On May 24 Tor Books announced a 10-year, 13-book deal with SF writer John Scalzi for a whopping $3.4 million. For a good 24 hours or so, the social web buzzed with reaction. Then the social web saw a new cat picture.
I should say right off the bat that I have no axe to grind here. I’ve never read any of John Scalzi’s books, so I have no opinion as to their quality. Thanks to Scalzi’s robust social media presence, I have read a few of his blog posts, but don’t follow him on any platform.
With that said, I’ve been thinking about this highly unusual deal on and off since I first read about it, and despite a lot of hand-wringing in certain quarters, I’m convinced that this unparalleled contract is good for writers, readers, the publishing industry, and (not least) John Scalzi. Here’s why.
Show me da money! Professionals in other fields have been getting multiyear (or multiproject) contracts for a long time — athletes, musicians and CEOs come to mind. So why not writers? From a business point of view, if you’ve got a consistent performer who’s making you good money, it would be to your benefit to lock that person down. This is beneficial for both publisher and writer.
Hard workers deserve job security, and Scalzi can handle the workload. To most of us, cranking out 13 titles in 10 years sounds impossible. Even for a professional, full-time writer, that’s a back-breaking amount of words (and, let’s not forget, revision). But as Scalzi pointed out to the Guardian recently, he wrote 19 books between 2005 and 2015, so Tor knows it’s getting a hard worker with a proven track record — and Scalzi can count on regular payouts over the next decade.
Another big name explores YA. The Tor deal includes titles for the young adult market. I don’t know if that’s good or bad for Scalzi, but I think it’s great for YA readers and writers. Why? Because Scalzi brings more attention to a great fiction genre, and he’s coming to it with the right attitude. As he wrote on his blog, “You can’t just write a science fiction story or a fantasy story and the main character is a 15-year-old boy or a 16-year-old girl and think that’s going to make any inroads with what YA is.”
There’s value in traditional publishing. Many have asked why Scalzi didn’t decide to self-publish instead, arguing that he could have made more money that way. But as he points out on his blog, ” … 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.” Not everyone has the talent (or the desire) to deal with art design, layout, distribution and large-scale marketing — and those are all services that a publisher brings to the table. I don’t think Scalzi is trying to malign self-publishing — he’s just explaining why it’s not right for him, at least right now.
So I say rock on, John Scalzi! Congrats on an amazing deal. And I’ll look forward to checking out those YA titles as soon as you’re done.