Sunset 9/25/17

I may have bumped up the saturation levels a bit in this one.

I regret nothing.

Can You Tell My Earnings From My Amazon Sales? Spoiler: Nope, Not at All

There was thread over at Metafilter this week talking about book sales and author earnings, including a link to a study that purported to chart author earnings, based on sales at Amazon.  I have to admit I had a bit of a giggle over it. Not because it was attempting to guess author incomes, which is fine, but because the methodology for estimating those earnings came almost entirely from trying to estimate sales of the authors’ books on Amazon, and extrapolating income from there.

Here’s the thing: For non-self-published authors, the correlation between annual book sales and annual “earnings” as a writer can be fairly low. As in, sometimes there is no correlation at all.

Confusing? Think how we feel!

But let me explain.

So, I’m a writer who works primarily with a “Big Five” publisher (Tor Books, which is part of Macmillan). For each of my books, I’m given an advance, which in my case is paid in four separate installments — when I sign the contract, when I turn in the manuscript and it’s accepted, when the book is published in hardcover and when the book is published in paperback. This is fairly typical for most writers working with a “traditional” publisher.

Once the advance is disbursed, my publisher owes me nothing until and unless my book “earns out” — which is to say, the amount I nominally earn for the sale of each unit (usually between 10% and 15% of each hardcover, and 25% of the net for eBook) exceeds cumulatively the amount I was offered for the advance. Once that happens, my publisher owes me for each book sold, and that amount is then usually disbursed semiannually…

usually. There could be other complicating factors, such as if the royalties of the books are “basketed” (meaning the contract was for two or more books, and the royalties are not disbursed until the advance amount for every book in the “basket” is earned out), or if some percentage of the royalties are held back as a “reserve against returns” (meaning that some books listed as sold/distributed are actually returned, so the publisher holds back royalties for a payment period to compensate).

Bear in mind that most publishers try to offer as an advance a sum of money they think the book will earn, either over the first year in hardcover, or across the entire sales run of the work. Which means that if the publisher has guessed correctly, it will never have to shell out royalties. Sometimes they guess poorly, which means either they paid too much for an advance or not enough; in the latter case, that’s when the royalty checks come (please note that even if a publisher pays “too much” and the advance isn’t earned out, it doesn’t mean the book wasn’t profitable for the publisher — their bottom line is not necessarily heavily correlated to the author’s advance — nor does the author have to pay it back).

So what does this all mean? Well, it means that for a non-self-pubbed author, often none of their annual earnings from a book are directly related to how many of those books sell in a year (or any other specified time frame). In fact, depending on how the advance is paid out, three-quarters or more (even all!) of the author’s earnings from a book are disbursed before the book has sold a single unit.

Like so:

Book is contracted: 40% of the advance (“signing installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0.

Book is turned in and accepted: 20% of the advance (“delivery and acceptance installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0

Book is published in hardcover: 20% of the advance (“hardcover installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0 (there may be pre-orders, but the sales don’t usually start being counted until this time).

Book is published in paperback: Final 20% of the advance goes to author. Books sold to date: Hopefully some! But even if the number is zero, the final installment gets paid out (if so few books are sold that the publisher foregoes the paperback release, there’s still usually the contractual obligation to pay out).

Note these advances can be paid out over more than one year — I once got a final installment for an advance roughly six years after I got the first installment (it was a complicated situation). Likewise, once the book starts selling, it can be years — if at all — before the author starts earning royalties, and even then, thanks to the reserve against returns, what the author gets in those semi-annual royalty checks is not 1:1 with sales for the period the check covers (note: this sometimes works to the benefit of the author). Also note: Those semi-annual checks? Often cover a period of time located in the previous fiscal or calendar year.

All of which is to say: For a “traditionally published” author, at almost no point do what an author’s yearly earnings for a book directly correspond to how the book is selling in that particular year.

(Is this bad? No, but it needs paying attention to. Authors tend to love advances because they’re not directly tied to sales — it’s money up front that doesn’t have to be immediately recouped and can help tide the author over during the writing and the wait for publication. But it also means, again, that it can be years — if at all — before money from royalties comes your way. Authors need to be aware of that.)

To move the discussion to me directly for a moment, if someone tried to guess my annual earnings based on my yearly unit sales on Amazon (or via Bookscan, or anywhere else for that matter), they would be likely be, well, wildly wrong. At any moment I have several books at various stages of advance disbursement — some contracted, some completed but not published, some published in hardcover and some published in paperback — a few all paid out in advances but not earned out, and several earned out and paying royalties.

Add to that audio sales (another set of advances and royalties) and foreign sales (yet another) and ancillary income like film/tv options (which are not tied to sales at all, but sales help get things optioned) and so on. Also note that not all my sales provide royalties at the same rate — a lot will depend on format and how many were previously sold (if they are in print or physical audio), unit price (if they are eBook or audio files), and on other various bits that are in contracts but not necessarily disclosed to the wide world. Oh, and don’t forget my short fiction and non-fiction!

Basically, my yearly earnings as an author are a delightful mess. I’m glad I have an accountant and an agent and a very smart life partner to help me stay on top of them. These earnings have almost nothing to do with unit sales in any calendar year, and more to the point, never have, even when I was a newbie book writer with a single book contract to my name. I signed my first book contract in 1999; since then I have yet to have a year when my earnings from being an author approach anything like a 1:1 parity with my book sales in that same year.

Does this matter? Well, it matters if you are, for example, trying to extrapolate what “traditionally published authors” make based on their annual sales, and are then comparing those “earnings” to the earnings of self-published authors. It’s ignoring that these are entirely different distribution systems which have implications for annual earnings. I don’t think one is particularly better than the other, but a direct comparison will give you poor results. Note also that’s true going the other way — applying “traditional publishing” income models to self-published authors will very likely tell you incorrect things about how they’re doing economically in any one year.

(And as a further note: Do likewise be aware of the caveats for anyone trying to extrapolate self-pub/indie annual author earnings from Amazon as well. It misses direct sales, which for authors who ply the convention circuits can be significant, and also may not fully incorporate how Amazon deals with payments in its subscription models, which are handled rather differently than actual sales, and which (unless it’s changed very recently) come from a pre-determined pot of payment rather than a straight percentage of sales. Hey, it’s complicated! Almost as complicated as the “traditional” model.)

Here’s one thing I suspect is true: It’s possible to make money (sometimes a lot of it) as a traditionally published author, or as an self-published/indie author — or as both, either in turn or simultaneously, since, as it happens, there’s no deep ideological chasm between the two, and generally speaking an author can do one or the other depending on their project needs, or their own (likewise, it’s possible to make almost no money either way, too. Alas). It’s not an either-or proposition.

But yes: Here is a grain of salt. Please apply it to anyone who tells you they know how much any author (traditional or self-pub/indie, but especially traditional) is earning in any year, based on Amazon sales, even if they’re  limiting it to Amazon sales. They’re just guessing, and you have no idea how far off their guesses are. And neither, I strongly suspect, do they. Only the actual authors know, and most of the time, they’re not telling.

Out For the Weekend

But don’t worry, Spice is here to keep you company.

See you on Monday (or maybe Sunday evening, if I feel frisky).

New Books and ARCs, 9/22/17

Just in time for the weekend, a new batch of books and ARCs at the Scalzi Compound for you to peruse. Which would you want to give a place in your own “to be read” stack? Tell us in the comments.

The Collapsing Empire an Audible Deal of the Day

And being an “Audible Deal of the Day” means you get to spend very little to get the book — in this case something like $3. The deal as far as I know is limited to the US and maybe Canada, and it’s only for today. So if you want it at this price, you need to jump on it. It’s perfect for the folks who love audiobooks, or for the folks who have never tried audiobooks but would be willing to give them a chance at a low price point, or for the folks who simply want Wil Wheaton to read to them in those dulcet tones of his.

Here’s the link to the audiobook. Enjoy!

The First Sunset of Fall, 2017

Featuring an Amish gentleman on a recumbent bicycle. As all the best first sunsets of fall do.

So long, summer. You did all right.

Today is International I’m Busy So Here’s a Picture of Krissy Day

And as luck would have it, I happen to have just the picture for such a day! What are the odds?

(Spoiler: They are in fact very good.)

Why I Had a Good Tuesday This Week

Because yesterday I got to hang out a bit with Alison Moyet, who if you didn’t know is one of my absolute favorite singers, both in Yaz, and with her solo work. We’d become Twitter buddies in the last couple of years and when I mentioned to her Krissy and I would be at her Chicago show she suggested we have a real-life meet. And we did! And it was lovely! And brief, as she had to prepare to entertain a sold-out show (and she did; the concert was excellent), but long enough to confirm that she’s as fabulous in the flesh as she is in her music. Which was not surprising to me, but nice regardless.

(Alison has also blogged about our meet-up as part of her tour journal, which you can find here. Read the entire tour journal, as she’s funny as hell.)

I noted to some friends that I was likely to meet Alison this week and some of them wondered how it would go, on the principle that meeting one’s idols rarely goes as one expects (more bluntly, the saying is “never meet your idols.”) I certainly understand the concept, but I have to say I’ve had pretty good luck meeting people whom I have admired (or whose work I admired). I chalk a lot of that up to the fact that while I was working as a film critic, I met and interviewed literally hundreds of famous people, some of whose work was very important to me. In the experience I got to have the first-hand realization that famous and/or wonderfully creative people are also just people, and have the same range of personalities and quirks as anyone else.

If you remember that when you meet the people whose work or actions you admire, you give them space just to be themselves. And themselves are often lovely. And when they’re not, well, that’s fine too. Alison Moyet, it turns out, is fabulous, and I’m glad we got to meet.

(Which is not to say I didn’t geek out. Oh, my, I did. But I also kept that mostly inside. Krissy found it all amusing.)

Anyway: Great Tuesday. A+++, would Tuesday again.

View From a Hotel Window, 9/19/17: Chicago

Krissy and I are playing hooky today because we’re going to the Alison Moyet concert in Chicago, which necessitated a bit of a drive. Well, we’re here now, and the view from the hotel is lovely, nary a parking lot in sight. How is your day?

Today in I Need a Better Class of Detractor

Well, specifically this silly person said I would never earn out [x] amount of money I got as an advance, and also that I would in fact never see [x] amount of money, because of reasons they left unspecified but which I assume were to suggest that my contracts would be cancelled long before I got the payout. As [x] amount of money seems to suggest this silly person is talking about my multi-book multi-year contracts, let me say:

1. lol, no;

2. [x] was not the sum for any of my contracts (either for individual works or in aggregate) so that’s wrong to begin with;

3. It’s pretty clear that this silly person has very little idea how advances work in general, or how they are paid out;

4. It’s also pretty clear this silly person has very little idea how advances work with long-term, multi-project contracts in particular, or how they are paid out;

5. Either this silly person has never signed a book contract, or they appear to have done a very poor job of negotiating their contracts;

6. In any event, it’s very clear this silly person has no idea about the particulars of my business.

Which makes sense as I don’t go into great detail about them in public. But it does mean that people asserting knowledge of my business are likely to be flummoxed by the actual facts. Like, for example, the fact that I’m already earning royalties on work tied into those celebrated-yet-apparently-actually-cursed contracts. Royalties, I’ll note for those of you not in the publishing industry, are paid out after you earn back an advance.

How am I getting royalties on a work tied to contracts that this silly person has assured all and sundry I will never earn out? The short answer is because I’ve earned out, obviously. The slightly longer answer is that my business deals are interesting and complex and designed to roll money to me on a steady basis over a long period of time, but when you are a silly person who apparently knows nothing about how book contracts work (either my specific ones, or by all indications book contracts in general) and you have an animus against me because, say, you’re an asshole, or because of group identification politics that require that I must actually be a raging failure, for reasons, you are prone to assert things that are stupid about my business and show your complete ignorance of it. And then I might be inclined to point and laugh about it.

In any event, this is a fine time to remind people of two things. The first thing is that I have detractors, and it’s very very important to them that I’m seen as a failure. There’s nothing I can ever do or say to dissuade them against this idea, so the least I can do is offer them advice, which is to make their assertions of my failure as non-specific as possible, because specificity is not their friend. I would also note to them that regardless, my failures, real or imagined, will not make them any more successful in their own careers. So perhaps they should focus on the things they can materially effect, i.e., their own writing and career, and worry less about what I’m doing.

Second, if someone other than me, my wife, my agent or my business partners (in the context of their own contracts with me) attempts to assert knowledge of my business, you may reliably assume they are talking out of their ass. This particularly goes for my various detractors, most of whom don’t appear to have any useful understanding of how the publishing industry works outside of their (and this is a non-judgmental statement) self-pub and micro-pub worlds, which are different beasts than the part I work in, and also just generally dislike me and want me to be a miserable failure and are annoyed when I persist in not being either. Wishing won’t make it so, guys.

Bear in mind speculating about my business is perfectly fine, and even if it wasn’t I couldn’t stop it anyway. Speculate away! People have done it for years, both positively and negatively, and most of the time it’s fun to watch people guess about it. Even this silly person’s speculation is kind of fun, in the sense it’s interesting to see all the ways it’s wrong. But to the extent that the unwary may believe this silly person (or other such silly people among my detractors, and as a spoiler they are all fairly silly on this topic) knows what they are talking about with regard to my business: Honey, no. They really don’t. They have their heads well up their asses.

Or, as I said on Twitter:

And actually the dog has been in the same room as my contracts, so in fact she might know more. Keep that in mind the next time a detractor opines on my business.

New Books and ARCs, 9/15/17

If you were wondering if any new books and ARCs have come to the Scalzi Compound recently, the answer is, why, yes, they have. And here they are! Tell me which titles here intrigue you, down in the comments!

A Spiderweb Collection

This morning was dewy and we have quite a lot of spiders around the Scalzi Compound (it being a rural area and full of bugs, you see), so I went out with my camera and took pictures of some of the webs, and occasionally, the webs’ architects as well. The collection of images is here, if you’d like to see them. Obviously for the spider-sensitive, this collection will feature arachnids, so be aware. I’m making this its own album and will probably add to it over time, so if you like spiders and spiderwebs, check in from time to time.

Fogbow!

The conditions are not usually right around here to capture a fog bow in a full arc, but this morning I got lucky and also had my phone camera with me. It records panoramas, which was useful because the fog bow was just too wide to be captured in the usual 16:9 frame of the phone camera. So here we are: a fogbow, which I am posting here for posterity’s sake, and also because it’s pretty. Good morning, world.

19 Years

Today marks the 19th birthday of Whatever, and once again I’m left to reflect that it’s a hell of a thing to be doing anything for as long as I’ve been writing here. Nineteen years ago today was four presidents back; Krissy and I lived in Sterling, Virginia; Athena, who is now in college, was about three months out from being born; and I had written but a single novel, which at the time only three people besides myself had read, and which was seven years from actual print publication. It’s odd to think of what a very different time it was.

It’s also odd to think of how very few of those first set of blogs, the ones that were up and running in 1998, still exist out on the Internet, in non-archived form, anyway. Out of my regular 1998 blog reads (or “online diary” reads, since the word “blog” had no currency then), only James Lileks is still putting posts out there on what could be called a regular basis. Most of the rest of the sites are shuttered and the ones that aren’t, update sporadically if at all. I don’t think it’s at all surprising that James and I have kept at it regularly all this time. We both come out of newspapers and I suspect we both think of our blogs as another news hole to be regularly filled with… well, something, anyway.

Also, unless you’re trained for writing or at least posting every day it’s not that easy a thing to do. People back in the day who started blog with endless enthusiasm would often realize that the infinite maw of a blog could be daunting, especially when you felt like you were throwing words out into the void and who knows who was catching them on the other end. This is the secret sauce of Facebook and Twitter, incidentally. You follow all your friends, they follow you, and then when you post, you know who your audience is and (more or less) that they’re actually listening. And if you don’t post on Facebook or Twitter for a day, or a week, or whatever, well. Someone else in your friend circle is. The pressure is off. It’s a much more congenial set-up for someone who isn’t hypergraphic by nature.

This last year has been an interesting one to try to write here regularly, in no small part because while our current administration certainly generates lots of heat and controversy, in many ways it’s difficult to say anything pertinent or insightful about it; once one is done saying “well, this is what happens when you elect an incompetent and incurious narcissistic bigot to the highest office in the land” the first few dozen times, everything else seems repetition.

Rather than being energized to fight the fumbling, shambling fascism of Donald Trump and his pals, I’ve found myself dispirited by it. It’s neither interesting nor fun to chronicle the stupid and malicious. I’m glad it’s not my job to be a full-time political writer in this era. Nevertheless I swing away at the current administration, although less than I imagined I would (here, anyway; the brevity of Twitter lends itself to my level of engagement). Fortunately there are always cats and sunsets and talking about writing.

If I had to describe the last year of writing, here and elsewhere, it would be to say that it’s been a year of recalibration, and trying to stay engaged and creative while the world is on fire. As I’ve noted before, it’s not like this is a new sort of thing — writers and other creative sorts have had to learn how to keep at their gig in awful times before, including some times that have been objectively rather more awful than this one. That said, this time certainly isn’t great, and presents its own set of challenges. I suspect it’s not just me doing some recalibration these days.

Be that as it may, and once again, I’ll keep on writing here. I still like doing it, and I still have an urge to write on many topics, and post pictures of pets and family and sunsets. And people still come by to see what I’m up to. It works out. And thank you for coming by.

This time next year will be the 20th anniversary of the site. I’ll have to figure out something special for it. I have some ideas. I’ll let you know what they are when I get them sorted.

A Surprising Consanguinity, Starring Me and Chuck Wendig, Featuring Neil Gaiman, Mikey Neumann and Athena Scalzi

It begins thusly:

Postscript:

 

New Books and ARCs, 9/11/17

Let’s start off the week right, with a big ol’ stack of new books and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. See anything here you like? Give it a shoutout in the comments.

The Death of an iPod Nano

Folks, let’s have a moment of silence for my wife’s iPod Nano, a fourth generation version of the machine, which finally called it a day after nearly nine years of service, which in this age of planned obsolescence, is an impressively long run. Krissy went to wake it up this morning to run on the treadmill and it just wouldn’t turn on, despite being fully charged. This was a very sad day for Krissy. All her favorite playlists were in there.

The iPod Nano is survived by Krissy’s Samsung Galaxy S7, which has access to Spotify and Google Music and of course YouTube Red. But it’s just not the same.

Farewell, little blue iPod Nano. You were too beautiful for this world. May you scroll freely in the dimensions beyond this, playing Blondie and Concrete Blonde in eternity.

Which John Scalzi Novel Should I Read First?

I get asked a lot by people new to me (or new to my fiction, anyway) which novel of mine they should read first. I have a long-winded answer to this that says, well, I write nearly all of my books to be read as stand-alones, so no matter where you start you should be fine. This answer almost never makes anyone happy. So let’s pretend I never said that, and instead let me now grade my books on “first readability.”

To spare anyone who doesn’t want to read me blather at length on the matter, if I had to pick just one book as the “start here” John Scalzi novel, it would be Old Man’s War. I’ll explain why in a minute. But if that’s just what you wanted from this, there you go, now go out and get it. Have fun and thanks.

Now, here’s a slightly longer “first read” assessment of my novels and novellas and collections, in order of publication. Note the grades here are only for “is this a book I would recommend as a first read,” not in regard to overall quality. In terms of overall quality, I think they are all very good, otherwise I wouldn’t have put them out there to be read.

(Also, obviously: These are my opinions. Others might disagree on which are the best “first reads.”)

Old Man’s War: As noted above this is probably the one I would suggest as a “first read” to most people. The reason is pretty simple: It’s a fast and easy read, it’s my best-known book, it opens a series so if you like it you can continue with the characters, and most importantly for “first read” purposes, it’s highly indicative of my personal style. Which is to say if you read it and like it, there’s a very good chance you’ll like the rest of my novels. If you read it and don’t like it at all, you should probably find another author to read, because I’m not likely to get any better for you. First Read Grade: A+

Agent to the Stars: The is the first novel that I wrote but second published (after Old Man’s War) and takes place in “contemporary” Los Angeles, in which aliens have arrived and are looking for an agent. It’s funny and I think a good example of my tone. As time goes on a number of the references and situations in the book are beginning to age; I think it’s best to say this book represents an alternate timeline that branched off from ours around the turn of the millennium. Still, an easy one to get into. First Read Grade: B

The Ghost Brigades: The second book of the Old Man’s War series. I expressly wrote it to be read as a stand alone, on the perfectly reasonable theory that the first book in the series might not be on the shelf and I didn’t want to give people an excuse to put the book down. So it is readable as a first book. But even so I suspect it’s less suited as a “first book” than Old Man’s War. First Read Grade: B-

The Android’s Dream: This is a standalone (I did start writing a follow-up called The High Castle, but it wasn’t good, so I stopped) and I love it to bits, but it might not be the best “first read” book of mine because it’s also maybe a little… well, aggressive might be the best word. I mean, it starts with a chapter where someone farts someone else to death. It’s a great chapter from a storytelling point of view, but it might not be the best for a first time reader. Unless they want a challenge and don’t mind farts. In which case: Rock on. First Read Grade: B-

The Last Colony: Book three in the Old Man’s War series. Again, I wrote it with the idea that people picking it up might not have access to the other books in the series, so it can be read alone. But it is three books in. Probably not the best place to start. First Read Grade: C

Zoe’s Tale: Book four in the Old Man’s War series but it was originally written a) to be put into high school and middle school libraries, b) as the possible starting point to a trilogy of books following Zoë Boutin-Perry, the teenaged protagonist of the book. So it was written under the assumption that it was the first book in its own spin-off series, and that its readers would not have read the previous books in the universe. Which makes it a not at all bad “first read”, particularly for younger readers. First Read Grade: B+ for younger readers, B for everyone else

The God Engines: A very dark and grim fantasy novella that I wrote in part to make the point that while I usually wrote generally light, generally funny, generally optimistic science fiction, I had have other tools in my writing tool box. The novella is pretty great (it was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula) but it’s also by design non-representative of my larger body of work. So if you really like this, there’s not much else in my oeuvre like it (yet…). I absolutely do want people to read it, but as a first read, I’m not sure I would recommend it. First Read Grade: D

Metatropolis: I edited this shared world anthology of novellas, which includes my own novella Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis. It’s amusing but very light, and while it’s a passable first read I wouldn’t recommend readers start here with me (Metatropolis as a whole is excellent, however). First Read Grade: C 

Fuzzy Nation: A “reboot” of the H. Beam Piper novel Little Fuzzy, featuring some of the same characters and general story outline but otherwise vastly revamped and updated. This is actually a very accessible book for first readers and very much in line with my general style and tone. It also has a bit fewer moments of cursing than I usually put in my books, which generally recommends it to younger readers (or more accurately, parents who don’t want to give their kids books with a lot of cursing in them). First Read Grade: A

Redshirts: My Hugo Award-winner. It’s very funny and it references and plays with several decades of science fiction tropes, most notably (obviously) from Star Trek and other film/TV science fiction. I think it’s pretty accessible and the humor in it is the same in tone as you’ll find in my other books, although there is rather more of it. It’s not a bad place to start with me, especially if you like humor and are steeped in science fiction tropes. The caveat I note is that humor is personal, so if you bounce off the humor here (and some people do), you’ll wonder why anyone thought it was a big deal at all. First Read Grade: A- 

The Human Division: Book five in the Old Man’s War series. But! It starts a new two-book arc in the series, with new main characters and situations, and I set everything up nicely so that if you’re new to the series you’re caught up on pertinent information so you can move forward quickly. I think it works reasonably well as a first read. First Read Grade: B

Lock In: My gloss on a Crichton-esque near-future thriller, which I like quite a lot and which in point of fact was a first read of mine for a lot of folks, and it seemed to work just fine. Particularly recommended for people who like thrillers and crime novels and are not 100% sure how they feel about science fiction. It’s also a good one to give people who are reluctant to be seen with a book that has spaceships on the cover. First Read Grade: A-

Unlocked: A companion novella to Lock In, written as an oral history and detailing the disease that plays a role in that novel. It’s best read in conjunction with Lock In, and it’s different enough from my usual style that I would probably not have it as an introduction to me. First Read Grade: C

The End of All Things: Book six of the Old Man’s War series and the direct sequel to The Human Division, completing that two-book arc. Again, I think readable on its own, but really not where I would start. It’s better in conjunction with The Human Division. First Read Grade: C

The Dispatcher: This novella is crime noir with a fantasy wash, and it’s a bit off the track from what I’m best known for, although not so much that I feel like it’s unrepresentative. If you were to read (or listen to, as it was written for audiobook) this first, it’s an easy transfer over to Lock In, and vice versa. Try it, it’s fun! First Read Grade: B

Miniatures: This is a collection of very short stories, most under 2,000 words, and almost all of them intended to be humorous. I actually think this is a really nice first read book for me — you get a sense of my humor almost immediately and everything in it moves by quickly (and also, the eBook is, like, $5, so it’s a pretty cheap first date). If you read this and really like it, Redshirts is the obvious next stop in terms of what to read next. First Read Grade: B+

The Collapsing Empire: The first installment of my new space opera series. I really like it, and as with Old Man’s War I think it’s an excellent “first read” because it gives you a very good sense of who I am as a writer — if you like it, there’s an excellent chance you’ll like most everything else of mine. The one tiny caveat is I have a particular character who is super profane, which I love but some people find excessive. But if you can handle that this is a great place to start. First Read Grade: A

I’ll update this piece as new books come out. In the meantime, hope this helps with your first read needs.

RIP, Jerry Pournelle

Word reaches me by the president of SFWA and other sources that Jerry Pournelle passed away today, in his sleep. This makes it a sad day for science fiction. Pournelle was an outsized voice in the field, publicly often cantankerous and privately quietly devoted to the field, both as a member and former president of SFWA. And he was a very fine writer, with a number of memorable works, particularly those written with Larry Niven. My favorite of those was Footfall, which thrilled me when I was a teenager, although many would point to The Mote in God’s Eye as their finest collaboration. Both were nominated for the Hugo for Best Novel, and Pournelle himself was the inaugural winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which he won the same year as he was president of SFWA. Nifty trick, that.

I was not personally close with Jerry Pournelle, but as president of SFWA I had the opportunity to work with him on organizational matters. In that capacity he was always devoted and diligent, and his love for the organization and the field of science fiction was never in the slightest of doubt. He and I differed on many subjects (neither of us were ever exactly shy about expressing ourselves, either privately or in the SFWA discussion areas), but I never doubted his desire to be a positive force in the field, or his willingness to serve when asked. In this, he was the best of men.

My condolences to Dr. Pournelle’s family, friends and fans. His was a good and distinguished life. He will be missed.