut gallery: yes, I know there’s the Ted Chiang factor or the Connie Willis factor. But, really).

    The trick was getting enough people to trust me far enough to send me their data, since writers tend to be pretty closed-mouthed about money.

    I think SF/F people are less close-mouthed about the money than Romance people, fwiw. It’s something I’ve noticed in the cultural differences between the romance writers and the sf writers I know; romance writers are incredibly socially gracious and enormously socially helpful and encouraging and freely offer advice on how to deal with publishing situations — but ask them about money and it’s like asking about their weight. In public.

    SF people are often vastly less encouraging (“If a writer can be discouraged, he should be”) in general in comparison, but are often vastly more open about the hard facts: numbers. Dollars. Contract language.

  69. Brenda: Separating it out even by first books and subsequent books is a great idea — the only data base that I could think of that would be of raw use was first books, because in many ways, the players are standing on mostly even ground. (peanut gallery: yes, I know there’s the Ted Chiang factor or the Connie Willis factor. But, really).

    The trick was getting enough people to trust me far enough to send me their data, since writers tend to be pretty closed-mouthed about money.

    I think SF/F people are less close-mouthed about the money than Romance people, fwiw. It’s something I’ve noticed in the cultural differences between the romance writers and the sf writers I know; romance writers are incredibly socially gracious and enormously socially helpful and encouraging and freely offer advice on how to deal with publishing situations — but ask them about money and it’s like asking about their weight. In public.

    SF people are often vastly less encouraging (“If a writer can be discouraged, he should be”) in general in comparison, but are often vastly more open about the hard facts: numbers. Dollars. Contract language.

  70. Well, I rarely post on things like this, but i”m going to take the plunge. Call me naive, but I just don’t believe that the publishing industry is making money hand over fist. I was told that the industry as a whole works on a 1% profit margin. Even the Airline industry works at about 3-4%. The only reason publishing hasn’t collapsed under its own weight is that the one thing it does do is generate loads of cash. That money–our royalties especially–is put in short term investments and we’re paid much later, without interest. The publisher, obviously, keeps that. So lambasting authors for not demanding better pay–especially in an industry where paper is becoming more and more expensive and we continue to lose readers to more immediate entertainment–video and internet–is like telling the people in a life boat to unionize to get better service. We’re all just happy to be on the frigging rubber boat and not sinking into deep, dark oblivion.

    btw, the data on romance publishers is enormously helpful and I salue Brenda for undertaking it. I have also offered her my info on my multiple shitty and contemptible deals. Beleive me, I will celebrate when I move to meh.

  71. uh oh…I just spent a year of my life writing a novel and I’m only, if lucky, going to make $5,000? Dang I made $12,000 in three weeks writing a bunch of ads (less than 500 words each) and a 24 page brochure about the joys of a cash asset checking account. Hows come I get so much more moola for copy that the art director assures me nobody is going to read than I do for prose that could provide warm companionship on a cold night? What’s more valuable?

  72. uh oh…I just spent a year of my life writing a novel and I’m only, if lucky, going to make $5,000? Dang I made $12,000 in three weeks writing a bunch of ads (less than 500 words each) and a 24 page brochure about the joys of a cash asset checking account. Hows come I get so much more moola for copy that the art director assures me nobody is going to read than I do for prose that could provide warm companionship on a cold night? What’s more valuable?

  73. A Genre Advance Survey

    A few months ago, just after worldcon, John Scalzi wrote that we needed a closer look at novel advances than the Publisher’s Weekly model that didn’t tell us all that much. I wrote in his comments section that I should…

  74. Okay – I’m about to sign my first ‘deal’ and I don’t know whether it’s bad, shitty, ‘meh’ or whatever. But I was told to look up what an ESCALATOR is (as it relates to book publishing), and I can find nothing.

    So, do you have any THOUGHTS to share on this, oh writing gurus?

    (I have LOVED reading through these tidbits!!)

  75. An escaltor usually means that if you reach some goal (for example, a certain sales goal, or you’re nominated for a major award, or whatever), some sort of bonus kicks in.

    You shouldn’t assume that you’ll be able to reach your escalator. Count only the money you know you’re contracted to get.

  76. An escaltor usually means that if you reach some goal (for example, a certain sales goal, or you’re nominated for a major award, or whatever), some sort of bonus kicks in.

    You shouldn’t assume that you’ll be able to reach your escalator. Count only the money you know you’re contracted to get.

  77. Guys, I typed, ‘How much can I get paid for this crappy crime novel I’m sitting on?’ into Google and got this article. Fell off my chair laughing and then did the Maths (or Math for you yanks). Dollars don’t mean a hell of a lot to me but when I converted it into Sterling and realised how much money you were actually talking about I was shocked! So tell us what we all really want to know… Having written the book, how do we get the ‘Shut up’ or ‘I’m getting the next round’ deal? Or in fact any deal at all?

  78. Guys, I typed, ‘How much can I get paid for this crappy crime novel I’m sitting on?’ into Google and got this article. Fell off my chair laughing and then did the Maths (or Math for you yanks). Dollars don’t mean a hell of a lot to me but when I converted it into Sterling and realised how much money you were actually talking about I was shocked! So tell us what we all really want to know… Having written the book, how do we get the ‘Shut up’ or ‘I’m getting the next round’ deal? Or in fact any deal at all?

  79. Even understanding that it may not be popular in this crowd, I have to stick up for Jeremy Lassen because I searched the internet for hours before I found what I sought—in his post. The numbers are there. I’m sure a lot of aspiring writers read that and think, “7,500 books doesn’t seem like a lot,” but I think they’ve never tried to sell a first novel. Or a book of Little League raffle tickets. At least with the raffle tickets, your friends and family aren’t expecting a freebie…

    I also believe that it is the tendency of writers to overestimate the profit of the publishing machine as compared to the per-hour income of the writer. Sure, offices, computers, editors, graphic artists, paper, ink and binding all cost money, but one of the biggest expenses for all print media these days is transportation. You know how, when you move, you always want to put your books in smaller boxes because they’re heavy? Well, shipping is by the pound, and even on large-scale commercial rates, shipping all those books first to the distribution center and then on to the store level is expensive. Readers aren’t likely to find you on Amazon (where they pay the shipping, and usually a lower price for your book) unless they know about you, so getting your books into stores where they can be discovered by after-dinner and rainy Saturday browsers is critical to the entire process.

  80. I used the phrase, “enforced Top Ramen diet” in a conversation several weeks ago, with no memory of it coming from somewhere other than my own genius.

    Then I came across this article again, which I read last year. Falling off my chair with laughter a second time was worth the bruise to my pride.

  81. I hear what Jeremy and KSM are saying, but ultimately, the bigger the deal, the more the marketing. So while a Shut Up deal might be hard to make the sales on, you also usually get more publicity than the Shitty Deal.

    Also, very funny. Thanks for this post. Hilarious.

  82. Too funny! My best conference conversations have ALWAYS been in the bar. This sounds like a great one. lol

    I don’t share contract numbers because books aren’t like widgets. What one writer is making doesn’t have that much to do with another, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned during 29 years of being published it’s that this business is such a crapshoot, comparing your career to anyone else’s is a certain sure road to madness.

  83. Quite possibly one of the most hysterical conversations online – ever. High bar, folks. I know none of you and yet somehow have come away feeling like I know each of you a little. Not in a creepy way. Just finished reading Kelly’s book of creepy short stories. Hope you got at least the “son of a bitch” for that one.

  84. Greetings from Idaho! I’m bored to death at
    work so I decided to check out your blog on my iphone
    during lunch break. I love the info you provide here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home.
    I’m surprised at how quick your blog loaded on my phone ..
    I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, very good blog!

This is the place where you leave the things you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s