From The Verge:
Two years ago, author John Scalzi signed a $3.4 million deal with leading science fiction and fantasy publisher Tor Books to publish 13 novels over the course of the decade. The novel that kicks off this new contract, The Collapsing Empire, is just now hitting bookstores. For Scalzi, there’s a lot riding on this book: it’s the start of a 10-year collaboration between him and his publisher, at a time when the publishing and bookselling industries have been undergoing significant changes.
Set in a brand-new universe, the novel is about an interstellar human empire that faces a major upheaval when its faster-than-light transportation routes begin to vanish. Scalzi has been a rising star in the science fiction world over the past decade, bolstered by a popular body of work and a legion of devoted fans he built through his blog, Whatever. His latest book is a thoughtful, exciting read, and it’s a good indication that his career will continue to rise.
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Scalzi’s career to date has been a mixture of experimentation and practical market assessment. He wasn’t able to sell his first novel, a science fiction / humor book called Agent to the Stars, so in 1999, he published it on his website, asking readers to donate a dollar if they liked it. He earned around $4,000 before he closed donations. (Tor published it in 2005.) In 2002, he began serializing his next novel online: Old Man’s War, which attracted the attention of his current editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and helped launch his career.
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Ten years is a long time for the publishing world. Since Tor first published Old Man’s War, the industry has seen huge shifts. Ebooks and audiobooks have exploded in popularity. As Amazon has expanded, brick-and-mortar bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble have suffered. But Scalzi remains upbeat. “I think the people in publishing do feel optimistic that not only are they going to be around for the next 10 years, but that they are actually going to still do what they have always done, which is to bring exciting stories and people into the market, to keep people engaged in the genre, and to be a presence.”
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How does this 10-year deal weigh on your shoulders looking forward? By the time you’re out of it, it’s going to be 2027, the future.
It doesn’t weigh on my shoulders at all. The whole point is that novelists do not have job security, right? You go from book to book, or you’ll sometimes get a two-book contract, or maybe even, “Oh, I’m going to write a trilogy.” But at the end of it, you have to go out into the market and prove yourself again.
In this particular case, literally for a decade, I don’t have to worry about whether I’m going to sell my next book. I don’t have to worry about whether the publisher is going to make a good-faith effort to actually sell the book, that it’s not going to get shoved down a hole somewhere. Rather than a burden of, “Oh my God, now I have 10 books to write” — or 13 books, because it’s 10 adult and three YA — it’s, “Oh boy, now I can write my books, and I don’t have to worry what happens to them from there.” Until 2027, I don’t have to worry about whether I’m going to be able to pay for my daughter’s college, I don’t have to worry about if I fall down a hole, whether I’ll be able to afford my medical insurance, so on and so forth.
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With concerns about publishers dying off, it’s intriguing that Tor is making this long-term commitment.
I think there’s a number of things going on there. I do think it was signaling. It is Tor and Macmillan saying: “We’re going to stay in business, and we’re going to do a good job of it.” This is part of an overall thing going on with Tor. Tor recently reorganized; brought in Devi Pillai [from rival publisher Hachette]; moved Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who’s my editor, from senior editor to associate publisher; brought in some new editors and some other new folks; and Macmillan basically gave it a huge vote of confidence.
It’s been fun and fashionable to talk about the death of publishing, and certainly publishing has had “exciting times,” I think that’s the euphemism we want to use, over the last decade. But the people who are in it do feel optimistic that not only are they going to be around for the next 10 years, but that they are going to do what they have always done, which is to bring exciting stories and people into the market, to keep people engaged in the genre, and to be a presence.
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So Tor saying, “We will be here in 10 years, so will John Scalzi,” is for me, very reassuring, obviously, but also a signal of intent that no matter what happens, they’re still going to be a player. This is just one part of an overall puzzle piece.
Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Sean and others for the tip.
PG always hopes for the best for authors. He sincerely hopes that John Scalzi’s ten-year contract works out wonderfully for him.
However, a publisher that is owned by large media conglomerate like Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck doesn’t control its own destiny. A small group of managers in Stuttgart controls the destiny of Tor, its employees, its authors and their books.
A brief history of Tor shows it was founded in 1980 and sold to St. Martin’s Press in 1987. St. Martin’s was and is owned by Macmillan. In 1995, controlling interest to Macmillan was sold to Holtzbrinck.
Control of Tor changed hands every seven years during its first 15 years of existence.
PG suspects that most, if not all, of Tor’s publishing contracts required that authors grant Tor rights to their books for the life of the copyright of those books – the life of the author plus 70 years.
Since 1980, employees of Tor have come and gone. Some almost certainly severed their ties with Tor in order to pursue better opportunities elsewhere. Tor never asked any of its executives or employees to commit to lifetime employment contracts.
Employment contracts are generally governed by state law in the United States. PG is not an expert on the employment laws of all 50 states, but he is confident in saying that no state would enforce an employment contract that prevented an employee from ever working for another company.
If management or ownership of a company changes and one or more employees don’t like the way the new people do business, they can quit and go somewhere else.
PG has never seen a publishing contract that permits an author to do the same thing with the author’s books. For better or worse, the author is stuck with the acquirers, whoever they may be. The fruits of more than ten prime years of Scalzi’s writing career will be staying with whoever owns Tor in the future.
Amazon’s relationship with indie authors is revolutionary because the author controls the book. An author can end the business relationship at any time. The author can then do whatever he/she desires with their books. The relationship continues so long as both sides think it’s a beneficial business deal.
PG can’t predict what Amazon or Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck will be doing ten or twenty years from now. He can predict that KDP authors will be able to do whatever they want with their books in ten or twenty years while Tor authors will not.