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.