Reader Request Week 2023 #5: That Big Damn Contract, Revisited
Will Glass wants to know:
How’s the Big Damn Contract going? Hard to believe it’s been 8 years.
Not that any of this is our business of course, but since you’ve talked about it a fair amount, your avid readers are curious.
Are you satisfied with the deal you got? From Tor’s perspective are they satisfied with what they are getting? How is the schedule for the 13 books?
I can’t imagine anyone here doesn’t know what Will is talking about, but just to be safe: In May of 2015, I signed a 13-book, $3.4 million dollar contract with Tor. We noted at the time that we expected the contract to last for about a decade; eight years on, it looks like we underestimated the length of time it would take to fulfill that contract. Starter Villain, out in September, will be the sixth book in the contract, after the three Interdependency books, Head On, and The Kaiju Preservation Society. That’s six books in eight years, with one year skipped at the beginning of the contract to help plan a push for The Collapsing Empire, the first book covered by it, and then 2021 skipped because COVID messed with book publishing and Tor thought — correctly! — that Kaiju would have a better chance in early 2022.
Of those five books published so far under the Big Damn Contract, four were New York Times bestsellers and all were bestsellers on other charts, three (Empire, Last Emperox, Kaiju) have been nominated for awards, with Empire winning the Locus and Emperox winning the Dragon, and the Interdependency series as a whole nominated for Best Series at the Hugo Awards. All of them, either individually or as part of a series, have been optioned for film or television. All of them are also sold into multiple languages, including Starter Villain, which isn’t out yet. It’s too early to know how Villain will do, but so far early signs have been encouraging.
Financially, because of all of the above plus backlist sales of previous titles, since 2015, and counting all my sources of income related to publishing, I’ve already earned to this point a multiple of the baseline figure quoted above. Be assured that Tor has done the same, just on the sales of the books in the contract; here at Scalzi HQ we’ve run the numbers. In short, everyone is already ahead on this deal and will continue to be so as we go through the remainder of it.
Which is great! It’s nice when things are working more or less the way they should. It should be noted that none of this comes as much of a surprise to me, because one of the great advantages of this deal is the flexibility it allows us to work with every part of my catalogue to maximize sales and, thus, income for both me and Tor. All of my novels are with one house, which means we never have to worry, for example, if that one novel that pairs really well with a novel that’s coming out is available to us to put on sale to prime the interest pump. It absolutely is, and we have a bunch of options open to us. It’s fantastic to be able to do whatever we need to, in order to stay on the reader radar.
The flexibility also applies to upcoming work. I’ve swapped out titles on the contract (most famously when the book I was working on in 2020 crashed and burned and I switched over to writing Kaiju instead), and we have the ability to move things around on the fly. Kaiju did great, so I wrote another book with that same kind of vibe to ride the wave it created. The contract has three YA books included in it but the YA market has cooled since 2015, so if we decide we want to swap some or all of those with general titles, we can do that. If something that’s been optioned for film/TV goes into production, we can work to have another book in the series ready for when the adaptation hits screens. It’s all baked in.
(And also, Tor has generally been great as a partner. I like the people and we work well together, and they’ve given me the support on both the editorial and marketing fronts that my books have needed to do well. Have they been perfect? No, but neither have I — see the thing up there about blowing up my 2020 novel. But that’s the other thing about having a Big Damn Contract: We both have time to course correct when we have to.)
If I had to do it over again, would I still sign up for the Big Damn Contract? I think so, yes. Eight years on, Tor’s place in the publishing universe is still very solid and possibly better than it was when I signed on; bookstores, both indie and chain, are generally doing better than they were eight years ago, and the wisdom of the deal both for me and Tor is at this point self-evident. There are still people who probably think I could have made more self-publishing and/or bumping up from book-to-book, but a) I know myself well enough to know I don’t want to self-publish unless there is no other option, b) there are no guarantees in publishing and it’s just as likely my advances might go down rather than up. Also, c) at least for me, at some point you say “that’s enough money for now.” I’m at “enough money for now,” and the rest can come in when it comes in, if it comes in at all. There are far more benefits to this contract than just the upfront money.
So, yes! It’s doing great, thanks for asking. And there are more books to come.
(Have a question for Reader Request Week? Leave in the comment thread at this link.)