OMW Followup

It’s been an interesting couple of days here at the Scalzi household, in the wake of the announcement about my book contract with Tor. I’m getting a lot of questions about the deal and what I’m doing from here, so I thought I’d answer a few of the questions that have been posed to me the most frequently yesterday.

1. Are you now rich? You’ve got a two-book deal, after all.

Heh. No. Keep in mind that this contract is for my very first novel, and the follow-up thereafter. We’re starting from the ground floor here, and this is a science fiction novel, so it’s in a genre market. The money I’m getting in advance of publication is good but modest, both in real terms and relative to the advances I get for my non-fiction books. Mr. Nielsen Hayden was forthright with me when he offered the deal, noting that the sum of the advance was not “life-changing.” From a purely economic point of view, this is correct.

However, this is just fine with me, for a number of reasons. First, the money you get as an “advance” is just that: An advance on your royalties, based on sales. You don’t start earning new royalties until you earn out your advance. To give you an example, when I signed the contract for The Rough Guide to Money Online, I was given a fairly hefty advance for the book’s category. On the flip side of that, however, I wouldn’t make any more money on the book until (and if!) the book earned out that entire advance. That was tens of thousands of copies in my particular case.

If your book sells to the point where it starts paying out again, swell — everyone likes making more money. If it doesn’t, then things become interesting because technically you haven’t earned out your advance. As a practical matter, this means little to the author in the short run, since the published never asks for the unearned portion of the book back; it’s part of the risk the publisher takes on in trying to make money off your book. On the other hand, if you develop a reputation for never earning out your advances, that’s no good for your long-term career health.

I’m not especially interested in that scenario; I prefer to look over the long-term picture. A modest advance to me today makes it easier for the book to be profitable, thereby allowing me to publish more books, grow an audience and then (hopefully) become rich on the backend, on royalties based on actual units sold. This is to say I have enough confidence in my writing that I think in time I’ll do well based on my work’s actual performance, not just by what I can wrangle out of a publisher beforehand. If I’m wrong, well, I do have a nice business writing corporate brochures and CD reviews. I’ll survive.

The second reason that I’m fine with it is that I have confidence in the people I’m working with. When it comes to science fiction, Tor is as good as it gets — these people know science fiction and book publishing inside and out, and the quality of their writers lends credence to this fact. Given the choice between my current advance and a contract at Tor, and a slightly larger advance and a contract somewhere else, I’d go with Tor, because I believe the people there can market my work really well, to the benefit of us both (now, if someone came in and offered me, like, a half million dollars, I’d probably take the money and run, baby, run. But let’s stay on the grounded side of realism, here).

So in short: I’m not rich because of my book deal. But I am very happy with what I’m getting out of it, both in terms of money and in terms of the people with whom I have the good fortune to work.

2. Why did you take Old Man’s War off the site? Putting the novel on the site is what brought you fame and glory!

Well, yes. But I did just sell the book to someone, and I’d rather err on the side of caution for right now. If Tor and I decide that it’s in our mutual benefit to put the book back up on the site (and we might; I can think of a couple of scenarios where doing so could create a net positive benefit) then it’ll go back up. In the meantime, however, it’s not as if there’s not scads to read around here, including a whole other science fiction novel, freely downloadable as “shareware.” If you haven’t read it yet, now is a fine time.

3. Will you become a full-time author now?

No. To be clear, being an author (which is to say, being a writer who writes books specifically) is going to take up a rather large proportion of my time in 2003, since I have to:
a) Make revisions to OMW as requested by my Tor overlords;
b) Write novel #2 as specified in my two book deal;
c) Proof the galleys of Rough Guide to the Universe (I’m doing that now);
d) Contribute to the upcoming Uncle John’s book;
e) Send my non-fiction agent a book proposal, and if that is then accepted and bought somewhere, write that book too;
f) Book tours and promotion for whichever books need touring and promotion.

(This is where the ability to write quickly and sleep little comes in handy.)

But for all that, my bread and butter will continue to be my corporate writing and freelance work for magazines and newspapers. Why? Because I have a mortgage, silly! And also because I actually like writing all that stuff — yes, even the corporate material, which I like because it’s an interesting intellectual exercise, it keeps my brain fresh for more creative stuff, and because it pays stupid well. Once I get to the point where I’m getting six-figure advances, then we’ll talk about being a full-time author.

I’ll admit in the best of all possible worlds, I’d like to be a full-time author, alternating fiction and non-fiction books for the next, oh, I don’t know, forty or fifty years. But until then, I’ll keep the other writing in the mix. This includes the writing for which I don’t actually get paid, meaning this Web site, which continues to be unfathomably useful in terms of my career.

4. What’s the second book going to be about?

I can’t tell you because I’m still working out the plot. I will say that it is science fiction, and involves a “diplomatic troubleshooter” who is called in to resolve tricky situations, usually through the use of action sequences and snappy dialogue. Also, it won’t take place in the OMW universe. I may revisit the OMW universe at some point in the future (why not, it’s an interesting place), but at this point I don’t really want to put all my creative eggs into one infinitely-sequelized basket. My current plan is to start sketching out the plot starting yesterday and start writing as soon as practically possible, on the reasoning that I want to give myself as much time as possible to procrastinate.

5. Since you’ve sold OMW, do you think you’ll ever sell Agent to the Stars?

I don’t know. Hell, I wasn’t expecting to sell OMW, so it’d be presumptuous to think someone’s going to swoop down and take Agent too, especially since it’s been out there on the site for going on four years now. It also has the same problem it had when I wrote it, which is that it’s hard to classify in the various SF sub-genres, which makes it hard to sell, both as an author to a publishing company, and then for the publishing company to the rest of the world. OMW at least has the benefit of nominally being military science fiction.

(This is, incidentally, mildly ironic since when I wrote Agent, I wrote a supporting essay in which I mentioned somewhat snarkily that the way to get your SF book published was to write military science fiction, and I guess I just proved my own assertion there. My defense here would be that I wrote some military fiction that I personally would want to read, heavy on the personal relationships and a bit lighter on the techno-geek stuff.)

I don’t think I’ll make much of an effort to sell Agent, in any event. I think it serves a rather useful function right now, as a risk-free introduction to my fiction writing style. People can come here, read the novel and then if they like it, can go hunting for my traditionally published books. If someone were to offer to publish it, I probably wouldn’t say no, but I’d also want to keep it up here. I would imagine that might put a damper on any potential sales. But you never know.

I am still open to different publishing avenues in a general sense. For example, I’ve been giving serious thought to collecting up selected Whatever columns over the last four years and presenting them as a book. My non-fiction agent tells me such collections are deadly in book stores; if you’re not Dave Barry, you’re not selling a book of columns, and I’m definitely not Dave Barry. So what I’ll probably do is set them up as a “Publish on Demand” thing and sell it through Amazon or some such. Because why not? Clearly I’m the last person who should suggest personal publishing doesn’t lead to anything good.

6. Think you’ll ever write a novel in a genre besides science fiction?

Dunno. I have a couple of ideas outside SF, but to be honest, I read science fiction more than I read any other genre because science fiction interests me more than other genres, and I don’t see a whole lot of a point in writing a book in a genre I don’t actually like. I realize this may lose me a few readers who choose not to lower themselves into the genre gutter with the rest of us geeks, but, you know, screw ’em. I’ll do what makes me happy, and what makes me happy (right now, at least) is science fiction.

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