Being Poor is Hoping the Toothache Goes Away.

For want of a dentist

Maryland boy, 12, dies after bacteria from tooth spread to his brain

Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.

A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.

If his mother had been insured.

If his family had not lost its Medicaid.

If Medicaid dentists weren’t so hard to find.

If his mother hadn’t been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.

By the time Deamonte’s own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George’s County boy died.

Some folks will want to blame the insurance system in the US. Some folks will want to blame the dentists. Some folks will want to blame the government. Some folks will want to blame the mother. Some folks will blame some combination of any or all of the above.

I’m not particularly interested in whom to blame. You all can argue about that. I just think it’s a shame that ultimately this kid is dead for no other reason than because he was poor.


Author Interview: Hal Duncan

The taunting is over: The author interview with Hal Duncan is now up over at By The Way. Hal talks about his books Ink and Vellum, the state of the fantasy genre, and why he writes such long entries over at his blog. It’s a really excellent interview. Enjoy.


Cheese: The Universal 80s Constant

For your consideration: A perestroika-era video of Soviet musicians doing a snappy, jazzy remix of a Soviet anthem:

Also for your consideration: “Stars,” by Hear N’ Aid, the 80s metal analogue to Band-Aid and USA for Africa:

Compare and contrast.


Deven Desai, Deven Desai, Every Single One of Us is Deven Desai

Happy birthday to Deven Desai, who is a charter member of the Scalzi Inner Circle, the entrance requirements of which — well, let’s just say if you’ve had the initiation you wouldn’t be forgetting it. No, this is not an invitation to speculate on what the initiation might be. It’s not like that, you sick freaks. Damn it, just let me wish my friend a happy birthday in peace. Sheesh.

The title to this entry, incidentally, should be read with INXS’ song “Devil Inside” running along in your head. Yeah, it’s a high school thing. For all you kids who only know of INXS as that lame reality TV show band, here’s the video for the song:

That Michael Hutchence, not a bad singer. Too bad about that death by auto-erotic asphyxiation thing.

I shoot the first person who makes an association between auto-erotic asphyxiation and initiation to my inner circle. Don’t give me that look. I know how you people think.


My New AIM Account

About a year ago I got a Google Talk account and made that publicly available to people, just in case they wanted to IM me or whatever. The problem with this is that not really all that many people have Google Talk, and since firing up Google Talk was a little bit of a pain (because I’m an idiot, I could never get it to work on Trillian), I hardly ever signed onto it, and now use it primarily to contact one particular person.

However, recently people have been asking if I’m even on IM, and — provided I have some free time — I’m not averse to chatting with folks. So I’ve gone ahead and made myself another public IM account, this time on the AOL Instant Messenger, which most people seem to have. Here’s the screenname:


Simple. Feel free to add me to your buddy lists, and, if you see me online, feel free to likewise drop me an IM. Because if I’m on my public IM screenname, that means I’m feeling, you know, public.

(For those of you dying to know, yes, I also have a more private IM screenname, which I use primarily for business clients and family/friends of long-standing. I don’t make that one public because it’s meant to be a low-bandwidth thing. Please don’t be offended if you don’t know it; not a lot of people do.)

How often will I be on the ScalziOnAIM screenname? I dunno. Depends on how much free time I have. I’m on it now, though.


They Got the Idea From the Lesbian Seagull

Oh noes!! The kolalas have gone all Lilith Fair!

Female koalas indulge in lesbian “sex sessions”, rejecting male suitors and attempting to mate with each other, sometimes up to five at a time, according to researchers.

The furry, eucalyptus-eating creatures appear to develop this tendency for same-sex liaisons when they are in captivity. In the wild, they remain heterosexual.

Scientists monitoring the marsupials with digital cameras counted three homosexual interactions for every heterosexual one.

I for one am waiting the imminent arrival of, showing only the finest in hawt same-sex koala-on-koala action. My credit card is at the ready!

(No, doesn’t really exist. But I bet by the end of the day, someone will register it.)

I have no reason for posting this. I just think it’s funny. Especially the headline for the story at the link: “Australia rocked by ‘lesbian’ koala revelation” Really? Rocked? Is Australia going to kick the koalas out of the house, so that they tearfully have to show up on New Zealand’s doorstep? Personally, I can’t imagine the Australians I know going anything other than “you go, situationally lesbian koalas!” Because the Australians I know are all cool like that.

Also, “Situationally Lesbian Koalas” is the name of my next band.

Update, 6:44pm: Look! It’s! No, I didn’t do it.


2006 Nebula/Norton Nominees

Oh, look: Here’s the Nebula Ballot for this year:


The Privilege of the Sword – Ellen Kushner (Bantam Spectra, Jul06)
Seeker – Jack McDevitt (Ace, Nov05)
The Girl in the Glass – Jeffrey Ford (Dark Alley, Aug05)
Farthing – Jo Walton (Tor Books, Jul06)
From the Files of the Time Rangers – Richard Bowes (Golden Gryphon Press, Sep05)
To Crush the Moon – Wil McCarthy (Bantam Spectra, May05)


Burn – James Patrick Kelly (Tachyon Publications, Dec05)
“Sanctuary” – Michael A. Burstein (Analog, Sep05)
“The Walls of the Universe” – Paul Melko (Asimov’s, Apr/May06)
“Inclination” – William Shunn (Asimov’s, Apr/May06)


“The Language of Moths” – Chris Barzak (Realms of Fantasy, Apr05)
“Walpurgis Afternoon” – Delia Sherman (F&SF, Dec05)
“Journey into the Kingdom” – M. Rickert (F&SF, May06)
“Two Hearts” – Peter S. Beagle (F&SF, Oct/Nov05)
“Little Faces” – Vonda N. McIntyre (SCI FICTION, 23 Feb05)

Short Stories:

“Echo” – Elizabeth Hand (F&SF, Oct/Nov05)
“Helen Remembers the Stork Club” – Esther M. Friesner (F&SF, Nov05)
“The Woman in Schrodinger’s Wave Equations” – Eugene Mirabelli (F&SF, Aug05)
“Henry James, This One’s For You” – Jack McDevitt (Subterranean #2, Nov05)
“An End To All Things” – Karina Sumner-Smith (Children of Magic, Daw Books, Jun06)
“Pip and the Fairies” – Theodora Goss (Strange Horizons, 3 Oct05)


Batman Begins – Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer (Warner Bros., released 17 Jun05)
Howl’s Moving Castle – Hayao Miyazaki, Cindy Davis Hewitt, and Donald H. Hewitt (Studio Ghibli and Walt Disney Pictures, U.S. Premier 10 Jun05. Based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones.)
Unfinished Business – Michael Taylor (Battlestar Galactica, Dec06)
The Girl in the Fireplace – Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, BBC/The Sci-Fi Channel, Oct06 (broadcast 10 Oct06))

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy:

Magic or Madness – Justine Larbalestier (Penguin Razorbill, May05)
Devilish – Maureen Johnson, Razorbill (Penguin Young Readers Group, Sep06)
The King of Attolia – Megan Whalen Turner, Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins, 2006)
Midnighters #2: Touching Darkness – Scott Westerfeld (Eos, Mar05)
Peeps – Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Razorbill, Sep05)
Life As We Knew It – Susan Beth Pfeffer (Harcourt, Oct06)

Leaving aside my usual rant about how the Nebulas need to get on a calendar year schedule, I think this is a pretty good slate, and it’s got a lot of my friends in it. Yay! I know award nominees! I feel shiny.

For those of you wondering, I wasn’t even close to being considered for the Nebula this year. But then I wasn’t even close to being considered for the Nebula last year either, when I got on the Hugo ballot, so this isn’t indicative of anything other than the Nebulas and the Hugo having different constituencies and tastes, which is in and of itself not a bad thing.

The Nebulas and Norton will be unveiled on May 12. Best of luck to all the nominees.


Why You Wish You Were Me Right Now

The reason is because I have in my grubby little hands an interview with Hal Duncan that is chock full of awesome, and you can’t read it until tomorrow, when I put it up for the Wednesday Author Interview. Honestly, looking at this interview, I don’t know how you’re going to survive not reading it until then. You’re just going to have to find a way to muddle through somehow.

However, while you wait, there is something you can do, which is get Hal’s latest book Ink, which hits stores here in the US today. And like the interview, it is chock full of awesome. I know this because I read it a while back, when the ARC was sent to me. And I remember when I was reading it that I was wondering how the rest of you were going to survive not reading it until today. Well, how did you? Seriously, man. I want to know.


The “Come Up With a Contest to Give Away a Copy of ‘Coffee Shop'” Contest!

Like two mighty monoliths doth rise this pair of books, as if hewn from the very plywood of my desk! What do these two avatars of writination herald? Why, the advent of not one but two — yes, two — book giveaway contests!

Here’s the deal: Since Coffee Shop sold out on printing, I thought it would be fun to give away a copy to one of you fine folks here at the Whatever, as a way of saying “thanks.” But frankly, I’ve had a really crappy day and I can’t think of a contest to give away a copy that would actually be fun, because crappy days do that to me. But then I thought: Why think when you guys can think for me? Clearly, this is a solution to all my problems, and in the future I’ll have you all think for me all the time. But for now I’ll just keep it focused on on this.

The plan is simple: I’m having two contests. The first contest will be to think up of a contest to give away a copy of Coffee Shop, the prize for which will be — wait for it — a copy of Coffee Shop. After we’ve determined what the contest will be, then we’ll have that contest, the prize for which will be — can you guess? — a copy of Coffee Shop!


So, with that in mind, here are the rules for the “Come Up With a Contest to Give Away a Copy of ‘Coffee Shop'” Contest:

1. Think of a fun contest people can do, preferably in a comment thread on this actual site, to win a copy of Coffee Shop.

2. Post that idea in the comment thread to this entry.

3. Do it by 11:59:59 EST, Wednesday, February 28, 2007.

4. One idea per entrant (so make it good).

I’ll look through the entries on Thursday, March 1, and declare a winner on Friday, March 2, and then we’ll start the official Contest to Give Away a Copy of Coffee Shop on Monday, March 5. See? Easy.

Now, when I say that the contest is preferably something people can do in a comment thread here, be aware I’m thinking of something both writing-based and able to be posted in the comment thread. However, if you think you can make an excellent argument for something outside the comment thread, to which people can then post links to in the comment thread, that’s fine too. Likewise, if you want to post your contest idea in your own blog/journal/Web space and then just drop a link in the comment thread, you can do that.

I reserve the right not to use any of your contest ideas if I think they’re all totally lame. However, even in that event, I will randomly select a winner of the make a contest contest. So someone will win, even if you all let me down.

Okay, then: What sort of contest should I have to give away a copy of Coffee Shop? Tell me, damn it!


Subterranean Magazine — Now Online! Plus, New Short Story From Me

Subterranean Magazine is moving online — there are still a couple more print editions to go, but even as those are getting out the door the magazine online version is getting started, with original fiction, columns and reviews, updated three times a week. Today’s debut slate of material includes a column by Norman Partridge, reviews from Dorman Schindler of You Suck, Hart & Boot and Heart-Shaped Box, a long fiction piece by Lucius Shepard, and a couple of short-shorts, one by Poppy Z. Brite, and the other by yours truly. Yes! Short fiction! From me! It’s a fun piece, sort of silly. I know, how could that be, right?

Best of all, it’s all free. But if you go there and happen to pick up a book from Subterranean Press now and then, they certainly wouldn’t mind.

Which reminds me that today is the official release date for Coffee Shop, and also the official out-of-print day — the run’s all sold out. You guys are super-awesome. Thank you. We’re discussing the idea of a second printing, but right now we’re leaning against that (if Amazon comes to us wanting 750 more copies, we may change our minds). I’ll of course let you know if we do go back for another printing. The Sagan Diary is still available, of course, although the limited editions are beginning to get scarce, so if you want one of those, here’s the link.

“The Sagan Diary,” incidentally, got its first review on Amazon today. Not terribly kind, alas. I like this review better.

If all this Subterranean pimpery isn’t enough, remember that if you haven’t done so you can download Subterranean #4 (the one I guest-edited) as a pdf here. Perfect for your last minute Hugo short story consideration needs.


Oscar Wrapup 2007

Well, I whiffed the Best Picture category both times, first in my initial guess of Babel and later for my last minute hunch that Letters might be in the envelope. But I pretty much nailed everything else, including the Best Supporting Actor going to Alan Arkin and Best Animated Film going to Happy Feet, which means I nailed most of the surprises. So overall I feel pretty good about my continuing ability to do Oscar predictions.

A couple of thoughts:

* I guess the Academy voters decided they didn’t actually like Dreamgirls after all. Going with Arkin over Murphy is one thing; not giving the film the Oscar in the Best Original Song — in which it had three nominations — is another. I suspect Melissa Etheridge was probably the most surprised winner of the evening.

* Likewise, Babel walking out the door with just the Original Score Oscar is a bit of a poor showing for a Best Picture nominee touted as front runner going in (Letters got just Sound Editing, but no one except crazy people thought it was going to win). I guess this is the Academy saying “we had our spinach last year,” because while The Departed is many things, “spinach” ain’t one of them.

* Having said that, no one’s under the illusion The Departed winning Best Picture is anything more than the Academy deciding to make the drapes match the carpet, right? Apparently enough voters in the Academy went “well, as long as we’re giving Scorsese Best Director…” and then scribbled The Departed into the Best Picture line on the ballot. It’s not to say it’s not a good film, merely not the best picture on the slate. But, eh. It was “Let’s make it up to Marty” night. There are worse things.

* Mildly surprised that Pan’s Labyrinth didn’t get Best Foreign Language film (although The Lives of Others has been steadily building buzz, so not too surprised), but inasmuch as the film walked out the door as the second most Oscar-honored film of the night, including as the winner for Best Cinematography, I don’t think anyone should complain too much.

* Just as technical note, Al Gore himself did not win the Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth, it went to director Davis Guggenheim. The clock for rabid foaming conservatives to try to nab him in an either real or imagined “I invented the Internet” moment regarding to whom the Oscar belongs to starts… now.

Your post-Oscar thoughts?


Exercising Your Franchise, Geek Style

A reminder to members of LA Con IV (that’s last year’s Worldcon) and Nippon2007 (that’s this year’s): You have but a week to get in your nominations for this year’s Hugo Awards, so if you haven’t done it yet, I suggest you get on it, because your nominations have to be received, not mailed, on 3/3/07. Fortunately you can do your nominating online. I realize I’ve been flogging voting for the Hugos a bit this year, but I would remind folks that I expect that the Japanese fans, giddy with the thought of getting their own home-grown writers and fans on the ballot, will almost certainly be nominating in large numbers, so those of us in the rest of the world ought not be sanguine about the idea that our favorite non-Japanese works and folk of 2006 will get on the ballot. This is the last time I’ll pester all y’all about it. Just vote, already.

Those of you who are not members of this year’s or last year’s Worldcons yet wish to register your approval of works published in 2006, despair not: For you, there’s the Locus Awards ballot, which is still open and eager for the votes of anyone who cares to cast one. The online ballot comes with voting suggestions taken from Locus’ 2006 Recommended Reading List, but if none of those is to your liking you can also add your own preferences by typing them in.

Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to spend your Sunday than engaging in a bit of Geek Democracy. Have fun nominating and voting for your favorites. I’m sure their authors will thank you.


Athena Experiments With Metaphor

I swear to you she makes this stuff up on her own.

Incidentally, a shiny penny to the first person who notes a certain puzzling mismatch somewhere in the video.


Quick Final Oscar Notes

The Oscars are tomorrow, and I’ll generally stand by my earlier picks, with the following caveat: Call me crazy, but I have the weirdest feeling that Letters from Iwo Jima might walk with the Best Picture award. This will happen if the voters felt like voting for Babel is too much like voting for Crash last year (a vibe I’m getting), if they don’t decide to match up Scorsese’s almost-certain directing nod with a Best Picture nod for The Departed (and I don’t think they will), and if they can’t bring themselves to vote for Little Miss Sunshine, because it’s a comedy, and everyone knows voting for a comedy for Best Picture is like throwing your vote away. At which point they say “screw it, I’m voting for Eastwood’s flick” and they’re done. This could really happen this year. God help me, I think it just might.

So: Letters from Iwo Jima for Best Picture. I swear, if it happens, I’m gonna look like a goddamn genius.


I’m Willing to Bet The Reporter Was Snickering His Head Off as He Wrote This Lede

This is the lede in question:

The lawyer for a former Baptist church leader who had spoken out against homosexuality said Thursday the minister has a constitutional right to solicit sex from an undercover policeman.

Well, and so he does, for what little good it does him at this point.

Not to be too snarky about this, but at what point should a reasonable person simply assume that any minster all het up about the gays is just a step away from being a Bathhouse Billy? Because I have to tell you, at this point it’s getting to be my default setting.


More Money (Another Followup)

Some more follow-up bits on “The Money Entry 2007,” based on comments and e-mails:

* For those of you who have been speculating as to where my fiction writing fits in with my overall writing income, for 2006 I made about $123,000 total from writing and editing. That’s up a bit from last year. The share of my income from writing fiction has gone up this year, while the shares of some others have gone down (corporate writing, which I didn’t do a whole lot of) and other segments have remained largely steady. This is standard — my writing income sources increase and decrease from year to year, depending on my opportunities and interest. I suspect that over the next few years (at least) fiction writing will be a substantial percentage of my income; I also suspect that I will continue to generate writing income outside of fiction writing, because, well. Money moves slowly in the fiction world. Which brings us to the next point.

* For folks who are surprised that I made only $67K in fiction writing last year when I am an award-winning, best-selling author (and I smell nice, too), there are two things to note here. The first is that while I know it seems like I’ve been around science fiction forever (an illusion which this blog has no doubt helped to perpetuate), my first formally published novel in the field, Old Man’s War, debuted only two years ago, and despite being reasonably prolific I still have only four novels in the marketplace, one of which was a limited edition and is currently unavailable for sale. From a business point of view it’s still the early stages of my SF-writing career; I’m only now, in 2007, beginning to accrue some of the economic benefits of the notoriety and sales I’ve garnered over the last couple of years.

The second thing to note is a reinforcement of a point I made in the original article, which even if you are fortunate enough to receive royalties on your work, as I have, there’s a substantial lag time between when those royalties first begin to accrue, and when they actually arrive in your hands. At this point, for example, the royalties I’ve seen from Tor are only for the hardcover of Old Man’s War, with some early sales of the trade paperback. It was in trade where the sales of OMW really began to climb; those sales won’t likely be reflected until my next royalty statement, which I’m a couple of months from receiving. That royalty statement will also show the early sales of the hardcover of The Ghost Brigades, which came out a year ago… but the bulk of the royalties of that edition of the book will wait until the royalty statement after that.

All of which is to say that it’s very likely that I earned more than $67k in science fiction income in 2006; much of that income — the royalty part — won’t be disbursed to me until this year, and it’s entirely possible some of it won’t get to me until 2008. As I noted in the original article, I’m counting the checks I’ve received, not what I expect to have made. Doing that might have been good enough for Enron, but look where they are today.

* Let me offer another perspective on the royalty payment time lag: Tor made the offer on Old Man’s War in December of 2002; it took another two years for the book to be published — January 2005 — and then another year and a half before I received my first royalty check for the book. So: about 42 months from offer to royalties, during which time I wrote six other books (all since published but not all in science fiction) and got nominated for three major genre awards. I hope this sufficiently illustrates the time-delay principle. And remember that I am one of the relative few who earns royalties at all.

Bear in mind I don’t wish to imply Tor is screwing me over by making me wait so long for my royalties; the mechanics of book distribution and sales is sufficiently complex that I am willing to believe it takes some large percentage of that lag time to accurately track sales.

* Having said all that, let’s all have some perspective: for most humans, even in the US, $67k is a nice income. I think people may also have an unrealistic expectation of what even well-known authors bring home for their work, particularly in genre. As David Dyer-Bennet noted in a previous thread, and to which I agree, that figure almost certainly puts me in the top 1% of earners in science fiction; there are almost certainly bigger names than I who earned less for their SF writing in the same time frame. Is it fair that all these intelligent, interesting people telling fascinating and mind-expanding stories are trundling along making relatively paltry sums while Paris Hilton gets paid a million dollars just to show up at a party? Not really; Hell, it’s not even fair these folks are earning less than me. But as I’ve noted before, you’re in the wrong universe for “fair.”

Being a reasonably successful author in any genre is the doorway not to uncountable riches but to a fairly comfortable middle-class living, provided you’re not stupid with money and you’re reasonably healthy and you don’t snort or drink things that make you want more of them, now. But generally speaking there’s a reason that so many authors do something else, too, although what that job is does seem to vary from genre to genre; science fiction is laden with authors who are also scientists or IT folk, while literary fiction is teeming with authors who teach creative writing, and many non-fiction authors are journalists or commentators. It’s also why a spouse with a good job and (here in the US) good benefits is worth his or her weight in gold.

It’s not just with writers that people make the assumption that a certain amount of success and notoriety equates to lots of money, but in other fields it’s also true that until you’re right near the peak of the field, money is not mind-bogglingly great. A good example of this would be this article about the Dresden Dolls, a musical group who in many ways is at in their career where I’m at in mine: Relatively new, a bit niche-y, but with a good base of fans and a not insignificant amount of success (hey, I bought their last album). They’ve traveled the world, they’ve seen a million faces and rocked them all, and the two members of the band are clearing $1,500 a month when they tour. That would come out to $18k a year if touring was all they did. I assume the band members have other sources of income, of course, but I would be willing to bet that what they made last year, individually, is not too far off (either one direction or another) from what I made.

Which is to say there are more middle-income “famous” people than you might expect.


Money Entry Addendum

To answer the question before it gets asked: The reason I talk about money I make as a writer is because someone should. People get weirded out about the topic and I think that’s damn silly, and I think it’s particularly silly in a field like writing, where authors sharing information about money is a net good. Then we all have an understanding about what people are making and what’s a decent amount of money to expect for one’s work in the writing field, and in the case of science fiction, in this particular genre. We’re in a business (or want to be); let’s make sure we talk about it as a business from time to time. I think the fact that people don’t talk about money is a large part of the reason some publishers can offer ridiculously low sums to authors and pretend like they’re doing them a favor.

The fact I made $67K writing science fiction last year does not make me a better writer than someone who made less in the field; it doesn’t make me a lesser writer than someone who makes more. I think we all understand that beyond a certain level of literary competence, the quality of writing and the popularity of writing are functionally independent from each other. Lord knows I’m not offering up the amount to brag; $67K is a decent chunk of cash but it’s not all that. Also, I’d look like a dick. And anyway, in my circle of writer friends I can can point to a bunch who’ve made more. I’m not under the delusion I’m king of the SF writing world (if I were, man, this world would suck).

It’s also to the point that I’m not worried that you know how much I make. I assume most of you aren’t so lame that you’d factor in my income when it comes to whether you’d wish to consort with me or not, and if you are that lame, well, of course, I’d rather you avoided me anyway. I’m not so naive that I don’t think money matters in terms of how people approach other people, or that it doesn’t matter in life. But personally I find it a poor indicator of personal quality.

I’ll tell you what I make because I know people are curious, and because I don’t see any reason not to share. There’s lots of stuff I don’t tell you about me, because it’s none of your damn business, but how much I make is trivial enough, and it might also be useful to some of you. I understand many people are not comfortable in talking about money, or have personal or strategic reasons for talking about it, and that’s fair enough; sometimes I’ll be strategically quiet about it as well. This, however, is not one of those times. I also accept some people find it vaguely unseemly when I talk about what I make. Since there are lot of things I write about that seem vaguely unseemly to people, I’ll just add it to the pile.

My point in talking about money is simple: I’m a working writer, and as a working writer I’m not particularly special — what I do is what any competent writer can do, with effort and with a little luck. This is me saying: This is how I do this. This is what I make. This is how I make it. Just in case it’s helpful for the rest of you to see how I get this thing done.


The Money Entry 2007: Science Fiction Income

Last year, in response to a question from the peanut gallery, I spilled the beans on how much I made in a year from my writing. This year I thought I’d return to the subject, not in an overall sense (in 2006 I did fine, thank you), but looking at one segment of my income: The income I received from writing and editing science fiction.

2006 was an interesting year for me in this regard, primarily because it’s the first year that, frankly, I’ve gotten any substantial amount of income from science fiction. To bracket this, allow me to note that I’ve been making income off of science fiction since 1999, which is the year that I first offered Agent to the Stars online as “shareware.” So from 1999 through 2006, here’s how the income came down. Note that I’m breaking down the income as to when it was actually received, ie., when I had cash in my hot little hands:

1999: About $400, from Agent readers
2000: About $1000, from Agent readers
2001: About $1100, from Agent readers and a short story sale at Strange Horizons
2002: About $1000, from Agent readers
2003: About $6000, from Agent readers and from first part of advance for Old Man’s War
2004: About $5000, from Agent readers and from first part of advance for The Android’s Dream
2005: About $15,000, from second part of OMW advance, first part of The Ghost Brigades advance, advance for Agent to the Stars hardcover, and short story sale to Subterranean Press.
2006: About $67,000.

As you can see, there’s quite a jump from 2006 from the rest of the years; I made more than four times as much in science fiction than the year before, and about twice what I made for all the years previous. So what happened? Lots of things:

1. 2006 was the first year I received royalties on sales of Old Man’s War. The book had earned out on its advance roughly halfway through 2005 — but royalty statements are tallied up only twice a year (halfway through the fiscal year and then again at the end) and it takes a few months after that for the information (and checks) to be sent to agents and authors. And even when your book is in the black, there’s another publishing accounting practice called “reserves against returns,” in which the publisher holds some of your royalties in escrow just in case more than expected copies of your book come flooding back to the publisher from booksellers. What this reserves does (or, at the very least, did for me) is to retard the flow of royalties to the author by one royalty statement, which is to say, by another six months. So although Old Man’s War was published in January 2005, I waited seventeen months to get my first royalty check.

(There was also another another wrinkle here in that in addition to earning out its advance, OMW also had to earn out the advance of The Android’s Dream, which I sold at the same time; the contracts specified I wouldn’t see royalties from either until both were earned out — so theoretically it would have been possible that I wouldn’t have seen royalties from Old Man’s War until deep into 2008, since TAD wasn’t published until late October 2006. Fortunately, OMW was up to the task — and because of that I get royalties from TAD from book one. So buy it, damn it.)

Bear in mind it’s not a guaranteed thing that an author will receive royalties; the conventional wisdom is that most books either don’t earn out for their authors or just about break even, and I suspect that most publishers try to calibrate their advances to authors based on what they expect the author to make from the book over the course of the book’s run. Indeed, I’ve heard at least one author say to me that if you’re getting royalties, that just means the publisher didn’t pay you enough up front. We can have a philosophical debate as to whether it’s better for an author to get a big chunk of money up front or a smaller flow out the back; for now, however, I can say I’m pleased to have the royalty income.

I should also note that while a time lag for royalties is standard operating procedure, there are times when royalties can come more quickly than not. When the limited edition hardcover of Agent to the Stars sold out its print run midway through 2006, Subterranean Press quickly cut me a check for the royalties I was owed. This was partially because as a limited run, there was a finite timespan the book was available (i.e., up until the moment the last one sold) and also a finite amount or royalty I would be owed, and as a small press Subterranean has pretty tight control of its inventory, all of which is not necessarily the case with an open-ended book run. It’s also partially because Subterranean Press publisher Bill Schafer is a hoopy frood who knows where his towel is, and also knows authors like to get paid sooner than later whenever possible.

All told, my royalty income in 2006 was about $15,000.

2. My fiction agent Ethan Ellenberg began to sell foreign-language rights for Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades, and has been reasonably successful, as OMW has been sold in eight foreign languages now, and TGB in five. The income from foreign language rights varies considerably: I made nearly as much for Old Man’s War for the German language rights, for example, as I did for the English language rights. The Chinese language rights? Not so much. A whole lot depends on the the foreign market itself: whether SF is a popular genre, how much income the readers in the country have to buy books, how much books sell for in each market and so on. In aggregate, however, it can add up to a comfortable amount.

The problem with foreign rights is that they are typically contingent on the success of the book in its original language and market — and then of course subsequent sales in that language will be charted against how one’s previous editions do in that language. So to make foreign language sales work your work has to be commercially adept in two different tongues. Given how little control authors have on the sales of their work in their first language, they can expect even less control in the second language, so you basically hope everything works out in the end.

Naturally, in the case of OMW, I suspect that the fact it was Hugo-nominated is a substantial selling point for foreign-language editors; me winning the Campbell Award doesn’t hurt, either.

Theoretically it’s possible that somewhere down the line I might see royalties from foreign-language editions. That’d be nice, but I’m not waiting up nights for that.

All told, my foreign sales income in 2006 was about $20,000.

3. Because my sales of Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades have been healthy, my advances have gone up commensurately (having a good agent helps in this regard as well). In 2006, I signed a three-book contract with Tor, with each book bringing $25k each, some of which I got upon signing. One of the books (The Last Colony) is in the can; the other two I have to write yet (they’re on hold while I bang out the follow-up to The Android’s Dream, for which I have a separate contract; yes, Tor will have me for a while.)

What do I think of $25k for a novel? I think it’s fine; I’ve seen my sales so far for my books and it’s in line with that. It’s less than the advances I’ve gotten for non-fiction but that’s an “apples and oranges” comparison in terms of sales and distribution. Other friends of mine who are writers are making more, but then again, they’re selling more as well, and some of them are also in other segments of the publishing business that pay higher advances; anecdotally it seems genre pays less in advances than mainstream or lit fic.

Would I like to get paid more up front per book? I wouldn’t mind. However, inasmuch as a large portion of my writing income comes from outside of fiction writing (and I have a spouse with a good, benefits-laden job) I’m not living from book advance to book advance either. I can afford to look at intangibles as well. In the case of Tor, for example, I’ve been very pleased with their long-term strategy for promoting my work (and me!), and that has its value as well, in terms of the overall health of my fiction career. My agent will probably stab me in the eye for saying this, but sometimes intangibles like that are worth as much as more money up front.

Mind you, this warm and fuzzy feeling for Tor and its folk doesn’t stop me from approaching the business side of my career as a business — this is why I have an agent, after all: so I can say nice things about Tor while he wrestles and argues with them about money and rights and what have you. Ethan earns his 15%. What I’m saying is that from a business point of view, it behooves me to look at an entire package, of which money is one part, and many other things are many other parts.

In addition to the three-book contract discussed above, Tor also bought the rights to publish Agent to the Stars at some point in the future, most likely as a trade paperback (I’ll be revising that one prior to its Tor publication to bring some of the cultural references up to date).

All told, my advance income in 2006 was about $30,000.

4. Miscellaneous income — This includes my fee for guest editing Subterranean magazine issue #4 and payment for the short story “How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story” (“The Sagan Diary,” which I also wrote in 2006, I took no upfront payment for; some of you will recall that I wrote it in exchange for a $5k bid on a draft copy of The Last Colony, the proceeds of which went to the John M. Ford Book Endowment — although SubPress is splitting the back-end profits with me, which will end up being nice, indeed). I recognize that it might be offensive to some to label income from short story writing as “miscellaneous,” but please understand that it’s strictly an economic designation; I write little enough short fiction, and the payment for it is typically so low relative to other writing, that it doesn’t really earn its own breakout designation.

My miscellaneous income was about $2,000 in 2006.

(Caveat: These numbers aren’t exact because I don’t have all my 1099 tax forms spread out in front of me when I’m writing this. There’s probably a margin of error of, oh, about $3k.)

Now, what really happened in 2006, in regard to my science fiction income, was that I had been in the science fiction publishing business for enough time, and had been successful enough at it (for various reasons, one of which was being just damn lucky) that this was the year that many potential revenue sources began to flow income in my direction. In short, time was a major contributing factor — I’ve now been doing this long enough, basically.

Should I expect this level of income from science fiction every year? I don’t think so, as there are any number of ways this income could go down. If one of my books sells poorly, that will have an impact on my future advances and on my royalties. If my books sell poorly in other languages, that will have an impact on future foreign sales. I could develop a massive writer’s block or simply choose to write more in other fields and thus write fewer SF novels. My publishers could suddenly have economic seizures and be unable to pay me what they owe me. Rampant electronic piracy could eat away into my sales! (sorry, had to throw that one in there for all the fearful Luddites out there.) There are lots of ways this income could go away. Writing SF isn’t a great way to have a stable income.

(Which isn’t to say it couldn’t go up, mind you: OMW is selling very nicely in mass market, TGB is heading to mass market in April/May, I’m touring with The Last Colony when it comes out, TAD is holding its own nicely, “The Sagan Diary” is doing mind-bogglingly well for a novelette, and so on. And there are still foreign languages to sell in. Don’t get me wrong, I think I’m going to do just fine in 2007, as far as science fiction is concerned. It’s simply foolish to assume that just because I’m doing well one year, that all years in the future will be equally cheery. Anyone who has been a writer over the long haul will tell you that some years you’re up, and some years you’re down.)

In any event, this is what a reasonable amount of success in science fiction publishing looks like, circa early 2007.

The floor is now open to questions and comments.

(Edited in later: Why I write about my writing income, and some follow-up thoughts, based on comments and e-mails)


Open Thread: Medical “Facts”

Okay, the only reason I haven’t vomited all over my own feet today is that I’ve only drunk water since I woke up. Which is to say, I’m sick and I’m going to go lie down. You’re going to have to get along without me today. Here, have an open thread.

To get you started, a topic: Relate interesting medical-related “facts.” As with this previous thread on “facts,” the word “facts” is in quotes for a reason.

Here’s three from me:

1. The 17th century Flemish believed that crocodile teeth would cure gout and syphilis when ground into a poultice with chicken fat and cow dung, but abandoned the practice when it was determined that the poultice invariably cured the wrong disease of the two in any particular patient.

2. American President Martin Van Buren (1782 – 1862) was afflicted with “pica,” a disorder which causes a person to consume non-food objects such as rocks or coins. Van Buren’s nickname “The Little Magician” is rooted in the fact that coins in his vicinity would disappear down his gullet if others did not keep a close eye on them.

3. Recent medical studies at the University of Kentucky suggest that Americans in the southern states have the highest rates of flatulence, breaking wind 1.3 times as often as midwesterners, the second most flatulent group, and 2.1 times as much as the least flatulent Americans, who reside in the Pacific northwest. However, Pacific northwesterners rank at the top for smelliest flatulence, which may relate to a high incidence of vegetarianism and veganism in the area, relative to other regions in the country.

Now. Your “facts,” please.


Movements and Reprehensibility

Two links related to me for you this evening:

* John C. Wright talks about Old Man’s War and the New Comprehensibility, but rather more importantly, he launches his own new science fiction movement: The New Space Princess Movement:

The literary movement will follow two basic principles: first, science fiction stories should have space-princesses in them who are absurdly good looking. Second, The space princesses must be half-clad (if you are a pessimist. The optimist sees the space princess as half-naked). Third, dinosaurs are also way cool, as are ninjas. Dinosaur ninjas are best of all.

I have nothing bad to say about this proposed new literary movement.

In discussing OMW, incidentally, Wright brings up a small objection about recreational sex in a co-ed military (i.e., that it’s shown not having any effect on unit cohesion and etc); this isn’t the first time the topic has been mentioned. It’s an interesting topic, although I would note that strictly speaking the issue of sex in the regular CDF ranks is not touched on at all; everybody screws around in the book in the interim period between getting their new bodies and starting basic training. Once they start training and fighting, sex exits the book. To be honest, I don’t know what the rules and regs about sex in the regular CDF are once the recruits are formally inducted; I didn’t think about it at the time. My assumption is that it’s “don’t screw around with your platoonmates.” The Special Forces, of course, would have an entirely different set of rules, as discussed in The Ghost Brigades.

* Here’s an interesting essay on Old Man’s War from author Gabriel McKee, which takes the book to task for its level of militarism, which McKee finds “morally reprehensible”:

Scalzi’s characters universally take glee in fighting. I hoped that someone, somewhere in this book would feel a pang of conscience about their army’s xenocidal imperialism. The narrator eventually does express some guilt in one scene about two thirds in. While slaughtering a species of aliens that literally can’t fight back (they’re under an inch tall), he begins to worry that military life has turned him into a soulless killing machine. His superior officers laugh off his concerns, and his guilt lasts all of nine pages, after which the character just gets over it and goes back to following orders. It’s a shame, too—if the book would have been far more enjoyable for me if it had brought some moral complexity to its wanton destruction.

Naturally, I don’t think the book is as morally reprehensible as McKee does; in particular I would dispute that the majority of the characters take glee in fighting (indeed, one of the characters who clearly does meets a sticky ending). But I think it’s an interesting take on the book, and I think a discussion regarding the morality of the OMW universe and characters is worth having, even if I don’t agree with the McKee’s characterization of the events in the book or the conclusions McKee comes to. Check it out for yourself and see what you think.

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