View From a Hotel Window, 5/26/15 + Thoughts on the Deal Money
Posted on May 26, 2015 Posted by John Scalzi 133 Comments
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.
Every author has to make their own decisions for their own career and no two authors are in the exact same position not only with publishing, but also their personal finances. Therefore anyone telling another author what they should or shouldn’t do; I would give my best Jerry Seinfeld reply: Whatever.
Which strangely is the title of this blog.
There is always the Mini Roadster to fill that sportscar need…
Yup. I can’t imagine you didn’t think and game this out hard before signing the deal. Anyone who thinks different really has a divergent sort of reality in their mind than the baseline.
I look forward to reading your books, John, for many many years to come. This contract helps me as a reader do that.
If you’d made a total of $6,501 from Old Man’s War, that would still be “literally exponentially higher” than the $6,500 advance. The exponent in that case would be about 1.0000175.
The best thing you can do is just do the best you can, and do not let anyone compromise your vision or integrity.
Anyone who says that the deal is no good because it’s not that much money is nuts. I would KILL to be paid that kind of money per year, just the base amounts you mention. 200K a year for ten years? DONE. I currently make around 35K working for a lovely nonprofit. Making almost ten times that? I could leverage that to be set for 30-40 years with my spending habits.
It’s an AMAZING deal, especially when you think generally about how writers struggle. You’ve hit that pantheon of writers who get to just write and turn in their stuff and not worry about the rest if they don’t want to. You deserve it. Well done.
I still don’t get why the money thing isn’t a big deal. You’re making a steady six-figure income for ten years. What’s more, that six-figure income is 3 times the minimum number you’d need to make to say you make a six-figure income. Most people will never see that kind of money in a year anyway. I sure as hell won’t as a teacher.
Sure, maybe you could have got more money per book, but having a steady baseline income for the next decade that is actually a crap ton of money by any other model of “crap ton of money” seems like a big deal to me.
So, kudos to you, Mr. Scalzi. Congrats! I look forward to seeing what you write in the next decade :)
Is there One Frivolous Thing you plan to get? Like a triple-necked mandotenor?
Thank you, Internet, for telling somebody that $260K per Thingy-They-Sell isn’t enough and they should try harder. Jeeze, Louize.
Mr. Scalzi, this is an unbelievable deal and hats off to you for achieving great heights in your chosen career. I can’t imagine producing anything at this point in my life for remotely close to that kind of scratch, let alone something I would really enjoy producing. I can’t wait to read what comes next.
I won’t dream to second guess your pay or the deal. I just wish people would do the same for me…… public service is a JOY let me tell you.
I dunno, I think you are treating SJW cabal expenses as a fixed amount, but if we continue our infiltration as discussed at the last meeting, we can expect expenses to mount. Plus keep in mind that as we are successful we increase the supply of male tears, which in turn reduces their value. Sure, we all get our Soros checks now, but come next year we expect him to sink it into installing your figurehead as President so we will need to make up revenue somewhere.
So you’re not going to pave over that lawn for a heli-pad, then?
On the topic of media rights: I just finished Cary Elwes’ book As You Wish on the making of The Princess Bride. William Goldman sold the rights in 1973, but studio politics, etc., kept it from being made for years.
I thanked you once at a signing event for “writing about the business”, and I’ll thank you again here for the same. I find this sort of frank discussion very enlightening – not just for the in’s and out’s of the business, but also of your mindset.
My talents lay elsewhere, so I’m in a different line of work, but there are parallels to be had regarding the manner in which I make my living. One place where I’m an outlier vs. many of my colleagues is that I, too, have placed an emphasis on stability and a mutual investment between myself and my employer, instead of trying to maximize my dollar amount as an end.
I’m finding this approach to life, though it serves me very well, to be incredibly difficult for many people around me to understand. I’m glad to hear I’m not so far from the herd after all.
Cheers and congrats.
In a good year, we will push the high $300s. On a down year, we will break $200. If I could guarantee a gross of $340 for a decade, I’d do it in an instant.
Enjoy the cash and let the naysayers twaddle on it.
Changed it to “orders of magnitude,” which is more accurate to what I was going for.
In your experience, how comfortable are authors like yourself with the 10 year term? Is it normal to have some wiggle room on that with the publisher? I had read at File 770 in the comments on a different discussion that often publishers have various escapes that will allow them out if certain basic things are done – of course delivery [as in, quelle surprise, you have to really write the books], but also less obvious things. Is this not true, somewhat true, etc?
Do you really take that to the bank commitment to the bank, or is still somewhat at risk?
Anyone who thinks this isn’t a great deal doesn’t know anything about publishing. Even as a well established author, an advance of $261,000 per book, guaranteed, for your next 13 books is great. And a writer with a steady income at that level is as rare as a pink unicorn. (I’ve heard about them but I’ve never actually seen one.)
So, I say, well done, Sir! And a am fine business deal all the way around!
“Just” half a mill per book? Speaking as one of those mid-list writers who’s been struggling to (a) get an offer in the range of 5 figures or (b) more likely, sell anything at ALL these days, I’m green with envy. Congratulations. And I so do hope your success causes a ripple effect that might, just might, bring about the end of the long drought for novelists, particularly us mid-listy sorts. Lee Wood (author of Looking for the Mahdi and other stones that sank without a trace)
You are a paragon of the paradigm:
(1) Publishing is not an end unto itself.
(2) Publishing is a means of BEING READ.
(3) MONETIZE the GROWTH of readership, and PROFIT !
Well if people really think $340K a year isn’t enough money, may I suggest an experiment? Whoever thinks that can pay me that same $340K per year, and I’ll let them know just how it’s going for me. It’ll be a tough life, but I’m willing to take it on in the name of science.
Ancillary, you say? [insert Scalzi/Leckie conspiracy theory here] :-)
That actually seems like a lot of money to me; I figured writers not named Stephen King mostly toil away in penury.
This article made me curious about how TV/movie rights work in the case of sequels or books in a series. You have deals for Old Man’s War, does it comprise the whole series or just book one? And for Lock In, if the show were to want to go with book two would they have to option that as well? Or is this all thought of ahead of time when you sign the rights over?
And let me add myself to the chorus of voices wishing you Congrats.
It’s also not exactly accurate to say that $261K is the minimum you’ll get, since I presume your agent gets a substantial slice of that. But even if only $210-220K goes directly into your giant money bin, that’s still pretty darn good.
It is amazing watching people bash $250,000 as “not enough.” Especially since those people aren’t making half that in publishing.
Does the New York Times generally run articles about “Meh, that’s not really that great” publishing deals?
Seriously though, congratulations. It’s well deserved. If that news made a few sad people imitate the guy from “Scanners,” so much the better.
I’m pretty sure that no matter how you slice it, this is an “I’m Getting the Next Round” deal.
Mazel tov! A stead income stream for a decade is wonderful – especially when it will mean new books for me to read :)
Wes Felter @4:58pm: Surely “Ancillary Scalzis” is the name of somebody’s next band.
I am still hoping for a pony from Scalzi.
I think we owe it to you to provide a ready-made list of ways to blow these newly-minted riches.:) Since you’re in NYC, why stay in a hotel when you could stay in the most expensive rental there? Only $150K per month.
In reaction to people telling you how to spend your money:
I’m always bemused by the “when I make it big/win the lottery” dreams that people put forth. My wish list is so tiny: annual pass to Disneyland for the rest of my life, paid for house with enough room for my hobbies (cross-stitch, baking, and reading whoo-boy), and that’s about it. I can’t even fathom wanting the 6 figure sports car or the house that requires 15 people to maintain. Though it might be fun to every morning sit down with my morning coffee and log into DonorsChoose.org and randomly fully fund a classroom.
I thought there would be an automatic a round of “I NEVER said Scalzi doesn’t sell that well!” denials, following by enraged, foaming-at-the-mouth when people reposted those “Scalzi doesn’t sell well” statements just for fun on a slow afternoon.
Instead, it’s mostly a round of, “Here’s why $3.4 million PROVES that Scalzi doesn’t sell well!” posts circulating. It somehow lacks flare, and I am disappointed in their efforts.
Seriously, congratulations on handling the money correctly. There is a point where what you have the necessities and everything else is a toy. Different for everyone. But if you like a Mini keep it. If you want to drive a high end sports car rent one for the day. Just keep writing. And Thanks for the stuff I’ve already read. Enjoy.
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.
Somehow, I get an insane fit of giggles about that.
Scalzi, of course, has a SANE fit of giggles.
I think it’s damned good money, and congratulations for signing the deal, Scalzi! It’s just not blow-the-doors off big money – I was a hair surprised that the NY TIMES saw fit to write about it. (Gratified that it was you, and not Brad Torgeson, Larry Correia, Theodore Beale or any other bigoted Sad Puppy – but surprised.)
Yes, the mechanics of the deal interest me greatly – I’m married to a bestselling fantasy author who used to be an Agent’s Assistant, after all, so these things make fun dinner-table conversation. :)
You want something to spend money on?
How about setting up a nonprofit to Trap, Neuter, Release, and Feed stray cats and dogs…?
PPS: That view out your window – makes my heart heavy with nostalgia for when we used to live in NYC….
Once upon a time, I sat down and figured out how much money I would need to stop working and do whatever I wanted to do and be comfortable living off what the investment income.
It was remarkably close to what you’re getting in this deal.
Obviously, it’s money you’re working hard for, not money that enables you to quit working, so it’s not really the same thing – but from the perspective of “Is this a sum of money that enables you to do what you want and live as you like?” Well, yeah. And anything more than that is less about living and more about keeping score.
And all the things you say about how it’s not just about the bottom line, but about building a long-term partnership, make total sense to someone outside the biz.
So yay John, and I look forward to reading the fruits of this partnership for a long time.
You had me right up to “meh, I like my Mini.” Dude, you can afford that BRG Miata now. And you can keep the Mini for, er, inclement weather.
You can tell that the naysayers are all smarter than you, Scalzi, because they too started from virtually nothing are now make much more money than you do for writing novels.
Also, in the universe I’m writing from, everyone wears shoes on their hands and hamburgers eat people.
As a recent subway ad says, “Sure, there’s a brick wall outside your window, but behind that brick wall is New York City.”
Chris Gerrib writes:
You are absolutely right, and yet surely you can see how we would like to see writers who have made the big time by SF terms to make rock star money. Tor backed up the money truck and it’s a local delivery van and not an 18-wheeler. Eric Flint recently gave some indication of his writing income and it’s respectable, but you really want it to be more given how many books he has out and how many he writes.
I don’t think John negotiated a bad deal, that’s just all the deal the SF publishing business has to offer. The Huffington Post did a poll in 2013 in which 41 percent of respondents hadn’t read a single fiction book in the last year. OK I exaggerate a bit, there is a handful in SF that make major league athlete money and JK Rowling makes Scrooge McDuck money.
It looks to me like until John isn’t yet to the “plays poker with Castle” level, and is still D list on the table of unreasonable author expectations, though that could change if a TV series not starring Peter Dinklage comes out of development and actually gets made.
I have yet to see any of that crowd demonstrating flair; why should this be different? There seems to be a lot of sour grapes, allied with a lot of incomprehension of how publishing actually works, and, most of all, incomprehension of how money works.
The U.S. has historically low interest rates and historically low inflation; those combine to make it much more sensible for Scalzi to stagger the receipts over 10 years, even before you take tax into account. It’s quite possible that the U.S. will have a period of active deflation, depending on the precise level of economic idiocy of those who govern you, when $300k in five years time will be worth more than it is now.
And structuring the deal this way is a very cheap way for Scalzi to hedge the risks involved; hedging instruments are expensive, which is why financial concerns like to create and sell them, but signing a long term deal with a megabig company with vast experience of the business, and lots of dosh, means that Tor is paying Scalzi’s hedging for him.
And Tor now have a major asset: someone who already appeals across a wide range of people, with potential for very substantial growth, coupled with the ability to actually listen to what readers are interested in. That’s pretty rare…
“Plus keep in mind that as we are successful we increase the supply of male tears, which in turn reduces their value.”
Not if they turn out to have as many industrial uses as some people expect. You’re treating them like a beauty aid and as if all they could ever be is an adjunct to bath salts, but are you sure the possibilities stop there? Commodities can be plentiful and yet valuable (like peanuts or soybeans) and good for more than one thing at a time. And in production, economies of scale can play a part. I’m not saying that the Invisible Hand is a figment (gosh no), I’m just saying that there are cases in which the supply curve doesn’t explain everything.
Short version: I’m less pessimistic about a male-tear oversupply than you are.
But, I could still by wrong. Guess we’ll have to wait and see…
Depends on the contract and it can work the other way too — for example, one may specify that if “key people” leave the publisher (usually a publisher or editor), the author can unilaterally break or ask to renegotiate the deal. A lot of it is down to what one’s agent and/or lawyer ask for (or catch).
I don’t know many other authors who have done a deal like this so I can’t say how anyone else handles it. I hope they have a good agent/lawyer team.
I personally am tickled that Scalzi will continue to be in a position to put new books out on the regular. I’ve “lost” several favorite authors who just couldn’t make the mortgage and had to go back to their day jobs, or who got tired of the grind of submitting an Ms only to have it rejected. So Yay you and Yay us.
The body’s buried in the plant holder on the other side of the courtyard…
Or was that the Christopher Reeves remake?
As I said yesterday, it looks to me like you’ve managed to secure yourself a steady income stream for the next decade – and at a time where everyone’s job security is at risk, this is a real achievement. In a lot of ways, this is a very old-fashioned deal, because it’s primarily about your personal income security and guaranteeing that in the medium to long term, which isn’t really popular in these days of “flexible employment” and casualisation.
Gods willing and the creek don’t rise, you’ve secured yourself an income which will last long enough for your daughter to get through college (even grad school, should she decide to do that) and hopefully establish her own independence. Which is a damn sight more than a lot of people in even the best-paying jobs can say.
(I find it somewhat ruefully amusing that of my partner and myself, I’m the one with the steady work and constant income – and I’m an unemployed housewife. Household chores always need doing, no matter how much income is or isn’t coming in, and $0 doesn’t fluctuate much up or down.)
 Or in other words “so long as there aren’t any unforeseen major disasters”
I appreciate that. It’s recently become popular to say that X is exponentially more than Y when comparing two numbers, and it’s really not a meaningful comparison.
I agree with you, these are blatherations.
“d) Film/TV rights, again separate deals (also, fairly rare, so don’t count on these)”
Says the man with not one, not two, but three separate books currently in production for television series.
Also, forget about the sports car. If you want a REAL status symbol, buy a castle in France or something.
Can you get the 3.4 mil in bundles of $1 bills, and have a picture taken of yourself sitting on top of the pile? Bonus points if the pic includes bacon.
I iknow you said you’ve given up ego-surfing, but if you want a good laugh, sweet Jesus you should see some of the shirt-rending.
Ooh! Paul’s right! Find a way to tape bacon to $3.4 million! (I understand that you don’t get it all at once. Give most of it back afterwards if you have to. But this HAS to happen!)
I have it on good authority that buying a castle in Germany does not cost all that much. It’s the requirement that you must maintain and renovate the castle that’s the expensive part…
Not that you need advice, but that never stopped anyone…
First thing I’d do is book a ride on a Vomit Comet, if you haven’t already taken that ride. You know, so you can write with more authenticity…it’ll be tax deductible, probably.
And if that goes well, make a call to Virgin Galactic.
I do think you should look into getting a Morgan 3-wheeler. It’d probably be hugely fun to tool around Ohio rural roads.
“Plus keep in mind that as we are successful we increase the supply of male tears, which in turn reduces their value.”
Not if they turn out to have as many industrial uses as some people expect. You’re treating them like a beauty aid and as if all they could ever be is an adjunct to bath salts, but are you sure the possibilities stop there?
Who is using them as a beauty aid? I dry and snort them. The resulting sense of superiority is a cool natural high that lasts all day.
What happens to the value of male tears when a puppy pees in it? Inquiring minds want to know….
And you can step up from the Mini to a Yugo. Or trick out a Nova – it’s hard to bad on a budget, but you can splurge now!
You done well. Now about the *first* book on the list… Hmm???
It’s hard to believe that anyone that thinks about what this deal covers could consider it as a bad deal. Based on an earlier post ( possibly out of date now, but as a basis: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/04/06/revenue-streams-2010/ ) the $260k/book could represent only 1/3 of actual income. In that earlier post, even excluding film options (which are probably more like a bonus anyway), new book revenue was only 40% of around 80% of total income. The other 60% coming from foreign, audio and backlist sales. That means this contract could represent as little as 1/3 of the total value of the realized revenue. If anything, foreign and audio could be a bigger piece of the pile now than it was then. What’s not to like about that?
Sam Harris makes a great point on this sort of thing in one of his books. I think it was Spirituality Without Religion. Basically he says we have opinions and intuitions on things we have no or little information on.
Sadly we also seem to think that our uninformed opinions should be expressed to those with more information.
To those to who say it isn’t a good deal – please post your salary negotiations online and show us all how things are done in your profession and for others to critique.
Mr. S. – The part that impresses me the most is your promise to produce a book a year. I have trouble producing a grocery list every other week and that’s when 80% of it is a repeat of the last one.
Anna: Better yet, let’s get them posting up their salary negotiations for the next ten years (which is, after all, what Mr Scalzi has effectively done here). It is very rare these days for someone to have ten years worth of effective job security (even politicians only get about three or four – six for Senators here in Australia).
“Who is using them as a beauty aid? I dry and snort them. The resulting sense of superiority is a cool natural high that lasts all day.”
That’s another potential source of funds, and a very promising one; I didn’t mention it, though, because its of dubious legality.
Congratulations on your book deal. It could not happen to a nicer person.
OTOH, WHAT DO YOU MEAN NO PONIES??? Athena needs a pony and so does Krissy. The cats need a pony, Daisy needs a pony. Everybody needs a pony. That is so selfish (mutters)…
This contract information was released to generate publicity. Professional sports leagues do the same thing. I dont care how much money an author makes. If I like it Ill buy it. I find look at how much money I make publicity stunts distasteful. This is not directed at John. Just in general. If a contractor comes to my house and his marketing push is to show me a wad of money and go hire me cause Lots of other people pay me alot… I am kicking him out.
I dont follow the publishing industry that closely, btutthis kind of press release does not strike as that common. This is a guess but Brandon Sanderson is likely commanding 7 figures for the next Stormlight book. I dont see TOR dropping a press release for that.
Not faulting John. I do like the sound of a new space opera series… Sounds like it is years down the road. I personally would not want my contract details released publicly even if it made the new york times.
Before anyone says Im jealous .. I like Johns books and I am not exactly worrying about where my next meal is coming from.
Shouldn’t you be staying at the Algonquin?
Anyone who says that the deal is no good because it’s not that much money is nuts.
Let’s be exact here – the amount is, in itself, just about at the 1% level for US households. As JS notes, it’s a floor, it doesn’t include residuals, and it doesn’t include certain other rights.
Meaning for the next decade, our host has officially joined The Fat Cats, and after that even if he does nothing else will probably remain in The Well-Off Cats for the rest of his days. And UNLIKE all those others who got there diddling others for their savings or playing financial games, he’s there for consistently producing good stuff that people want to buy.
So, yeah, congratulations are in order.
So, casual curiosity: will we some day see a companion piece to your 2005 post entitled “Being Rich”? ‘Cause we all know that by any not-insane standard, this deal puts you firmly in that category. (Though to be honest, I consider anyone making above the median income in the US rich by any not-insane standard, so I’m pretty sure you were already there.)
I find it humerus that people who have sold 1 or two books decide to give you advice on improving your career.
Guitars, think of all the guitars you could buy!!!!! Congrats John. I love your books and enjoyed seeing you in Boston. You deserve all you are getting!
“Shouldn’t you be staying at the Algonquin?”
Take it from a local; there’s plenty of cooler (and much more affordable) hotels in the immediate vicinity of Scalzi’s publisher, not to mention the Korean fried chicken place on Fifth Avenue.
Thank you for being as forthcoming as you have been about the details of your contract. This is a BFD in the world of SF publishing, and your success could have important ramifications for other publishers and writers. You are once again helping writers and fans learn more about the business end of writing. Thanks, and again, congratulations!
My take on this is that John has a deal that keeps the -whole- Scalzi / Tor publishing team happy and is not just about padding the senior partner’s pockets. The advances are high enough that the entire team is focused on doing their utmost to insure each book is a success but not so much that Mr. Nielsen Hayden and his associates at Tor are kept awake at night hoping that John doesn’t have an off year.
Don’t get and don’t like the attitude that once someone is a success they must dump the folks who helped them, and piss on those who would suggest otherwise. John, you are a super guy and an excellent author. I would buy your works for their quality alone but it’s who you are that makes me a fan. Thank you.
And for what it’s worth, I’m one of those readers Patrick Nielsen Hayden refers to when he discusses backlisting. I found John’s writing some 2 years ago through his forward to Haldeman’s The Forever War, a favorite of mine from way back when. I promptly bought OMW followed by everything else I could find. Many, many hours of good reads so again, thank you.
Well done; consider what your fellow ink-stained wretches at the Bee, back in the day, were making, and take pleasure in your work…
You should buy A. a pony though. Even if she’s 16…
One of my teenagers who used to be much into books – and we have a house full of them – will spend hours every day on her phone reading endless streams of unofficially published fiction shared for free at Wattpad, no matter how much I try to interest her in a conventionally edited and published piece of fiction. I think my kid is likely to be one of many teenagers with a smartphone doing likewise.
Tor’s role in the deal – and the contract’s potential impact on Tor for good or ill (and what that means for the publishing industry as a whole, in an era when bookstores are vanishing) – would seem to be the true focus of the New York Times article; it would have appeared irrespective of whether the author under contract was our host or someone else. Will conventional publishing even exist by year 10? Will publishing follow what’s happened to recorded music, where it’s virtually impossible to make a living from record/CD sales anymore?
Despite this, I hope each of the 13 appears as a conventional book. I’ve never used an e-reader and am not likely to start now.
People not being impressed with the total money reminds me of stories I had read about bringing in Doctors and other professionals back into the poor neighborhood schools they left in order ‘to inspire the children’. Turns out the kids are not impressed with $300k annual salaries, their only examples of success are the rock and sport stars they see on TV. I suspect those not impressed with the size of the money are people who do not have a realistic understanding of the writer biz.
I stayed there a couple of years ago after I finished a book. It was cool. This time I’m staying on someone else’s dime, so I stay where they put me up.
I might talk about crossing over in more detail at some point. Probably not in the same format as “Being Poor.”
“To Scalzi” – verb, to sit (relatively) quietly while being mocked for being a commercial failure as you negotiate one of the biggest commercial successes of your field…
Firstly – congrats. :)
Secondly, and on point – most of the various commentary around ‘it’s too much/it’s not enough’ is based on an established narrative that people want to drive.
The deal’s not good enough? I’m probably rabidly pro-self publish.
It’s too much? I’m possibly a bitter puppy (are there any bitter puppies or are they just sad/rabid?).
My hot-takei (Oh My!)? It’s great news for sci-fi authors and sci-fi readers that an established publisher is willing to invest this sort of solid cash into the genre.
_Congratulations_, but dude, at least splurge and get a SAFE car, the (if memory serves) safest car tested, a Tesla. It’s the car SF authors SHOULD drive.
It was Memorial Day weekend and I skipped reading your Twitter stream for ONE DAY, and I come back to the Internets where everyone is talking about the SCALZI DEAL and Peter V. Brett is sending me to the NY Times who is sending me to you who is sending me to Tor and reddit and The Guardian and The Fresno Bee? I missed ONE DAY, Internets!
Again, an advance is not a purchase price and it’s not a salary. It’s Tor advancing money to Scalzi that they expect to make back in sales that is their estimate of the minimum amount he’ll likely make in royalties due him off the sales of each book. Scalzi’s sales track record is higher than the estimates, but because this is for a long period of time and different kinds of books, including entering the YA market, they are estimating a lower minimum to be able to make the long term deal.
And Scalzi is doing it this way because he’s very practical. He likes the team at Tor and doesn’t want to shift publishers. Taking the deal probably meant that he was able to negotiate very nice royalty rates for such a long time commitment. If he took a giant advance on one book, which sometimes occurs in auction situations, then the problem is having enough sales to earn out the advance. If he doesn’t earn enough royalties to cover the advance, the publisher loses money and the bigger the advance, the more money lost, which drops the publisher’s enthusiasm and all the other publishers’ enthusiasm.
But a practical, reasonable estimated advance will probably earn out and then the book will earn even more in sales, and Tor has no loss and a good stream of profit — which it then uses to fund advances of other books (this is why fiction authors help each other sell.) There is no limit to how many copies of the books can be sold and they can sell for well over Scalzi’s lifetime. Foreign sales and audio bring in advances of $5,000-70,000 for someone of Scalzi’s level and if you get twenty of those, that’s a lot, and if those earn out the advances too, he gets even more royalties. Film/t.v. options pay a nice but not exorbitant sum at first; if they get made, it can be quite a lot.
So potentially, any one of these books or all of them can be earning a million or more in royalties and rights licenses, possibly even just in the first year or two of publication, plus selling as long term backlist. He’s guaranteed 3.4 million, but unless very bad things happen or all the books tank (unlikely,) he will probably be earning a lot more, like three times, etc.
So Scalzi and Tor decided on safe, reasonable gambles for a long time relationship and steady development. It’s not the deal that every author will take — some like to gamble and not be tied down to one publisher partner — but it makes sense for him, especially given that he comes from a journalism background.
The advance is the jump point that gives the author a funding guarantee. It doesn’t have any limit on sales. And these days, a slightly smaller amount up front is probably a sound strategy.
After all of these comments, everyone still asks you what you’re going to buy with the dinero. I’m going to stick to what I asked before: are you running for president now?
Anyway, who cares about the math per book. Well, of course now you’re more stable and don’t have to worry about most things now, but still… I’m just happy you got the chance like this and you are going to continue doing what makes you great…writing books for use greedy book nerds.
*puts crayon made poster in window*. SCALZI ’16
I would seriously enjoy reading a list of all the ways you will *not* be spending your earnings. We know ponies are out, but there are so many other options here. Inquiring minds, sir. Inquiring minds.
That’s a lot of money. You are just beginning. This is what’s on the table. Write what you want. Take your time and write books that matter to you. You have enough to do what you love to do. These are the best years of your life. Now, get to work.
I’ve seen talk about self publishing when you have struck big as an author. While that may be the right thing to some people, I also think one should consider that a publishing house is, or can be, a public good.
Here in Denmark we once had a kind of monopoly on books. The publishers would set a fixed price on books, and book could only be sold by book stores. The idea was that controlling the competition would ensure that publishers were guaranteed a good income on bestsellers, and they would in turn be able to publish books on the merit of the book rather than on how well it might sell.
As a small language area, only about 5 million people speak Danish, this helped secure a market for smaller genres such as poetry, or secure that more authors got published.
I guess the same effect (without the market restrictions) still happen in large publishing houses. If Tor is guaranteed that on of their cash cows stay in the barn for the next 10 years, this allows them to take a chance on other authors.
If he continues his successes Scalzi would be able to negotiate new and better book deals after every successful book, either leaving Tor or getting more money from them. This would be nice for Scalzi, but it would be a zero sum game. The added uncertainty and the accumulation of wealth by the author means less money for other authors.
This is of course assuming that the publishing house will use its money on other projects and not on profit – but that is were one may chose to trust.
Guess: Will you excuse me if I don’t get my clutching pearls out of the vault to express my shock and dismay at that notion? Not sparing our host’s blushes, he has a certain public profile and major deals have perfectly legitimate news value if reporting the book trade is part of your beat. It’s not as if he’s being stalked, and someone’s published his tax returns and medical records.
Meja – All ‘Bout The Money
Congratulations on the book deal. Job/income security and the peace of mind it gives is worth something as well.
I look forward to reading Lock In this summer.
When I write my play, The Great and Terrible Tragicomedy of the Hugo Victor and the Barking Puppies, then “Ancillary Scalzii” shall be the chorus. Obviously, it will be a farce.
As for what our host should be spending his all that money on, I vote for travel, lots and lots of travel, with lots of long stretches in exotic cafes writing books, while nibbling exotic treats and pining for Coke Zero.
<3 I think you're doing great! Your last two paragraphs are exactly why I've always enjoyed you and your work so much.
Just popped in to add my congratulations to everyone else’s. I’m looking forward to many more years of reading and enjoying your writing!
Man, i cant keep things straight. Are you head of the SJW cabal who doesnt really sell that many books or not?!?!?
I dont even know you, John Scalzi.
In other news, the CDC is closely monitoring developments surrounding a recent outbreak of an unidentified disease that has recently struck and killed several people in the last few days. The source of the disease is not yet known but it appears to attack its victim by raising their blood pressure to such a height that the victims head literally explodes. Stay tuned as this story develops.
Now you’ll be able to have a direct pipeine of Coke Zero to the Scalzi Compound.
It is funny, it took the long discussion on the merits of e-book pricing to realise, how few Books a mid-list author sells. John sells lots of books and is being comensurated appropriately for that. ( I’d be fascinated to see your total sales numbers for each book, but it would probably be a bitch to pull together and I am sure you have better things to do).
The weird thing is book purchasing is not normally distributed, the mean figure I have seen thrown around is One. Its been a long time since I studied statistics so I am not even sure what sort of distribution is appropriate.
Just read about the deal on io9 and rushed over here to say (as you’ve mentioned) Congratulations Dude!!! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all your books and I can’t wait to see what you come up with next. You deserve it man. God bless.
P.S. when are you going to be around the Pittsburgh/Western PA area?
I read about the deal and thought 2 things. 1.) Good for you. and 2.) I am deeply envious of your ability to pay for your daugther’s upcoming college education. (I’ve got 2 daughters – aged 4 and 5 – and as I’m an accountant by trade I have daily fits about the upcoming expense.) You win at life, you lucky man. I’m looking forward to the books!
Honestly, anyone who thinks either a quarter mill per book isn’t a really really really good advance for an author in our genre who is not named Neil, Neil, Charlaine, Brandon, Jim, Terry or George (plus a few others, but you get the idea) or that a quarter mill a book “proves” that Scalzi doesn’t sell well (or both) truly doesn’t understand publishing…but then, in general the Puppies and those who are Puppy-adjacent have demonstrated over and over that that is the case.
“Ancillary Rights”? Is that a new Ann Leckie novel?
(agh, I should read all the comments before posting)
Well done- and congratulations!
I look forward to all of your future works!
“A writer can make a fortune in America, but he can’t make a living.”
–James A. Michener
I’ve been paying* attention to the economics of writing and publishing for a good forty years, both close up and via professional oservers, and the Michener comment always seems to remain apt. John’s arrangement with Tor is a big effing deal indeed, and would have been (from a family-economics point of view) for half the money. Or a third. Ask any public-school teacher or university assistant prof.
* Yes, I saw that.
I must alert you to part of John Scalzi’s nefarious money-making plan: nobody resells his books.
I will go miles out of my way for a used bookstore, and yet, I never see Scalzi on the shelves! Book dealers tell me that people selling Scalzi books are rare, and the items move immediately upon shelving.
The only possible conclusion is that Scalzi has agents across the nation, buying and burning all used copies of his books. Forcing me to buy them new! The horror!
My family is from Costa Rica, there library system is very different from ours. The libraries do NOT allow you to take books out from their buildings. That is a sure way to cut down on people’s pleasure reading and discovery of new material.
Needless to say this stops a lot of potential customers from discovering your (and other authors work).
I believe that this is great area to develop a digital loaning library. Residents could borrow digital texts as this media is automatically returned. Many residents of this high status third world country have smart phones and computers, but are unaware that digital texts exist let alone the concept of a digital library. My college professor of engineering brother in law had never seen a digital book until this year when he was in the states let alone a lending library.
I believe that big publisher would love to set up a digital system in these third world countries as it would get more readers consuming more media. I bet many authors would love to have more of their works translated into foreign languages.
So, John, is the Piqua airport big enough to handle your new private jet given your success! Congrats .. I’ve only read the OMW, which I enjoyed and recommended to others, so far and will be reading more as time goes by.
So, the “boat” in your twitter feed…that’s yours, then? Nice.
I am often confused by how many people think that a contract should have a “winner” and a “loser”, so that if you’re not screwing over the other guy you must be getting screwed over. A good contract, IMHO, is one that fairly distributes the risk and the reward between both parties in a mutually-agreeable manner. It’s not the next marginal dollar; it’s about both sides getting fair compensation for the effort they invest and the risk they accept.
Congrats. It’s nice to see all the hard work pay off.
You have a book deal for the next 10 years. Can I get a deal on buying the next 10 years of your books?
Seriously, I’m going to buy them so cut me a deal and I’ll just pay you now.
It’s interesting that Tor has set up such a long term contract in such an unstable industry. Does that mean they think they’ve a handled on how e-books vs hardcopy will shake out? Though with other media rights left out, there’s a fair amount of flexibility in case of further upsets of how we sell stories.
I’m sure that Tor has long term projections as to the balance between print and e-books; I’m equally sure that there will always be a market for print. Some people simply don’t like reading on screens, some books, particularly nonfiction, don’t work well on screens, and some of us buy both hard copy and ebooks because it’s easier to cart around an e-reader than a suitcase full of books.
And then there is the tactile and visual pleasure of a beautifully made book which no e-reader can reproduce, which is why, for example, Subterranean Press has a market….
Working out the math bits, you are merely a 3 percenter. You’ll need to clear 400k every year to get to the esteemed 1 percent club. Have you thought about Amway?
I always suspected JS had enough self-control to keep his cocaine habit capped at $29,950 a month!
It’s not how much you make that matters. What matters is how much you keep. Then after you find out how much you keep, what matters is how much of what you keep you are actually going to be able to keep permanently. Then what matters is what your heirs will keep. And with the current death tax rate, that ain’t much. So as Sam Walton did, name your family members as executives in the corporation you establish, otherwise all your hard work & creativity will have been for naught, except to buy some stranger’s $2,000 toilet seat or buy dvd’s & creature comforts for the menaces to society. And, of course, don’t listen to financial advisers, because when the shit hits the fan they don’t know any more than the drunk guy sitting next to you at a bar – and he probably knows more. Financial advisers are like pit bosses at a craps table just as doctors are legal drug dealers.
Lee Wood (author of Looking for the Mahdi and other stones that sank without a trace)
I remember liking this, and I still own it – must fish it out for a re-read.
I see you had two crime novels out after that, any prospect of them coming out in ebook? (thinking of the likes of Book View Cafe etc if you have the rights)
“What matters is how much you keep…. Then what matters is what your heirs will keep. And with the current death tax rate, that ain’t much.”
Even if our host got the full $3.4 million up front, and died tomorrow, his estate would most likely not be subject to taxation. As of 2015, the first $5.45 million in an individual wealth, or the first $10.9 million in a couple’s wealth, is completely exempt from federal estate taxes, per http://blogs.wsj.com/totalreturn/2014/10/30/estate-tax-exemption-for-2015-announced-by-irs/ . And Ohio abolished its own estate tax a few years ago, per http://www.tax.ohio.gov/estate.aspx .
Yet despite this, the right-wing talking point that a “death tax” means all of people’s “hard work & creativity will have been for naught” after they die still gets more credence than it’s worth. There are indeed highly creative artists out there that have little to show in the way of wealth after years of hard work; but for all the ones I know about, it’s because of things like inadequately covered health problems, scarce or bad publisher or label deals, family crises, and similar issues, not because of multimillionaire estate taxes.
Well done sir! I for one am excited to know Tor will be in charge of publishing 13 more of your books!
Your happy, they’re happy. What more could partners ask!
Anyone who would suggest that $260K per book is “nothing” has either never written a book or believes that all authors are Stephen King or John Grisham. I am happy that my first novel is getting published at all.
“I look at super-sweet sports cars and go, meh, I like my Mini” I owned a MINI. Fun car. And you should be able to cover the upkeep and repairs with only a couple of those books. (and congrats, btw.)
Congratulations on the deal! I can’t wait to see what you come up with!
Ok, so you’re now making lotsa moola doing something you like to do. And there are people who think you’re doing it wrong? I must remember this next time somebody tells me I’m messing up…they could be full of baloney.
I’ll admit that, like some others, my first reaction to the news was “That’s all?” Then I read more about it (here) and thought about it, and my second reaction was “Where the heck do I get off thinking ‘That’s all?’ a moment ago?”
$3.4M is a very large sum of money. I make nowhere near that amount as an author. I’d be very happy to have the next ten years of my income guaranteed at that level, for myself and my family. You could always think “if I did this” or “if I did that” but who cares? You’ll be very comfortable with your income, and you’ve taken much of the stress (maybe all of the stress, other than actually writing the books, which should be a joy) out of the next decade.
Kudos to you on the deal. Looking forward to the books.
Congratulations (again) to Scalzi! Chrissy can get an even bigger mower, with chrome! Athena can get a roadster and/or a college education! JS can explore how many necks can be reasonably fitted to a guitar!
But aside from the immediate effects at the Scalzi compound, here’s the larger picture, about which I’m even more jazzed: A Science Fiction author got a book deal–and it was a Big Deal at the level of the NYT. That’s far more important than any of the other stuff. A sci-fi author is trickling into the national consciousness as someone to talk about. That’s super-awesome for sci-fi and speculative fiction in general. It means that literature for people with brains who aren’t afraid to use them is becoming something that’s paid attention to. I think that’s a fantastic thing.
It also means that someone with actual brains, who actually cares about the process of storytelling might have significant input into a movie/TV show. That happens rarely enough that it’s awesome to even contemplate.
Good on you, sir. I look forward to reading the products.
That’s incredible, and you deserve every bit of it. I’m rather surprised you shift five figures of books a month — Huzzah! People still read! Seriously; outside of my former tabletop RPG group and my parents, I don’t know many people who read a book a year.I need to know better people, I guess.
You know, with most authors talking about a deal like this I’d mutter, “Hmph” and “Never heard of him.” But you? And the way you stand up for the rights of others? I’m just really happy. Nice and warm and fuzzy to see good people do well. Live long and prosper!
Amen to Jon H about that Morgan. Four wheels good. Three wheels even better!
Likewise to Bonelady re ponies. Loppy is obviously too big for a Pomeranian or Corgi.
The Cadillac ambulance pretending to be from ‘Ghostbusters’ is about a decade too late a model. Sacrilege! Gozer will get you all!
Let’s not discount the value of the publicity around simply announcing this deal. Just look at the interest generated on this blog entry alone.
Speaking personally, I never would have heard of John Scalzi if it were not for reading an article from my hometown newspaper the Dayton Daily News, about a “local” science fiction writer receiving this unprecedented book deal. As a science fiction fan whose range has been mostly limited to the works of David Brin, I was curious to find out more about this new phenom.
So I dove into Old Man’s War, and now you have a new fan and dedicated reader!
Kudos, and looking forward to the work that comes from this!
Reblogged this on Jacey Bedford and commented:
John Scalzi’s recent $3.4 million book deal for Tor for 13 books over a period of ten years is brilliant news. Concratulations to him (and to Tor). Now the dust is beginning to settle he has some thoughts, which are mighty interesting. Enjoy.
Just caught up with this news. Congratulations John — well deserved.