Team Scalzi

Not long ago I was having a conversation about some recent business stuff going on in my life, and the person I was having the conversation with noted that I was using “we” instead of “I” a lot when I was talking about decisions. They were curious whether there was more than one person actually involved in my decision-making process, or if I just had a massively inflated ego and was using the royal “we.” Well:

1. Yes, I have a massively inflated ego, I mean, duh;

2. In this case, however, I regularly rely on other people to help me make business decisions concerning my work, and that’s who the “we” refers to. At this point in my life there is, in fact, a “Team Scalzi.”

It’s not an official team, mind you. We don’t have softball jerseys or anything (although, now that I think of it, this could be done…), and none of them work for me as an employee. Rather, there are people I work with on the business side of my life to get things done and/or to help me plan for the future and for future projects.

Nor is this especially unusual; many professional writers (and most pro authors) have a group of people who they listen to, or at least get advice from, in terms of their careers and business and futures. The people in these roles, and the types of role, vary from writer to writer, of course.

So who is my “team”? They are:

Spouse: This would be Kristine Scalzi, who, aside from being my partner in life, has a super-sharp business mind both naturally and by education (she has a business degree). She also handles much of the business end of things here, in terms of tracking and organizing various projects and contracts and such. Also, she handles nearly all the homefront issues, which is important when one travels as much as I do.

Smart authors will often compliment their spouses/spousal equivalents and assure you that they would be nothing without them; in my case this is actually also true. Krissy’s organizational and business skills, and willingness to hold down the fort, are nearly entirely responsible for the fact that we are solvent and that I am able to take advantage of as many opportunities as I can. Nothing gets done without her, and everything that does gets done, is made better by her.

Literary Agent: This is Ethan Ellenberg of the Ethan Ellenberg Agency. Aside from a spouse or spousal equivalent, this is probably the most common “team member” for any author. I figure most of you know what an agent does, but for those of you who don’t, this is the person responsible for helping me sell my books to publishers, not just here in the US but worldwide. To do this Ethan has his own team, starting with Bibi Lewis, who handles my foreign sales, and also including a large number of subagents from around the world, who help find buyers in foreign territories. Ethan is a very large part of the reason this happened, and why my work is now in two dozen languages worldwide.

Editor: This is Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor at Tor (there are others as well, notably Bill Schafer at Subterranean Press and Steve Feldberg at Audible). Aside from editing my novels, a job that’s he’s done pretty well for a decade now, he and I also strategize about which projects to write and when to put them out, and how to market them to booksellers and readers. In this, Patrick quite obviously has his own team to work with: It’s called Tor Books (likewise Bill and Steve at their respective companies). All these teams are pretty good at what they do.

Film/Television Agent: This is Joel Gotler, of Intellectual Property Management. He’s the one who shops my work to/fields offers from producers and studios in Los Angeles for possible film/TV projects, and given the number of projects we’ve had optioned, he’s clearly good at it. He also advises me on which projects are mostly likely to get interest at any particular moment, and helps me field non-literary-derived projects as well (not everything I pitch for the screen was originally a book).

Entertainment Lawyer: Hey, did you know contracts are tricky and you might want to have a lawyer look at them and give you advice about them? My entertainment lawyer is Matt Sugarman of Weintraub Tobin. In addition to vetting contracts, I also bend his ear about the entertainment industry landscape as he sees it, and where he thinks it might go from here. I also and independently use a local lawyer, John Marchal, to handle estate planning and other such issues not directly related to entertainment, but which have bearing on my business.

Accountant: This is Julie Boring, of Boring & Associates, who has handled our taxes since we moved to Ohio in 2001 and who has kept up with my (sometimes rather drastically) changing income and tax profile over the last fifteen years. She keeps me up to date on tax issues and concerns and helps me regarding how best to maximize charitable giving.

Financial Planning and Services: Dave Selsor of Fifth Third Securities is helping us here. I’m not a flashy investor and generally I follow the advice I give nearly everyone about investing, i.e., “shove it into an index fund and don’t think about it for thirty years.” But we have a few other (generally financially conservative) irons in the fire, and a few less-than-usual financial concerns that take a bit of planning.

Note that members of this “team” interact with each other to varying degrees: My agent interacts with my editor and my film/TV agent, for example, but not generally with my accountant or investment planner. The only consistent point of contact here for all of these folks is me. Nevertheless, information is shared one way or another (usually through me).

I will also note that all the members of my “team,” save my wife, are part of other peoples’ teams as well — my agent (and his agency) has many other clients, as does my lawyer and accountant and so on. It’s a little presumptuous to talk about them as my team, and I know it. Nevertheless these are people in a privileged position in regards to both knowledge of my career and their ability to assist me with it, and when they’re doing that, we’re working toward the same goal. Like a team! So there you are.

Additionally — this is my particular team, which has been built over the years based on my own career needs. Other folks have have some of these people and not others, or others that I don’t have. For example, I don’t have an assistant, which several authors of my acquaintance have (at least one I know has more than one). I also don’t have a manager, which some authors, particularly those who want to work in movies/TV, choose to have. In my case, neither of these make sense. I know other authors who choose not to have agents, a choice I would not be comfortable with personally, but which they seem to be content with. And of course, many writers are single, or might, for varying reasons, prefer not to have their spouses actively involved with the minutiae of their careers.

For what I do and how I do it, this is the team loadout that works for me (literally). In return, most of them get a bit of my income out of it — commissions and fees and such. Which is another thing to think about, incidentally: Whether what you get out of these services will be what you pay for it. In my case it’s a yes — I can’t even imagine trying to wrangle my taxes at this point, or attempting to sell books in Thailand or Estonia, or wherever. Each of these “team” members either helps me save or make money (in some cases both!) and give me good advice, in their areas of expertise, to make decisions. They are well worth what they charge. Again, your mileage may vary.

Do one, as a writer, need people in these particular roles? Well, I always think it’s nice to have a spouse, if you can manage it. Other than that a lot will depend on what your career goals are and how much work you want to take on. For example, if you self-publish primarily and don’t want or plan to approach publishers, either here or overseas, your need for an agent is lower than mine; likewise if you don’t publish books and/or freelance primarily for magazines and Web sites where you can query directly. Also, in many cases, it’s not just about you choosing who to work with. They also have to choose you.

In any event, when I say “we” when I talk about my business, one or more of the folks above are the people that are included in the word. They’re all good at what they do, and I’m glad that in what they do, they do it with and for me.

The Big Idea: Tanita S. Davis

Sometimes people are uprooted and put in new circumstances. How do we adjust, and can we put down new roots that work well enough for us? In her Big Idea, Tanita S. Davis considers this question and how it relates to her YA novel, Peas and Carrots.

TANITA S. DAVIS:

There is no super power greater than knowing how to gather friendly, open, likeminded people around us, to use our intention to make our own safe place in the world. But when our relatives are rotten, and intentional choosing isn’t a skill available to us, what do we do then? Eventually, we stop thinking in terms of family, and seek other bonds.

My first teaching job out of college was working one-on-one with students housed courtesy of the State. They were a mixed lot: entitled incorrigibles who had smarted off to a truancy officer one time too many; runaways from intolerable home lives who’d ended up in the sex trade as a means of survival; gang-affiliated kids who looked like hard-faced adults, serving time for being accessories to grand theft and drive-by shootings. They all shared the simple human desire to belong somewhere – for their families to take them back, for the tight group they’d left behind to arrive one day and rescue them from my classroom… Every day that I worked with them, I watched their counselors and therapists and parole officers try to impress upon them the importance of making new connections, of finding different stomping grounds and other things to hold dear.

It was not a message which found a receptive audience. Almost every one of my students had some piece of the past they held onto against all comers, some piece of the world which represented to them all that they’d lost, and all that they would need to make the world right again. And, for almost all of those students, that thing was a representation of family. A location which they defended with fierce neighborhood pride. A faded Polaroid taped to the headboard at every new placement. A ratty old cardigan or piece of baby blanket held onto since childhood.  A tattoo, stick pin applied with charcoal and baby oil; the name of a best-beloved boldly claiming the tender skin of a wrist or forearm. A piece of a past, real or imagined, and long vanished.

Could they realistically be asked to let go of that? Obviously, no. And yet, how could they move into the future if they weren’t willing to let the past go?

What I saw work, during my brief years with these kids, was encouraging them to change perspective. Maybe they couldn’t have the crew they used to run with, but they could find literal running mates elsewhere. Some left the group home and get involved with long-distance running, basketball, tournament teams traveling and learning the feel of that inclusivity in teams. One girl embraced her love of arguing and took a semester to first observe, then begin to participate in her new high school’s debate team. We didn’t always get to see the next chapter in the lives of those with whom we worked, but sometimes we’d get a card or a call, or a social worker would bring back word. The kids who survived the destruction of their networks and didn’t return to the scene of the disaster were those who found and formed new connections, and new ways into what they ultimately wanted the most.

The world can be puzzled by these deliberate connections, these bonds we seek to supplement biology. Your new home may not be where any of you live, and your new family may be made up of what other people would consider strangers on the internet. I remember wheeling my through a crowded Costco shopping center when my sister was less than a year old, and encountering the crooned, “Oh, she’s precious! She looks just like you two!” It was, in this case, both ludicrous and …ludicrously wrong, as my youngest sister is an American of Cambodian ancestry, I’m an American of African ancestry, and my husband’s ancestral leanings are English, Scottish, and Irish. Sooo…maybe not just like us? But, I’m pretty sure that between her eye rolls – she’s nineteen now – and her general mien of disaffected snarkiness, there’s at least a family resemblance.

Peas and Carrots is a book marketed to middle grade/young adult readers and explores intentionally choosing people to love, and accepting each other in spite of our differences. At the end of the day, peas and carrots don’t go together because they grow together –  legumes and umbeliers are vastly different plant families – nor do they look alike or taste alike… They go together because we put them together. And so can we put together a family, too. Maybe blood shapes our earliest parts, but the choices of who we invite into our circles define us further down the road. It’s an absolutely huge idea that we can have some power over our own happiness in finding good, true, family-tested-friends. Love – and family, however we assemble it –  can be a lot simpler than we make it.

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Peas and Carrots: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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The 2016 Audie Award Finalists for Fantasy

The Audie Awards are the big award in audio books, celebrating both the words of the author and the performances of the readers. Having won this award myself with Wil Wheaton, I can assure you it’s a thrill to be a finalist with your audiobook reader and even more fun to win.

This year I’m delighted to announce the Audie Award Finalists for 2016 in the category of Fantasy. That’s right! You’re reading it here first!

If for some reason you can’t read the graphic above, the finalists are:

  • Ascension: The Trymoon Saga, by Brain K. Fuller, read by Simon Vance
  • The Cycle of Arawn, by Edward W. Robertson, read by Tim Gerard Reynolds
  • The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin, read by Robin Miles
  • Nice Dragons Finish Last, by Rachel Aaron, read by Vikas Adam
  • Son of the Black Sword, by Larry Correia, read by Tim Gerard Reynolds

Winners will be recognized at the Audies Gala in Chicago on May 11, 2016.

Congratulations and good luck to all of the finalists!