Fun With Royalties and other Book News

Yesterday’s mail brought royalty statements for Old Man’s War through June of 2005 (yes, there’s a bit of a time lag involved), and it was pretty good news. Not only has Old Man’s War earned out its advance, it’s also earned out the advance of The Android’s Dream, the book that was the other part of the two-book deal I got when I shacked up with Tor (The Ghost Brigades is on its own separate contract), and has earned a bit more beside that. This is good news because:

1. It means that the trade and mass-market paperback editions of Old Man’s War will be pure gravy, in terms of royalties;

2. It means I start earning royalties on The Android’s Dream from the very first book sold;

3. It means I start being paid royalties sooner. The way the contract was structured, royalties wouldn’t be paid until the advances for both novels were recouped, so if OMW had only earned out its own advance, I wouldn’t be getting a check until when/if Android’s Dream earned out its advance as well (you may ask: why agree to such a thing? Answer: because I didn’t figure it would be an issue one way or another. Yay! I was right!).

4. It means Tor is definitely making money off me, and relatively early, which is a happy thing for the selling of future books, particularly to them.

So am I rolling in sweet, sweet royalty money? No. Three words: "Reserves Against Returns." Which is to say Tor holds back some money every statement period to make sure they’re not whacked by returns of the book; the money held in reserve is typically refunded in the next statement period. By that time they’ll have stopped selling the hardcover to get the trade paperback in the stores, so we should have a nearly complete accounting of how many hardbacks were sold and how many were returned. This is probably where Tor’s thing of multiple-but-relatively small printings will be useful; I don’t imagine there will be too many returns overall, and that’s not a bad thing.

In all, not a bad place for a first-time author to be. As an aside, I’d note that if you actually wanted a copy of the hardcover of OMW, now would be a good time to get it, since as noted it’s going to be withdrawn from sale when the trade version comes out. This is particularly imperative for folks who like the Donato cover, since the trade version (and any future mass-market version) will feature the John Harris cover.

Other book news: Subterranean Press informs me that Agent to the Stars has sold 1200 copies so far, which is a very healthy number for a small-press limited edition. The run was of 1500 copies, so that means 300 are left. I’m hoping these get nabbed by the end of the year, so I’ll be forced to fork over $350 to the Child’s Play charity, as previously promised, on top of the 10% of the cover price Subterranean has already pledged to Child’s Play. You can get them at the link above or off of Amazon.

Also, Barnes & Noble is featuring The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies as a Recommended Gift for the holidays. Naturally, I couldn’t agree more.  

That’s the book news I have for you today.  

 

Amazon Tweaks Its Kindle Unlimited System. It Still Sucks For KDP Select Authors

Now that I’ve returned to the US and have parked myself in front of the computer again, people are asking me what I think of Amazon’s plan to tweak the way its Kindle Unlimited system pays KDP Select authors. In the past, Amazon would designate a certain amount of cash ($3 million this June, according to this Verge article, although in the comments Annie Bellet quotes a higher figure) as a payment pot, and all KDP Select authors participating in Kindle Unlimited would get a small bit of the pot if someone who downloaded their book read more than 10% of it. This predictably led to authors making short books in order to get to the 10% mark as quickly as possible, and equally predictably diluted the effectiveness of the tactic. It also made authors of longer works complain quite a lot, as they had to compete with bite-sized books for the same tiny bit of the pot.

As a result, Amazon is now tweaking its system so that instead of getting paid when one reaches that 10% marker, KDP select authors will get paid for each page read — a move that will, within the context of the KU system, at least, address the “small book vs. big book” disparity. The system will also define a standard “page” so fiddling with margins and type size won’t fool it, and somehow track how much time you spend on each page, so just clicking through all the pages as quickly as possible won’t do the trick (this makes me wonder what Amazon defines as a decent amount of time to read a page). The short version is: You get paid for what your readers read. If your readers don’t read the whole book, you don’t get paid for the whole book.

I have a lot of questions about how this will play out in theory — will an author get paid if you re-read a book? What about if you go back and re-read a page? Does that count? Doesn’t this mean that authors of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books get really screwed? Not to mention any author who is writing anything other than a page-turning narrative? — but ultimately any objections or praise I might have for this new Amazon model is irrelevant, because of a simple fact:

Amazon is still making KDP Select authors compete against each other for a limited, Amazon-defined pot of money, and no matter how you slice it, that sucks for the authors.

Why? Because Amazon puts an arbitrary cap on the amount of money it’s possible to earn — and not just a cap on what you, as an author, can earn, but what every author in the KDP Select system participating in Kindle Unlimited can make. Every KDP Select author participating in Kindle Unlimited can not, among all of them totaled up, make more than what Amazon decides to put into the pot. Why? Because that’s the pot. That’s how much Amazon wants to splash out this month. And the more pages are read in the month, the smaller any bit of the pie that you might get for your pages read becomes. It’s a zero-sum game for every KDP Select author participating in Kindle Unlimited. Next month, who knows what the size of the pot will be? You don’t — only Amazon does. But whatever amount it is, it’s an amount designed to benefit Amazon, not the individual authors.

This is a bad situation for the authors participating — bad enough that ultimately the minutiae of how the money is allocated is sort of aside the point, because the relevant point is: You will never make more for your work than Amazon wants you to make. And yes, just Amazon, as the work KDP Select authors put on Amazon are exclusive to Amazon.

I’m not one of those people who believes Amazon is glowy-red-eye evil — I remind people again that I’ve rather happily had a fruitful relationship with its Audible subsidiary for a number of years — but Amazon is looking out for Amazon first, and when it does, it’s not an author’s friend. There is no possible way in this or any other timeline that I would ever, as a writer, participate in the sort of scheme that Amazon runs with its KDP Select authors on Kindle Prime. I don’t approve of putting a cap on my own earnings (particularly one I have no say on), and I don’t approve of being in a situation where my success as an author comes by disadvantaging other authors, or vice versa. In the system in which I currently participate (i.e., the open market), there is no limit to the amount I can make, and no limit to what any other author can make. It’s a great system! I support it, and so should you.

So, yeah: By page, or by percentage, KDP Select authors on Kindle Unlimited still can’t make more than Amazon says they can. That sucks, and that’s the long and short of it.

A Note on Money and Self-Censorship

A question in email, asking me whether the size and length of my book deal with Tor means I’m likely to be less loud on the Internet on certain topics. This comes in the wake of my post yesterday, in which I reminded people I’m not their Outrage Monkey and will choose the things I comment on (or not) online based on my own criteria and no one else’s. The e-mailer wondered if the deal (and the money it represented) would be part of that criteria. Which seems a fair enough question to me.

The short answer is no. The longer answer is not only is the deal not an impediment to me saying whatever the hell I please online, it could frankly be seen as the opposite — after all, I’m safe from having to look for a book deal for an entire decade. I really can’t be financially penalized for anything I might choose to say on my free time. The worst that could happen is that the books don’t earn out and I don’t get royalties, but that could happen for any number of reasons. I still get the advances. They’re contractually specified. This is why one has contracts.

But won’t my publisher lean on me to say/not say things? No. More accurately, in the fifteen years I’ve been writing books, across several publishers, none of them ever have, and I doubt they are going to start now. Why? Because, among other things, they don’t have a right to, and there’s nothing in my contracts that allows them to. Nick Mamatas (who is a book editor as well as an author) wrote up the other day a piece about why publishers usually don’t try to impose good behavior on their authors, which is accurate and which I encourage folks to check out. But even beyond certain legal and labor ramifications, the simple fact is “publisher” doesn’t usually mean “employer” when it comes to writing books, and it certainly doesn’t mean “parent.” I’m on my own recognizance.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I might not choose to recuse myself from one discussion or another if it involves one of my publishers; I might, because of any number of reasons, including that the discussion might involve personal friends, or that I might know things about the situation I can’t discuss publicly so it’s better I not comment at all, or, just, you know, I don’t wanna. All of which is fair. The good news is, other people will be more than happy to take up the slack when I choose to sit out.

But in point of fact me holding off for financial reasons from saying anything I damn well please is simply not likely. I mean, it didn’t stop me before, when I was only on one or two book contracts, or before I had any book contracts at all. It’s not going to stop me when I have a whole friggin’ decade before I have to think about hunting for another book contract again.

So, yeah. No silence has been bought. If I’m not talking about something, it’s because I chose not to talk about it, not because my book publishers have paid to keep me quiet.

View From a Hotel Window, 5/26/15 + Thoughts on the Deal Money

Here I am, back in New York City, where I will be interviewing Cixin Liu tomorrow night and working BEA on Thursday (details here). I kinda love this town, although the view from my hotel window is not exactly classic this time, except in a Rear Window sort of way, I suppose. But who cares! New York! The city that never sleeps! Etc! And then off to North Carolina, where I will be at ConCarolinas. Busy week.

On a separate matter entirely, I’ve naturally been watching with interest the various reactions to the book deal. The vast majority of responses have been along the lines of “Dude! Congratulations!” which is, of course, immensely appreciated. Thank you. It’s been a surreal few days. Good, but surreal.

Beyond that, there is of course a lot of chatter about the financial particulars of the deal, because when you throw words like “millions” about, people are naturally going to pick things apart. And interestingly enough, there’s been some criticism of the deal, which comes substantially in two flavors:

1. When you divide the $3.4 million across ten years and thirteen books, it apparently doesn’t seem like a lot to some folks — “just” $340,000 a year or $261,000 per book, and that’s before agent fees and taxes and tithes to the SJW cabal, etc.;

2. A major author should be making more, which means (depending on your feelings toward me, I suppose) either I should be making more, or I’m not a major author. Also, that I could make more if I would just [insert the thing you think I should do], instead of what I am doing.

So, some thoughts.

First, a lot of the conversation I see about the deal is predicated on the idea that $3.4M/$340K per year/$261k per book is the total sum of money regarding the earning potential of the books. It’s more accurate to say that it’s the floor — in other words, the guaranteed minimum sum I will get. Some of what else is possible:

a) Royalties, if/when the books earn out their advance;
b) Audio rights, which will be a separate deal;
c) Foreign language rights, also separate deals;
d) Film/TV rights, again separate deals (also, fairly rare, so don’t count on these);
e) Other various subrights.

As an example, take Old Man’s War, which I sold to Tor for an advance of $6,500. By the thinking above, $6,500 would have been the sum total I would have been paid for it. In fact, the sum total I’ve made from the novel — so far — is literally orders of magnitude higher. That comes from royalties, the movie/TV deals, and the foreign sales (OMW is now in something like two dozen languages).

To be clear, one cannot assume that any of these additional revenue streams will happen (the ancillary rights are more likely to happen if you have a good agent, which I do. But even then it’s still not always a sure thing). But if and when they do happen, they are added to the base sum. So in the case of this deal (and indeed, most book deals you might hear about), the numbers announced are the starting point, not the end point.

Bear in mind also that this deal is added to everything else that I have going on, revenue-wise, which includes a decade’s worth of previous novels (all still in print and generating sales and royalties) and other writing. So, again, when you’re looking at the deal, think of it as a starting point. A lot goes on from there.

Second, note that the goal of the deal was not only money. Don’t get me wrong, daddy wants to be paid. But to be blunt, if all I wanted out of the deal was fat stacks of cash, I could have probably gotten more up front on a per book basis (although probably not across thirteen books). At this point I have the sales and presence that would make that possible.

But my goal wasn’t just a lot of money; my goal was a partnership to sell books, lots of them, over time, and to support several ancillary income streams, some of which are noted above. I know my career pretty well, and I know the dynamics of how my books sell, and to whom — and I know pretty well what I’ll need to do to expand the career from here. It’s a long-term project, and I need a partner committed to working that long-term project with me. Money is good, money is nice, money pays the mortgage. But, per above, my money isn’t made all up front; in fact, most of my money isn’t made up front. This deal is about two partners knowing how to structure a plan that builds for the both of them, leveraging established strengths in each camp, over time.

To be clear, the money involved ain’t exactly chump change. It’s enough to motivate me to be creative and crafty and make books that should sell like the proverbial hotcakes, and it’s enough that if Tor can’t manage to build on my sales base, it’s gonna take a hit. We’re both amply motivated. But we also have the luxury — a kind of unheard of luxury, honestly — to take a long view and to do things that we might not otherwise be able to do without the timeframe we’re working in. That’s the deal I wanted, and that Tor wanted too. That’s the deal we made.

(This is why, incidentally, the comments of “Scalzi should do/should have done [x]” mostly fill me with amusement. You do [x], my friend, and I wish all the success in the world to you as you do it. But if I’m not doing [x], there’s probably a good reason for it, in terms of what I want for my own career. You do you; I’m gonna do me.)

Third, gotta be honest: I think what I’m going to get paid up front for each book is enough, you know? If it turns out we underestimated sales, the good news is that royalties kick in and I’ll get paid, so that’s good. And if we overestimated? Then I’ll still have done just fine. I’m not supporting a $30k-a-month cocaine jones over here. I’m not going to trade in the Scalzi Compound for an estate in Malibu. And I look at super-sweet sports cars and go, meh, I like my Mini. I mean, I appreciate people thinking I should get more. Thanks, guys. But seriously, ten years ago I was getting $6,500 advances for novels, and now I’m going to average 40 times that. For ten years. Guaranteed. I think it’s okay to be happy with that.

So, that a little more nuts-and-bolts about the finances of the deal. Hope it clarifies some things.

About That Deal

I know a lot of you have questions about the book deal I just agreed to, so let me just do that “fake interview” thing I do to answer some of the big ones. Let’s begin, shall we?

Wait, what happened? Sorry, I was really high last night.

Fair enough. Here’s the story in the New York Times, and for those of you who don’t want to click through, here’s the headline:

Holy shit!

Yes, that was my reaction, too.

Dude, that’s like… a lot of money.

It is. Mind you, it’s spread out over a decade and thirteen books. And I only get the money if I actually, you know, write the books. But, yeah.

Is the deal some sort of record?

Don’t know, don’t care. Certainly people in genre (and out of it, obviously) make more per book. And it’s entirely possible that people have deals encompassing more books. In aggregate, yes, it’s unusually big. That said, the deal here isn’t about counting coup on other writers; I don’t care how much anyone else makes and if they make more than me, then good for them. It’s about something else.

What is that something else?

Stability, basically. Tor and I have decided to be long-term significant partners with each other. One of the very good things having a long-term relationship affords is the ability to plan, strategize and build on previous works and strengths. Or to put it another way, we know we’re stuck with each other until 2026 at least. Better find a way to make it work for both of us.

Also, I’m not going to lie: For the next decade I know where my money’s coming from. For a writer, that’s some nifty job security. Especially with a daughter coming up on college. Not having to search for a new book deal every book or two means I can spend more time writing, which I think is the thing we would all like me doing.

Thirteen books is a lot.

It is, but again, it’s over a decade. Between 2005 and 2015, I published seventeen books: eleven novels, five non-fiction books, and an anthology, which I edited and co-wrote (if you include The God Engines and Unlocked, novellas published as standalone books, the number goes up to nineteen). So based on previous history, this is a doable thing.

So, do you have thirteen books in your head?

As it happens, when I went in to talk to Tor about this, I presented the folks there with a proposed release schedule for the next decade, with synopses of every book. So, yes, I do. Will every single book I’ve proposed hit the shelves? Probably not; there’s flexibility for us to read the market and take advantage of what’s going on as it happens. But it’s always nice to have a plan.

What’s the plan, then?

The highlights:

* A sequel to Lock In, the title of which I shall now reveal exclusively here — Yes! I am giving myself an exclusive! — as: Head On;

* A new epic space opera series (two books planned at the moment, let’s see where it goes from there) in an entirely new universe;

* Another book in the Old Man’s War series (this one might be a few years, though, so be patient);

* Several standalones (or least, intended as standalones, but then OMW was intended as a standalone, too);

* Three Young Adult books.

Wait, YA?

Yes! YA! Because I love YA, many of my favorite writers are in that field, and I have ideas that are best suited there. I’m really excited about this part of the deal.

Note well that I have no illusions that I am just going to waltz into the YA field and be successful — it’s a different writing field with different conventions, and one great way to screw up is to think “eh, it’s for kids, how hard can it be?” (Hint: really hard.) But I’m looking forward to the challenge.

So now we know what you make as a writer.

Well, you know what I’ll make from this particular deal, before royalties. There are other revenue streams: Audio isn’t covered in this deal, for example. Neither are foreign language sales, or film/TV. Plus there are royalties from my previous books. And so on. I do all right.

Is it awkward to have people know about your finances?

Not exactly but it has interesting social echoes. I used to talk about how much I made as a writer because I think it’s important that writers do talk about money — silence about money only works to the advantage of those who are paying writers (or not paying them, or paying them insultingly little, as the case may be). But after a certain point I stopped talking about my earnings publicly because Krissy wasn’t comfortable with it, and because after a certain point it stops being useful to other writers and starts looking like bragging. I don’t want to be that asshole.

At this point, there’s no reason to be overly coy about it, so I’ll note that I’ve been making mid-six figures a year for a while now, much (indeed most) from book sales. The deal is a reflection of that track record; please don’t be under the impression I would have gotten the deal if Tor didn’t think it could make that money back and then some. It also means I’m an outlier when it comes to book sales/income and I know it.

I’m comfortable with people having some idea what I make, but outside very specific circumstances (like, uh, this one), you probably won’t see me talk about it other than very generally.

Can I borrow some money?

No.

But dude, $3.4 million!

Yes, but, I don’t get it all up front; that would be irresponsible of Tor. I get some of it up front, but probably not as much as you might think. Most of it I get like any other writer does — when I turn in the novel, and then when the novel gets published. This is a decade-long deal. The money comes in over all that time. I’m not going to be doing a Scrooge McDuck-like dive into a pool of coins, sorry. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a ton of money. Just broken up into manageable chunks over ten years.

So yeah, sorry, random Internet dudes. If you want my money, you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way: Kickstart something I want to back.

Why are you sticking with traditional publishing! Think of how much money you could have made self-publishing!

Yeah, thanks, no. One, for various reasons, I find it doubtful that I would be making more self-publishing. I’m not going to go into those reasons at the moment because it’s a long slog, but, you know. Trust me on this for now. Assume I know my business pretty well after all this time.

Two, look, I like to write, and I don’t mind marketing myself. But there is a whole lot more that goes into producing a book than just showing up with a manuscript and then telling people about it. I don’t want to do any of the rest of that stuff. That’s why publishers exist. That’s what publishers do. As it happens, when it comes to science fiction, Tor is as good as it gets, in every department. They are better at these things I don’t want to do than I am. I am delighted to partner with them and let them handle all that. I am clearly making enough money.

Three, if I want to self-publish something, I can, and have in the past. So, false dichotomy in any event.

You should probably thank people now.

You’re right! I should! At Tor, obviously, Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Tom Doherty, for being willing to work long-term with me on these books. My agent, Ethan Ellenberg, did some amazing work and earned his percentage and then some. At home Krissy and Athena have had to deal with me freaking out rather a bit over the last couple of weeks, and did so without hitting over the head with a shovel.

And also, clearly, I need to thank anyone who has ever bought a book of mine. They added up! You rock.

I have now run out of questions to ask. 

That’s fine. The comment thread is open for other people to ask questions they might have.

A Brief List of Standard Answers For the Amazon/Hachette Thing

Because it will be useful to do this, to refer people to later: Various complaints/comments/questions about the Amazon/Hachette negotiations and my commentary on it, that I’ve seen online, or have been sent to me via e-mail/social media are below, paraphrased, with my responses. Ready? Here we go.

Why do you hate Amazon?

I don’t hate Amazon. I’m in business with Amazon. They publish many of my audiobooks via their Audible subsidiary, and they sell a lot of my electronic and printed books. I’ve also been an Amazon Prime user since the program started and buy tons of stuff from them.

Then you’re a hypocrite for saying terrible things about Amazon!

If by “a hypocrite” you mean “someone publicly noting the company’s increasingly odd public tactics in its negotiations with Hachette,” then yes. Otherwise, no. I’ve been very clear what my position on Amazon is, to wit: It’s a self-interested corporation, doing what self-interested corporations do. This is in itself neither good nor evil. Its particular public actions are open for comment and criticism.

Why do you love Hachette? 

I don’t love Hachette. I’m in business with Hachette through its UK imprint Gollancz; it’s published two of my books in the UK. Gollancz has done well enough for me. I don’t feel anything that could be construed as “loyalty” to Hachette therein, any more than I feel “loyalty” to Amazon for publishing my audiobooks.

But you’re not criticizing Hachette like you’re criticizing Amazon.

Hachette appears (wisely) not to be offering up as many public opportunities for criticism, as regards this particular negotiation with Amazon. If that changes I might comment on their actions, too.

I still think you’re a hypocrite.

That’s fine.

I also think you’re just a tool of big publishing!

As someone who self-published his first two novels online in an era where if people wanted to send you money they had to physically mail it to you, and then later was the president of a writers organization that frequently went toe-to-toe with publishers to defend the rights of writers and to make sure they were fairly compensated for their work, and who has worked with several small and indie publishers over the years, I find your assertion amusing.

Prove me wrong! Say something negative about big publishing!

I’ll say two things: One, its general continued reliance on digital rights management is stupid and insulting to people who buy electronic books; I’m happy Tor and Subterranean Press, who publish the bulk of my North American fiction, don’t use it, and note its lack has done nothing negative regarding my sales. Two, the standard 25% net eBook royalties are too low, everyone knows it, and I suspect in the very near future if large publishers don’t move off of that as a hard line, they’re going to start losing authors — as they should.

I still think you’re a tool of big publishing.

That’s fine.

Why can’t you see that big publishing is doomed?

Probably because I work directly with big publishing on a daily basis and the part of it I work with is full of smart people who are actively figuring out how to make all this stuff work for them. The fact that one my books — The Human Division, which we initially serialized electronically — was formally a research project, from which data was obtained, crunched and studied intensively, suggests to me that the outside-looking-in image of these publishers as cartoon dinosaurs, flailing chaotically, is, in my corner of this world at least, somewhat uninformed.

But [insert Author name here] worked with a big publisher and says they are doomed!

Okay, and? His or her experience may have been different than mine. Bear in mind that authors are not usually perfect reporters — they carry over grudges, loyalties, slights, personal experiences both positive and negative, etc — and that in general, in my experience, and intentionally or otherwise, they tend to universalize their own individual situation.

Are you calling [insert Author name here] a liar?

Only as much as I’m calling myself a liar, since it works that way with me, too. The point to take away here is that maybe you might want to consider the idea that not any one author should be considered the last word on these sorts of things. This is especially true if the author is nursing a grudge, or has an explicit economic interest in a particular publishing model.

But [insert Author name here] sells lots of books!

So do I. Is there a point you have here? (Also, somewhat related, does anyone else see the irony of criticizing certain traditionally published authors — me among them, I will note — as being part of “the 1%” and thus being somewhat clueless to the real world of working authors, while lauding certain self-published authors whose earnings would also put them into the 1%, in terms of author earnings? Seems sketchy logic to me.)

You feel threatened by this new wave of self publishing and that’s why you hate it!

One, it’s not new — please see my notation of having self-published my own novels, the first one 15 years ago now — and two, I don’t particularly feel threatened by it or hate it, no. Why should I?

Because it will doom the way you get published!

You know, at this point I gotta say I’m not exactly concerned that I won’t be able to sell work, regardless of the publishing environment.

New writers are nipping at your heels!

Excellent — I always need new things to read.

Look, here’s the thing: You can construct in your mind a world where there are the tough and scrappy self-published authors on one side of a battle and the posh and pampered traditionally published authors on the other, and pretend to set them against one another, like flabby, middle-aged Pokemon. But I think that’s kind of stupid and I’m not obliged to live in that particular fantasy world. Nor do I believe that the successes of other writers take away from my own. It’s not actually a zero-sum game where only one publishing model (and the authors who use it) will survive and the rest are eaten by weasels, or whatever. The world is large enough to have authors publishing one way, or another, or by some combination of various methods.

And none of that, mind you, has anything to do with Amazon and Hachette negotiating with each other. Trying to conflate the two suggests you’re not actually paying attention.

You’re smug and obnoxious and condescending.

I’m fine with you thinking that.

I will never buy your work!

Oh, well.

This whole conversation is just you using strawmen to make your own points for yourself!

Hush.

I WILL NOT BE SILENCED.

Fine.

Seriously, though, what do you want out of this?

Me? I want Amazon and Hachette to figure out something that allows both of them to be happy with the outcome — or at least happy enough that they can continue to do business with each other — and for Hachette’s authors to have the same access to Amazon as other authors currently have. I would like for both Amazon and Hachette to have economic models that work nicely for authors, so that everyone makes money and everyone is happy. And as I’ve repeatedly said, I would like authors and everyone else to stop thinking this negotiation is about an epic clash of cultures, and see it for what it is: Two companies trying to maneuver for their own economic advantage.

But it is an epic clash of cultures!

Maybe you need to get out more.

I have a complaint not addressed in this entry!

That’s what the comment thread is for.

The Mallet of Loving Correction: Now Out! Muse of Fire: Now Out! Plus: 15 Years!

DSC_0740a

First things first: The Mallet of Loving Correction, my second collection of Whatever essays and my second book release of 2013, is now officially out and ready for your enjoyment. The limited, signed hardcover edition is available via Subterranean Press and major online retailers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Powells), with the ebook edition coming up in the next couple of days (it’s sitting in various approval queues at the moment). This page will include links to the ebook retailers as soon as they clear the queues. I will of course also note it.

Mallet collects up essays between the second half of 2008 and the end of 2012; as noted in the jacket copy, that’s a period of time that “spans two elections, a civil rights revolution, the fall of MySpace and the rise of Twitter and Facebook, and a whole era on the Internet and on the planet Earth.” It’s also when I wrote some of my most well-known pieces, including “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is,” “Omelas State University,” “Who Gets to Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be” and “The Lord of the Tweets,” in which I live tweeted the entire Lord of Rings trilogy. Plus lots of pieces on writing, the online world, kids, pets, and, you know. Life.

It’s a massive collection (488 pages) and the hardcover edition is, if I may so, one of the nicest physical versions of any of my books. Nate Taylor’s cover art is perfect, the end papers and interior design are lovely, and personally speaking I’m always thrilled when things I’ve written for the online medium cross the border and are set down onto paper.

Several hundred copies of the print edition have already been sold through pre-orders, and the hardcover edition is limited to a thousand copies, after which no more will be produced. So if you want the hardcover (and you do, trust me), now is a fine to move on that. Don’t be left out. There’s nothing but regret on that path. Regret, I say!

***

But wait, there’s more! Subterreanean Press is also releasing another work of mine: “Muse of Fire,” a short story (actually, technically a novelette) that was originally released as part of Audible’s Rip-Off! audiobook anthology, in which the writers used the first line of famous works as the basis for their stories. This marks the debut of the story in print form, and it’s available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble for 99 cents.

Here’s the story description:

Ben Patton is a genuis, a mathematician and a man on the verge of a scientific discovery that could change the world—if the math he’s invented for it works. Ben’s secret to his success: A muse, Hestia, who helps him, cares for him and in many ways is the love of his life, as muses so often are for those they inspire.

Hestia is Ben’s secret—but Hestia has secrets of her own. As the two of them race toward the completion of their work, Ben discovers the price of having a muse, and learns that the world can change, in ways he does not expect.

A tale of science and fantasy, from New York Times best-selling author John Scalzi.

This story’s a little different for me; indeed, in many ways it’s unlike any story I’ve written before. So that should be interesting for all y’all.

Also,  all author royalties from this particular release will go to The Children’s Burn Foundation (I may choose a different organizations to assign royalties to in the future, but income from this particular story will always go to charity. Because).

***

Those of you who know anything about book release schedules will note that Friday is an odd day to release a book. But there’s a good reason for it for this particular book: Today is the 15th anniversary of Whatever. On the morning of this day in 1998, I sat down at my computer in my house in Sterling, Virginia and wrote the very first entry. If you’re wondering what that first entry was, here it is; I posted it on the site here for the 10th anniversary, five years ago (duh).

In 1998, my expectations for Whatever were fairly modest; I certainly wouldn’t have imagined that I would be continuing to write this thing fifteen years later. And yet here I am, still writing it and still having it be such a significant part of my writing life. I’ve noted before the ways it’s changed my life, up to and including being the place where I first published Old Man’s War, a fact which set me on the path to where I am now, in terms of my career as a science fiction novelist and as a member of the science fiction community. I have three Hugo Awards: one is for writing on this blog, one is for a book of writing that appeared on this blog, and one is for a novel that I got to write in no small part because I originally put up another novel on this blog. So, yeah: Significant.

What I’m more proud of this site for, however, is how occasionally it is a useful engine for things and causes I care about. It’s helped raise (or get pledged) more than $100,000 for charities and organizations that work for others, and very recently it’s been a place where more than 1,100 members of the science fiction community have taken a stand for our conventions being safe places for everyone who goes to them. It’s also a place where over the last several years I’ve been able to help promote hundreds of other writers and their works with The Big Idea, to help them find new readers and audiences.

All of these things are very cool. They also make me aware that a) Whatever has a reach I never imagined it would have, b) that it also comes with some responsibilities I was not aware I would have and that I suspect (more often than you might imagine) that I am an imperfect vessel for. It would be dumb for me to read too much into it — this is still a site where I do tons of just plain goofy stuff, because I can and because I like it — but at the same time it would be dumb of me to ignore it. This site has an effect. It creates an impact. I have to be mindful of it and still be aware of its limitations and pitfalls — and be aware of my own limitations and ego-driven stupidities. Which, again, is not something I even remotely had in mind fifteen years ago.

One thing I do notice over the course of fifteen years is that Whatever seems to have seasons — there are times when I write a lot about one topic, then that topic goes away; there are other times I write in huge volumes here while other times I’ll post largely to let people know I’m not dead. 2012 was a “volume” season for me; 2013, partly because of travel and partly for other factors, has been a (relatively) calmer year. And yet 2013 definitely has a theme so far: Lots of stuff about inequalities in the groups and communities I’m in, which the corresponding feedback (positive and negative) all over the board. It’s been interesting, to say the least.

One of the very nice things about Whatever is the fact that it doesn’t have a set topic — I can let these “seasons” happen as they will, and when they’re done, move on to whatever else is worth talking about. In this way, Whatever really is a map of what’s in my head, over the course of a decade and a half. Again, not something I would have imagined when I first sat down to write it in 1998.

Where does Whatever go from here? Well, I don’t know. I suppose we’ll find out when we get there. I plan to keep writing it, because I want to find out, and because (as I note in the intro to Mallet) in many ways, and unexpectedly, Whatever has become my life’s work. I’m not inclined to abandon it, although I reserve the right to change my mind about that.

But then, that’s baked into the premise of the site — it exists as long as I want it to. When I don’t want it to, it won’t. At the moment, fifteen years on, I can’t imagine not wanting it to. And so, it continues.

To everyone who reads it: Thank you. Let’s keep going, shall we.

Amazon’s Kindle Worlds: Instant Thoughts

The Twitters are abuzz today about Amazon’s new “Kindle Worlds” program, in which people are allowed to write and then sell through Amazon their fan fiction for certain properties owned by Alloy Entertainment, including Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars, with more licenses expected soon. I’ve had a quick look at the program on Amazon’s site, and I have a couple of immediate thoughts on it. Be aware that these thoughts are very preliminary, i.e., I reserve the right to have possibly contradictory thoughts about the program later, when I think (and read) about it more. Also note that these are my personal thoughts and do not reflect the positions or policies of SFWA, of which I am (still but not for much longer) president.

1. The main knock on fan fiction from the rights-holders point of view — i.e., people are using their characters and situations in ways that probably violate copyright — is apparently not at all a problem here, since Alloy Entertainment is on board for allowing people to write what they want (within specific guidelines — more on that in a bit). Since that’s the case, there’s probably a technical argument here about whether this is precisely “fan fiction” or if it’s actually media tie-in writing done with intentionally low bars to participation (the true answer, I suspect, is that it’s both). Either way, if Alloy Entertainment’s on board, everything’s on the level, so why not.

2. So, on one hand it offers people who write fan fiction a chance to get paid for their writing in a way that doesn’t make the rightsholders angry, which is nice for the fan ficcers. On the other hand, as a writer, there are a number of things about the deal Amazon/Alloy are offering that raise red flags for me. Number one among these is this bit:

“We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.”

i.e., that really cool creative idea you put in your story, or that awesome new character you made? If Alloy Entertainment likes it, they can take it and use it for their own purposes without paying you — which is to say they make money off your idea, lots of money, even, and all you get is the knowledge they liked your idea.

Essentially, this means that all the work in the Kindle Worlds arena is a work for hire that Alloy (and whomever else signs on) can mine with impunity. This is a very good deal for Alloy, et al — they’re getting story ideas! Free! — and less of a good deal for the actual writers themselves. I mean, the official media tie-in writers and script writers are doing work for hire, too, but they get advances and\or at least WGA minimum scale for their work.

Another red flag:

“Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.”

Which is to say, once Amazon has it, they have the right to do anything they want with it, including possibly using it in anthologies or selling it other languages, etc, without paying the author anything else for it, ever. Again, an excellent deal for Amazon; a less than excellent deal for the actual writer.

Note that on its page Amazon makes a show of saying that the writer owns the copyright on the original things that are copyrightable, but inasmuch as Amazon also acquires all rights for the length of the copyright and Alloy is given the right to exploit the new elements without further compensation, this show about you keeping your copyright appears to be just that: show.

The argument here could be, well, you know, people who were writing fan fiction weren’t getting paid or had rights to these characters and worlds anyway, so only getting paid for their work once is still better than what they would have gotten before. And that’s not an entirely bad argument on one level. But on another level, there’s a difference between writing fan fiction because you love the world and the characters on a personal level, and Amazon and Alloy actively exploiting that love for their corporate gain and throwing you a few coins for your trouble. So this should be an interesting argument for people to have in the real world.

3. If this sort of thing takes off, I’m interested to see what effect it will have on the media tie-in market, and on the professional writers who work in it. Obviously it has the potential to greatly shift how things are done. If you are a corporate rights holder, for example, would you bother with seeking out pro writers any more, and paying them advances and royalties and all of that business? Or would you just open up the gates to paid fan fiction, which you don’t have to pay anything for and yet still have total control over the commercial exploitation thereof? Again, this is interesting stuff to consider, and if I were a pro writer who primarily worked in media tie-in markets, I would have some real concerns.

4. This won’t spell the end of unauthorized fan fic, and I’m very sure of that. For one thing, the Kindle Worlds program says it won’t accept “pornography” which means all that slash out there will still be on the outside of the program (Edit: to note not all slash is porn, although I wonder if Amazon won’t simply default it as such); likewise crossover fan fic, so those “Vampire Diaries meet Dr Who” stories will be left out in the cold. And besides that, there will be people who a) have no interest in making money and/or b) don’t write well enough to be accepted into the Kindle Worlds program (there does seem that there will be some attempt at quality control, or at least, someone has to go through the stuff to make sure there’s nothing that’s contractually forbidden). So if this was an attempt to squash fan fic through other means, it’s doomed to failure. But I don’t suspect that’s the point.

5. Speaking as a writer, I wouldn’t do something like this; I don’t generally like writing in other people’s worlds in any event (and when I do, I go public domain — see Fuzzy Nation) and I don’t like the terms that are on offer here. And of course I have my own things to write. Likewise, I would caution anyone looking at this to be aware that overall this is not anywhere close to what I would call a good deal. Finally, on a philosophical level, I suspect this is yet another attempt in a series of long-term attempts to fundamentally change the landscape for purchasing and controlling the work of writers in such a manner that ultimately limits how writers are compensated for their work, which ultimately is not to the benefit of the writer. This will have far-reaching consequences that none of us really understand yet.

The thing that can be said for it is that it’s a better deal than you would otherwise get for writing fan fiction, i.e., no deal at all and possibly having to deal with a cranky rightsholder angry that you kids are playing in their yard. Is that enough for you? That’s on you to decide.

New Writers, eBook Publishers, and the Power to Negotiate

In writing the pieces about Random House and its egregious, non-advance paying eBook imprints and how no writer ever should submit to them, or indeed work with any publisher that does not offer an advance, there are some folks in the comments and elsewhere on the Internet who are saying things along the lines of the following (paraphrased to condense points into a single statement):

That’s easy for Scalzi to say because he has power now, but us newer authors have no power to negotiate. And the market is changing and there are lots of good eBook publishers who just happen not to pay an advance.

One word for all of the above: Bullshit.

First, for those you who think the “Hey, let’s not pay you an advance but instead you can share in the backend!” model of publishing was first thought up in relation to electronic publishing:

AH HA HA HA HA HAH HA HA HA HA.

No.

This shit’s been around, my friends. It’s been around for decades, and writers groups and others who make it their business to warn aspiring authors about scams and pitfalls have been raising flags about it all that time. The idea that that because it’s now attached to electronic publishing, that somehow makes it different (and, more to the point, better) is highly specious, to say the least.

Sprinkling the Internet on a bad business model does not magically make it a good business model. It merely means that the people who are pursuing a bad business model are hoping you are credulous enough to believe that being electronic is space-age zoomy and awesome and there is no possible way this brilliant business plan could ever fail. Or even worse, that they believe that being electronic means all these things, which means they are credulous. Which is not a very good thing to have as the basis of one’s business model.

So why are so many eBook-only publishers attempting to run with the “no advances” business model? If I had to guess, I would say because many of these then-erstwhile publishers assumed that publishing electronically had a low financial threshold of entry (not true, if you’re serious about it) and they fancied being publishers, so they started their businesses undercapitalized, and are now currently in the process of passing the consequences of that undercapitalization unto the authors they would like to work with. Alternately, as appears to be the case with Random House, they’re looking for a way to pass as much of the initial cost of publishing onto the author as possible, and one of the best ways to bring down those initial costs is to avoid paying the author anything up front. Both of these are bad business models, although one is more maliciously so, and both are to be avoided. Just because someone has stupidly or maliciously planned their business, doesn’t mean you’re obliged to sign a contract with them.

But, these publishers and their defenders may say (and have said), the publisher takes all the risk in producing a book! Yeah? Hey, to publishers and their defenders who say that: Fuck you. Fuck you for asserting that the author has shouldered no risk, when she’s invested the time, opportunity cost and material outlay required to create a manuscript. Fuck you for asserting the the author sees no risk to her own career from the choices that the publisher imposes on the publishing process that the author has no control of: everything from cover art (which, if horrible and/or out of step with the market, can sink a book) to the size and distribution of the initial print run, to the marketing plan the publisher has for retail.

Fuck you for lightly passing over the risk that the author has if the book fails — that any additional books in the contract might be cancelled or put out with the bare minimum of contractual obligation, that the author might not be able to sell another book to the publisher or other publishers because of a track record of poor sales — and for lightly passing over the fact the a publisher mitigates its own risk of the failure of a single book by having an entire portfolio of releases. If one single book fails but the publisher’s line holds up generally, then the risk the publisher encounters to its livelihood is minimal. The risk to the author, on the other hand, is substantially greater. Yes, to all of that, “fuck you,” is probably the politest thing to say in response.

Tell me again how all the risk lies with the publisher in producing a book. I want to hear it again. And I expect you can imagine what I would say to that assertion, again.

Any publisher who would assert that the risk of publishing is all on them is one who simply does not understand publishing. I sure as hell wouldn’t work with them. Especially one that has the gall to not pay advances and shift production costs to the author by arguing that doing so offers a more equitable apportionment of risk. It’s certainly an advantageous apportionment of risk — to the publisher. But “advantageous” in this case is almost certainly not the same as “equitable.”

On the subject of risk and investment — when a writer gets an advance from a publisher, it’s the publisher signaling two things: One, it acknowledges the risk and investment the writer and only the writer has made to that point in creating a manuscript that the publisher sees as having commercial potential. Two, it’s signalling how much risk and investment that the publisher is willing to make in the property.

Both of these are important. As regards the first, why work with people who don’t acknowledge that the work you’ve done has value, even as they are trying to license the product of that work? Two, why work with people who have signaled they have no intention of making a material investment in the work? And if they wish to suggest that they will make that material investment — by way of editing, marketing, production, etc — again we come to the question of why everyone else is getting paid ahead of the writer.

(And as for “but, but — profit sharing!” my answer is, groovy: The advance is advanced against the expected profits (as opposed to against royalties, which is a separate thing entirely). Rule of thumb: If anyone gets paid, the writer gets paid. First. Because, once again: What the writer provides is why everyone else gets paid — and the writer has already done the work.)

Now, let’s talk about me for a minute. Yes, I am in a position where I have some influence on how my contracts are negotiated, what’s in them and what’s not, up to and including how much of an advance I get. But here’s the thing: Back when I was selling my very first novel? I was also in a position to have influence on how my contracts were negotiated, what was in them, up and including the advance.

Why? Because I had something the publisher wanted. Namely, the novel in question.

People: Unless the publisher you’re talking to is a complete scam operation, devoted only to sucking money from you for “publishing services,” then the reason that they are interested in your novel is because someone at the publisher looked at it and said, hey, this is good. I can make money off of this. Which means — surprise! Your work has value to the publisher. Which means you have leverage with the publisher.

Publishers are not grand mystical portals into a realm of fantastic living and eternal happiness. They are companies looking to make a profit so they can continue existing, staffed by people who are looking for manuscripts that will make their companies a profit, so the companies can continue existing and they don’t have to work at Wal-Mart, stocking shelves. I’ve met my publisher and editor. They are lovely people and I like them a lot, and they’ve done pretty well for me. But then, I’ve done pretty well for them, too, and at the end of the day none of us is sporting the majestical look of destiny. We’re just people, doing our respective jobs.

So when a publisher comes to you and says “We like your book, can we buy it?” do not treat them like they are magnanimously offering you a lifetime boon, which if you refuse will never pass your way again. Treat them like what they are: A company who wants to do business with you regarding one specific project. Their job is to try to get that project on the best terms that they can. Your job is to sell it on terms that are most advantageous to you.

You can do that even when you’re starting out. I did. So have many other debut authors. Because they all had something the publisher wanted: The work.

But you will not be able to do that if you go into the negotiation assuming you have no leverage. Forget the publisher screwing you — you have screwed yourself. And if that’s the case you can’t blame the publisher for then taking you for every single thing they can. Because, remember, that’s their job. They don’t even need to be evil to do it; they just have to be willing to take every advantage you let them have. That’s business. This is a business negotiation. They’re going to assume you know what you’re getting into. That’s why they have contracts: So it’s all down in black and white and you can’t say you didn’t know.

So, yeah. Damn right I negotiated terms from contract number one. And the fact I did put me in much better stead for the next contract, and the next one and all the ones after that. I had that power then — the same as any new or first time author.

What have we learned today?

1. Not offering advances is not a great new business model, it’s a crappy old one;

2. Writers are not responsible for propping up crappy business models;

3. Don’t believe anyone who tells you publishers carry all the risk of publication;

4. Even new writers have leverage with publishers;

5. If you don’t respect yourself or your work, no one else will either.

Now go out there and sell to a publisher who deserves your work, and make them show just how much they deserve it.

Note to SF/F Writers: Random House’s Hydra Imprint Has Appallingly Bad Contract Terms

Random House recently started Hydra, an electronic-only imprint for science fiction stories and short novels. But, as noted by Writer Beware here, the terms in a Hydra deal sheet shown to them are pretty damn awful:

* No advance.

* The author is charged “set-up costs” for editing, artwork, sale, marketing, publicity — i.e., all the costs a publisher is has been expected to bear. The “good news” is that the author is not charged up front for these; they’re taken out of the backend. If the book is ever published in paper, costs are deducted for those, too.

* The contract asks for primary and subsidiary rights for the term of copyright.

Writer Beware notes, appropriately, that this information comes from only one deal sheet it’s seen from Hydra. But, you know what: One attempt at this sort of appalling, rapacious behavior on the part of Random House is bad enough.

Dear writers: This is a horrendously bad deal and if you are ever offered something like it, you should run away as fast as your legs or other conveyances will carry you.

Why?

1. NO ADVANCE. Dear Random House: Are you fucking kidding me? Random House had 1.7 billion euros in revenue in 2011 (Bertelsmann, the parent company, had fifteen billion euro in revenue in the same year, with over six hundred million euro in net income) and you somehow can’t afford advances all of a sudden? Color me skeptical.

Advances are typically all authors make from a book. It’s a competitive market and most books sell relatively small numbers. One reason to go with a publisher at all — especially these days — is because you get a concrete, definable amount of money fronted to you at the start; which is to say, you know you’ll get paid at least that much. The publisher is not doing you a favor by fronting you an advance; the publisher is making a hard-headed determination of how much money it will owe you (under terms of contract) and giving you that much up front so they don’t have to bother with royalties on the back end.

It’s also — importantly — an amount of money the publisher has invested in a book, which it will not get back if the book fails. It’s the publisher’s skin in the game, as it were. If there’s no advance, there’s no skin in the game for the publisher, and no real motivation for the publisher to bust its ass on behalf of the book.

Neither Random House nor Bertelsmann is some hard-scrabble, scrappy company trying to make it in this big world; please look again at their revenues and net income. However, even if they were hard-scrabble, scrappy companies it would still be wrong not to offer advances to authors.

Now, according to Writer Beware, Hydra is offering to split the net it makes from the books 50/50, which on the surface at least is a better cut than what authors currently get from traditional publishers (which is typically 25% of net). No doubt this 50/50 net split is being dangled as a fair trade for an advance. But remember that by avoiding paying any advance at all Random House has hugely mitigated its risk — which means that it has positioned itself to start making a profit from the writer’s work from day one without any substantial financial investment on its part.

Theoretically the author would be making a profit from day one, too, but wait:

2. The author is being charged costs previously borne by the publisher. That “one time” fee for editing/design plus a continual “sales, marketing and publicity fee” of 10% of the net revenue, plus additional continual printing and warehousing fees if the book ever goes to print.

What this means is that the author starts off his or her publishing journey in the hole to the publisher for an unspecified “one time” fee that publishers previously covered as part of their ordinary expenses, and see their income permanently diminished by other charges previously assumed by the publisher; the deal sheet in question states that the “50/50 split” is after these charges are accounted for, i.e., Random House has just made sure that the real world value of that “50/50 split” is substantially closer to the 25% of net that its traditionally-published authors are offered.

And how much will that “one time” fee for editing and design be? I don’t know, but I know that good editing, cover art, page and book design aren’t cheap; Donato Giancola, the artist who did the painting for the hardcover of Old Man’s War, got paid nearly as much for his work as I got paid to write the book. It’s not in the least unreasonable to assume that “startup costs” for a book can cost thousands of dollars. So that’s thousands of dollars that are going to be applied against the income of the writer before he or she makes dollar one — but not before Random House starts making money. Remember again that Random House is shunting some (and, well, possibly all) of its editorial costs over to the writer’s ledger; it’s once again actively minimizing its own costs — and investment — by maximizing the costs to the writer.

All of which is to say that it wouldn’t surprise me if Random House’s charges and fees just somehow manage to zero out an author’s earnings for a year or two and possibly even longer. It should be noted that most books sell nearly all they are going to sell within the first couple of years; after that they get lost in the pile of newer releases, including from the author. Hydra’s deal model has the marvelous potential of cutting out the economic heart of the book for the writer — but not, it should be noted, for the publisher, who will do just fine because its costs have been mitigated up front.

Musicians out there reading this may be smiling ruefully at this point, because they will recognize this sort of accounting; it’s how the music labels worked their accounting for years, carefully calibrating their fees and costs to make sure their musicians made as close to zero as possible while the labels kept all the money. But at least the musical labels paid their musicians an advance; Random House’s innovation here is that they aren’t even doing that.

Note to Random House: You’re aware what the typical consumer thinks of music labels at this point, right? You’re aware that one of the reasons that people don’t feel bad about pirating music is because they believe strongly that the music labels screwed the musicians anyway, so why bother? So, if your contracts are even less fair to authors than musical label contracts are to musicians, what are they going to think about you? And how does it look for the industry as a whole? You’re not making it easier for anyone.

All of this is terrible, but if you’re the writer and you sign on to this, there’s not much you can do about it because:

3. The contract is for the length of copyright. Which means you will never get the property back to sell it to someone who will offer better terms, and apparently even subsidiary rights are covered in the deal. To use the music label metaphor once more, this is like the music label owning the master tapes of an album. And again one is left to wonder what in the last twenty years of the economic history of the music industry suggested to Random House that this would be a fine model for them to follow.

Again: This is on the basis of one Hydra deal sheet that Writer Beware has seen. But again: Even one deal sheet of such appalling excrescence is one too many.  If this is the economic model Random House genuinely plans to follow for the future of electronic publishing, it deserves to die. It’s horrible for authors, which is bad enough, but it’s also horribly bad for the industry, both in terms of optics (do consumers really need another reason to hate large publishing companies?) and in chaining publishers to a cycle of diminishing returns.

It’s also bad because, frankly, it’s delusional. Dear Random House: It’s clear you’re targeting new, unagented authors here because no agent who is not manifestly incompetent would allow his or her client to sign such a terrible contract. But here’s the thing: New authors don’t actually need you to sell their work online. They can do it themselves — and are, and some of them are doing quite well at it. You are working under the assumption that these newer authors are so eager to be with a “real” publisher that they will suddenly forget that publishers are no longer a bottleneck to being published, or that you are offering nothing they can’t do themselves (or have done for them) and offering them nothing for the service — indeed your business model appears predicated on sucking as much as possible from them in fees and charges while offering as little as possible in way of compensation. Hydra is a vanity publisher, in sum.

Do you genuinely believe these new authors are that stupid? And if so, do you genuinely want an entire imprint of your publishing empire populated by such people?

Let’s talk about me for a moment. Anyone who knows me knows I feel pretty positively about the traditional publishing model; I work with Tor (part of Macmillan, one of publishing’s “Big Six”) because I get excellent service from it, including brilliant editing, fantastic art and design and top-flight marketing and publicity. Tor and its people earn every penny they make from my books, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m happy to partner with them and hope to do so far into the future; I am happy to defend Tor whenever someone blithely and stupidly suggests that my publisher is “just a middleman” sucking money from me. They aren’t and they don’t.

But make no mistake that my admiration for Tor — or any of my publishers, large or small — is grounded in the fact that ours is an equitable relationship. The minute the relationship stops being equitable is the moment when the relationship is done. Because the fact of the matter is that, if it came to it, I could put out my own work; pay for the editing and art and everything else and then put all the profit into my pocket. Because this is the world we live in now. I don’t usually want to, for all sorts of reasons. But I could. And at this point, so can anyone.

And this is ultimately what I would say to any author who is considering Hydra or any publisher (large or small) who would offer a deal as fundamentally awful as what Hydra seems to be offering: Why partner with someone who doesn’t see you as a partner? The Hydra deal sheet is pretty clear about this — it’s not a contract of partners, it’s a contract a parasite offers to a host. But the fact is that if Hydra likes your stuff enough to want it, then you can probably find a real publisher, who offers a real partnership, including the payment of advances and the assumption of risk. Or you can publish it yourself, pay your costs up front (hey, they’re business expenses!) and keep everything you make.

In short: You can do better than Hydra. So do better.

P.S.: As a note to any publishing house checking to see if authors will kick if you try to slide this shit past us and say it’s “the new reality of publishing” — this is us kicking. We will kick you plenty hard. Yes we will.

Update, 8:38pm: I’ve seen a contract from Alibi, Hydra’s sister imprint. It’s terrible. See my review here.

The eBook Path to Riches: Possibly Steeper Than Assumed

A comment in my “The State of a Genre Title” post reads:

Wow, if you would’ve published that book yourself, you would’ve made over $300K from the ebook alone.

Actually, probably I would not have. And here’s why.

The poster of the comment is, I assume, taking his number from the idea that I would earn a 70% royalty from my self-published eBook version of Redshirts. In the timeframe noted in the entry, I sold 35,667 eBook versions at $11.99. And quick math shows that 70% of that gross is $299,353. Which is just under rather than just over $300k, but close enough. But:

1. Assuming that one is distributing through Amazon (the largest retailer of eBooks worldwide at the moment), one gets the 70% royalty rate from the company only if one agrees to certain things, like an exclusivity window for Amazon and an agreement to price the eBook within in specific price band, the top price of which is $9.99 (edit: see comment here, correcting me). So already the maximum gross for that number of sales drops, from $299k to just under $250,000. Still not bad, but also not $300,000. At the 70% royalty, Amazon also charges a download fee against royalties, to the tune of 15 cents per megabyte download. Redshirts is 449kb (just under half a MB), so that’s $2,407 shaved right off the top. That’s 1% of my gross, but, hey, $2,400 pays a lot of bills. There are other details that can also drive down gross here, but you get the idea.

2. If I don’t agree to Amazon’s demands for the 70% royalty tier, then I drop to the 35% royalty tier. The good news here is that (on Amazon, anyway) I can now price the book above $9.99, so let’s bring that back sale price back up to $11.99. At that rate, a 35% royalty nets me $149,676. Again, totally not chicken feed, and well done me. But it’s also less than half the $300,000 I was told I would get, and that’s not trivial in the slightest.

3. All of this assumes, of course, that I could, on my own, shift 35,667 eBooks in the timeframe discussed. I would like to think I could, because we’d all like to think that. But it’s worth noting that some non-trivial fraction of those sales happened in part because of large chunk of marketing and advertising provided me by my publishers (Tor and Audible for the audiobook), and that some chunk of those sales happened because of the incidental benefits accrued by being traditionally published. Hitting the New York Times hardcover bestseller list (which happened without the eBook sales at all, by definition) led to profiles and interviews with the Times and NPR and other mainstream outlets. Those wouldn’t have happened with eBook only. I had Redshirts advertised everywhere from Locus to The New Yorker — again, not something I could have accomplished on my own.

Yes, I am a well-known writer with a large footprint online, and that doesn’t hurt. But simply being well-known does not automatically equate to massive book sales. It’s pretty obvious I think well of myself, but ego aside I am skeptical that I would have sold 35k worth of books at an $11.99 price point on my own.

4. This leads to the obvious question of whether I would sell more if I chose to sell at a lower price point; say, oh, $4.99. The answer here is of course it’s possible, although it’s not guaranteed. But to reach the vaunted $300k gross at that price point, I would need to sell roughly 87,500 copies, if I was using the 70% royalty, and obviously about twice that for the 35% royalty. That’s a lot of books to sell with only myself for marketing muscle. And obviously, the lower I price the book, the less I gross per sale and the more I have to sell to get to the goal. And, again, clearly, if I didn’t sell a larger number of books, my takehome would be commensurately lower.

5. Yes, but, what about [insert favorite eBook success story here], who made tons of money without all that, and so on, etc? This is where I remind people of the fact that exceptional cases are not a great place to argue from. I know that directly since I’ve been lucky enough to be an exceptional case, and I cringe every time someone points to me and says, more or less, “There’s my argument.” Exceptional cases are, by definition, rare and not representative.

6. And beyond all of that, if I published on my own I would have to do all the work aside from writing, or (because I’m lazy and in some areas not competent) hire people to do it for me, so what I publish looks professional and not like a crap. That’s money I’d need to put out up front on the hope of getting those hundreds of thousands of dollars in ebook sales. I’m okay with someone paying me to do all the work.

So could I have made $300,000 if I had self-published Redshirts as an eBook? Well, it’s possible I could have. But it seems to me very unlikely. And regardless if I had made that money, it would have required much more time and effort from me than I would have wanted to exchange. And at the end of the day, the way I did publish is going to do just fine for me. So I am comfortable with the publishing choices I made, and am very happy and genuinely grateful I have the opportunity to make those choices at all.

Why You Can’t Get My Book in [Insert Country Here]

Whenever I announce a book, I get grousing from people who can’t legally buy or access that book, mostly because it’s not available in whatever country they are in. To explain the details of this, and to give myself a document to which I may refer people when it comes up again, allow me to explain now how this all works.

I live in [insert country here]. Why won’t your publisher let me buy the book here?

Probably because legally, “my publisher” can’t.

First, be aware that “my publisher,” changes from country to country, and that even in the United States I have more than one publisher. In the United States, books of mine still in print are published by Tor, by Subterranean Press, by Rough Guides (a division of Penguin), and by Portable Press. Worldwide, I have over twenty publishers, each focused on one territory and/or language.

When most people think of “my publisher,” they’re thinking of Tor. Well, generally speaking, when Tor buys a book from me, what it’s buying is a license to publish the book, in English, in the US and Canada. I usually retain the rights to sell the book in the rest of the world, including in English in the UK and Commonwealth countries (excluding Canada). Tor doesn’t typically have the right to sell the book, in any form, anywhere else on the planet. So they quite naturally don’t. There are ways to get around this, even without pirating the book, but Tor itself quite naturally sticks to its contract to avoid a) voiding the contract, b) pissing me off.

(Note: See the update below, where my Tor editor makes a correction to the above struck-through assertion.)

Why don’t you let your publisher sell the book in [insert country here]?

Because I want to generate as much money as possible from my writing, since this is how I make my living. Typically speaking I make more money by piecing out the rights to various publishers than I would make letting one publisher sell the books in every territory, both because that second publisher will offer me advance money (which usually is a good deal for the writer) and because that second publisher is better tuned into its own market and will make a better case for the book with the local readership.

It’s not to say I won’t sell further rights to the same publisher if I think it there’s good reason to do so, but at the very least it makes sense to try to sell local rights first.

Your publisher has the right to sell the book in [insert country here]. Why won’t it?

You’d have to ask them. If I had to guess I would expect it’s that often selling a work in a new country — and/or through a distribution arm specific to that country — is more work on the back end than people expect and the publisher has to ask whether it will be worth the time/effort/money to do so. Yes, that sucks. Sorry about that.

You could just put up an electronic version on your site and then I could buy it, even though I live in [insert country here].

Actually, I probably can’t; most of the publishers I work with now take electronic publishing rights in their territories/languages as a matter of course. Even if I could, that would require me to make my own e-versions of the books, which I’m not particularly good at nor have much interest in investing my time/energy. I wouldn’t want to put out an e-version if it’s not at least as good and usable as a professionally published version.

By not making your book available in [insert country here] you are driving to me to possibly illegal measures that will profit you nothing!

Well, no. You might be using it as an excuse, but that’s an entirely different thing. As noted there are ways to work around these things in ways that do not deprive me of royalties. I would prefer you do that, obviously.

That said, if the vagaries of the publishing industry conspire to convince you to do something drastic, here’s what to do: When it becomes possible for you to buy the book in [insert country here], please do so, and then we’re square. If you can’t do that for some unfathomable reason, then take the amount that it would have cost you to buy the book and donate it to a local literacy charity, or to your local library. That would be fine by me.

None of this is to say that I don’t sympathize with your plight, my dear friend in [insert country here] — there are books and other such things I want, not in the US, and I get frustrated when I can’t get them in an easy and convenient manner. I feel your pain. Until we are all one big happy planet together, this is the way these things work.

Update, 6/8/11: Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor at Tor, writes in to tell me I’m wrong about Tor not being able to sell the book elsewhere in the world aside from the US/Canada:

Leaving aside the fact that our standard North American contract also gives us those all-important Philippines rights (an artifact of long-ago imperial possession), there’s also the phrase “and the same rights, but non-exclusively, in the Open Market, i.e., the rest of the world, except for the territories listed on the Schedule of Excluded Territory attached as Exhibuit A.” What this means is that we can sell our English-language edition all over the world except in a bunch of countries that were once part of the British Empire; for instance, we can sell our English-language edition all over Europe, in Japan, in almost all of  North and South America, etc. The only catch, for us, is that we don’t have an exclusive license to sell in those territories; if you sell the same book to a London-based publisher, chances are that their deal will give them the same non-exclusive access to those countries.

Since English is the third most widely-spoken language in the world, it will not surprise you to hear that books in English are sold everywhere. Some English-language books sell very well in parts of the world that are neither the US-and-Canada nor the former British Empire. In the Netherlands, for instance, where English is spoken by practically everyone except for very young children and older rural people, many retail bookstores routinely interfile English-language books from both the UK and the US in amidst books published in Dutch. I have seen our editions of your books for sale in bookstores in Amsterdam and Utrecht–and, for that matter, in Japan’s Narita Airport and in the central train station in Rome. I would hate for anyone who read your post to think that we were breaking the law or disrespecting our contract with you when they come upon such instances of your books’ availability.

There you go, then.

New Fuzzy Review + Note to UK Fans

First things first: A very nice review of Fuzzy Nation over at Wired’s GeekDad column, in which reviewer John Booth also reads Piper’s Little Fuzzy, the book mine is rebooting. The verdict:

[Scalzi’s] style and skill make it a highly entertaining read. It succeeds both as a new novel from a talented writer and as a tribute and gateway to Piper’s work.

It’s nice that it’s working as intended.

Second, for those folks in the UK who were wondering when/if Fuzzy Nation is getting a release over there, here is a link to the Amazon.co.uk page for the book (and here it is for Waterstones). Both of those list the 6th of June as the release date, which is not too far behind the US release, so that’s good. We’re also working to make sure eBook versions are available as well.

That said, UK folks: For reasons too appallingly tedious to go into detail about here, Fuzzy Nation is being distributed in the UK through my US publisher rather than my UK publisher, and the upshot of that is that there’s likely to be a relatively fewer freestanding copies of the book in stores when it comes out — there will be some, but probably not huge stacks of them. So the very best way to make sure you can get a copy for your very own is to pre-order, either through Amazon UK/Waterstones, or by going to your local bookstore and asking them to order a copy for you.

And you say: Well, why don’t I just order the US edition of the book rather than wait a month for the UK edition? I have two reasons to ask you to order the UK edition. One, because when you order the UK edition at your local bookstore, you’re supporting local businesses (or at the very least, UK businesses), and I do encourage that. Two, because while royalties on sales of the US edition go to pay down my advance until it earns out, the royalties on sales of the UK edition go directly to me. Contracts are fun! So please patronize your local bookstores and the UK edition of Fuzzy Nation. Thank you.

Revenue Streams 2010

In my continuing quest to demystify things related to the business of writing, at least inasmuch as they relate to me, today I am going to talk revenue streams. As many of you know, I am a huge proponent of writers having multiple revenue streams, so that when one of them cuts out on you — and it will cut out on you — you still have money coming in while you look for something to replace the income you’ve lost. I am also a huge proponent of recognizing that even within an individual stream of income, there can and will be substantial variation from year to year.

To make these points, I’m going to lay out to you my own revenue streams for 2010, and point out what I currently expect from each of these in the coming year. Note that for this exercise I will be discussing only my income from writing and writing-related activities, not my overall household income. I am not noting the specific dollar amount of my income last year (because I’ve been told not to by the Scalzi Family CFO, i.e., my wife), but you may assume that when Congress and the President chose to extend the Bush era tax cuts on the top income earners in the US for the next two years, one of the people who didn’t see his top marginal federal tax rate go up was me.

So, to begin. Here is a handy dandy pie chart of where my income came from in 2010:

My income profile has changed significantly over the years; it’s only been in the last couple of years that the majority of my income has come from books. Prior to that the largest chunk of my writing income came from corporate consulting work and writing non-fiction and journalism. The change has happened primarily because a) I now have a body of work that remains in print and generates royalties and b) I now generally get paid more per book.

However, if I am smart what I won’t do is look at this chart and think, well, this is the way it’s going to be from now on. It won’t be, either in the distribution of income or indeed, in the size of pie in a general sense. To explain why, let me discuss the individual slices of this pie.

Books (new, royalties, foreign sales): This category breaks down as roughly 40% new sales, 40% royalty payments on existing books, and 20% foreign, both sales and royalties. 2010 was a very good year for me in this area, but there are reasons not to count on this remaining as large a pie slice in 2011. Why?

1. Tor paid me a nice amount for Fuzzy Nation, which drove the chunk of income here devoted to new sales. However, the next novel I have with Tor is being slotted in to fulfill an outstanding contract I’ve had with my publisher for some time; it was originally part of a two-book series I never wrote, for reasons I’ve mentioned before. That contract’s price is substantially below what I’m being paid for Fuzzy, and I had already taken receipt of the first installment of that advance several years ago. Basically Tor will be getting my next novel at a discount. I’m fine with this, and I’ll almost certainly make it up on the back end, in terms of royalties. But depending on sales and reserves against returns, those royalties will take between 12 and 24 months to get to me. So for 2011, it’s almost entirely certain that my “new book” income will go down.

2. My royalty payments have been good over the last few years, but Fuzzy Nation is also my first new novel in three years (the last was Zoe’s Tale in 2008) and while that gap was filled with various editions of METAtropolis and Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, there’s been a natural decline in backlist sales over time. Now, the announcement of the movie deal for Old Man’s War has given the backlist a boost, as likely will the release of Fuzzy. But thanks to the way royalties move through the system, I’m unlikely to see that benefit for a year or so. Also given the advance for Fuzzy, depending on sales it might be a while before it earns out its advance. So for 2011, I’m likely to see my royalty income either stay stable or go down a bit.

3. Foreign sales and royalties have been healthy but again the lack of new novels between 2008 and now has had an impact. The good news is that Fuzzy is selling well overseas and that the movie announcement for OMW has spurred interest in markets it’s not already in, so that helps. I expect foreign book income in 2011 to remain about the same overall.

So, overall, for 2011, my book income will probably be down from 2010. Where it goes from there depends on a number of factors, including, of course, whether I continue to get out a new novel about once a year, and how well those novels do, both at debut and then as back list. This sort of thing is impossible to predict with any certainty.

Film Option: The film option is in a category I like to think of as “extraordinary income” — that is, income which sort of falls into one’s lap and may not ever be repeated again. The option is due to be renewed later this year, at which time one of two things will happen: either it’s renewed, in which case I get another nice chunk of income, and the possibility of further income down the line, or it’s not renewed, in which case I get nothing (unless we sell the option to someone else). Naturally I hope for the first but would be foolish to assume it’s a given. Another wrinkle: the next option step has an 18-month window, which means no film option income in 2012, unless the start of production on this film in that timeframe. So no matter what my film option income will be down, either this year or next.

TV Consulting: This was the money I made being the Creative Consultant on Stargate: Universe. The show was canceled, alas; this income stream has gone away, and in the short term, at least, is unlikely to be replicated. So for 2011, the income from this category will be zero.

Film Column: This is the column I first wrote for the AMC.com site and now for the FilmCritic.com site (which is owned by AMC). I enjoy doing it and they seem to enjoy having me do it and as far as I know they’re going to keep having me do it. So I expect income in this category to stay the same for 2011.

Corporate Consulting: Primarily for a single client; who it is and what I’m doing I can’t divulge due to a non-disclosure agreement. I can say it’s been fun and interesting. Because the bulk of my payment so far has been in 2011, I can say income in this category will be going up this year. Where this category goes from there is anyone’s guess.

Miscellaneous: This includes income from various small freelancing gigs, teaching, and other odd bits, like performing at w00tstock. I have no idea what to expect from this category this year; that’s one reason why it’s called “miscellaneous.” Before any of you ask, no, so far I’m not doing any w00tstock 3.0 events. But who knows?

Short Stories: The smallest category of my writing income and likely to stay that way in 2011, seeing as it’s already April and I’ve only written and sold one short story. But I’ll probably write at least a couple more between now and the end of the year, which means that I can reasonably expect this category to stay about the same, income-wise.

In all, while I expect 2011 to work out just fine for me — Neither I nor my family will be coming anywhere close to financial instability, for which I am immensely grateful — I also expect to make less than I did in 2010, and possibly much less, and to have the relative percentages of the categories from which I make money to change, sometimes quite dramatically.

This is the way of the writing life. Year to year, some income categories will go up, some will go down, some will remain static and some will go away completely. And, also, possibly, some new ones might emerge. I might get to do more newspaper or magazine freelancing, for example, or I might get an offer to do a speaking engagement or two, or I might do some editing. Maybe I’ll get another consulting gig with a TV or a movie. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to write a comic book — or maybe I’ll write a movie script and sell it (ha!). Or maybe none of that will happen, my books will fall out of print and no one will be interested in what I’m currently writing. Some of this will be about me, but a lot of it won’t be; some of it will be about factors completely out of my control. What you can expect is that I will continue to seek out a variety of writing revenue streams, rather than keep all my financial eggs in a single basket. I will find a way to work, one way or another.

What I do expect — and if you are a writer or hope to be, what you should also expect — is that no matter what, year in and year out, writing income will be volatile. It is not a field in which you can expect anything to stay the same for any length of time, nor can you expect your fortunes to be sunny every step of the way. I am thankfully fortunate today. I hope to remain fortunate tomorrow. I work to allow continued good fortune a place to happen in my life. I plan financially with the expectation I will not be so fortunate. This means keeping a sharp eye on expenses, living within (and when possible, below) my means, and saving and investing the majority of what I have come in so that when (not if) less fortunate times come we have a margin that allows us to maneuver and prepare and plan for more fortunate times.

One reason I’m airing my revenue pie to you is to make the point that the next time I do it, it will probably look nothing like it does today. That’s not unusual. What would be unusual is that if it did look the same, year in and year out.

Borders, Bankruptcy and Writers

E-mails coming in today from people wondering how the Borders bankruptcy will affect writers in general and me in particular, with some others wondering if royalties for the books they buy at Borders will get to the authors who wrote them, and whether they should continue shopping at Borders at all.

Well. First, CE Petit has some initial thoughts on what the bankruptcy means for Borders customers, and also authors, here.

For everyone who doesn’t want to bother with that analysis, here’s my thumbnail version:

For customers, provided your local Borders doesn’t close (and apparently a couple hundred will), you shouldn’t see too much different in an immediate sense, with the exception that some books may not be available because some publishers have cut off service to the company.

For writers, there may be a lot of back-end headaches, related to the fact that Borders owes lots of publishers lots of money — about $270 million as of today — and while Borders suggests (if I am reading this page correctly) that they will be able to pay publishers on invoices filed after today, everything billed before that date is now tied up in bankruptcy court proceedings, and who knows when or if or how much of those payments will be made.

What does all this mean for you, the concerned consumer? As far as I understand it (and I could be wrong, I am not a lawyer, etc):

1. Theoretically, for books that come into Borders after today, and are then sold, the publisher will be paid.

2. But that book you bought as a holiday gift in December? Yeah, Borders might still owe the publisher for that, and now it’s a court matter.

3. If the publisher hasn’t been paid for the book by Borders, whether the publisher will then pay the author for that sale, completely or partially (and sooner rather than later), depends on a lot of variables, including the specific wording of contract points.

So basically, if you’re worried that the Borders bankruptcy is going to screw writers, you’re using the incorrect tense. That screwing has already happened, and now we just have to wait for the effects to catch up to us. We may be additionally screwed from here, of course. We’ll have to see what happens.

Will this affect me personally? I’m sure it will, although in the short term I am well-insulated financially; other writers will not be so lucky. In the medium term I expect this will oblige me and my agent to pay close attention to contract points. In the longer term, well, if the second-largest brick-and-mortar book retailer in the US goes swirling, this is will obviously have an impact on how I make my living. It’s always something. Then again, “it’s always something” describes everyone’s economic life these days.

Some folks have asked me whether they should continue to buy books (and books of mine) from Borders. Well, speaking only for myself and not for my publisher or any other writer, if Borders is what you have as your local bookstore, and my books are in stock, and you want to buy them, go ahead. My publishers and Borders will sort it out at some point.

Borders has been good to me in the past — it ordered copies of The God Engines, and a hardcover novella isn’t an easy thing to place in a chain store — and their science fiction buyers have been enthusiastic about my stuff. So I’m willing to extend them some personal credit, and hope they’ll get their act together sometime in the near future. Whether other authors (and more importantly, their publishers) feel as sanguine about Borders at the moment is another matter entirely.

Reading Electronically: A Review

A few months ago I was given a Nook by a friend, who thought it would be something I could use. I appreciated the gesture; I wasn’t going to go out of my way to buy a dedicated eBook reader, but if one was going to be given to me, I’m sure I could find a way to use it. And so I have. In the months since, in addition to the Nook, I’ve also been reading off the iPad, the iPod Touch and off my Droid X (all of which have Nook, Kindle and other eBook reader software installed). I’ve been reading off these now for enough time to formulate some thoughts on the subject.

The first is that in fact I like reading books electronically just fine. In particular I do like reading them with the Nook, which is about the right size for my hand and has the passive “E-Ink” screen, which as it turns out really is a whole lot more comfortable to read off of than the lighted screens of the iPod, Ipad and Droid. I don’t find reading off my primary computer to be a problem, and quite like opening up a pdf file and reading it two pages at a time. But the secret there is that I have a big-ass monitor, which means I don’t have to jam it right up into my face to read stuff. That reduces eye strain quite a bit. With the iPad, iPod and Droid X, I have to get them pretty close up and after a while the eyes go screwy and want a break. With the Nook this is not a problem.

It’s not to say the Nook is perfect — its UI could use work, and the page contrast and screen refresh could be better — but if I’m reading an entire book electronically, it’s the reader I have I prefer. I’ll use the other readers for short duration reads (for example, I’ll read off the Droid when I’m taking Athena to Tae Kwon Do practice), but for a long haul reading session, it’s the E-Ink screen for me.

In terms of books, I’m not finding electronic reading is cutting into either my interest in or propensity to buy print books. As it happens, when I buy books, I tend to buy hardcovers (and occasionally trade paperbacks), and I buy them because I want to have them as much as I want to read them. For the having impulse, eBooks don’t do it for me, so I expect I’ll be buying hardcovers for some time to come. I think makes the proprietors of my local bookstore very happy.

What I find, however, is that eBooks are replacing (and this is important) increasing what would be the equivalent of my paperback purchases. I tend to buy paperbacks for travel or to replace books that have been lost/ruined, or to buy backlists of authors who I have recently discovered. But I would only do so fitfully, in part because it’s not like I don’t have a flood of new books coming through my door on a daily basis. With the eBooks, it’s a lot easier to give into that replacement/completist urge, especially when it’s coupled with travel.

When I went to AussieCon4, for example, I purchased and downloaded nine books into the Nook, including books by Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg and Matthew Woodring Stover, which I wouldn’t have been able to find in the local bookstore, because it does naturally tend to focus on newer works. Without the electronic book option, I would likely have bought those books used, which I prefer not to do with authors who are still living and desiring on occasion to eat. So in getting the electronic versions, they got royalties and I got their books to read on an insanely long plane rise across the planet, in a format that did not cause me bursitis lugging them about. As they say, everyone wins.

My own anecdotal experience as a reader is one reason why I as an author am not exactly freaking out about eBooks. I’m a writer for whom eBooks will probably be a good thing because a) I write in a genre filled with tech-friendly readers, b) I write in a genre filled with completist readers. The guy who just discovered Old Man’s War and wants to get everything else I have ever possibly written in the history of ever can do it in five minutes or less. This is not bad for me.

(Yes, that same person probably could search the Internets and find unauthorized OCR’d copies of everything I’ve written, but book retailers and publishers have made it really easy for them not to do that, and enough readers actually buy through those easy retail channels — thank you, folks — that I’m optimistic the “hey, let’s feed the author” impulse will continue for at least another generation. Heck, as I was writing this, someone just tweeted that they had finished one of my books and was now downloading another one for the Kindle. Good for them. Good for me, too.)

For me, then, eBooks are just another format I can use as an author to give people what they want, and for me as a reader to get what I want. Will they supplant hardcovers? I don’t think so, because people like physical things, and like giving them (and getting them) as gifts and having them on shelves. Will they supplant paperbacks? Not completely, because some people will still only read a couple of books a year, on airplanes or at the beach, and they’re not going to buy an eBook reader for that, even if the price comes way, way down.

Will I as a reader read and buy more because I have an eBook reader? I already do, and given the amount I travel these days, and how easy it is to travel with lots and lots of books now, I suspect I will continue to for some time to come. I don’t imagine I’ll be alone in this.

A Technical Thing re: Amazon and My Tor Books

Every couple of hours someone sends an e-mail or post saying “Your book is back up on Amazon!” and point to the same thing, so I want to post this to clear up the confusion. The one physical version of Old Man’s War that’s up on Amazon is “Bargain Price Paperback,” which is to say the remaindered trade paperback edition; as far as I know Amazon never stopped selling it.

The thing to know about this is that the remaindered books aren’t royalty-bearing books, i.e., I don’t get a cut when Amazon sells them. Amazon likely bought the books in bulk when they were first remaindered, for a substantially lower cost than “new” books, and my contract states that the cut I get for such bulk buying is very tiny indeed.

All of which is to say at the moment Amazon is happy to sell you OMW  directly, just not a version I get any real payment for. All my other Tor books — the versions I receive royalties for, anyway — still appear to be down across the board. You’ll know when Amazon is no longer screwing with me when all my Tor books once again have “Buy Now” buttons in their mass market paperback (or in the case of Agent and Hate Mail, trade paperback) versions. Those are the versions of my Tor books currently in print. And, of course, when the Kindle versions re-appear.

Likewise, to address other similar posts and e-mails, only Amazon.com is doing this, so all the international affiliates have books, and Amazon’s Audible division is also still selling my audio book versions.

Finally, my non-Macmillan titles are still in Amazon (including The God Engines) and always have been, so their presence doesn’t mean Amazon’s delisting has lifted, it’s just that the book isn’t one of those affected.

I do think all these e-mails and posts make a point about how arbitrary and random this delisting of Amazon’s appears on the consumer side. I mean, heck, all of you here have been aware of this from day one. Imagine what it looks like to normal humans trying to shop on Amazon. The longer this plays out, the worse it is for Amazon’s reputation as a place where you can get anything.

Anyway. That’s the update on that today.

A Call For Author Support

I want to talk to you all about other authors today, and why they need your support right now, but to do that, I need to talk about my own situation first. So hang with me for a few paragraphs, please, until I get to the point.

A quick check of Amazon shows my Tor books are still unavailable to buy directly from the store, so I suppose we can say Amazon is still digging in its heels. So it goes. But it also means other authors with books from Macmillan and its imprints are still not being sold either.

I’ve told people that I’ll be fine no matter what Amazon does in the short term, and that’s true.  I sell well enough that even with Amazon temporarily out of the mix I’ll do fine, and I have enough income aside from my Tor books that I can take this in stride. Moreover, thanks to the awesome financial skills of Krissy Scalzi, we have money in the bank. None of this is coincidental, incidentally. I’ve been a writer long enough to know that shit happens, precisely because it’s happened to me, numerous times. I’ve structured my career so I can take a hit or two and keep going. It also helps that I’ve been very lucky in my career, in terms of breaks and sales, and am now in a position where I can wait out an event like this.

But as I said: I’m lucky. Other affected authors are not so lucky. Many if not most of these folks do not have the financial cushion I do, and the sales that they are getting cut out of here are going to make a real and concrete difference to them when it comes time to tally up royalties, and when they’re trying to sell that next book. I have friends who are deeply worried right now about what this thing is doing to them, and they should be worried, because it’s going to hurt them if it drags out. Amazon is not the entire sales universe, to be sure, but it’s a significant chunk, especially for genre writers who build their communities online and sell a large percentage of their work online (and thus through Amazon) because of it.

I said it snarkily yesterday but I’ll tell it to you in earnest today: Amazon was moving against Macmillan when it pulled those books, but in doing so it also moved against Macmillan’s authors. Amazon thought it was sniping at a corporation, but in fact it unloaded a shotgun into a crowd of writers. It wasn’t smart, and although I know the world isn’t built to accommodate this particular concept, neither was it fair. There’s a lot of collateral damage here.

One response to this from fans of these affected writers is to boycott Amazon. But you know what, I think that’s putting the focus where it shouldn’t be. This crux of this matter is a negotiation between two corporate entities, and that’s something a boycott just isn’t going to matter to, or solve in any meaningful way. And in the case of the authors involved, it’s not going to help them make sales.

So rather than focus on what should happen to Amazon or Macmillan, here’s an idea, and here’s my point: let’s us focus on the writers, who are getting kinda screwed here. None of this is their fault, it has nothing to do with them, and they don’t deserve to lose sales and their livelihood while this thing goes down. If you want to make a statement here, don’t make it against a corporation, who isn’t listening anyway. Make it for someone, and someone who will appreciate the support.

Support the authors affected. Buy their books.

How to do this is simple enough: Remember there’s more to bookselling than Amazon. Offline there are brick and mortar bookstores — go visit one. They like visitors. Tell them I sent you. Online there is Barnes and Noble. There’s Powell’s. IndieBound will hook you up. Specialty bookstores have their own web sites. You can often buy books online from the publishers themselves. Hell, even Walmart.com sells books.

Yes, yes. I know, you know Amazon isn’t the only place to buy books online. But that doesn’t mean you use those other places. I had a friend who used Barnes & Noble’s web site for the very first time in a decade today, because, as it happens, Amazon wouldn’t let him buy a book. He was pleased to discover B&N let him use PayPal. Good for him. The point is, he didn’t let a balky retailer keep him from getting a book he wanted. I suspect too many people do just that; they get used to going to that one place online and forgetting there are any other options. Well, you know. Remember, please.

Here’s the Macmillan site — I give it to you not as a show of support for Macmillan but because it has all the books, imprints and authors affected by this thing. Find a book you like and want, and then go to any retailer you want, who will sell you the book, and then buy it. It will matter to the author. And I personally would appreciate you supporting these people who are my friends and fellow writers, who could use a break in all of this. Give it some thought today, if you would. And pass the idea along. Thanks.

My Short Fiction Rates

As I’ve been blathering about short story payment rates over the last couple of days, I’ve been getting inquiries via the e-mail channel about what I make when I write short fiction. Fair enough; I’ve talked about what I’ve made before in a general sense, so I’ll detail the short fiction part of it for you. But behind the cut, as I suspect some people are now officially bored with the topic, and some others might simply find me talking about what I make a bit obnoxious.

(Click below to read more…)

Read More »

Dear Writers: For God’s Sake, Don’t Assume You’ll Get Paid

An interesting and frankly alarming thing in the comment thread of the last post. I noted in the last post that a major issue I saw with the proposed F&SF online writing workshop, which offers the chance that work in the workshop could get published in the magazine, is that there was no indication that those chosen stories would then be paid for. To which several people in the comment thread said something along the lines of “oh, well, that wasn’t a problem for me, because I just assumed there would be payment.”

Jesus, people.

Never assume as a writer that you’re going to get paid. Ever. There are too many people who assume writing shouldn’t have to be paid for — and too many writers willing to be paid little or nothing for their work — that your default assumption when there is no mention of payment for your work is that there will be none. Commensurately, your very first question when you see that there is no mention of payment for your work should be “What are you paying for the work?” If you’re worried that this being the first question out of your mouth will offend someone, then you’re not ready to be a working writer. If people who want your work are offended that this is your first question, they’re not serious about wanting your work.

To be clear, someone not mentioning payment right off does not mean the writer won’t get paid. In the case of F&SF and its workshop, I’m fairly certain the intention is to pay for those workshop stories. But in my case “fairly certain” is followed immediately by “so, you are paying for those stories, right?” Because, you know, I was fairly certain LeBron James was going to the NBA finals this year, too, and I was also fairly certain earlier in the year that right now I would be working on a project that fell through. “Fairly certain” by definition leaves room for a fair amount of uncertainty. A working writer learns to zero in on uncertainty, especially when it comes to him or her being paid. It never hurts to be absolutely certain you’re going to get paid, and to know how much. And when!

This is, incidentally, why this post by John Green arguing against advances is not a brilliant thing from the point of view of an author (a point which appears has already been mentioned to him by other authors, given the number of backpedaling updates he’s added). Green argues for higher royalties rather than higher advances, which is a fine idea if a) you have an independent source of income and/or b) are already raking in the bucks from your book sales and you have infinite faith that c) your publisher will always be there to send you royalties on a regular basis and/or d) won’t try to screw you on contractual details that allow them to hold on to your money for as long as humanly possible. As most authors don’t fulfill conditions a) or b) and should never assume c) or d), most authors are better off getting a large, upfront chunk of cash into their hands asap — that is, they should have an advance. Anything other is assuming you’re going to get paid, and fraught with danger.

So: Know that you’ll get paid. Know how much you’re getting paid. Know when you are going to get paid. Don’t assume any of it. Know. That is all.