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Publishing 101

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.”

Ha Ha Ha Oh wait you're serious?

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’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.

  1. 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.
  2. $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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 1st, 2015 06:38 pm (UTC)
Wow. Just, wow. First of all, how on earth does this get to be anyone's business beside Mr. Scaltzi, his publisher, and his agent? Seriously, I just want to applaud him and then go back to my own writing.

Jun. 1st, 2015 06:47 pm (UTC)
Excellent post, as always Jim! I agree 100% with the gentleman who said thanks for making TOR enough money to take chances on new writers. It is so, so true.

People have a distressing tendency to react to someone else's success, and think it is somehow undeserved or, IDK, jealousy makes them think ignorant, stupid things, like that author's awesome deal is money I could have had! Uh, no. His money is his money, based on the things he has done. Your money is your money.

Want to get paid by a publisher? Write a really good book they can sell and make money selling. Query/submit it and see what happens (either to agents or publishers, depending on which path you choose). Rinse and repeat, unless you want to go the self-publishing route, which has its own, very different road to follow. Do not look at every deal other writers earn and think it is money you could have had. That is the dark path, padawan.

Edited at 2015-06-01 06:47 pm (UTC)
Jun. 1st, 2015 06:50 pm (UTC)
That's right. If I think I deserve that kind of money, I need to get it the old-fashioned way. By bopping John on the head and stealing his credit card.
Jun. 1st, 2015 06:52 pm (UTC)
Make sure it's the black American Express. ;)
Jun. 1st, 2015 08:04 pm (UTC)
*envisioning you and Scalzi thumb-wrestling*
Jun. 1st, 2015 07:01 pm (UTC)
An excellent post sir!
Jun. 1st, 2015 07:17 pm (UTC)
My one takeaway from the deal is: don't go into writing books if your main goal is to make money. (Writers: stop laughing. Some people *do*.) I don't want to malign the deal in any way: I'm glad to see it and hope publishers see fit to do more of it. I think Scalzi and Tor are both smart enough that they wouldn't have entered the deal if it weren't good for both of them. When you break $3.4M down to the yearly value, $340,000 may not be a fabulously high amount but it is certainly a high enough income to make most people I know pretty happy.

But the thing is, this is a big enough deal to make national news - the lesson here isn't "you can become fabulously wealthy as a writer" but "it's New York Times-worthy news when a writer makes that much". No one publishes stories in major newspapers when a doctor, lawyer or CEO makes that kind of salary.

Just one more piece of evidence that the only good reason to become a writer is because you want to write.
Jun. 3rd, 2015 01:54 pm (UTC)
the lesson here isn't "you can become fabulously wealthy as a writer" but "it's New York Times-worthy news when a writer makes that much". No one publishes stories in major newspapers when a doctor, lawyer or CEO makes that kind of salary. --excellent point
Jun. 1st, 2015 08:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this, Jim. Lot of good points.
Jun. 1st, 2015 09:32 pm (UTC)
Beale understands publishing like he understands ethnic issues.
Jun. 1st, 2015 11:41 pm (UTC)
Aren't you starting from the assumption that a publishing house is supposed to be run as a profit-generating business, rather than an ideological novelty operation to be funded by family money?
Jun. 2nd, 2015 12:36 am (UTC)
As a fan, not a writer, and not in any way connected to publishing, even I know that Scalzi isn't getting a check next week for $3.4 million.

That's just the *total* of all of the advances; most single book contracts have the advances broken down in three parts - upon signing the contract, upon delivery of the manuscript, and upon publication. I would take a wild guess that Scalzi's contract is likely somewhat similar.
Jun. 2nd, 2015 03:43 am (UTC)
Nope. I'm pretty sure THIS contract involves a dump truck and a bunch of $1 bills.
Jun. 3rd, 2015 01:52 pm (UTC)
Oh man, this image made me laugh :-)
David Rickard
Jun. 2nd, 2015 05:30 pm (UTC)
RE: Publishing 101
You could have saved some bytes here by just saying "Theodore Beale was an idiot/a**hole" and moving on...
Jun. 2nd, 2015 05:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Publishing 101
Sadly, Beale wasn't the only one pushing that first argument.
Jun. 2nd, 2015 05:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Publishing 101
Sour grapes, maybe?

I'm happy for every writer who sells books and makes money for him/her/theirself and the publisher. Because a world without books would be a sad place.

Not to mention I'm in the same boat as some other posters here; publishers with money to spend mean there's a chance for little aspiring me to snatch a little book deal myself one day. :-)
Jun. 3rd, 2015 11:20 am (UTC)
The idea that you should always want to make more money rather than weighing money v. comfort is pretty... sad. Once you reach a comfort level (studies show that happiness peaks around $75k/year in the US), your needs are taken care of and you feel secure and more money doesn't bring more happiness/comfort. Why take on the hassle of self-publishing if you've met your comfort level, unless you actually enjoy the work involved in self-pub?

"But you could make more!" Dude got a $3.4 million advance. Why would he want to? Why is it a foregone conclusion that "more money" is the only factor in one's choices?

Edited at 2015-06-03 11:23 am (UTC)
Jun. 3rd, 2015 01:57 pm (UTC)
That deal is so fabulous that I laughed out loud when I heard about it. I mean, how can you not be vicariously gleeful?

Publishing is most emphatically not a zero-sum game. If someone does well and people are buying a lot of their books, it means there's more money in publishing for everyone.
Jun. 5th, 2015 05:48 am (UTC)
I somehow managed to miss the Vox Day BS.

I have been seeing the indie "but you could make so much more!" around a lot, though not on my primary writing community (which has indies, hybrids, and NY-only authors).

The one thing I think that people don't seem to get is that Scalzi has been very open for a very long time about wanting financial stability (and given his essay "On Being Poor", it's easy to see why). Maybe he could make more going indie. Maybe. But indie publishing is inherently not stable, because within a year, or less, the things that were working to ensure stability/success are no longer working, and authors end up flailing trying to figure out the next Big Thing That Works.

I don't know if Krissy works, but I imagine that an iron-clad deal for that much money over a long period of time, plus keeping the majority of ancillary rights (I think everything except electronic rights), means that he's got some pretty major stability in a notoriously unstable field (even just thinking of NY alone). If his wife works, he probably wants to be able to have the money so that neither of them end up scrambling for another day job. He's also spoken at length about the issues Millenials face in regarding to finding employment out of college; while it's possible that will change, I can't imagine it's not something aware of regarding his daughter, too. He has a lot of good, solid reasons to take this deal, and he's not limited to it in any way if he wants to take on and indie-pub other projects.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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