Here’s some real talk: writers are jealous of other writers.
My science fiction writing colleague, John Scalzi just signed a multi-million dollar, ten-year contract with his publisher Tor. I’ll admit it. My eyes are green.
Especially, since this deal is really unusual. Science fiction writers do not often get advances of this size (unless you’re George R. R. Martin and even then I don’t think he got anything near this kind of money when he started.) Plus, it’s basically an investment in Scalzi’s career with none of the usual “let’s see how the numbers are” trauma. I couldn’t get my publisher commit to more than one or two books at a time in a fairly popular series.
So, yeah, much greenness.
I could embarrass myself by ranting about Scalzi on the Internet, but why bother when Vox Day did it for me?
Vox Day (Theodore Beale), if you recall, is the mastermind behind the Rabid Puppies (the super-far right organizers of this year’s Hugo debacle.) Beale apparently also sees himself as Scalzi’s rival. Beale has all sorts of “hilarious” nicknames for Scalzi, including McRapey, which Scalzi has felt the need to explain.
So, as you can imagine, Beale’s head is near ready to explode.
He starts off with a simple report of the deal, but then it takes a hard right into God knows what. Beale says that Scalzi’s deal can really only be expected because Tor, his publisher, really doesn’t have any big name authors in its stables beyond Scazli, except maybe one other, and, more importantly, “It’s not as if the award-winning Jo Walton or the award-winning Catharine (sic) Asaro or any of their other award-winning authors sell enough books to support all the SJW non-SF they keep trying to push on an unwilling public.”
Whoa, ladies, that was almost a compliment there for being all award-win-y, but nope. According to Beale, the only reason Walton and Asaro write is push the SJW (Social Justice Warrior) “non-SF” on all of us non-willing readers.
Now, having read Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, I’m not sure exactly how what Scalzi writes is so very different from the military science fiction that so many of the puppies of whichever variety claim to prefer. In fact, when I read it, I was reminded very much of early Heinlein. But, Scalzi is the front man for the SJW movement in Beale’s mind, so I guess that just automatically taints his work, no matter what the actual content.
Speaking of content, Beale doesn’t feel that Scalzi has much of it anyway.
Everyone has different appetites for risk. Indeed, as I have often said, McRapey has an unusual talent for self-promotion. The fact that a mediocre and derivative hack without any discernible talent beyond self-promotion and petty snark could turn 300k monthly pageviews (sic) and a color-by-numbers Heinlein ripoff (sic) into a near-guaranteed $250k per year is borderline astonishing. If he’d somehow managed to do it without repeatedly lying his ample ass off and consistently misrepresenting himself, I’d consider him to be downright brilliant.
If Beale were at all the sort of writer I would ever associate with in a million years, I would pull him aside and say, “Listen, buddy, a lot of people look at Scalzi’s success, particularly his hugely popular blog, Whatever, and think: ‘WTF?’” Because self-promotion is a strange beast. No one really understands exactly how it works. Marketers will tell you about staying on message and branding and all sorts of things that seem helpful but actually annoy most savvy science fiction readers or readers-as-consumers, in general. It doesn’t always work that way because we humans are capricious and changeable creatures. I once started buying the books of a particular author, Cherie Priest, because I LOVED her YouTube videos of her cat “Spain.”
That’s not something you can bottle.
Listen, Beale, nobody understands why Scalzi is so popular, not even John Scalzi himself. He will tell you that most people don’t know that he’s a science fiction author, but is in fact far more famous for once taping bacon to his cat.
So, yes, everyone is baffled by Scalzi’s success on the Internet. But so what?
Unsurprisingly, Beale goes on to say that Tor’s deal with Scalzi means that science fiction is, itself, DOOMED. “If one of the best-known authors in science fiction can only command $260k per book from the biggest science fiction publisher, then conventional publishing does not appear to be long for this world.”
Can we just take a reality check here? ONLY $260k per book???!! Most science fiction writers that I know could only dream of an advance like that. People don’t talk about money out loud, so maybe I was just the only science fiction author who got regularly ripped off by my publisher. But, even when I’d made the lucrative switch to romance writing the best advance I ever got was $25,000 per book. I know people out there do (and did) better than I did, but I really don’t think your average author thinks $260,000 per book is something to sneeze at.
Beale is pretty certain that the “bolder strategy” for Scalzi would have been to go into self-publishing.
I’m pretty confident that Scalzi, like many writers (including myself) would like to continue to see his name in actual print – as in on a printed book. And, even though Beale seems to think Scalzi is a genius of self-promotion, there is a huge amount of promotion that Tor does for him, not the least of which is send him on book tours. There are also advantages to traditional publishers like getting books into bookstores, grocery stores, libraries…which is actually surprisingly important and something almost impossible to do self-publishing.
Then there’s those annoying awards that the puppies are obsessed with. I’ve only seen ONE self-published book hit any of the awards lists (The Kitchie’s Golden Tentacle award for best debut: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers.) While a Kitsche is cool, it ain’t no Hugo.
We can argue the particulars, but the truth is: Scalzi got a good deal.
Good for him.
Science fiction isn’t going to die because of this. Science fiction isn’t going to be suddenly more…un-science fictional. The so-called “liberal agenda” isn’t going to be forced down anyone’s throats, because despite what Beale says, people don’t actually buy books they don’t want.
With any luck, the worst thing that will happen is that the green-eyed monster will devour yet another writer’s soul.
[Post image via Shutterstock]