In the wake of Scalzi’s Big Book Deal, folks have been saying some rather ignorant or ill-informed stuff about how publishing works. I wanted to address a few of those points here.
Let’s start with the easiest, in which folks over on Theodore Beale’s blog claim that by Tor giving Scalzi a $3.4 million advance, they’re “squeezing out” approximately “523 initial advances to new science fiction authors.” In other words, Beale claims that “Patrick Nielsen Hayden and John Scalzi have combined to prevent more than 500 authors from getting published and receiving paid advances.”
This is a particularly egregious bit of ignorance coming from Mister Beale, who fancies himself a publisher.
Publishing is a business. As a business, Tor not only spends money on things like acquiring and publishing books, they also earn money by selling said books. Assuming Scalzi shut out 500 authors assumes that Tor is simply pissing away that $3.4 million. This is a rather asinine assumption. John Scalzi has repeatedly hit the NYT Bestseller list, earned a Best Novel Hugo, and has several TV/film deals in development for his work. Tor buys books from John Scalzi for the same reason they buy books from Orson Scott Card: those books sell a hell of a lot of copies, and earn Tor significant profits.
Very often it’s those profits — the income from reliable bestsellers like Card and Scalzi — that allow publishers to take a chance on new and unknown authors.
I would like to thank @scalzi for making @torbooks enough money that they can take risks on writers like me. I’m not even kidding.
— Greg van Eekhout (@gregvaneekhout) May 25, 2015
I’d love to see more marginalized writers getting this kind of deal and publicity from publishers. But in the meantime, no, Scalzi’s 13-book deal is not hogging up 523 novel slots. He’s not book-blocking hundreds of new authors. Tor isn’t going to switch from multiple books a month to a One-Scalzi-Book-Every-Nine-Months schedule and stop publishing everyone else. Trying to pretend otherwise is an impressive tangle of ignorance, malice, and old fashioned dumbassery.
I’ve also seen a number of people second-guessing Scalzi’s decision to sign a $3.4 million deal because they believe he would have made so much more money by self-publishing. Which…um…okay, there are a number of things to consider here.
- You might be right. He might have made more money self-publishing. He might not have. Ignoring all other factors, neither you nor I know for certain.
- $3.4 million is the advance. It’s not the sum total he’s going to earn from this deal. There are also ancillary rights such as movie and TV deals, foreign sales, audio books, etc. (Depending on the details of his contracts.) In addition, if some or all of these books earn out their advances, he’ll likely see royalty payments as well.
- Publishing with Tor allows him to concentrate on writing without having to invest his own time and money in typesetting, cover design, marketing, and so on.
- Signing this deal doesn’t mean he can’t also self-publish. Tor signed him for one book every nine months. I suspect Scalzi could squeeze out a few other projects between those books, if he felt like it. (And if he wasn’t too busy swimming in his churro-shaped pool full of money.)
Go read Scalzi’s blog post on this one, as he gets into additional thoughts and details.
The takeaway here? Self-publishing and commercial/traditional/whatever-you-want-to-call-it publishing are both legitimate, viable options, but they’re not interchangeable. You can’t assume Author A who sold 50,000 books traditionally would also sell 50,000 books if they’d self-published, or vice versa. Likewise, you can’t assume successful self-published Author B would do equally well signing with a traditional publisher.
Deciding which path to take as an author is a lot more complicated than that, and the Right Path is going to be different for every one of us depending on our strengths, goals, resources, family situation, finances, and so much more.
This has been today’s blog post against publishing ignorance. Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!
June 1, 2015 @ 2:30 pm
So often you’re a great voice of reason when idiocy rears its ugly head. I’ve read some of the bitterness about Scalzi’s deal, but wow, I can’t imagine honestly believing that the deal prevented hundreds of other books from being published. I wouldn’t have connected it to Tor possibly being able to take chances on more unknown authors, but I figure that they wouldn’t have made the deal if they didn’t have the money and didn’t think they could make more money in the long run. Because that’s how publishing works.
Awesome post is awesome. Never change!
June 1, 2015 @ 2:34 pm
I would consider the sweet spots for self-publishing at the entry (when no publisher wants to bring your book) or at top of the pyramid (when you can afford your own staff to do the legwork).
James R. Tuck
June 1, 2015 @ 2:36 pm
This deal isn’t even preventing Tor from offering advances to THIRTEEN new authors, much less 523.
That assertion is just ridiculous. Tor is a publisher, a good publisher (and for the record, one of my publishers), they are NOT losing money on this deal. They got it together over there 🙂
June 1, 2015 @ 2:38 pm
Thank you. I used to say: “One Robert Jordan pays for a bunch of Madeleine Robinses.”
I’d like to add (as a former Tor employee) that publishing is not only a business, it is staffed by people with mortgages, kids, pets, book collections, the maintenance of which requires a salary; unless you’re independently wealthy, you can’t afford to work in publishing without being paid. Scalzi’s deal will bring in money that will permit editors and other workers to be paid, so they can continue to acquire and make better works by lesser known authors.
Really, it’s not rocket science (unless, of course, there’s a rocket on the cover).
June 1, 2015 @ 2:39 pm
I thought I read on Scalzi’s blog that he wasn’t being paid the $3.4 million up front, either. Calling it an advance makes it seem like he’s getting one of those big cardboard prize checks for $3.4 mil, but I think he said he’s actually getting some smaller amount up front, and then getting the rest spread out over the next decade.
Ah – here it is from May 25th’s entry, “About that deal”
“But dude, $3.4 million!
Yes, but, I don’t get it all up front; that would be irresponsible of Tor. I get some of it up front, but probably not as much as you might think. Most of it I get like any other writer does — when I turn in the novel, and then when the novel gets published. This is a decade-long deal. The money comes in over all that time. I’m not going to be doing a Scrooge McDuck-like dive into a pool of coins, sorry. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a ton of money. Just broken up into manageable chunks over ten years.”
June 1, 2015 @ 2:42 pm
I have said this on a couple other blogs, but John doesn’t want to learn self publishing for whatever reason. He got a deal with Tor that made him happy and made him enough money. Good on him.
My choice to self publish has nothing to do with his choice to trad publish. They are two totally separate choices by two totally different people made for completely different reasons.
Jim C. Hines
June 1, 2015 @ 2:44 pm
It’s still an advance, but you’re right that advances are often broken up over multiple payments. Even my significantly more modest advances lately have been half on signing, a quarter on delivery, and a quarter upon publication. (Or 1/3, 1/3, 1/3, or half on signing and half on publication, or any number of other combinations.)
It’s still an advance against the royalties, but you usually don’t see the money all at once.
June 1, 2015 @ 2:49 pm
There is a saying in German, that the worst thing you can do to your enemies is living a good life. Well, John Scalzi at least set the right course for that and this hits Bale harder than a thousand tweets. That another point I liked with that deal (beside getting more books from John).
June 1, 2015 @ 3:06 pm
For my money I’m stuck wondering why anyone is still bothering to read and/or listen to anything Theodore Beale has to say on any topic. The guy is a liar and just plain toxic and routinely shows the world just how much rope is required to hang one’s self.
Funnily that 500 author book-block Beale is talking about sounds an awful lot like Marxist rhetoric. De chacun selon son éditeur, à chacun selon son avance. Liberté, égalité, la publicité.
Jim C. Hines
June 1, 2015 @ 3:10 pm
Partly, I think he’s found that the Rabid Puppy Hugo thing has gotten him a lot of attention. He also owns a publishing house, and whatever you might think of it, that means some new writers could see him as a legitimate and knowledgeable source for publishing-related info.
To be honest, this was the first time in a while I’ve looked at his site, and it was only after hearing this stuff quoted elsewhere and wanting to see if it was out of context, or if he’d actually said this crap.
Erik V. Olson
June 1, 2015 @ 3:39 pm
To me, the reason this contract was offered to Scalzi was simple. He has, at a quick count, published nine novels with Tor Books over the last decade, and a couple of more already in the works. They have a large amount of sales data on him, they know how many he sold in 2004 and they’ve seen how his sales have grown since.
So, the reason they are willing to offer over $260K a book for 13 books is simple — they are basically dead certain that no matter what, they were going to have to pay him that much in royalties on those books anyway if they published them. So rather than risk losing him to another house, they decided to get him (and his profitable books) locked down long term, which will make life easier for them in the next decade. Bonus — they and Scalzi received tons of free press when many headlines with the words “John Scalzi”, “Tor Books” and “3.4 Million Dollars” in them appeared.
Pretty much a win-win for both Tor and John, which is why John and Tor agreed to the deal. If the books sell even better than predicted, John will get even more royalties, and Tor will make even more money — that $3.4M is a floor for John, not a ceiling. Tor could lose here if the books don’t do as well as predicted, but there’s always risks in deals — and with a thirteen book deal, they can take a flyer on one or two and if the rest do well, the one or two oddballs don’t hurt them overall. Indeed, they can let John be John and try something crazy, because sometimes crazy really does work and sell and sell and sell (see Harry Potter, Scholastic taking a flyer on it)
June 1, 2015 @ 3:45 pm
It’s just jealousy, pure and simple. Not everyone is a brand name like Scalzi. But Scalzi wasn’t always, either. I’ve been saying for years that this would be the new publishing model, that the best self-published and small press authors would rise to the top and get snapped up as brands by the Big However Many Are Left publishers.
There are some authors who’ve had overnight fame and swimming pools of money who don’t necessarily deserve it, that were just lucky to hit the right nerve at the right time, but Scalzi’s not one of them. He works hard for it, and has well-deserved admiration before this even happened. I say congratulations.
June 1, 2015 @ 3:49 pm
Yeah I can see that Jim. A big part of my anxiety/stress mitigation strategy is to avoid seeing/hearing/saying evil. Beale is a whole lot of things, and none of them seem very good to me. I’d be willing to bury bygones, but that would require this guy turns over a new leaf. Any new leaf.
Advice to new authors? Trust your gut. If the guy you’re talking to about publishing your manuscript is also telling the world that women’s rights is a sin and that people of color or intrinsically evil you may want to reconsider that contract. Should you sign that document and proceed there will be consequences to this association.
Otherwise, yeah Jim I agree completely. Your analysis is, as usual, spot on.
June 1, 2015 @ 3:50 pm
Well, and Mr. Scalzi as he said himself HAS self published other projects. He’s just choosing not to at the moment.
June 1, 2015 @ 5:34 pm
Exactly this, Martin. I like 95% of John’s stuff and 100% of teeth gnashing by the idiots. So it’s all good.
June 1, 2015 @ 5:39 pm
He’s basically never grown out of that little kid stage where any attention is good attention.
June 1, 2015 @ 5:54 pm
I can’t help but laugh that the same people who were spreading rumors a month or two ago that Tor was dropping Scalzi for lack of sales have pivoted to either “Pfft, it’s not that good of a deal” or “Scalzi and Tor are robbing new authors!” It must be a really bad time to be a Scalzi hater.
June 1, 2015 @ 6:19 pm
I’m glad that Tow is willing to invest this, this shows that a big publisher is willing to walk the walk in making buzz and investing in their authors. Any long term contract is an investment in futures, now many bright young baseball players get multimillion contracts and then crash and burn? Mr Scalzi has a track record already and less likely for blow it with steroids. Big money shows their confidence in the market. And big profits mean maybe someday the purse-strings will loosen too for midlist and newcomers. When the publishers are wary and cautious, no one gets as much of a deal. Of course they give more to the big sellers, not giving it to them is anti-conservative, and against free market. You can’t have it both ways.
June 1, 2015 @ 7:18 pm
The two constants in all of this is that (1) every writer’s career (and success) is very individualistic, and (2) there are always a LOT of people who want there to be One True Path for a successful writing career–and they tend to be adamant that it’s THEIR preferred path, and anyone who is not following the exact same path is Wrong.
I made a decision to quit working with literary agents more than 8 years ago, at a time when it was still nearly-universal conventional “wisdom” that a career novelist MUST have a literary agent, and that any writer working without a literary agent was making a huge and very foolish mistake. My oft-stated position–repeatedly proven by my own experiences with and without agents–that working without an agent was a perfectly valid choice for how to run one’s writing business was repeatedly shouted down, ridiculed, dismissed, and criticized for years. So I am very familiar with the phenomenon of writers (and aspiring writers) insisting not only that their chosen paths or business models are right for themselves, but also that their choices are The One True Way, right for EVERYONE, and that anyone not doing what they themselves are doing (or what they themselves WOULD do if they were actually doing anything more than just talking) is WRONG, foolish, making a mistake, etc., etc.
And it’s the same-old same-old thing with Scalzi’s deal. (I don’t count the Sad Puppies, who collectively seem to know less about publishing and the book market than my cat does. And the Rabid Puppies are even sillier; VD’s assertions are so patently based in seething envy and resentment, rather than in anything resembling a knowledge of business, they don’t even merit a response.) Indies who assert Scalzi could have done better self-publishing are saying that in the absence of relevant information, some of it unknown to anyone (ex. future unit sales are only a guess) and the rest known to Scalzi but not to total strangers (ex. the sales figures on his royalty statements, the split between his ebook and print numbers, the marketing plans Tor proposed as part of the deal, the Scalzi family’s financial planning decisions, Scalzi’s time management decisions, unannounced deals or approaches currently in play for Scalzi, the nature and logistics of his working relationship with Tor, clauses and bonuses built into the deal, and so on).
But lack of relevant information seldom stops writers from criticizing someone else’s business decision for his own career when it isn’t the decision they make for their own careers in their own specific circumstances. (Every time people told me why I was wrong in saying that working without an agent was a perfectly reasonable business decision, it always came with a predictable raft of erroneous and unfounded assumptions.)
(NONE of the above, btw, intended as a dig at Jim. We’ve disagreed for years about agents, but he’s always been reasonable and businesslike about it.)
June 1, 2015 @ 7:28 pm
Indeed. That’s one of the (many) things I meant when I said (below) that the Puppies seem to know less about the publishing business than my cat does. I saw those rumors circulating among them, too. Their supposition that a publisher would want to dump a writer they’d acquired as a first-time novelist a decade ago, whose sales have since grown to the point where his recent books made the NYT hc list… Or that a writer whose been making the NYT hc list might have trouble finding a publisher if he left Tor… Was right in keeping with many of their other amusingly idiotic assertions about the publishing world and the book business. (My personal favorite was a Puppy a couple of weeks ago who claimed that Tor is bribing Puppy picks to withdraw from the Hugo ballot by offering them book contacts if they’ll do so.)
June 1, 2015 @ 7:53 pm
This comment reminds me of @BadAgentSydney, who is a tortie cat who will be happy to be your literary agent as long as she gets to take all your moneys for “toonas”. Pretty sure she knows more about publishing than the puppies (of course; she’s a cat, and therefore superior to dogs).
June 1, 2015 @ 9:11 pm
So “Vox Day” is still flapping his MRA gums, eh?
He still wants attention, eh?
Well, here’s some attention for him: He’s the son of disgraced former Comtrol and World Net Daily bigwig Robert Beale: http://archive.kare11.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=540300&catid=2
June 1, 2015 @ 10:40 pm
I’ve read _Whatever_ for a few years now, and I’ve read a few of John Scalzi’s books. To be honest, I prefer him as a columnist rather than a fictionalist. (Is fictionalist a word?) But his books are solid, just not my favoritest, and he’s more than earned that contract with Tor.
He also makes a point of giving back to the field, serving as president of the SFWA and giving other authors a chance to showcase recently published books in his ‘Big Idea’ feature. He consistently gives aspiring writers good advice, and he’s quick to signal boost situations such as iffy contracts that might otherwise trap less-experienced writers. He does charitable work, too.
I have nothing but admiration for John Scalzi, and I can’t imagine Tor is going to do badly in this deal. Thanks, Jim, for your perspective on the situation.
June 1, 2015 @ 10:49 pm
I am in the same boat. I like his blog. I like him. I think his novels are terrible.
Lots of one dimensional characters that walk through the plot with little resistance, and get to the end in a timely fashion with little difficulty.
But some people love this kind of book and it has made him a career. As I keep saying, good for him. 🙂
June 2, 2015 @ 12:01 am
One of the things a lot of people appear to be ignoring about this contract of Mr Scalzi’s is the duration of it. It covers a ten year period. Or in other words, John Scalzi can be reasonably confident (gods willing and the creek don’t rise) of a certain level of income for the next ten years (barring extreme disasters). Now, how many of us can say the same? I suspect this is actually where a lot of the envy comes from, in an economy where job permanence is no longer a thing, and where casualisation of the workforce means even the best-paid and longest-term contract employees can be judged to be “surplus to requirements” on little to no notice.
What’s even better – the level of income he’s able to be confident of is one where he’s not likely to be a casualty of inflation. It’s likely to still be good money at the other end of the 10 year period, even if it’s not as good as it might have been at the beginning.
About the only similarity I can brag of to this deal in my life is that I have a pretty much guaranteed consistency of income for the next ten years, and things can only really go up – but then, I’m an unemployed housewife who currently brings in $0 per annum.
Jonathan Stray and Mr. Norwich Terrier 6/1 | File 770
June 2, 2015 @ 12:06 am
[…] “Publishing 101” – June 1 […]
June 2, 2015 @ 12:45 am
I’m confident the bean counters at Tor put in a cut away clause should Scalzi fail to perform at expected levels for a given period of time. Yes, he has security, but only as long as he continues to provide value to Tor.
So yes, he has a contract. We are not privy to the details. All we know is that Tor has invested in Scalzi for the long haul and I wish them both the best of luck. I hope it all works out 🙂
June 2, 2015 @ 1:37 am
The possibility of canceling a publishing contract isn’t anything special Tor would need to write in. It’s a standard clause in most (probably all) publishing contracts. Canceling writers’ contracts is common, and publishers do it for all sorts of reasons. Writers can also cancel a publishing contract–as long as they can pay back the signing money they were paid for the book(s) they’ve decided not to deliver to the publisher.
June 2, 2015 @ 2:23 am
In my mind I can’t help but imagining what would happen if the relationship with Tor did go horribly sour, forcing Scalzi to write the SF equivalent of the Rolling Stones’ Cocksucker Blues. That’s a book I’d like to read!
June 2, 2015 @ 3:38 am
The one really stupid thing that springs out at me in Mr. Beale’s post (aside from the already addressed bile, jealousy and basic Scalzi Derangement Syndrome, the literary equivalent of Obama Derangement Syndrome where sufferers are compelled to look for any possible negative interpretation of anything and everything involving the subject of obsession) is the inherent implication in that statement that profit is somehow a zero-sum game; that if one person profits, other people can not.
The sheer small-minded stupidity implicit in that mindset is staggering — but I do suppose it explains a great deal about why they operate how they do.
June 2, 2015 @ 5:56 am
Damn. Guess I should have held out for a contract 😉
Jim C. Hines
June 2, 2015 @ 9:50 am
I don’t think we need to hold the sins of the father against him. Theodore Beale’s own words and actions speak for themselves.
June 2, 2015 @ 2:17 pm
Thanks for the post, Jim, but really, thanks for the phrase, “…an impressive tangle of ignorance, malice, and old fashioned dumbassery.” That’s a versatile string of words which is going to come in handy.
June 2, 2015 @ 3:52 pm
Just checking, did you mean Scalzi Derangement Syndrome when you seem to be talking about Mr. Beale?
June 2, 2015 @ 4:07 pm
I know nothing about publishing; but there are plenty of details that we don’t and won’t ever hear about this contract. It may include who Scalzi wants to work with and how he wants things done, or other so-called intangibles. While he might have made more money putting books up for auction or trying to get better advances, at this level the details in the contract would almost certainly out weigh any extra income. Plus if he sells better than expected; he makes more money. This is a bottom limit not an upper limit.
June 3, 2015 @ 4:02 am
Yes. It’s a condition where you obsess so much about the object of your hatred that anything positive that happens involving them has to be interpreted in the most negative way possible and entirely the object’s fault — even when you’d be the first thing to applaud the exact same thing happening to or done by anyone else.
June 3, 2015 @ 11:02 am
When you’re an idiot, like ol’ Ted, you tend to see the world in terms of everything being a zero-sum game. If person A wins, it can only means persons B thru Z have lost. Reality is usually a bit more nuanced, but binary thinkers can’t keep up. That Scalzi’s success opens, rather than closes doors to new talent should be obvious to smart people, or anyone at all who keeps up with the business. Tor has given, and is still giving, great opportunities to debut writers. I know, because I get the review copies.
June 3, 2015 @ 3:05 pm
I’ve seen this non-earth-logic in action before, from similar sources. I’m a video game developer. I also present as a woman. So do 25% of the people at our studio, which has over 800 employees.
Why do we get death threats all the time? Because people feel that our being employed by the studio means that deserving men are being blocked from having these jobs. No possibility that we’re actually the best people for these jobs, that the studio is so committed to diversity because it WANTS perspectives from more than just the “Default Human Experience” (aka white cis het dude), because we’ve shown over and over that we make better games when we make these conscious choices. Even the folks making the threats don’t argue about this — they LOVE the games, that’s why they want us to… stop making the games.
Just like video games getting made does not prevent other video games from getting made. It’s actually the opposite — delays, scope issues, feature creep, new systems, cancellations, THESE all prevent other games from getting made, because it’s money spent that comes with no returns (although it’s not wasted — having “Project Canceled” on your resume isn’t a mark against you, the work still happened). Even a game that doesn’t do well tends to earn out, and honestly the only people who know how well a project does are the ones handling the money.
Plus with all the new roads to self-publishing in the game industry, and better (and free!) tools out there so that people don’t NEED a triple-A budget and studio to make the games they want… these things keep making the barriers to entry smaller and smaller. More games from more people is a good thing.
June 4, 2015 @ 8:56 am
I know that the $3.4 million deal was the hook that got everyone talking and the NYT used as a headline, but it really wasn’t what struck me most about the deal.
What struck me most was–holy crap, a 10-book deal.
Either that’s really, really rare (yeah, still is), or something big has changed in the publishing industry (yeah, probably).
Go back a few years–really not that many–and even the biggest authors couldn’t typically get more than a 2, 3 or sometimes 4-book deal. And if they did, it was news, major news. If memory serves, it was a while back that Stephen King got a multi-book deal, and I think it may have been in the range of 5-7 books (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong), and I think that may have been after he left long-time publisher Viking.
This was pretty much unheard of until James Patterson’s book factory got going and we started seeing crazy deals like 17-book deals over a couple years, but that’s partly, hey, James Patterson, and hey, partly, Jimmy don’t really write all those books, he “oversees” them, so, you know, different.
I suspect a couple things. First, it’s a little bit of a trend, probably at least somewhat related to the fear traditional publishers might have over big authors going indie–because they can and I’m waiting to see if someone big does, although it appears that most big authors (not all) get better deals and treatment from publishers than the hoi-paloi. I also suspect that Tor is happy to not have John Scalzi go somewhere else. As an SF author, he’s huge. As a regular author in the wider world of publishing, he’s big, not huge. He sells very well, don’t get me wrong, but we’re not looking at monster huge sales. Even at the bestseller level sales are a bit of a power curve and the #1, #2, #3 spots can outsell the #4 and below by factors of 10X or more. So I wouldn’t be shocked if Tor et al looked at John’s deal, their overall relationship with him, his overall sales and said, It’s a good financial deal for us and we won’t have to worry about him heading over to Roc or Ballantine for a while.
June 4, 2015 @ 2:06 pm
Huzzah! Great explanation.
June 4, 2015 @ 7:22 pm
I remember seeing a documentary on the making of “Gone With The Wind”, interestingly, the same type of argument was used. The budget for the movie would have been enough for half a dozen regular movies.
People haven’t gotten any smarter since the 1930s.
June 4, 2015 @ 11:09 pm
Not to mention that contracts for services (such as writing books) generally aren’t subject to court-ordered performance for a breach – that’d be called slavery.
News & Notes – 6/06/15 | The Bookwyrm's Hoard
June 6, 2015 @ 1:35 pm
[…] Publishing 101. Jim C. Hines talks about John Scalzi’s recent 13-book, $3.4 million deal with Tor, and why the people who have been complaining or ranting about it are, well, wrong. (Jim C. Hines’ blog) (The Los Angels Times has the full scoop on Scalzi’s book deal.) […]
June 7, 2015 @ 12:41 pm
To add to Laura’s post, it’s possible for authors to take back rights and only pay back the advance if and when they sell the book elsewhere.
Weekend link dump for June 7 – Off the Kuff
June 7, 2015 @ 2:57 pm
[…] a business. As a business, Tor not only spends money on things like acquiring and publishing books, they also earn money by selling said books. Assuming Scalzi shut out 500 authors assumes that Tor is simply pissing away that $3.4 million. […]