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.