John Scalzi Answers Mail, Generically

Because a number of e-mails I’ve gotten in the last week are similar to other e-mails I’ve gotten this week from other people, rather than respond to them privately with more or less the same responses, I’ll go ahead and answer them generically.

Why haven’t you been talking about [insert particular political thing here]?/You should talk about [insert political thing here].

The answer to why I haven’t been talking about it, whatever it is, politically speaking, is that a) I was recently busy commenting on the Amazon/Macmillan thing, which took up a fair amount of my brain, b) I did several days of travel, which keeps me out of the loop with the news, and c) at the moment I’m not hugely engaged in the day-to-day political scene because I personally have other things to think about, including stuff that doesn’t get put into the blog. It’s been an extraordinarily busy few weeks for me, actually. So short of a coup, at the moment what’s going on in Washington hasn’t been grabbing my interest. Don’t worry, I’m sure eventually I’ll come around to it again.

Have you seen [insert late-breaking commentary regarding Amazon/Macmillan kerfuffle]? It shows why Amazon won/why Macmillan won that fight.

Yes, I’ve probably seen it; no, I don’t suspect it does in fact show how one or the other the two companies won. In a very narrow sense Macmillan “won” this particular corporate negotiation because it appears to have gotten Amazon to accept a distribution model Macmillan prefers; likewise in a very narrow sense Amazon “lost” a PR battle because its PR strategy was to say or do nothing, which allowed others to define Amazon’s position. But the implications of the negotiation are far-reaching rather than truly lending themselves to an immediate “win”/”lose” formulation, and in both cases life goes on and both companies will adjust their strategies to incorporate the results. Now that the drama is done I sort of strongly suspect that in another week even the people most engaged in the Amazon/Macmillan thing will move on, just like we’ve all moved on from the Conan O’Brien/Jay Leno thing. Doesn’t the Conan/Leno fight seem so long ago now? Yes, exactly.

However, in the immediate aftermath of the A/M kerfuffle, I got a lot of these e-mails:

Just to let you know, I won’t buy one of your eBooks unless it’s at [insert desired price here] or less.

My response to this one has been pretty consistent: So don’t buy my eBooks until they are at a price you desire. That makes perfect sense to me, and I suspect my publishers will eventually pick up on that message as well, which, frankly, would suit me just fine. And for most eBook owners, that’s as far as the conversation goes or needs to go. They have legitimate concerns about book costs and I want to assure them that I’m fine with them buying my work electronically at the right price for them. I think everyone comes away happy with that sort of exchange.

That said, there’s a rather smaller percentage of eBook owners who attempt to use that statement as a threat; i.e., I won’t buy your books unless you jump through this particular hoop so you better jump through that hoop if you don’t want to be poor. To which my response is: Dude, fuck off, already. I know how many eBooks I sell, both as a raw number and as a percentage of my overall sales, and I can say this with some authority: I won’t much miss your ass, and at the moment, neither would most authors. Even Amazon knows this: There was a reason Amazon delisted Macmillan’s paper books as well as its electronic books — it knew perfectly well which of the two was going to hurt Macmillan (and tangentially, its authors) more.

I think inside the eBook tunnel it’s hard to remember that these really are the early days of this manner of distribution. A lot of things militant early adopters apparently thought were settled (such as the ideal price for an eBook) are still well in play, as we have just seen. The folks thinking that the eBook market as it is now is as it should/must/will be in the future are like Internet folks in 1994 unilaterally deciding that the online world was going to be USENET and gopher servers forever, because really, what else was there. Surprise! There was more. There will be more in the eBook market, too.

I offer up a rather substantial amount of work online, for free, and have done so for over a decade, and otherwise have a history of being quite friendly to the concept of electronic distribution of my work. So I feel entitled to be less than impressed with that (thankfully small) percentage of eBook fans who believe that their purchase of an electronic reader makes them an instant expert on the market segment, or obliges me or any author to put their desires and demands ahead of everyone else’s, and who presume to lecture me on either or both. Yes, Mr. Techy McLecturepants, I get that having an expensive, shiny gadget makes you feel entitled. But this is not my problem, and if you try to make it my problem, I’m likely to be rude to you.

How’s the SFWA election coming along?

It’s proceeding with a genuine minimum of drama, actually. Which is boring for you, the outside observer, but for which I think I, the other candidates and most of SFWA’s membership are grateful for.

Why were you in LA? Huh? Huh? Huh?

I was in LA because a year ago I got bounced off a flight and got a free round trip out of it that was going to expire, so it seemed like a good time to go out there and eat Double-Doubles. Oh, and to take some meetings with my film agent and my non-fiction agent, both of whom are located there. Be aware that “take some meetings” sounds rather more mysterious and exciting than it was. Sorry to disappoint. I’m secretly boring. Don’t tell.

While I was there I also saw some friends, because as most of you know I grew up in LA. One highlight was having lunch with my friend Kyle, who was my best friend in second grade and who I had not seen since then. 30 years is a lot to catch up with, so it was a long lunch. And I’m delighted to say that even after a 30-year hiatus, the friendship is still there. Seriously, how cool is that.

And that’s all the generic e-mail responses I have for you today.

47 Comments on “John Scalzi Answers Mail, Generically”

  1. I am happy to say that I don’t feel entitled at all, and that I think both Macmillan and Amazon LOST their fight. I’m just sorry that some writers also lost in the affray.

    So, did your non-fiction and film agents go for the documentary on buying the SFWA election with Double-Double bribes, and will it be available on Kindle for $9.99 or less?

  2. I’m not familiar with generic email protocol. I didn’t send you any email during the past week, but I’ve read your answers. Does that mean I owe you a generic question now?

    Also, I don’t want to keep beating the Amazon / Macmillan drum, so I’ll ask something else. Why don’t you post more pictures of Zeus?

  3. Hi,

    I really should never read this site while at work. #1 (#Brad) above did make me burst out laughing, and I am in a large open area office space. Oh well everyone else seems to be netsurfing…

    BTW John, I agree with Brad, you really are one BAMF Dude! But that is why you are on my team!



  4. Oh, hey, The Sagan Diary is online for free? I read all the OMW books in the last week and a half after not getting around to it for forever and a day. I bought The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale as ebooks to try them out, with much success. Even without an entitlement device. (I’m waiting for Apple’s entitlement device, because, by god, I want the best entitlement money can buy.)

    Thanks for the link!

  5. Oh look – an appropriate post for this comment.

    1) I’ve bought, at BN Retail, all your books (paperback). Why? Because Tor mailed me a free ebook of Olds Mans War. Never heard of your before. Got the freebie, now I’m hooked.

    2) I’m now a subscriber to your blog, again because of that free book from Tor. Between Tor’s free ebooks last year (or was that 2008?) and Baen free library, I’ve found a dozen new authors and spent hundreds of dollars on further work in their series-es.

    3) Ebooks? Meh. The readers will be great for magazines but I plan to give my books to my grandkids.

    Thank you, and Thank Tor for giving away your books.

  6. Film agent? I was unaware that you had any film properties in development, other than your OBVIOUS involvement in SG:U (which coincidentally was just released on DVD)

    Are you currently working on other film stuff that you can talk about or is this just a normal thing for a gentlemen of your stature to be doing while in LA?

  7. I think it’s impressive, interesting, and awesome that you and someone you haven’t seen from the second grade can meet up and still find a fast friendship there. It gives me hope. I left Woodridge, IL when I was in second grade and had been friends with another girl, Renee (and I don’t remember her last name at all, time to look for the pictures). We were both more advanced readers than the rest of the second grade so during the reading lesson we were taught separately. (I learned how to read before I started school.) I’ve always wondered about her.

  8. I’m totally going to add “Huh? Huh? Huh?” to all my blog comment questions from now on. That’s totally the voice I’ve been looking for. Totally.

  9. Dance for me, monkey boy!

    That said, am I alone in not wanting to send emails to authors I enjoy reading because I’d rather they, you know, write more books than respond to my lame-ass inquiry?

    But for some reason I treat author blogs differently. If you leave comments open then expect comments, but I in no way expect a response, either.

    Yeah, the loud and obnoxious minority of ebook users (a double-minority–as I’m sure most ebook readers, who are themselves a minority, are decent folks) who seem to enjoy posting their opinions online do come across as arrogant and entitled sons-a-bitches. And I say “sons” as every one I’ve seen tends to be male.

  10. Lambpie,

    Don’t you EVER get tired of people putting their noses in your business? I adore the blog. However, you are much more polite and forgiving of your fans than I would be in your place. Just know that some of your fans admire your forbearance as much as your writing.

  11. Well, I refuse to buy your books until there’s one I haven’t read. So THERE! Oh, and I just might pay cash for it.. OR credit! I’m not telling you EITHER!! /huff

    Actually, the coolest part of that post was the idea of getting together with a 2nd grade friend. It’s very awesome that you guys kept in touch at some level and could get together. I wonder where my 2nd grade friends are….

  12. I’m with adelheid, that you can reconnect with a second grade mate and still have the “it” goin’ on that 6 or 7-year olds have? Seriously? Win. That could have been your entire post because of all the win.

  13. Dance, monkey, DANCE! Whip your little behind around there! Only then will I consider tossing this tarnished shekel in your cap. And you’ll be GRATEFUL FOR IT, dammit!

  14. ‘I think inside the eBook tunnel it’s hard to remember that these really are the early days of this manner of distribution.’

    No – it is really early in attempting to gain maximum (to be charitable, sustainable) profit for all concerned parties, which as we have noticed for over a decade with the ongoing digital debacle of the musical industry, has little to do with the actual creators, and even less to nothing to do with the ‘consumer.’

    Project Gutenberg has been doing quite well in the eBook space for a couple of decades now, at least if we use the measure of the amount of literary work available for any use by any reader with access to any digital device which can access the Internet and with a screen capable of displaying text.

    But it is reasonable to point out that Project Gutenberg is an utter failure as a commercial venture, and one that does not reward an author in any monetary sense. However, that reality does not diminish the advantages to the reader of Project Gutenberg’s vast eBook library. Well, generally ASCII/HTML library, as format lock-in is something Project Gutenberg is very interested in avoiding, unlike seemingly all commercial eBook providers, who dream of locking in as many buyers as possible.

    There is a strange aura of greed (though again to be charitable, one could also use the word need for those who believe that the meager earnings of those actually writing justifies the vast corporate structure which ensures just enough crumbs are left on the white linen table cloth of the never ending feast of the neither select nor small number who don’t waste their time writing are able to enjoy) surrounding the idea that every copy of a creative work must involve a tithe to the creator, far beyond death as currently codified – as noted by your observation that only a used copy of a book you wrote was being offered on Amazon. which meant you didn’t profit at all.

    Which is an odd attitude, to be honest – the owner of that book paid you, and now the owner of the book is selling their copy, not yours.

    The ‘tunnel’ from your quote is another odd attitude, a vision reduced primarily on how to stop those who buy books from depriving the rightful owners of those works (which for most written/visual/media work tends to be the entity that paid for the creation of a work for hire) from controlling all aspects of how that work is used and distributed. In other words, lending/selling/giving away a bought digital copy should be impossible in a way that trying to prevent the same with a printed book is currently impossible.

    Maybe the big idea behind Stallman’s The Right To Read would be an interesting topic – as a counterpoint, of course, since Stallman’s interest remains focused squarely on the right to read, not the desire to write as a way to earn a living.

  15. Doesn’t anyone read eBooks for content? I don’t really consider price at all when looking at my next eBook to buy. I look for story, writing, engaging characters.

    I see so many folks jump on the free stuff. Well I look at it but if it’s not something I’d normally read, I just don’t download it, free or not.

    I will be exploring some of the indie authors, but mainly because I’d not normally see their books, not because they are selling at 99 cents or 2.99. Price just doesn’t come into my selection criteria for the next book.

    Write a good story is all I’m asking.

  16. not_scottbot @23 comments that:

    ‘ your observation that only a used copy of a book you wrote was being offered on Amazon. which meant you didn’t profit at all.

    Which is an odd attitude, to be honest – the owner of that book paid you, and now the owner of the book is selling their copy, not yours.’

    I have a sneaking suspicion that not_scottbot hasn’t actually read Scalzi’s observations in the plural; had s/he done so s/he would have grasped that the observation was a simple statement of fact.

    It was most certainly not a claim that Scalzi *should* benefit from the sale of a used copy, which is what not_scottbot is trying to turn it into…

  17. Stevie:

    not_scottbot has rather a history of showing up and being arch and sarcastic without commensurate evidence of having read the site particularly well, or appearing to understand the issue on which he’s kvetching.

  18. (quote)I won’t buy your books unless you jump through this particular hoop so you better jump through that hoop if you don’t want to be poor.(/quote)
    There’s only one hoop you gotta jump through for me … it’s got to be available where I can actually PAY you for it. Usenet might satisfy the first half, but not the second. And I want you to continue to be happy/fed/housed/clothed by writing, so you can write MORE!

    Well, I’d also like it in an open, common, non-locked format. Which for me so far has been html–my old Zaurus SL860 PDA got me through many staff meetings and plane flights, looking busy while reading various Baen books. But I’m not buying into another locked silo …

  19. I have trouble understanding why you get so much negative email and so many negative posts on your blog. I just found your blog a week ago and I really like it. I had never heard of you before that. If someone doesn’t like what you have to say, why do they bother sending you an email?

    The entertainment business is tough. You have to deal with alot of idiots who think you owe them. If you don’t lower the price of your ebook I won’t buy it. So they are costing you $1 in royalties? Are they idiots to think you would care?

    A lot of the people who post on this blog and email you are idiots. I am surprised you don’t delete their responses or ban their IP.

    BTW, How do the different types of agents work. So your literary agent only does books? He isn’t qualified to handle film rights? Is this a different agent at the same firm? Anyway you can blog on this?

    One last thing. You may have some serious stalkers. Why do people care if you were in LA?

  20. Guess@28: “If someone doesn’t like what you have to say, why do they bother sending you an email?”

    Many people don’t make the effort to speak up unless they want things to change. (In online discussions, “change” frequently means “recognize my obviously superior mental and moral position in spite of my adolescent social skills.”) Contented people tend toward laziness. If they like what John has to say, they just read it to get their ration of warm and fuzzy for the day and move on.

    You said, “A lot of the people who post on this blog and email you are idiots. I am surprised you don’t delete their responses or ban their IP.”

    I plead guilty as charged. One of the reasons I keep coming back is because John lets me. He’s amazingly tolerant of my half-witted joke attempts and other people’s differing opinions, yet he’s still firm but fair with his rules regarding civil discussion and keeping on topic. He seems like a very balanced individual. Or if he cries himself to sleep curled up in a fetal position each night because somebody was mean to him online, he doesn’t show it.

  21. @DaveH: It doesn’t seem like alot of people are “speaking up” they are just running their idiot mouths.

    It seems like Kindle owners are all “me, me, me”. Hey I was a fool and spent $400 on this stupid device and I want authors who make NO money off this device to sell me their books real cheap. Amazon promised!

    So if you don’t lower your prices I won’t buy your book and you won’t get your $1 royalty.

    I predict that in 5 years you will be able to get an ereader for $50 and it will have 10x the storage capacity that it does today. First generation technical toys are never very good anyway.

  22. That get-together with your old friend sounds cool. In ’08, I asked my brother, a detective, if he could help me find my best friend from grammar school, whom I hadn’t seen since ’85. I’d done some Net searching of my own, and came up blank. My brother found him in 15 minutes, though my friend’s brother, who lives a few miles from my brother in upstate NY. Within three hours, my friend and I were on the phone to each other, and the connection was still there. Haven’t managed a face-to-face yet, but it is very cool to reconnect that way. Keep in touch with your guy.

  23. Guess:

    I get negative comments because I tolerate people posting negative comments. I tolerate people posting negative comments because it’s not a good thing for me (or others, I think) to live in a world where they don’t hear criticism or opposing views. So long as people follow the comment policy, they may say what they like. And of course, I feel free to respond as I like.

    Also, I don’t suspect I actually have all that many stalkers. However, I am reasonably public about my comings and goings and so people feel free to ask about what I’m up to. And of course a trip to LA might seem interesting because I think a fair number of people here hope a book of mine is optioned for film, and LA is where the film studios are. I don’t find the questions generally intrusive because if I don’t want to answer I won’t, or I’ll say “none of your business.”

  24. Heh. I received an email a few months back about a reunion of sorts of my elementary school class.

    I couldn’t go because I live on the other side of the country now, but it was nice to be on the full mailing list. Look at all those names from my childhood!

    The day after the event, I sat in on the group emails as everyone talked about how much fun they had and how great it was to catch up.

    Then the guy who was my very best friend in grade school sent a note praising the former classmate who organized it, saying that he “really ROCKS, even though [he’s] gay.”

    Sometimes, you just can’t go back. :)

  25. I can see the trailer for FoxNews tonight…

    In a scheme to increase his blog rating above that of Perez Hilton, SciFi author Scalzi, advocates violent coup d’état in US….

    Said Scalzi on his blog this week…

    “I’ve cracked [the] overall top 100, holding the anchor position, situated directly below Perez Hilton…This won’t last…I’m not hugely engaged in the day-to-day political scene…short of a coup…I’m sure eventually I’ll come around to it again.”

  26. ” I know how many eBooks I sell, both as a raw number and as a percentage of my overall sales, and I can say this with some authority: I won’t much miss your ass[.]”

    I see you’ve decided to go the Michael Bay/Uwe Boll route. Good luck with that.

  27. DensityDuck:

    “I see you’ve decided to go the Michael Bay/Uwe Boll route. Good luck with that.”

    Well, you know. Michael Bay made $100 million for himself last year, and Uwe Boll, while making less, still does well and appears to be having the time of his life.

    So I’m not entirely sure the point you’re trying to make here is the point you are making.

  28. John: No, that is *exactly* the point I’m making. If your attitude is “fuck you I made $100 million”, that’s fine, but be aware that Michael Bay can depend on drunk fratboys and bored teenagers.

    Of course, the “core audience” echo chamber can indeed work sometimes, which is why Star Fleet Battles is still around. So there you are, I guess.

  29. “I was in LA because a year ago I got bounced off a flight and got a free round trip out of it”

    Whereas -I- got bumped from TWO flights and then eventually transported by night in a bus for the remainder of my journey and dumped in a dark parking lot, miles from anything, at 5AM. And you know what -I- got for that? $50 worth of flight coupons.

  30. DensityDuck:

    “If your attitude is ‘fuck you I made $100 million’, that’s fine, but be aware that Michael Bay can depend on drunk fratboys and bored teenagers.”

    Yes, well, and I can fall back on corporate consulting and freelance work, through which I was making a six figure salary long before I was a published novelist, and through which I still make a fair amount. I feel perfectly fine telling people who attempt economic blackmail on me out of an inflated sense of entitlement to fuck right off.

  31. To switch direction for a moment, what’s a double-double south of the 40th? Up here it’s a Tim Horton’s two cream and two sugar coffee….

  32. Susan,

    I read books for content, and have even paid MORE than ten bucks for eBooks I really wanted to read, but I have a queue of books on my Kindle right now, so why buy now what I may not read for a couple of months. And if it’s cheaper, so much the better.

    Of course, I might have moved on by then, or forgotten, and I may never buy the book at all… This doesn’t apply to Scalzi. He’s on my list of authors (e.g., Baxter, Sawyer) whose names come up as suggestions if I type a B or S into Amazon’s search list.

    Also, I often download the free books, for several reasons.

    The ones I have seen are often the first book in a series. If I like them, there’s a good chance I will buy the subsequent books.

    There is no risk reading them. If I decide not to finish them, I don’t feel as though I have wasted my money.

    Sometimes there is a jewel among them. For example The Time Traveler’s Academy. I never expected to enjoy that book as much as I did. I don’t mean to say that it’s well written, because it isn’t. It’s a spectacularly bad book. I often read random passages aloud to my friends, because the book is so bad I want to share. But if it weren’t free, I would feel abused.

  33. That’s one of the real benefits to e-books that e-readers simply don’t appreciate as much as they should — free book samples in order to build up the industry. In print, you can get books at libraries and do the same thing, try them out — that’s what libraries are largely for — but libraries usually can’t stock that many mass market paperbacks, which still make up most of the SFF market for instance, and it’s often difficult to find the first book of a series. So while you may be able to read a book on-line or at least sample chapters to find new titles, quite often you have to take a chance with your discretionary funds, buy a book and see. And if it doesn’t work out and you don’t like it, a print reader would not feel “abused” by it. Sure, you can trade in a print book for credit at a used bookstore or try to sell it online, unlike an e-book, but the majority of people don’t bother. They just give the books away and see it as the costs of exploring something they love. That’s why we have a SFF category market at all — because people will buy folks they’ve never read before and take a chance.

    But e-readers can get many things free on-line or as free promotional downloads and seem to take it as a right they’re always going to have, viewing the Net as a giant non-profit library that someone somewhere will fund. It’s a definite attitude shift and I think a lot of folks are going to be very disappointed because of it as the Net evolves.

  34. I feel perfectly fine telling people who attempt economic blackmail on me out of an inflated sense of entitlement to fuck right off.

    Hear hear! As well you should.

    or obliges me or any author to put their desires and demands ahead of everyone else’s

    To paraphrase Neil Gaiman’s blunt advice to the misguidedly self-entitled …. aw, hell, you know the chorus.

  35. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I was reintroduced to a high school girlfriend who I didn’t end it well with. We had lunch one afternoon, had a great, heartfelt talk about our breakup, and are now the greatest of friends. :)

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