A Note on Money and Self-Censorship
Posted on June 11, 2015 Posted by John Scalzi 46 Comments
A question in email, asking me whether the size and length of my book deal with Tor means I’m likely to be less loud on the Internet on certain topics. This comes in the wake of my post yesterday, in which I reminded people I’m not their Outrage Monkey and will choose the things I comment on (or not) online based on my own criteria and no one else’s. The e-mailer wondered if the deal (and the money it represented) would be part of that criteria. Which seems a fair enough question to me.
The short answer is no. The longer answer is not only is the deal not an impediment to me saying whatever the hell I please online, it could frankly be seen as the opposite — after all, I’m safe from having to look for a book deal for an entire decade. I really can’t be financially penalized for anything I might choose to say on my free time. The worst that could happen is that the books don’t earn out and I don’t get royalties, but that could happen for any number of reasons. I still get the advances. They’re contractually specified. This is why one has contracts.
But won’t my publisher lean on me to say/not say things? No. More accurately, in the fifteen years I’ve been writing books, across several publishers, none of them ever have, and I doubt they are going to start now. Why? Because, among other things, they don’t have a right to, and there’s nothing in my contracts that allows them to. Nick Mamatas (who is a book editor as well as an author) wrote up the other day a piece about why publishers usually don’t try to impose good behavior on their authors, which is accurate and which I encourage folks to check out. But even beyond certain legal and labor ramifications, the simple fact is “publisher” doesn’t usually mean “employer” when it comes to writing books, and it certainly doesn’t mean “parent.” I’m on my own recognizance.
Now, this doesn’t mean that I might not choose to recuse myself from one discussion or another if it involves one of my publishers; I might, because of any number of reasons, including that the discussion might involve personal friends, or that I might know things about the situation I can’t discuss publicly so it’s better I not comment at all, or, just, you know, I don’t wanna. All of which is fair. The good news is, other people will be more than happy to take up the slack when I choose to sit out.
But in point of fact me holding off for financial reasons from saying anything I damn well please is simply not likely. I mean, it didn’t stop me before, when I was only on one or two book contracts, or before I had any book contracts at all. It’s not going to stop me when I have a whole friggin’ decade before I have to think about hunting for another book contract again.
So, yeah. No silence has been bought. If I’m not talking about something, it’s because I chose not to talk about it, not because my book publishers have paid to keep me quiet.
I applaud this. An author should be allowed to speak their mind. As a public figure, an author has more exposure and can find their ideas spread widely. Of course, “with great power, comes great responsibility…” and of course an author who speaks out without any wisdom is going to find out the errors of their ways, from a great many people. But nobody, especially authors, should feel unable to speak out on important issues. Otherwise, we will end up a world of silent idiots.
Ya know, I understand why people thought you might comment on the latest thing and why they might want to hear your take, but I find it kind of sad that people were peeved that you chose not to for whatever reason you had (up to and including “don’t wanna”). I loved your post yesterday since people seem to need the reminder that those we follow don’t we us squat. I do live it when you get going and let loose the high snark (and the low snark) but I’ve never felt like I have any right to demand snark even if I miss it sometimes when you’re off living your life.
As for the contract hamstringing you… bwahahaha. I can’t imagine that from the Scalzi I’ve seen online. In fact, a meek, shy Scalzi would make me think the body snatchers have landed in Ohio and started to take over.
It’s hard for me to believe anyone who has any sense of your persona would think your silence could be bought for less than private island kinds of money. Seems like like silence-buying than it is distracting you with getting your lair in a dormant volcano.
Link to Nick’s piece doesn’t work. I think it may be an https thing. :-/
It’s working for me!
I’m not sure why anyone thinks it’s any of their business and why they would ask you such a question. Just because you’re a well-known writer and have a fairly popular following, that doesn’t mean that your life is an open book and that people can just ask you anything they like. I know you moderate pretty well, but I just found the concept of that question asked of you to be a bit insulting – as if you COULD be bought…….well, it’s all in one’s own perception and maybe you didn’t see it that way and your response was appropriate.
The link isn’t working for me either…
The link to Nick Mamatas’s piece worked for me, and actually that’s what I felt moved to comment on: though it’s certainly true that one reason publishers don’t usually try to control author behavior (apart from the blunt instrument of just deciding not to acquire any more books by the auhtor) is the danger of finding freelancers reclassified as employees, there’s also plain old tradition (however often violated) of straightforward individualism; people say what they please because they want to be identified with words they mean and not with words they’re required to say (or silences they’re required to impose).
Many younger writers/readers/critics seem to have had their expectations formed by university student services, corporate HR, public relations offices, and other places of vague good intentions and vaguer boundaryless authority. So perhaps the tradition is changing, but it has not changed yet.
Your possible reasons for why you might choose not to comment on something are wonderful, of course, but couldn’t you say it’s the bees?
Even if you won’t say it’s the bees, I know that’s the real reason. because sometimes when I read your posts they sound a lot like what hyper-intelligent bees would say.
After reading a post like this, I wonder why I read your blog for social commentary. It’s a good blog, but why? I think it’s because, as in this post, you have a unique ability to push back on expectations or social conventions that often stifle conversation. It’s not so much that you disregard social convention, but that you have a preternatural awareness of its limitations, and push through those limitations when they don’t make sense. I envy that, and I enjoy seeing it in action.
IT’S NOT THE BEES
I have to admit, since that letter was posted at Tor I’ve been struggling because I really want to boycott Tor, since I think the letter was appalling and, unlike Irene Gallo’s, is actually representative of how the PRESIDENT of the company thinks, stated in an unequivocally public way (rather than the opinions of one employee on her own Facebook page). I feel a bit sick at the thought of ever giving Tom Doherty another dime. Yet I also realize such a boycott would also be boycotting good writers like you who are blameless in this whole matter. Ugh. This is always the dilemma with boycotting a company; it tends to mostly hurt those least responsible for the bad decisions the company makes.
I imagine if you were saying something really radical/crazy, that Tor probably wouldn’t have offered you a large book deal.
It depends on how much my books were selling previously, I suspect.
‘Hyper-intelligent’? … seems like some rather-intelligent bees have a pretty high opinion of themselves.
First time poster I.e. delurking
For the link try http or just the url ,https didn’t work for me but http does.
If certain readers want a Scalzi Outrage Monkey, maybe someone should make one to sell to such readers. That way, the complainers have something tangible they could play or fantasize with by themselves.
@afs49007, I believe “hyper-intelligent” is relative to other bees
Dang it Anna, stole my thunder. Don’t worry, we’ll get our revenge on Scalzi soon enough.
The Hyper Super Duper Intelligent Bees in Well 1B.
On a less cheeky note; long time reader / first time commenter here. Thanks once again for all of your hard work John – and I look forward to joining the commentariat here. :) (I might be a little more conservative than most, but I’ve rarely if ever seen unjustified douchiness towards those who disagree).
Nice to know you don’t plan on changing your outlook b/c of your decade long deal. Until you mentioned that I hadn’t wondered if there was any type of moral responsibility clauses in your deal. Doesn’t seem unreasonable that Tor might have broached the subject for a writer who’s just hitting his prime?
I KNEW you were made out of bees. I KNEW IT.
…are you actually just a hive of bees in a man suit?
In semi-related news, if I ever become filthy rich I may just hire someone to be my personal outrage monkey.
The real question is this, O Hyper-Intelligent Bees: What is your position vis-à-vis Chuck Wendig’s face?
You GUYS, those bees are super-duper-hyper intelligent for sure. I mean, I shook Scalzi’s hand last weekend and I didn’t hear or feel any buzzing at all. Really good cloaking system/monkey suit.
And on the topic: pff. It’s not like they didn’t know John was a mouthy bastard before they gave him ANY money, let alone this chunk o’cash.
I’m pretty sure if I had that much money, I’d hire an actual monkey. You could even set up a twitter account and YT page and make the money back probably….I’m definitely thinking about this too much now.
sounds fair enough. Unfortunately for many company CEO’s and executives they do not share the same privilege in being able to express their own personal opinions and feelings about things. When they do there usually is a large outcry and calls for boycotts and all other sorts of drama. Of course I suspect this same type of response happens to you (“I will never buy another Scalzi book again because he hates gerbils!!!!”) but the potential impact is tremendously much smaller.
As a entertainer of sorts you can and should have free reign like the rest of us to voice any opinion you want. Those who care will read/listen to it and those who do not will usually ignore or do not seek out those opinions and simply wait for the next product output.
I didn’t know John Scalzi hated gerbils.
These hyper-intelligent bees have many secrets.
Dammit. Now I am possessed of a deep-seated need to knit a Scalzi Outrage Monkey.
I deeply enjoy the phrase “outrage monkey”. I like thinking about it, the limitless potential of the words — the various diverse images it conjures. I want to read a book featuring outrage monkeys, perhaps some sort of therapeutic pet or just an annoying empathic species that follows people around and screeches embarrassingly on their behalf and despite their fervent wishes that the monkeys would stop.
Some godawful, horrible, symbiosis gone wrong.
Etiquette would be quite interesting. “Don’t mind my monkey, dear. I’m afraid recent political events have got him throwing feces again. I really should stop reading Politico”.
Wait, what!? Is Scalzi bees or chipmunks or an unholy chipmunk/bee collective!?
Also, good for you, generous host. I had not thought cash would gag you.
My condolences for your loss. I’m sorry I hadn’t commented to say so earlier.
I suspect this attitude of “you should be talking about X” with regard to various writers and their blogs is a bit of a “thing” this week. Certainly Jim Hines put up a post a couple of days ago in response to all the people talking about “you should write about X” in which he pointed out that he is an author. That is, a paid writer. These are his rates per word. $500 up front, please, and balance on delivery, and he reserves the right to refuse commissions.
Some back-of-an-envelope calculations of mine with regards to some well-publicised figures of yours (US$3.4 million for 13 books, at a guesstimate of approximately 100,000 words per book) came up with Tor effectively paying you a rate of US$2.62 per word. Presumably if someone wants to employ you as their outrage monkey, they’d need to be bidding a bit higher in order to prioritise that over work you’re already being paid for.
Did the neo-nazis complain or something? I don’t know what the outrage is.
I’m worth every penny!
Scalzi Outrage Monkey.
Churrocorn was a pic that I remember.
I know that I want a “Todd plushie” but I wonder what a Dana or Natalie or Ryan Pagelow or Wiley Miller created “Scalzi Outrage Monkey” would look like. I’d rather not see the “about how baby carrots are made” version of “Scalzi Outrage Monkey” from Ryan but I would give it a look with my glasses !so !very !off.
Now the lamp or whatever it is on the chest of drawers on Agnes by Tony Cochran? Me want.
John likely created a political action committee and funnelled money to the less way paid pissers and moaners on the internet. They will piss and moan the things john doesnt want linked to him. Its obvious. Look at all the crying about the Robert Doherty letter. They all have Johns voice and unique way of complainer. John clearly made contributions.All the 1% ers do it.
I believe that you may in fact be a collective of hyper-intelligent bees. One clarifying question: Does your wife call you “Honey”???
Rather intelligent by human standards is still hyper intelligent for a bee.
Pressed submit too soon.
I was going to say that if anyone has any doubts about the stupidity of normal bees then you can tell by studying their beehiveor.
Wouldn’t the bees have given Scalzi a full head of bee hair, not just a beard of bees? It’s probably one of those massive fungi you read about. John lives in a compound over one of them to better receive its orders. When he travels for too long, his instructions get stale and he loses focus. After a few days back in the rhyzoid chamber, he is good as new.
Is that what allows him to wax eloquent?
Do we have any graphical artists on here? Can someone make an official John Scalzi Outrage Monkey Stamp? The SFF crybabysphere (I blame all sides) is always crying about something. However, issues that John Scalzi chimes in on seem to get an added bump. I think those outrage events should get a special stamp in the endless cesspool of outrage in this community.
Then we have a website up to track the ‘legitimate outrage monkey’ topics (anything John Scalzi has an opinion on) and separate those out from the rest. What do you think? Its a rather large compliment to John’s influence in the genre community.
@Nigel Conliffe: In fact, she does! See here: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2015/05/29/storytelling-in-four-tweets-featuring-kristine-scalzi/
The truth was there all along! We just missed the clues!
Scalzi do you think you are fooling anyone? You are a sniveling coward, which was proven as you make the whole puppy thing as a personal crusade of a prick that lives in your head. If you had any balls, and you don’t, you would admit that she was right about the horrible authorship in her post. Go count your money you pathetic piece of shit.
All I want to know is: where can I order my Scalzi Outrage Monkey, and is there in an option to have it wearing a dress?
His wife very cleverly wore blue and white stripes instead of black and yellow, but they weren’t counting on your super-sleuthing abilities. Well done!
The bee hive is crumbling. They will need to move. I have found the perfect domicile.