Home » Big Publishing, Fantasy/SciFi, PG's Thoughts (such as they are) » John Scalzi, Science Fiction Writer, Signs $3.4 Million Deal for 13 Books

John Scalzi, Science Fiction Writer, Signs $3.4 Million Deal for 13 Books

26 May 2015

From The New York Times:

John Scalzi, a best-selling author of science fiction, has signed a $3.4 million, 10-year deal with the publisher Tor Books that will cover his next 13 books.

Mr. Scalzi’s works include a series known as the “Old Man’s War” and the more recent “Redshirts,” a Hugo-award-winning sendup of the luckless lives of nonfeatured characters on shows like the original “Star Trek.” Three of his works are being developed for television, including “Redshirts” and “Lock In,” a science-inflected medical thriller that evokes Michael Crichton. Mr. Scalzi’s hyper-caffeinated Internet presence through his blog, Whatever, has made him an online celebrity as well.

Mr. Scalzi approached Tor Books, his longtime publisher, with proposals for 10 adult novels and three young adult novels over 10 years. Some of the books will extend the popular “Old Man’s War” series, building on an existing audience, and one will be a sequel to “Lock In.” Mr. Scalzi said he hoped books like “Lock In” could draw more readers toward science fiction, since many, he said, are still “gun-shy” about the genre.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden, the executive editor for Tor, said the decision was an easy one. While Mr. Scalzi has never had a “No. 1 best seller,” he said, “he backlists like crazy.”

. . . .

 He said Mr. Scalzi sells “a healthy five-figure number of his books every month,” and that he “hasn’t even begun to reach his full potential audience.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Karen and several others for the tip.

PG did a little arithmetic (always a dangerous thing).

$3.4 million is a lot of money, but divided between 13 books, it translates into an advance for Scalzi of about $222,700 per book after deducting his agent’s fees. Again, after agent’s fees, over ten years, he’s looking at $289,000 per year. Not shabby, but not breathtaking.

PG would have no difficulty naming a significant number of indie authors with higher annual incomes. Tradpub multi-book contracts typically divide a significant portion of the advance payments (sometimes all of them) into per-book payments as each book is published or accepted for publication, so, in terms of annual income, Scalzi is likely to average pretty close to  the $289K annual number over the course ten years of advance payments.

Tor says Scalzi sells “a healthy five-figure number of his books every month.”

Let’s look at a couple of possibilities for “healthy” and see how Scalzi would do if he sold a less-than-healthy five-figure number of books every month as an indie author.

If each of Scalzi’s 13 new indie books sell 1,00o ebook copies per month, that’s a total of 13,000 copies each month. (PG’s getting better at math all the time). Again, PG would have few problems naming a significant number of indie authors with much less name recognition than Scalzi who consistently average sales of more than 1,000 copies per title each month.

To make the math easier, we’ll assume that, instead of taking the Tor contract, Scalzi indie pubs his 13 ebooks and sells them on Amazon for $2.99 each.

At 1,000 books per title per month, these sales would generate about $327,000 per year in indie royalties for Scalzi (no agent necessary). If we increased the sales of these 13 books to a more-healthy five-figure annual total based on 2,000 copies per title per month, Scalzi would be looking at $653,000 per year in royalties. And, unlike advances, which will cut off after the last book is published, that $600K+ per year won’t fall off a cliff after ten years.

Now certainly Scalzi’s indie income would start smaller and serious indie income would be back-loaded while presumably the advance income he will receive from Tor will be more front-loaded with Scalzi receiving payments from Tor before the books are sold. Performing any sort of front-loaded vs. back-loaded analysis is definitely beyond PG’s meager math skills.

However, if “healthy five-figure monthly sales” are 40,000 or 50,000 or 60,000 per month, indie royalties blow past the Tor advance like a buttered bullet.

The Scalzi/Tor advance was big enough to generate an article in the Sunday New York Times, but compared to the earnings of similarly-talented indie authors, PG says it’s not very impressive.

To be clear, PG bears no animus toward Mr. Scalzi and wishes him the best of luck and booming sales with Tor. However, having recently discussed royalties with a number of successful indies who don’t have Scalzi’s name recognition, PG says the indie path is far more lucrative.


Big Publishing, Fantasy/SciFi, PG's Thoughts (such as they are)

156 Comments to “John Scalzi, Science Fiction Writer, Signs $3.4 Million Deal for 13 Books”

  1. And here are Scalzi’s comments on the deal:


  2. Robert Forrester

    I get your maths, PG, but I think you are making the assumption Scalzi could shift 1000 ebook versions of his 13 new books on Amazon each month, every month, which I doubt he could. As the article suggests, he’s a strong backlist seller, but his Amazon figures are not anything to write home about, suggesting he is selling small numbers of books in a (very) large number of markets and stores, and I’m wagering mainly in paper. Sure, many of his books are highly priced, but some are comparably priced to indies (Old Man’s War was recently on a freebie) so I can’t see someone like Scalzi benefiting from going indie and losing all the bookstore and airport markets he enjoys. He’s Tor’s prize possession and unlike many big pub/author relationships they seem to take care of him, so good for him. Shame most other authors don’t enjoy the same nurturing.

    • “Seem to take care of him”…

      They had a falling down some years ago, IIRC. Scalzi’s answer? He stopped publishing in the meanwhile.

      He didn’t start indie. He didn’t search other publishers. He stopped.

      Once it got solved, they were best buddies again.

      Hmm… Smells fishy.

      Take care.

      • Do you have any reference for this? I haven’t heard about this, and I’ve been reading Scalzi’s blog off and on for several years, so I’m curious.

        • He has made reference on his blog a couple times over the past couple years about not putting a book out with a particular publisher because he didn’t like the language in the contract and once that was corrected, he published with them.

          He never went into specifics, buy did mention his concerns with contract rights grabs.

        • I don’t have the precise data for that, but it should be early July 2014, maybe late June. I’m quoting from something I extracted back then:

          “[…] one major reason there was a three-year gap between A-work and work-B was because Tor and I had a substantial business disagreement, and I chose not to write new work for Tor for a while.”

          “The details of that disagreement are not important now — water under the bridge — but it was significant enough that I walked away from the company and worked on other things.”

          Other things didn’t include publishing anything of any significant length. Not on Daw, Baen, Pyr… And that doesn’t include that work B was likely put on speed to reach the shelves after the dry season.

          Early that same year, in June 3rd, I believe, he stated (in, of course, other words) that his publisher had prevented him from attending WorldCon by putting him through promotions in the US during the same dates.

          You should be able to check his blog for that. I ended up discarding him. After, yes, several years.

          Take care.

          • Thanks! I’d completely missed that, and I see why — I was out of state with conferences most of June last year, and then had RL issues in July that meant I wasn’t keeping up with blogs very much. Given the number of contract rights grabs I heard about last year, I’d guess it was something along those lines.

    • You could be correct, Robert.

  3. I haven’t been able to find the reference, but… does anyone recall Mike Oldfield vs. Virgin? So and so much money, for so many works, once a year. Wiki doesn’t say much but… it didn’t end well, and I don’t find later Oldfield nowhere near as inspiring.

    Take care.

    • Robert Forrester

      No, but I do remember Prince’s falling out with Warner Brothers, when he was tied to a number of albums and couldn’t get out of his contract. Maybe the next in the Old Man’s War saga will be written by: ‘The Author Formerly Known as Scalzi’.

  4. Essentially, he just took a work-for-hire job with a 10 year contract.

    And per what he says in his blog post, he did it precisely so he has a set income per year for that decade.

    I mean, if you aren’t willing to run your own business empire, it’s a path. Not the one many would choose, but a path.

    It also guarantees he will carry water for his contract employer for a long time to come. 🙂

    • Exactly. I hope he got good medical with the deal. Nothing wrong with choosing the stability of a full-time job, rather than freelancing each book (his main reason for doing this, it appears).

      And this number leaves out foreign and film. You can easily double this number. Maybe triple it. So $10,000,000 for 13 books. Not quite indie level income, but it gets a lot closer.

      • Scalzi used to be a journalist, so I think he’s used to writing as a job. I doubt he will regret this, even if things go wrong later. (As someone’s post up above mentioned, Scalzi is perfectly capable of going on strike and playing hardball in negotiations.)

      • Scalzi also mentions on his blog that he retained audio rights, as well, which I understand is a fairly major revenue source these days, and (at least from what I hear from friends published in NY) pretty difficult to hold onto.

  5. Yes. I didn’t even do any math (and my math skills are surely more meagre than PG’s). Just the headline, $3.4 million for 13 books made me think, ‘that’s not a lot of money.’ But 13 books is surely a lot of work.

  6. Nice for him, although I don’t know if I’d ever want someone else owning my next 10 years and 13 books.

    Then again … dat money.

  7. And what happens if Tor keeps tossing his books back? I wonder how the contract is spelled out because it’s possible that his first advance could also be his last if they decide to reject whatever he gives them …

    As Ferran said above, it smells fishy — I’ll dig out the tartar sauce …

    • RealityObserver

      So long as his good buddy Patty-boy is there, they’ll keep publishing his fish wrappers (yes, that is where the smell is from).

      Eventually, though, the bean counters are going to realize that leaving a committed Marxist in charge of a business is NOT the way to make money. Then it will be bye, bye, Patty – and bye, bye, Johnny.

  8. After reading PG’s commentary, my first thought was yes but the indies with those big numbers are the lucky few (like lottery winners) whereas with publishers, almost anyone with an excellent manuscript can get a million dollar advance. —Not!

  9. Smart Debut Author

    $3.4 M over a decade?

    I can name at least 3 indies writing Sci Fi who earn more than that every year… and they have far less name recognition than Scalzi does.

    But… Whatever. 😉

  10. A few years ago I predicted that publishers would start locking up their workhorses (midlist authors who are prolific with solid sales) in +10 multi-book contracts. It only makes sense–for the publishers. They can control the money flow, the competition, and keep their solid earners from haring off into the wild. Plus, if that workhorse suddenly becomes a superstar, no need to bother with negotiating new contracts (and bigger advances). Plus, plus if the workhorse tanks and his sales dry up, then keep rejecting proposals and never have to worry about spending another penny.

    I imagine Mr. Scalzi is quite pleased with his deal. Good for him. I just hope for his sake the day never comes when he has to face how very bad this deal could be.

  11. Chris Armstrong

    Another factor to consider is that he also has TV and movie deals in the works.

    • True; if he pens the next “Hunger Games,” it’ll be bonuses all ’round. Except for him, of course (unless he has incentive clauses negotiated in).

      • Chris Armstrong

        He also has written for video games, so that’s another source of income.

      • You clearly don’t understand publishing contracts. Mr. Scalzi has negotiated a multimillion dollar advance against royalties. He gets a set of structured checks as he produces each book as ADVANCES not work-for-hire buyouts.

        He gets credited for x% (probably between 10 and 15) of Tor’s sales for each book as royalties. When A book’s royalties exceed the advance that book has earned back it’s royalties and Tor will send him a check every quarter for the royalties that exceed the advance.

        So if his next book is “The Hunger Games” Tor will send big checks in addition to the advance.

  12. Congrats to him. I hope that five to ten years down the road he will still be as pleased with the deal as he is now.

  13. Scalzi had made no bones about self publishing. He has said on multiple occasions that he has no desire to learn the skills need for self publishing and feels that his agents and publishers earn their money.

    I think this is a great deal for him. It’s just sad that he chooses to remain ignorant to the potential self publishing could offer him and the larger rewards he could reap.

    That said, still happy for him if he got what he felt he was worth.

    • Here is his reasonong against self-publishing (as seen on the blog post Josh linked to) :
      “Yeah, thanks, no. One, for various reasons, I find it doubtful that I would be making more self-publishing. I’m not going to go into those reasons at the moment because it’s a long slog, but, you know. Trust me on this for now. Assume I know my business pretty well after all this time.

      Two, look, I like to write, and I don’t mind marketing myself. But there is a whole lot more that goes into producing a book than just showing up with a manuscript and then telling people about it. I don’t want to do any of the rest of that stuff. That’s why publishers exist. That’s what publishers do. As it happens, when it comes to science fiction, Tor is as good as it gets, in every department. They are better at these things I don’t want to do than I am. I am delighted to partner with them and let them handle all that. I am clearly making enough money.

      Three, if I want to self-publish something, I can, and have in the past. So, false dichotomy in any event.”

      • His first reason is, basically, an appeal to authority.

        Among other things, I’ll acknowledge that what Scalzi has _forgotten_ about publishing is about par with what I’ve managed to learn.

        What I doubt is that he’s chosen the right things to forget.

        The second part is “I like it when they take care of me”. And I’d question that _publisher’s_ work is what he states. But then what do I know? See reason 1.

        “I have self published in the past”. Yes, he did. And, of course, nothing changed since.

        Take care.

        • No, his first reason is “I know myself, and you don’t.”

          Which is absolutely and completely true.

          He knows HIS business. Not yours. Not everybody else’s. His.

          And he is calling on a lot more experience than just his self-publishing experience to make his decision. Like most authors, he has done a lot of things in his life. He has a whole lot of info — all irrelevant to anyone else’s choices — on which to make his decisions.

          I’m 100 percent indie for reasons similar to why he is 100 percent traditional right now. And my reasons are pretty much irrelevant to others, just like his are.

          • Yes, of course. Anyone else uses “I know my business” line and it means his trade. Plumbers, lawyers… Scalzi uses it and it suddenly changes use.

            [ADD] Still an appeal to authority, though.

            Gotcha. Thanks.

            • You’re arguing with a stance he didn’t take.

              He told you that he has private reasons he isn’t going into, and mentioned that he was satisfied with those reasons. He didn’t, even by implication, say that anyone else should be satisfied with those reasons. Just that they weren’t the business of his blog post.

              In other words: point one is not arguable, because he didn’t actually take a position. He said NOTHING in that first point that was designed to convince anyone else. There was no argument to fly to authority with.

              If you want to argue, there’s plenty in the other paragraphs, but imho, that’s kinda moot anyway. Everything he said is about personal preference. And on his personal preference, he isn’t flying to authority, he is the authority.

  14. Scalzi’s a good footsoldier for Tor, so the fact that they felt they had to lock him up for ten years is an interesting look at the fear publishers have of author flight.

    From Scalzi’s POV, I’d say the security issue is the biggest one, IF it really exists. Is there an out for his publisher if his sales fall, for example? To the extent that it is guaranteed income over a long period of time, there is value to that. $250k a year guaranteed is worth more than, “maybe you’ll make $250k a year.” Is it worth more than “maybe you’ll make $350k or maybe you’ll make $500k?” That’s going to be different for different people.

    Also, implicit in a deal this size and length is the publisher’s full support and push on all his books. That’s worth something too.

    • There is no security to be found anywhere in publishing anymore. Mr. Scalzi is gambling that TOR will still be in business 10 years from now — which is not a safe bet.

      What if the company changes hands and the “full support” for his books vanishes overnight? What if most of the staff gets cut and he’s stuck working with people he can’t stand? What if TOR decides to sell off their entire backlist to a subscription service for pennies on the dollar? What if they simply go under and his IP rights are tied up in bankruptcy proceedings for years?

      Now is not the time for any author to be signing multi-year contracts with anyone. Today’s “great deal” could easily turn into tomorrow’s nightmare.

      Better to hang onto your IP rights with both hands and go indie. You’ll not only earn more, you’ll be able to change directions on a dime. In today’s publishing environment, staying nimble is a critical survival skill.

  15. With such a large contract, I hope Scalzi (or his agent) fought off inclusion of a basket accounting clause.

    • From comments under his blog post : (in answer to this question : “I do have a question, though: Does this contract require basket accounting? If you don’t feel comfortable answering, no worries.” )

      “I won’t have to earn out every book before I get royalties, no.”

  16. Scalzi has made the decision he deemed best FOR HIM. No one has the right to tell him he made the wrong decision, or take him to task for doing what he wants to do.

    He said in his blog post today he already makes mid-six-figures every year in royalties alone from what he already has out. He also went into some detail on the reasons why he’s not interested in going the indie route, while also pointing out his contract does not forbid it. It’s English print rights only, with no non-compete clause. It’s a pretty sweet deal, and something most other authors–Nora Roberts, James Patterson, and Danielle Steele included–wouldn’t be able to get.

    Scalzi isn’t ignorant of self-publishing. He’s done it, and it was enough of a taste for him to know he’s not interested in making his living that way. The indie road is NOT the right one for every author. Also, it was under his leadership that SFWA became open to indie authors. He’s not an enemy of indies. The only person he’s an enemy of is stupid people who check their brains at the door. No matter what side of the publishing argument they’re on.

    Go to his blog and read his post where he goes into some of the details, and stop slamming him for making a decision that HE IS OKAY WITH. I’m very happy for him. And more importantly, he’s very happy.

    In the end, that’s all that matters. He’s made the right choice for his writing business. Again, stop slamming him for making decisions based on his own criteria that he hasn’t shared with the world.

    • “Also, it was under his leadership that SFWA became open to indie authors.”

      Minor note–Scalzi was a supporter of indies coming into SFWA but it wasn’t until earlier this year, under Steven Gould’s presidency, that membership guidelines were put into place for indie writers.

    • If we can’t criticize and second guess someone’s life decisions in the comments of an excerpted blog post on a third party site, where can we?

      • Besides which, I don’t think anyone was ‘slamming him,’ just questioning whether tying himself to a publisher in a declining market during the most rapid change in the publishing world in decades was really a good idea. Which would all depend on the details in the contract.

    • I would never slam Scalzi. He is smart and feels this deal is best for him. I think that’s great. All I had said is he is self-professed lazy and uninterested (at this stage of his career) when it comes to learning more about self publishing. I do wish him well. I just won’t be buying his books not because of him, but because I think his writing is awful and being with a trad publisher will be priced well over $9.99 for ebooks.

      It’s about personal taste, not that I dislike him. Honestly, I love reading his blog. Just not his books.

    • Scalzi has made the decision he deemed best FOR HIM. No one has the right to tell him he made the wrong decision, or take him to task for doing what he wants to do.

      1st sentence, yes.
      2nd sentence, this is the Internet. We have a right to say whatever we like.

    • It’s English print rights only, with no non-compete clause. It’s a pretty sweet deal, and something most other authors–Nora Roberts, James Patterson, and Danielle Steele included–wouldn’t be able to get.

      Nora Roberts made $23 million in 2014 alone according to Forbes. If I was her I wouldn’t want that deal. 🙂

      P.S. James Patterson made $91 million in 2014. He’s not losing any sleep over missing out on a “Scalzi style” deal either. He doesn’t even have to write the books!

    • Actually, anyone can tell him he made a bad deal.

      He just doesn’t have to listen

  17. Here is a post from way back that shows his mindset. Read the full post and comments before you start sneering. HA!

    A Moment of Financial Clarification

    Every once in a while someone in the comments here says, usually as an aside to something else, that no one becomes a writer to get rich. So as a point of clarification, and to give everyone else who is slightly exasperated by this sort of comment something to point at:

    Hey, I became a writer to get rich. I’ve always been in the writing business not just to write, and not just to make money, but also to make a lot of money — basically, to get rich at it. Why? Because speaking from experience, being poor sucks, and in the world we live in, things are a whole lot easier if you have a lot of money. The thing I do best in the world in a professional sense is writing, so if I were to become rich, getting rich through writing seemed like the most likely way for me to do it.

    . . .

    As a final thought on the point, one of the reasons that “no one writes to get rich” and “no one writes to make money” bug the crap out of me is that this is the sort of thinking, intentional or otherwise, that gives bad people cover to screw writers with regard to money, and gives uncertain writers a reason to shrug off being screwed. If you as a writer buy into the idea you can’t/won’t make money and that you can’t/won’t get rich, then you are more than halfway to ensuring that you won’t, in fact, make money (much less get rich).

    So don’t accept it. When someone says it, feel free to contradict them. Some of us do write to make money, and maybe even to get rich. It doesn’t lessen what one does as a writer to acknowledge that making money, and maybe even hopefully making a lot of it, is one of the reasons to do it — if in fact it’s one of the reasons one does it. It is for me.

  18. Tor really didn’t have a choice, he’s their most marketable author with a backlist, if they didn’t lock him up, they’d be out of luck.

    Don’t get me wrong, and there are others in their stable I like as well, but none of them would get such a contract I think.

    I hope his contract earns him a goodly amount of money, although if the RUMINT about Tor UK is correct, I wouldn’t bet on it.

    • “I hope his contract earns him a goodly amount of money, although if the RUMINT about Tor UK is correct, I wouldn’t bet on it.”

      Expand, Miles. Er.. Andrew.

      Take care.

      • Wait…was that a Vorkosagan reference?

        Isn’t it, “Unpack, Miles.”

        Lol, it’s so obscure I’m not finding it on the webs.


        • Tried to look for Unpack, and Google didn’t find it, so I tried Expand, which is more understandable to those who don’t follow the little freak.

          Take care.

          • TOR UK is not accepting submissions, and according to people who know people, is seriously considering restructuring. Said restructuring to be huge layoffs at best, closing down at worst.

            I’m taking the news with a medium grain of salt at hand. Like I said, it’s RUMINT, it then stranger things have happened.

  19. My concern isn’t for whether Scalzi is being paid enough — that’s for him to decide. My concern is how much this is taking from TOR publishing, and from the industry as a whole.

    By an overly simple analysis, $3.4 million is equivalent to the advance for roughly 340 new authors, assuming they all get $10,000 on signing (which is a generous advance these days). Would I rather see 13 new books by Scalzi, or would I rather see 340 new books by new authors? The latter, for certain. Science fiction desperately needs some new blood.

    Even in the most conservative analysis, TOR is locking themselves to producing 13 books from a known author, instead of giving themselves the option of putting those resources behind new blood.

    It just seems like a bad deal for TOR, and a terrible outcome for sci-fi literature in general. I’m happy for John, but this really seems like a low point for the industry.

    • This is why I love self publishing and smaller presses. I can buy a LOT of books from $4.99 and down, but very few over $9.99. I would never buy an ebook priced as high as some I have seen. I won’t name names here as that isn’t what this thread is for.

      I don’t feel sorry for Tor or Scalzi. They’re both going with what they see as a winning strategy. But self publishing will expose many if those books Tor could have picked up.

    • RealityObserver

      You apparently have this absurd idea that diversity should be given the slightest consideration when it gets between a Social Justice Warrior like Hayden and more money.

      When it comes to a choice between an old white “cis-male” who makes them money, and a bunch of lesbian POC that will make them nothing whatsoever – of course, they’re going to go with the old white “cis-male” (so long as he SAYS the “right” things while he countersigns their checks).

  20. We should also remember what Veteran Publishing Consultant tells us about the weaknesses of the Author Earnings Report.

    He claims published authors get all their income from advances, and rarely collect from subsequent royalty payments. Hence, the AE is flawed in its focus on royalties.

    If this is true, then the advances Scalzi got are the upper limit of his earnings from these books.

  21. I am one of the indies making ‘Scalzi-like’ money. I write clean chick lit, no massive genre by any means.

    Yet, my new releases earn me $10k in the first 30 days priced at $3.99ea. That’s about 3000 copies in Month 1. And that’s merely lounging around in the Amazon Overall Top 2000 for that first month.

    I have a mailing list of a paltry 1500 souls. Scalzi could/should bury the ‘1000 sales per month’ assumption and makes tons of money.

    But, he lacks the entrepreneurial chops to do so. He’s a poster boy for the ‘you didn’t build that’ crowd. He thinks he’s a genius, but at the same time thinks his trad pub team contributes to his success.

    • No. He doesn’t think he’s a genius. He thinks the rest of us are idiots.

      Take care.

    • And I think this is what irritates me about Scalzi. He chooses to bury his head in the sand and assume his agent and publisher will take care of him. They’re out to make as much money off him as possible and will likely make 10 times what he’ll make. But he thinks it’s worth the price, so that’s on him to remain ignorant to the possibility and the money he chooses to leave behind because he doesn’t want to learn them.

      Again, if he is happy with the deal, good on him. I still think he should educatehimself, put in a little more effort, and reap the true rewards of his efforts.

      • If agents and editors taking care of him fills their business needs, it’s a ‘ship that CAN work to all parties’ benefit. It doesn’t have to be a train wreck. Scalzi is no dummy and he took the deal because it was to his benefit.

        I wonder if we’ve heard too many tales of do-nothing agents and egregious contracts to trust anymore that ANY trad deal is worth pursuing. I’m persuaded that the large majority are not worth it, but statistically speaking, some of them must be.

        • This is pretty much my opinion, as well. I see from his most recent post he’s kept audio, translation, and film/TV rights, which is fairly unusual these days. I wouldn’t, at this point, advise a new author to try the traditional publishing route, because they have no real clout when it comes to contract negotiations. Even among established authors, Scalzi is in a much better position — I know a number of midlist authors who’ve walked away from NY entirely because of ridiculously unacceptable contract terms.

          • Man those TV rights are huge right? Isn’t he looking at a few 6 figure deals just for those?

            Let us not assume, everyone, that this 3.4 mil is all Scalzi will be pulling down in the next 10 turns.

            • RealityObserver

              Hoo, boy. Yes, it is a good thing to keep hold of the movie and TV rights – you just might have the next blockbuster.

              But don’t hold your breath; Hollywood is a place that is littered with more “shattered dreams” than New York. Actually, it approaches the number of kids shooting hoops that will never get that NBA contract.

            • I’ve no idea the payment on film/TV, but lately it seems more SFF authors are getting deals for turning their books into a TV show or miniseries. I know Scalzi already has one, and depending on his popularity over the years, it’s not outside the realms of possibility he could get more. If he does, that’s not chump change. Neither are translation or audio, from my understanding. I know some people who make beaucoup bucks on those, even aside from film/TV.

              If this was one of those rights-grabby contracts, I’d have a completely different opinion, but since he’s retained most of the major rights aside from e-book, I think he’s made out pretty well for himself.

    • And tell me, what about the other 11 months of the year, you know, once you’re out of Amazon’s Hot New Releases list? How much does that 10K drop to? And how quickly do you have to push out your next title in order to stay visible?

      • Every 6 weeks would be optimal, based on my experience since Amazon last messed about with the ranking algorithm.

        My last release did over $10k its first 30 days…and then my sales steadily declined until I finally got my newest release out. I’ll note that I was still earning a living, just not as nice a monthly one as I did last year, before more algorithm jiggering. 😉

      • That $10k in the first month drops to $2k in Month 2. I put out a new release every 8 weeks. I currently have 26 novels. Each new release takes me 500 hours of writing, editing, and promotion. I outsource professional copy editing for $400.

        But I am a writer. I like to write 10 hours a day. And edit. And interact with my readers. And I give away 100+ Free books a day. I have 2 trad pub deals, but they cannot keep up with me.

        When circumstances arise, like fulfilling trad pub contracts, and I don’t have a new release for 12 weeks or so, my income never drops below $300 per day. I Bookbub every month. I am now spending $50 per day on Facebook ads with a positive ROI.

  22. I’d happily take that deal, because I could keep writing other stuff in the meantime and just have another avenue for selling my books. It’s an easier decision when you can write more than a couple books in a year’s time.

    • Good insight, Elle. Scalzi only has to produce 1.3 books a year for this income – a pace that would not necessarily be conducive to high indie earnings. It’s a sweet deal for him, irregardless of what the future brings, and I wish him all the best with it.

      For someone like you, who can easily put out several books a year, this would be a great deal and the best of both worlds. Depending on the non-compete. 😉

    • Exactly. I don’t know many if any indies making that level of income a year writing only one book. Most of us who make five figures or better a month write at least 4-6 books a year. Which means, yeah, I could out-earn his advance in the same time-frame, but I’d be doing 4-6 times the work to do it.

      And if he does want to sell other stuff, it sounds like his deal lets him do that.

      Plus…subrights. Those could earn him as much or more than the original advance again.

      Basically, there are a ton of factors in this and I think Scalzi made a good decision. He’d be unlikely, even with his backlist and internet presence, to earn 3.4 mil writing a book a year as an indie. He’d have to work a lot harder, and with no guarantees.

      • “I don’t know many if any indies making that level of income a year writing only one book.”

        John is arguably the top SF writer on the traditional side right now. And if we assume his earnings will be triple his advance, then he’s earning a fraction of what the top 5 or so indie SF authors are making per year. I think that’s the gist of the befuddlement. No one should sneeze at this kind of money; it’s a fantastic living for an artist. And no one should begrudge an author making decisions based on what’s right for them as individuals.

        My reading of many comments is simply shock from a publishing biz perspective. It’s the realization that one of the top names out there is making a lot less than you’d imagine. Which is fitting, because John’s openness with earnings highlighted this issue a decade or so ago. He’s always made a great point that author income needs to be more public, not just to increase transparency but so readers, fans, and aspiring authors can see the grim reality.

        Where the cognitive dissonance probably comes into play for John is that he’s self-pubbed some stuff and didn’t see major traction. He’s probably not aware that $3.2 million is a good SINGLE year for a top indie SFF writer. So when you see a deal that’s 1/10th what you expect, some eyes start a-poppin’.

        Again, nothing to do with John. Just a testament to how expensive Midtown Manhattan real estate is, and that SOMEONE is paying for it.

        • Yeah. Him.

          I hope his agent/editor pick up the check once or twice when he’s in town. It’s the least they can do for the guy.

        • I imagine he’s aware that there are some top SF indies making seven figures a year (though the ones I can think of are for the most part hybrid and have leveraged their indie success into big deals and film stuff etc). Scalzi isn’t the top SF writer, I don’t think. Technically James Rollins or Veronica Roth or Dean Koontz or Stephen King are all SF writers who out-earn and out-sell Scalzi like crazy. I’m sure if I poked around to hunt down numbers, there are even more who outsell him. He’s doing fine for himself, but he’s hardly a household name yet unlike some. A deal like this, leveraged the right way, could change that…

          My point is that I can’t think of any indie writing a book a year and making six figures off that single title. As I pointed out on Twitter, I’m technically out-earning Scalzi’s base deal, but I have to write 4-6 books a year to do it, not 1.3 books. And there’s no guarantee that in one year, much less ten, that I’ll keep the same income levels up.

          What Scalzi has is a base income now for pretty minimal work (1.3 books a year seems nicely minimal to me anyway). He has no non-compete from what he’s said, and he retained foreign, film, and audio rights. So basically he’s guaranteed himself at least 260k a book writing hardly more than a book a year.

          I honestly don’t think he could do better, even with his following, self-publishing those books instead. He’d have to work a lot harder and likely write those books over 2-4 years instead of 10 to have a chance at earning the same amount.

          Also, I imagine quite a bit of his built-in audience in is paper sales still. Ebooks are a different ballgame and I doubt he’d carry over as much of his audience to the indie side as one might think just looking at it on paper.

      • You have to remember, Scalzi is the fair haired boy there, and the company has a huge interest in pimping his books. That makes a deal with them more valuable than face value.

        When you consider the number of books he has sold and his difficulty getting traction with indie releases, you have to wonder how much of his sales power comes from his status as the top dog in the publisher’s stable. That isn’t to say he doesn’t have a lot of fans, but you’d think they would buy something he indie published too.

    • I was thinking that, myself. Especially since indie publishing isn’t limited by length to the extent NY is, and if he decided to indie pub some short stories or novellas on the side, that would also be a fairly nice income stream for someone with his name recognition (no reason he couldn’t do novels, either, but I think shorter length would be more likely from Scalzi; he seems to be pretty firmly a one-novel-a-year author). He hasn’t mentioned an anti-compete clause, and one thing he’s said repeatedly is that he likes to keep his options open, so I doubt he’d sign something that did.

  23. It’s a good deal. Indie carries it’s own risks so there’s no guarantee so if this was like the game of Deal or No Deal from a few years back, I’ll take the deal, Howie!

    (A hearty congrats to Mr. Scalzi)

  24. Is anyone here ‘genuinely annoyed at’ Scalzi’s existence? That is what he thinks (and that we need healing hugs). Weird.

    • That does sound a bit patronizing to me after reading through the comments here. It’s mostly a mild discussion on opinions about the deals and thoughts on if it’s wise or not. The majority really don’t sound hateful or annoyed.

    • If you follow his twitter feed (and particularly watch the GamerGate and Sad Puppy “following” he has) you’ll know that there really are people who are genuinely annoyed at his existence.

      He is underplaying it. It’s way worse than you’d think.

      You really could call it “Scalzi Derangement Syndrome.” True, there are other, less outspoken feminist male sf writers out there who have the same hate club, but just because he’s not alone, doesn’t mean he’s exaggerating.

      • I mostly meant here in the comments.

      • RealityObserver

        John Scalzi only annoys me as a symptom. A person with only minimal writing talent makes a bunch of money by acting the abusive, racist, elitist snob. Can’t blame him for doing so, it’s the way it works these days. Just look at the shallow creature playing the part of President.

        • I don’t exactly think he has “minimal writing talent”. I rather enjoyed a bunch of his “Old Man” universe stories, and I did certainly like the way he introduced ideas (agree with them or not, but “colonials are bad” wasn’t as thick as some would have written that).

          It went downhill rather fast, did it not?

          A part of me wants to keep thinking it’s a matter of taste (although, really, _Redshirts_… that thing _hurt_). Another part of me traces a parallel between OMW, my time visiting his blog and the progressive downfall. I could trace more parallels, about tone and content of his posts, for example.

          Then there were certain posts, IIRC, about Author Earnings, some logical fallacies, and a bunch of behavior patterns that started here and followed the rest of the list. While I understand that you can honestly fall into those patterns without relation to that behavior, it raised a flag. And then he nailed it with a new post. That’s when I decided to lock him off my reading list. Tried to follow his introduction of other writers’ works, but realized I didn’t have the stomach for it, since it meant I had to keep current with the rest of it.

          I don’t think he’s really that bad a writer. I think it’s a choice he’s been falling into, a spiral. In other arts, I’ve seen it too often. People who’re decent, even good, and get mired into their own narrative.

          I do hope he manages to leave that. If he doesn’t… Thanks for all the fish.

          Take care.

        • I voted for Barrack Obama twice and think he’s a fine man doing a good job given the situation he’s in. It’s much more likely that “shallow creature” is something you’ve seen in a mirror around the house.

        • RealityObserver, I think we must be reading entirely different blogs – I’ve followed John Scalzi’s Whatever for years, and based on my reading, the descriptors “abusive, racist, elitist” and “snob” are about as inapplicable to him as any you could come up with.

          Granted, I’ve only read a couple of his books, but none of them have led me to see him in that sort of light either.

          Now, if I missed where you’re referring to someone other than Scalzi, I apologize for the misunderstanding.

    • As Camille said, he’s underplaying it. It has nothing to do with self-publishers.

      I’m kind of aghast that his announcement is generating this level of derisive commentary on TPV. I mean, he announced a deal he was happy with and hey, it’s not a bad deal, all things considered. Whatever the POTENTIAL increased revenue may be in the self-publishing market, he’s doing a hell of a lot better than I am and I salute him for inking a deal that gives him guaranteed good income over ten years. My day job is contracting, and I know the value of knowing your guaranteed minimum income over the next ten years…

      • Is this derisive? I think we’re just talking. You know, the way we do here.

        And I think most of us understand the value of knowing your guaranteed minimum income over the next ten years… only he doesn’t really know that. Many things could come between him and that number.

        Best wishes to Scalzi, though, and may the numbers be ever in his favor.

        • Scalzi is polarizing. Going further into that would likely get me into twitter territory, and I don’t have that for a reason.

          Take care.

        • Derisive? Lol. This is one of the tamest criticism threads I’ve seen in a bit. I mean, come on. This is the web. Haters and screamers and agenda bros and bras are a dime a dozen. Looky at me I’m offended or superior or disagree and smarter and graaaaaa hormones!


          Scalzi kept a lot of rights that are going to net him a huge chunk o’ cheddar. People are forgetting that.

  25. It sounds like a very good deal and the best possible outcome… for his agent.

    • Do we know if he has one?

      Also… well, he has stated he likes “the industry” to “take care of details”. The moment you get into that, the moment you consider you already know everything you need to know about indie and that it’s not your thing, that you prefer to work for others and let them do the “hard work”, an agent is almost a logical step. Another thing you don’t have to worry about, for only a tiny percentage.

      Take care.

  26. I saw “Scalzi” and “$3.4M” and thought that it was a homerun for him! Was excited. Then I saw that It was for 13 books, a 1 followed immediately by a 3, and I was like…um, uh…kinda floored!

    He signed a deal that was “good for him”. Ok. Great. Yay capitalism. But I think he sold himself WAY short. Without even doing any KDP math, you can just scroll through the top few hundred in SciFi and see the fairly huge sales presence he has. If a quarter mil per year/book is a “good deal” for him (and not something he would instinctively laugh at, which I have little doubt an indie with equal sales rankings across so many titles would do) then I shudder to think of how little his e-book and print royalties on bona fide mega-hits are likely paying out. Bi-yearly, that is.

    If he’s content then that’s all that matters but I think he deserves a whole lot more than what TOR’s given him.

    • Well come on, it’s not like it’s a flat fee. He also gets… royalties! And he still has his foreign and audio rights. This is the minimum he will be making in the next ten years.

      • Yeah. This is also true. I went and read his blog response to the deal and it’s clear he’s simply not about the money and I guess that’s a beautiful place to be if you can afford it. He’s clearly done well enough with his previous bestsellers and seems 100% disinterested in the indie path and all it entails, which I don’t think should be criticized. There maybe more financially successful indies than Scalzi but I guarantee you that none of them are only mailing in 1.2 MS a year. And I’ve always maintained that just because someone can cook doesn’t mean they should run a restaurant. If he’s happy being a TOR employee than good for him.

  27. Certainly there are indie authors earning this much and more, but, erm, are we forgetting that a) they’re earning that on their whole backlist, not just one book; and b) how many books do they have to put out each year to get close to that figure? I’ll tell you how many: at least 4, and then they have to market the hell out of them while they try to keep up with the churn machine that is Amazon…

    Yeah, he knows what he’s doing.

    • I was trying to think of a way to say this same thing. The (apparent) thing about high earning indies seems to be volume. The example I keep coming up with is J.A. Konrath. Yes, he makes a lot of money, but he also puts out a lot of books and has a huge backlist. If you only took his next thirteen novels and averaged their take over ten years, would it outstrip what Scalzi will earn?

      The other thing I’m amazed at is that people are actually talking about these levels of money from writing. I’ve been told that one needs to get longer works out there in order to make money, but my most recent release has sold about ten copies at $0.99. And zero sales from my short story collections, also price-reduced to $0.99. My own lack of sales doesn’t surprise me that much, but the numbers being bandied about here do surprise me…

      • Scott, as has been discussed by many successful indies, if you want to make career money at this, you need a few things. Firstly, more than short stories. 😉 Ideally, a series with at least three books (or more). Good luck!

        • Thanks, Anthea. I know I need to get more and longer works out. I have two other full time jobs at the moment (general dentistry and dad to two pre-driving teenagers :-)) and I don’t need career money out of writing right now. More I’m surprised by people so casually dismissing almost 300K of guaranteed yearly income for the next ten years. That level of income, with the ability to supplement it with more writing and the probability of decent income coming his way from past works, sets one up for a pretty comfortable existence.

  28. if he was a fab bestseller whom at least one other house wanted, that deal would have been 20M. Agree with PG, way underpaid. But, it may be that he’s willing to take minus-1/6th instead in order to get the pub/marketing/pr/dog and pony show… which definitely can boost sales. I wonder how much his agent if he has one, knows about leveraging by playing pub against pub. Blog posts dont translate into sales. They feed the freebie crowd. Yet at Book Expo, eds and pubs are STILL telling authors they must have a bunch of signups to their fb pages and blog sites. Sure, it’s a broadcast venue that one has x for sale. Targeted ads would work better, likely, if its ROI one is looking for re time and/or money

  29. The only thing I’d add to the above is that just because this is a 13 book deal doesn’t mean you’ve got a guaranteed income every year for the next decade.

    There will be ways for the publisher to refuse / pull out of the deal before it’s finished.

    • Of course, if that happens, he could find another publisher, or just start indie publishing at that point.

    • Are you sure about that? It isn’t 3.4M up front for a 13 book commitment?

      • Scott, I haven’t read the contract obviously. But I have never heard of anyone getting a deal that’s anything like that. Most contracts of even single books have payments split into chunks triggered by events such as signing the contract, approval of the final manuscript, and publishing the book.

        It’s often a provision of a contract that if the book is not approved you have to repay any signing advance (not inevitably, all terms are up for negotiation ).

  30. When I read about Scalzi on blogs, I checked out his books. Most were too expensive for my liking, but there was also a bunch of 99ct ones.

    And then I realized it was 99ct PER CHAPTER. And the whole book had 23 chapters. That was the moment I turned my back on his books.

    I like what he does and says on his blog and elsewhere. I think he’s a good guy and do wish him all the best. I understand the safety aspect and knowing what will happen in the next ten years, most likely.

    But I’ll stay indie and plod along, and hope to be able to earn some income from my books.

    • Fair’s fair, it was 99¢ per _short story_, not all that uncommon. I could argue that “he” [Tor] should have put some intermediate thing (there was something of the sort, but as I recall it, it wasn’t much of an advantage) for “subscribers” of what is, basically, a fix-up.

      Take care.

      • Well, they were named “chapter 1”, “chapter 2”, etc. To be honest, once I saw that, I stepped away very carefully. I know I can get sucked into these things and it always feels bad.

        It doesn’t really matter. He sells enough without me.

  31. My only thought is, especially after reading KKR’s Writing by Committee post, being tied down to a publisher for 10 years sounds like torture. I know he likes working with Tor, but that doesn’t mean he’ll still like it 5 years from now.

  32. I dunno…for writing a book a bit in a year and continuing his blog (which is wholly optional and he writes when he feels like it) that guaranteed income isn’t too bad. Less than 500 words a day for ten years…and no other work. If everything at Tor stays exactly the same–same team, same people who work well with him–it’s a good move. But how many corporations stay the same for ten years? He could find himself in a form of indentured servitude. I hope he doesn’t. I like his blog and some of his books.

  33. Here’s the thing. It’s a good deal FOR HIM, and he seems really happy about it. And that’s really all that matters. He’s one of my favorite authors so I’m glad to know he’s happy with his deals and will keep writing, therefore keep getting books into my eager hands 🙂

  34. People are vastly underestimating the appeal of long term security over short term gains. He’s always expressed a preference for the sure gains of an advance over the possible gains of royalties. Now, he’s locked in ten years, including the period when his daughter will be in college, during which he will not have to worry about money and in all likelihood will be able to live comfortably while banking enough to live the rest of his life in comfort.

    A lot could change in ten years. His Old Man’s War show could tank (it is on syfy) and tarnish his brand. People could just get tired of him. The piddling puppies could usher in a glorious new age of neo-fascist authors dominating sf. No matter what happens, he still makes a quarter of a million a year.

    He’s also writing one book a year, plus three young adults. I suspect the latter are a labor of love and one that won’t quite match the earnings of his mainstream novels. That’s a pretty stark comparison to most indies I know. Yes, Hugh Howey is pretty chill, all he wants is a not that tall catamaran and a star to steer her by, but most of the indies I know who are in the mid-six-figures are on an incredible treadmill of constantly trying to keep up with production, all the time with the fear that one change of algorithm on Amazon’s park could cut their sales in half of more. I must say, watching people losing it in public over dropping sales, blaming it on Amazon when it’s equally possible they’ve just peaked. Not an attractive image.

    I will say that I think it’s a bit unfair for Scalzi to tweet that people here are mad at him. I think people are simply surprised at the numbers because he seems like someone who really is getting everything possible out of the trad world.

    • Not mad at him at all, he’s free to do as he wishes. Some relish the idea of a steady paycheck. After taxes his kids still need loans to go to college, however. Not much security there.

      Some of us like, gasp, writing 4-6 books a year. It’s not a chore, I wake up every morning looking to get in my 1000 words before lunch. That’s all it is you know – 2000 words a day every single day.

      Workaholic, love your craft, willing to invest money in marketing, entrepreneurial, etc. = thriving as an indie.

      None of those things? Well, you can guess who.

  35. Scalzi got a good deal. Good for him.

    In the larger context, we have been seeing traditional publishing advocates telling us it is better to have a deal with a traditional publisher than to independently publish.

    So it is reasonable to do a financial examination of any traditional deal that does become public, and compare it to similarly popular independent authors.

    The deal matters, not the person.

  36. Smart Debut Author

    “I don’t know many if any indies making that level of income a year writing only one book.”

    Indie Sci-Fi writer A. G. Riddle. 4 books over the last 2.5 years have already earned him at least double Scalzi’s contracted $3.4M, but in a quarter of the time.

    Indie Sci-Fi writer Douglas E. Richards. Six books over 3.5 years. NYT Bestseller after NYT Bestseller. Easily outearned Scalzi’s contract with half the books in a third of the time.

    Oh yeah, and there’s this other guy named Hugh somebody… y’all might have heard of him. 😉

    Wait, what? Movie rights, you say? All three of the indies I mentioned are fielding film and movie options from the likes of Fox and CBS Films. Oh right… and some fella called Ridley Scott. 🙂

    I’m not pointing out these examples to somehow denigrate Scalzi or his choice. He isn’t a dumb guy at all, and he undoubtedly knew exactly what he was doing when he signed that contract. And the idea that Tor or his agent are going to somehow rob him blind, or ignore his wishes, or give him the runaround is sweetly naive. Think about it. They need him more than he needs them.

    But I saw several comments above espousing the meme that the only way indies can possibly outearn Scalzi’s Tor contract is by producing six books a year, and that indies miss out on all those other sources of income: from movie and television rights and foreign sales. Both of those ideas are flat wrong. And easily disproven. Even in an apples-to-apples look at just Science Fiction authors…

    • So… that’s three. All of whom wrote more than a book a year average.

      I imagine that the 3.4 mil for Scalzi will be a great deal more than that by the time his subrights are sold. And again, all for a book a year.

      • Smart Debut Author

        No, that’s three I can name off the top of my head.

        And I’m not counting *their* subrights, either, so bringing those into the picture changes nothing.

        Seriously, does quibbling about whether it took them 1.6 books per year versus Scalzi’s 1.3 books a year really change anything I said?

        Especially when they are outearning him several-fold, with significantly smaller backlists than his?

        Beware of tired publishing memes that are not supported by the facts, that’s all I’m saying…

      • I’ve self published only two books, 12 months apart, and I’m going to exceed $270,000 earnings in the last 12 months. Will I approach the earnings of this Scalzi deal? I have no idea – but it seems likely. You’ve probably never heard of me, and I’m just one of many authors quietly doing my thing and making more than a living.

        • This is the side of self-publishing that no one is covering, because hardly anyone knows it exists. You wrote a book a year, just like a traditionally published author. You made more in the last year than the base salary from this highly touted mega-blockbuster-deal. And no one has to know your name, other than your legion of ecstatic fans.

          There have been stories in the NYT about YouTube and Vine stars who have this level of success while flying under the radio. Perhaps it’s because the journalists there are *writers* that they don’t enjoy digging into what’s going on in publishing.

          To me, the startling thing about the Scalzi deal, is seeing that publishers are abandoning talent curation, midlist authors, and diversity of voice. The goal going forward will be to find a James Patterson for every market, churn out yearly bestsellers, and create stacks of books in dwindling brick & mortar chains.

          The new bestseller is the Michael Bay model. This might be good for the publisher, who is looking to minimize risk and maximize revenue, and it might be good for the Michael Bay authors, who get the lavish treatment that anyone being taken advantage of expects to enjoy, but it’s horrible for the marketplace, for the reader, and for the aspiring author.

          Well . . . it would be, if there wasn’t another market for SFF that’s far bigger, more varied, more affordable, and full of more talented and more diverse authors. Before long, the battle to get published and score a decade-long deal will be seen as an old man’s war. Not many will want to join it.

          • I know there are. I mean, I’m technically out-earning Scalzi’s deal. Will I keep it up for ten years? I have no idea. I’ll probably have to write 30-50 books in this decade to have a chance unless movie money or something falls in my lap. I know I won’t keep it up if I release a single book a year. Sales erode. A book that sold thousands of copies a month might sell only dozens a few months later. I’ve watched indies hit the big lists and go gangbusters on a title only to fall flat with their next book and disappear after that title stops selling.

            But still, can’t overlook that Scalzi’s deal works out to 261k for a single book. No matter how you look at it, it’s still very good money (especially considering that this is just the English World rights with many chunks of IP left to sell) for a single title, and it’s pretty nice that he’s only going to have to write about one book a year.

            Personally, I have a different view than Hugh. I see this as the publisher absolutely investing in talent curation. Scalzi hasn’t been a household name but this deal might help build him into one. And it might pave the way for other well-selling midlist authors who don’t want to do the work of being indie to start thinking about how to negotiate similar deals for themselves.

            In the end, while I love being in control of everything, I also realize that self-publishing isn’t for everyone and that not everyone will cut it (same as not everyone will cut it in trad either). People like Scalzi are the top 1% of trad publishing, and people like me are probably top 1% of indie. I try to keep that in perspective.

            • I guess, but I’ve been offered half his total deal for a single book, turned it down, and then quadrupled the offer on my own within two years. On that single book.

              Out of the 13 books he writes, one will go viral. That’s his $20,000,000 book. Except, it’ll be a $4,000,000 book now.

              Nothing wrong with that if you want to avoid any risk, which is what John is doing. I think he’s being smart; he’s got a family and he wants to build a nestegg and retire. I just think that 5.6X multiplier is hard to ignore. And yet many seem to.

              • Exactly. He has little risk in this and the potential to earn far more than the initial advance. Security in this biz is hard to come by. You wrote a lot of books before you found the unicorn that launched you, Hugh. And you followed that unicorn with more titles quickly, which shoved it up higher and helped turn you into the mega-seller you are today. If you’d taken a year or more to follow up, I am not sure where’d you would be now. Nobody can look backward that way, alas.

                You did what was smart for you. Scalzi is doing what is smart for him. Maybe he’d be able to write 13 books and make twenty or thirty million self-publishing over the next decade, maybe he wouldn’t. I tend to be on the pessimistic side, it’s true 🙂 Maybe because I have to write 4-6 times the number of books to earn the same kind of money. Maybe because I know a lot of authors who’ve written 20 books and have yet to find anything like viral sales. 😉 Sometimes a bird in the hand is the smarter choice, and Scalzi’s deal seems like it has really good terms.

                Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. I maintain he’d have to work a lot harder to have the potential to earn that money or more. It ain’t chump change and 99% of authors on either path (or going hybrid) won’t earn that in their lifetime, much less on a single title. Or writing a book a year…

              • (Coming in late, but I still had this open.)

                Add to that his daughter’s future. Scalzi has commented before on the struggles that Millenials face. I can’t imagine that he’s not also taking his own daughter into account. I would be very surprised if he’s not considering the rising cost of college education, that she may wish to continue in academia past a 4yr degree, and that even then, depending on what the economy looks like, it’s entirely possible even with a degree, she may end up needing to stay at home. This deal provides stability, and since he retains audio, translation, film, and TV rights, this deal won’t be his only source of income for the next ten years.

                He’s also commented on the contract shifts and what new writers are needing to sign in order to get deals. Getting in on this deal now means his contract terms remain the same for the next 13 books. Depending on what goes on in publishing, those are rights he might not be able to keep in later years. If you’re going to stay with NY, I honestly think this is the best option he could’ve taken for what he wants. A lot of us (myself included) want something different. There’s no one true way, only what’s best for each of us individually.

          • Smart Debut Author

            “Before long, the battle to get published… will be seen as an old man’s war. Not many will want to join it.”

            Except for the hapless, disposable midlisters who keep accepting low advances in the hopes of one day being the next Scalzi.

            They are traditional publishing’s redshirts. 😉

          • “Before long, the battle to get published… will be seen as an old man’s war. Not many will want to join it.”

            Well… what better soldier than the one who wrote the manual?

            Take care.

        • If you’re by any chance still reading, I’d love some deets. I’ve been concerned about indie publishing myself, even though it’s definitely the route I want to take, because I have disabilities that affect my writing output. Most of the success stories I’ve heard are from authors who have several books (of whatever length) out per year. While I have a pretty decent “trunk” of novels, novellas, and stories that either need minor editing or to be finished, I don’t know how my output will be in years to come. I would love to hear more about successfully writing at a traditional pace, because that’s one of my big concerns. TY in advance if you’re willing to share. 🙂

  37. I’ve published through small presses and done some self-publishing, as well as selling short stories to magazines. While I’ve enjoyed self-publishing, and plan to do some more, if you pay me several hundred thousands of dollars per year NOT to do that, I’m taking it. I’m a pretty natural writer. The technical process of self-publishing is NOT natural to me, it’s time-consuming, and for me the learning curve has been steep.

    But I’m going to continue to do it.

    I hear a lot of insecurity here among people here who self-publish. Scalzi made sure to point out that he’s tried it and doesn’t care for it. Don’t take that as an insult. Don’t take the excitement over his deal as saying traditional publishing is somehow better.

    He’s pointed out that the money he’s getting in the contract is the floor, not the ceiling. He’ll get royalties on these books if they earn out, as many, if not most, of his books have done. He kept all the other rights that make even more money for you.

    Let’s have a little self-confidence, people. Scalzi’s contract does not represent the entirety of trad publishing. My or your success, or lack of same, does not define self-publishing.

    Why does there have to be a one-size-fits-all concept of what’s right to do?

    • I don’t know about others, but for me this deal has nothing to do with self-publishing being better or worse than trade-publishing. What this deal did, was surprised me; a trade-publisher was only willing to pay an advance 300,000 per book to one of their top authors. I understand that the contract doesn’t take any subsidiary rights, but… 300,000 per book for one of their top writers, somebody who has a track record, when we lately hear about trade-publishers giving seven figure advances to debut authors… But yeah, as long as he’s happy with the deal…

    • Smart Debut Author

      Dave, you might be entirely missing the context of this discussion, which has nothing to do with one publishing path being “better” or “worse” than the other.

      It’s about money.

      For authors weighing the merits and downsides of each path while making their own publishing decisions, Scalzi’s deal is simply a data point. But it’s a data point that shines some light on the comparative earnings ceilings for each path, in one particular genre, which is one of many factors that each science fiction author must consider when making their very own decisions about which particular path is “better” or “worse” for them.

  38. As others have said, I think he’s going for the security. He’s committed to his family, he wants to make sure they’re taken care of, and I think he’d like to see a future where he can retire comfortably.

    I don’t think it’s about grabbing every last penny he can. Most authors don’t get nearly that much money, certainly don’t get a commitment for that long a contract. He’s pointed out that if a book bombs, that’s not his risk, that’s Tor’s.

    I think he’s made a great deal. And guess what, plenty of self-published authors make great deals for themselves all the time.

    We’re science fiction people, folks. We should be able to understand we don’t live in a binary world. We live in one where different people can take different paths and each one is satisfied.

    • If this is a reply to my comment, I would just like to point out what’s interesting to me is how much his publisher was willing to pay to his top author, not how much their top author was willing to take.

      • For all we know, the publisher was willing to go much farther and didn’t need to.

        Don’t think that’s the case, but…

        Take care

        • Could be, but if we make assumption that it was a publisher who approached Scalzi and not the other way around, and that Scalzi and his agent negotiated a better deal than the one offered, it doesn’t really matter, especially since in that case I doubt that the sum that publisher was willing to offer couldn’t be much higher. But I could be wrong.

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