Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jim C. Hines's publishing survey

Jim C. Hines's survey results on how writers broke into print is well worth looking at. Among Jim's conclusions: "To those proclaiming queries and the slush pile are for suckers, and self-publishing is the way to land a major novel deal, I have bad news: only 1 author out of 246 self-published their book and went on to sell that book to a professional publisher."
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Thursday, February 18, 2010

More on self-publishing

An interesting exchange took place on my Facebook wall recently (starting on 8 February 2010). Facebook content scrolls away and is very hard to access after a few days, so I thought I'd reproduce some of it here. There were 109 messages posted in the exchange, but the first two were the first two below, and the rest of the ones quoted here were interspersed in the remainder; they are a conversation between me and a self-published author, hereafter referred to as SPA [slightly redacted, out of kindness, to obscure SPA's identity]:

RJS: You know, the mindless cheerleaders for self-publishing who say "Oh, go ahead and do it -- spend your money that way; it's a GOOD idea!" never seem to be around when the poor sap ends up heartbroken at the end with a book that no one has read.

SPA: Unless the poor sap is savvy enough to avoid vanity publishers, uses POD technologies, with excellent distribution, hires the services of an excellent editor, and markets the hell out of the book.

RJS: Not to be mean, and I know you're a big advocate of doing it this way, but what do you mean by "with excellent distribution"?

I happen to know that you're a Canadian author. Canada's largest bookstore chain is Chapters/Indigo, and Canada's largest city is Toronto. So I just popped over to, looked up your latest book and asked for a display of store stock in Toronto.

The site served up 25 locations, and every single one -- all 25 -- shows "Quantity available: 0" for your book.

There may come a day when the vast majority of books are not sold in retail outlets, but that day is a ways off yet, and until then anything that doesn't include getting physical books into bookstores can't be meaningfully called "excellent distribution."

[SPA then replied to some other people, repeatedly using the term "legacy publishers" to refer to the traditional publishing houses.]

RJS: "Legacy publishers." *snort*

You know, we started calling serial and parallel interfaces on computers "legacy ports" when people stopped using them; when they no longer represented the dominant, current paradigm; when they had fallen out of fashion.

To call -- as an example -- Penguin Canada, my own current Canadian publisher, which is a $100,000,000 (one hundred million dollar) per-year operation, with books in thousands of retail outlets coast-to-coast PLUS all the other places you've referred to, a "legacy publisher" is to reduce the debate to precisely the kind of mindless cheerleading I was decrying in the post that started this thread. You may want established publishers and the existing business models to fall out of fashion, but they have not.

The number one publicity source for books: being on bookstore shelves. All this talk about disintermediation ignores the fact that most people buy books because they can reach out and touch them, leaf through them, and carry them away.

Publicity is, in many ways, the easy part (if by publicity you mean online promotion); distribution is the hard part. So the flaw in the argument that "if you have to do your own publicity anyway, then why not do the rest" is the assumption that you CAN do the rest.

You're a case in point: despite all your hard work, and the fact that you are a good writer, you haven't been able to do the one thing that so-called legacy publishers would consider an absolute necessity for being a publisher: getting books into the big bookstore chains.

SPA: Some of you may find this blog post of interest.

[In response to which, Jim C. Hines chimed in on the truth about Amazon rankings, to which I added:]

RJS: To add to Jim's very cogent analysis, the big flaw with Amazon numbers is that they give the impression of an ordered array from best selling to worst selling. But in fact Amazon doesn't move enough physical units of most books for the rankings to be meaningful once you get down the list a bit.

You might think that the book that's ranked 200,000 sold better than the book ranked 200,001 -- but in fact they almost certainly sold identically. Indeed, rank 200,000 and rank 800,000 might all have sold equally well, which is to say hardly at all, and rank 1,000,000 to 6,000,000 might very well have never sold a single copy on Amazon (and almost certainly didn't in the last year).

I always get antsy when people touting new paradigms refuse to cough up hard numbers. They say, oh, look, my free online book had XXX,XXX downloads and now it's in its nth printing -- see?

Yeah, well, even in mass-market a printing might only be 2,500 copies these days [and the most-frequent-citer of the "printings" statistic has never had a book in mass market], and in trade it could be 1,000 copies or much fewer (and of both those, perhaps half the copies will actually sell).

And now we have a case of, look see!, these Amazon ratings prove my point.

Marcello Truzzi said (and Carl Sagan frequently quoted): "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."

The people making the claims have access to or can find out the numbers of copies sold (and printed); they know precisely how many copies their print publisher actually sold or how many they shipped of their self-published book to Amazon.

But they don't tell us; they instead have us look at numbers that could mean just about anything while crowing, "See! See!" Sorry, but those numbers don't prove a thing.

[SPA was not heard from again.]

Robert J. Sawyer online:


Friday, February 5, 2010

Amazon reinstates sales of Macmillan titles

After six days of being unavailable for purchase there, paper editions of Macmillan books -- including Tor Books such as my novels FlashForward, Hominids, and Rollback -- are now back on sale at
Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Remember when Danny Partridge slipped a tape player under Reuben Kincaid's toilet stall?

An email I sent this morning:
My little line of books can only publish Canadian authors, so there's nothing I can do for you. But, trust me, hyping your book as a "mass market dream" and hoping that it's somehow going to drive sales that you started writing as a teenager are statements that will just turn other editors off. They hear hype like that all the time, and what you're actually doing is insulting: it's their job, not yours, to assess the market potential of a manuscript; why tell them their business?

Seriously, you say you're a chemistry student, so you must understand something about the need to present data to support claims -- and you've presented none, just fervent hucksterism. It'll work on no one.

And, for God's sake, saying, "I completely understand that this is probably not how you normally talk with authors, but I feel the query process really doesn't show how motivated and serious I am about my work" and so just going ahead and bypassing how it's normally done, is wrong, wrong, wrong. The only way publishers can deal with the volume of manuscripts they receive is by having an established process; if you choose not to participate in that process, you're dead from the start.

Biggest problem with your proposal? Science fiction and fantasy are separate categories; mixing them willy-nilly makes your book hard to market (later in your career, you can do whatever you want; early on, you have to be categorizable). Choose one, write the best book you can, and submit it exactly and precisely according to the publishers guidelines. I wish you the best of luck.

Robert J. Sawyer online:


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Amazon has not backed down; Times and Post are wrong

First The New York Times and now The Washington Post have reported that Amazon gave into Macmillan's demands, and it's been flashing all over the web that this is the case for four days now.

But check the source. The only reference is to this unsigned anonymous post buried deep on the site; that's the one and only bit of evidence to support the belief that Amazon has changed its tune.

The reality is that there's been NO public surrender by, NO change in their policy, and NO announcement by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and, as of right now, Macmillan books are still not for sale in either electronic or paper editions from

How much weight should we give to the anonymous blog post cited above? Here's a test. Go to the main page, and try to follow a chain of links to get to that supposedly big, important, game-changing public announcement. Go ahead, try. You'll never find it.

Amazon is based in Washington state. That unsigned blog post went up at 2:22 on a Sunday afternoon Pacific time, when no one in real authority was likely in the building. It's either a case of some clueless eager beaver deep in the bowels of the hierarchy speaking up when he had no authority to do so, or -- if you want to take a more sinister approach -- a brilliant bit of misdirection, knowing that the little posting would go viral (and then be picked up by lazy old-media reporters), and so any planned boycott or collective action by customers or authors against Amazon would dissipate, with everyone saying, "Whew, glad that's over!"

But it isn't. Nothing has changed in the standoff. The books are still off-sale, Amazon has reached no agreement with Macmillan, and authors are getting hurt.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Amazon vs. Macmillan: increasing jeopardy and rising stakes

Last week in Montreal, I gave a talk about how one structures a story. I spoke about how the stakes should get higher and higher with each subsequent plot revelation. This weekend, we encountered a perfect real-life example of that structure:
  • First revelation: my books are no longer on sale at (personal jeopardy)

  • Second revelation: OMG, it's not just me; all Tor authors have had their books pulled from (people the main character cares about are in jeopardy, too).

  • Third revelation: it's not just Tor, which is a small operation in the grand scheme of things, but the whole vast Macmillan publishing empire that's affected (the whole nation is in jeopardy).

  • Fourth revelation: Holy crap, the entire future of the publishing industry is at stake (the whole world is in jeopardy).
The Authors Guild explains it well, in this press release entitled THE RIGHT BATTLE AT THE RIGHT TIME:
February 2, 2010. Macmillan's current fight with Amazon over e-book business models is a necessary one for the industry. The stakes are high, particularly for Macmillan authors. In a squabble over e-books, Amazon quickly and pre-emptively escalated matters by removing the buy buttons from all Macmillan titles (with some exceptions for scholarly and educational books), in all editions, including all physical book editions. Thousands of authors and titles are affected; hardest and most unfairly hit are authors with new books published by Macmillan that are in their prime sales period.

Yet if Macmillan prevails, the eventual payoff for its authors (and all authors, if a successful result ripples through the industry) is likely to be significant and lasting.

For those of you who may have missed it, here's the story so far:

Last Thursday, Macmillan CEO John Sargent informed Amazon that beginning in March, it would offer Amazon access to a full range of e-book titles only if Amazon were willing to sell books on an "agency" model that would pay Amazon 30% of e-book proceeds and allow Macmillan to set its own retail price for e-books. (Currently, Amazon buys e-books as a reseller at a discount of 50% off the retail list price and sells at the price it chooses.) Macmillan's price under its agency model, in many cases, would be higher than the $9.99 ceiling that Amazon has been seeking to impose on the industry.

If Amazon didn't find the agency model acceptable, Sargent said Macmillan would expand its "windowing" of e-book editions. "Windowing" is the practice of waiting until a particular edition of a new book has been on the market for a while before making cheaper editions available. Publishers have for decades waited until the hardcover sales window has closed before opening the sales window on paperback editions, for example. This helps protect the sales channels for hardcover books. Windowing e-books is similarly believed to help protect a publisher's sales channels for physical books. The risk with windowing is that some owners of e-book devices are angered that low-priced e-book editions aren't available as soon as books are released in hardcover form.

This was a bold move by Macmillan. Amazon has a well-deserved reputation for playing hardball. When it doesn't get its way with publishers, Amazon tends to start removing "buy buttons" from the publisher's titles. It's a harsh tactic, by which Amazon uses its dominance of online bookselling to punish publishers who fail to fall in line with Amazon's business plans. Collateral damage in these scuffles, of course, are authors and readers. Authors lose their access to millions of readers who shop at Amazon; readers find some of their favorite authors' works unavailable. Generally, the ending is not a good one for the publisher or its authors -- Amazon's hold on the industry, controlling an estimated 75% of online trade book print sales in the U.S., is too strong for a publisher to withstand. The publisher caves, and yet more industry revenues are diverted to Amazon. This isn't good for those who care about books. Without a healthy ecosystem in publishing, one in which authors and publishers are fairly compensated for their work, the quality and variety of books available to readers will inevitably suffer.

Macmillan's move is timely because, at the moment, the e-book market is still far smaller than the physical book market, but the e-book market is growing quickly. The longer Macmillan waited, the more difficult the transition.

Amazon didn't wait for March, when Macmillan's new policy is slated to go into effect; it decided to hit Macmillan immediately and comprehensively, removing the buy buttons for nearly all Macmillan titles, in all editions. This is a direct attempt to use its clout in the physical book industry to enforce its business model in the e-book industry. In some ways, it was an unusual exercise of power for Amazon. The company has used the tactic of turning off buy buttons on several occasions before, but, with major publishers it's usually selective, and doesn't turn out the lights on nearly all titles. That treatment is reserved for smaller publishers. (Authors receive no advance warning of Amazon's treatment of their titles, nor can they do anything about it.)

Amazon, it appears, overreached. Macmillan was a bit too big a foe, and Amazon's bullying tactics were a bit too blatant. (For a flavor of media reaction, see this story in Fast Company.)

Sunday evening, Amazon announced that it would have to "capitulate" to Macmillan, "because Macmillan has a monopoly over its own titles." (By this definition, nearly every company exercises a monopoly over its products.) We're all still waiting for that capitulation: Macmillan's books still weren't available on Amazon on Monday evening.

If Macmillan does indeed prevail, the economics of authorship in the digital age are likely to improve considerably. We may go through some rough stretches to get there, however.

You'll be hearing more from us on this matter soon.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Saturday, January 30, 2010 no longer carrying Tor Books

Holy crap! See this coverage from The New York Times.

Tor is the publisher of the current North American editions of my novels Golden Fleece, Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, Foreigner, End of an Era, Frameshift, Factoring Humanity, FlashForward, Calculating God, Hominids, Humans, Hybrids, Mindscan, and Rollback, all of which are still in print.

This really, really sucks. I'm not pointing any fingers here (as Patrick Nielsen Hayden, the director of SF&F Publishing for Tor has said, "Tor is part of Macmillan, but I have no more idea what’s actually going on than you do. And yes, I’m not thrilled with that fact"), but it is an awful state of affairs.

Update: Letter from Macmillan's CEO.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Once again, folks: do not self-publish your science-fiction novel

An email I received today:
I wondered if I could pick your brain. Firstly, I am about to self-publish a book I have written and wondered what format I should choose, size, paper weight, etc. for a Science Fiction book. I have read about them being about 100,000 words and 288 pages in a 8-1/2" x 5-1/2 or 5-1/4 size however, my first is closer to 150,000 words. I also plan to launch it as an e-book once I have figured out what to do about cover art. Do you have some suggestions or have you always used publishers?

I think I need to publish my first on my own and if the publishers come knocking after that, I will take a look. Because I am retired, I cannot put out feelers to publishers for the next ten years hoping to get something off the ground. I am a later in life writer when it comes to books and I have some fifteen in different genres to launch so I have to get things started.

Any input you would be kind enough to give me would be greatly appreciated.
My reply:
My advice: DO NOT self-publish, full-stop. Self-publishing does NOT work for science-fiction novels. You would be throwing your money away.

Seriously: if you want advice on the questions you're asking, find someone who has successfully gone the self-publishing route with an SF novel, and ask him or her. The point is: no such person exists, and so you won't be able to find him or her.

Don't do this.
Update: And, of course, my post above generated the usual round of idiocy, to which I have replied thus:
I never said this would "never" work in the future, Charlie Jane Anders. You are wrong to say that I did. I said that the person thinking RIGHT NOW of self-publishing a science-fiction novel should point to the actual current successful examples of others doing that before he opens his or her checkbook. For Pete's sake, I was talking in print about the "post-publisher economy" back in 1998.

As for Anne Gilbert, EVERYONE knows that publishing is in a fluctuating state. The question was whether self-publishing a science-fiction novel right now was likely to succeed. It isn't.

You know, you guys who say "Oh, go ahead and do it -- spend your money that way; it's a GOOD idea!" never seem to be around when the poor sap ends up heartbroken at the end with a book that no one has read.
Another Update: The very savvy Kirstin Morrell, former small-press managing editor, has posted a wise rebuttal to Anne Gilbert, which I'm reprinting here:
First, be careful. Don't conflate "self-publishing" with "e-publishing" and "independent publishing" (or the one you didn't mention, "small-press publishing"). Sawyer is a huge proponent of the e-book revolution. He's the one who introduced me to e-books and he owns literally hundreds of bought and paid for e-books.

And he's been a tireless supporter of the small press. Ask the people of Edge Press or Red Deer Press or Bundoran Press.

And actually, he does not say that you can't find an SF writer who has self-published, just that you can't find an SF author who has self-published and was successful.

Now, let's define success. To me, it would be someone who makes a full-time living from writing SF novels, novellas, and/or short stories, without living below the poverty line. That's success as I would define it. And I don't know one SF author who self-publishes who would meet my criteria for success.

Maybe if you were to set your sights sufficiently low, you might be able to be "successful" by going that route. Just lower the bar until you can get over it. But is that really success?

He doesn't say that this might not be a valid way of going in the future. He said what he said, which is that a successful, self-published SF writer does not exist.

Yes, Mr. Sawyer is completely aware of all the arguments you've made. He mentors many beginning writers and many of his students have gone on to real, money-in-the-bank publishing experiences.

Sawyer's not going to end up with a red face. His statements, as he made them, are all factually true. You act as if you don't know that he's part of the push to make e-book publishing mainstream. If you don't, read his site or his blog a bit more.

So it's almost like you're boxing with shadows. You're refuting arguments he never made by characterizing his argument as something that it is not, then saying he'll be embarrassed when what he never said becomes untrue. Very strange.

So let's talk about his actual argument. Let's talk about successful, self-published SF authors, people who actually make a living from their self-published books. Name a few and let's talk about them.
Robert J. Sawyer online:


Sunday, December 6, 2009

How not to sell your book

This showed up in my inbox this evening, in my role as editor of Robert J. Sawyer Books, the science-fiction imprint for Canadian publisher Fitzhenry & Whiteside. It violates two of the cardinal rules for trying to sell a book to a commercial publisher. The first is: don't query until you're ready to submit; she queried me years ago, and had nothing to submit after I expressed interest. What possible point is there in querying a publisher if you don't intend to immediately follow up with a manuscript submission if you get the go-ahead to send on in?

The second rule I address in my response.
Hello Robert,

A few years ago I sent you an email to see if you were interested in publishing my first novel. You were interested but I did not follow up because I was still working on it. Finally it is complete, and I will soon have it posted on

If you would be interested in reviewing this work for me I would be extremely grateful. If you would be interested in publishing it, I would be even more grateful.
My response:
No commercial publisher is going to be interested in picking up a self-published book unless you can show massive sales in the self-published format. So, sorry, but no; no way I can even consider it for my line now that you've published it yourself. Other publishers will feel the same way, I'm afraid.
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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Basics of book design

Okay, I gotta say it. You folks who are designing your own books: there are some simple rules you should follow.

1) the first page of a chapter does not have a page header

2) blank pages have no page headers

3) don't put extra space between paragraphs

4) the first paragraph of a chapter is not indented, and usually has special typographic treatment (a large initial capital, the first few words in small caps, etc.)

5) the first paragraph of a new scene is not indented

6) don't put some horrendous graphical ornament at every scene change; in most cases a simple skipped line suffices (except when the blank line would be the first or last on a page)

7) books do not end with the words "The End"

8) for God's sake, use smart quotes and em dashes, not typewriter quotes and double hyphens

I'm stunned at how many people sit down and lay out their books without ever once pulling a professionally published one off the shelf to look at how it's normally done.

Thank you. :)

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Should you do a book tour?

I got asked today by a new writer if it was worth touring for a second book, and whether I'd done that for my own second novel, Far-Seer. My reply:

The first thing to remember is that Far-Seer came out 17 years ago: before the World Wide Web, or any of the social media associated with it. I might well do things very differently today. But even back then, I did not tour for Far-Seer.

Here's the dirty little secret of book tours: you do them mostly to get local media coverage. A news story helps sell your book in every store in town for several days; a specific book-store event helps sell it for one hour in one store (although, yes, the signed stock you leave behind will also sell well in that store after you're gone).

But a local paper, radio program, or TV show won't cover a story without a local angle: an appearance by the author in town is a local angle, so that's why you do it, but, that said, "Author visits town" is not in itself a news story. And that brings us to why most book tours for fiction fail.

Those that succeed do so because the newsworthiness is intrinsic to the topic of the book. As I wrote in an article for The Writers Union of Canada: "The best way to have a hook, of course, is to build it in to the book from the outset. When John Grisham or Michael Crichton set out to create a novel, they decide what issue they're going to tackle -- what hook the book is going to have -- before writing the first sentence. Whether it's the controversy around capital punishment (Grisham's The Chamber) or the perceived problems with biotechnology (Crichton's Next), they give the media something to sink their teeth into."

My touring started taking off when I started writing books that interested the media because of their subject matter: science vs. religion (Calculating God), constant monitoring of our lives (Hominids), medical efforts to arrest and reverse aging (Rollback), the future of the World Wide Web, young girls and math, the potential for a bird-flu pandemic, etc. (Wake).

So, if your second book is one that the media will note because of its theme or topic, then maybe a tour is worthwhile. But otherwise, it probably isn't worth doing, especially if you're paying for it from your own pocket.

Ask yourself this: have you ever bought a book because you have stumbled on a desperate-looking author trying to hawk it to all and sundry at a bookstore? Most tours attract existing fans to your events.

The best-bang-for-the-buck in promotion these days is probably doing stuff online. Here's an article on that topic that happened to come to my attention today. Unless you've got a news hook, I wouldn't tour, but I would do everything I can to attract positive attention to the book online.
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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I'll take "Clueless" for $1,000, Alex

A query I received in my capacity as an editor for Red Deer Press this morning began thus:
I've got a Fiction Novel of 40,000+ words which I am trying to find a publisher for. Front cover has been designed already and it's on it's way for professional editing.
I stopped reading after that, and sent this reply:
I'm very busy, so consider it a kindness that I'm replying at all.

You're doing everything wrong.

First, you don't query editors en masse -- or, if you do, you don't let us all see each others' names in your "To:" field.

Second, you don't say "fiction novel" -- there's no other kind of novel.

Third, 40,000 words in barely a novel by today's standards; most publishers won't touch anything less than 80,000 words.

Fourth, the job of creating the cover belongs to the art director at the publishing company; it's not your job, and, frankly, you are utterly clueless about what will appeal to the buyers at Borders and Barnes and Noble, which are the ones who the cover is created for. Don't have your own cover designed; leave it to the publishing company.

Fifth, if you need an editor to polish your prose before you submit it, fine -- it means you're not good enough to be a writer on your own, and that is indeed an impediment to a writing career, but, as you've found, you can hire professional help. But, for God's sake, keep that dirty little secret to yourself; don't brag about it in your cover letter. If your book is bought by a publisher, the publisher will assign -- and pay for -- an editor to work with you.

Sixth, never query a publisher until you are ready to submit; you said you're not -- you're still having your work edited. When your book is as perfect as you can make, then query editors one at a time, explaining in your cover letter why specifically you've chosen to approach that publishing house (that is, demonstrate that you've done some market research -- you clearly haven't, as they only thing I publish is science-fiction novels by Canadians, and yet you scattershot queried me, wasting your time and mine).

Seventh, you have to be letter-perfect in what you submit. If you don't know the difference between "it's" and "its," you're not ready to be a professional writer, and if you do know the difference, and just couldn't be bothered to proofread your query letter carefully, then you really aren't being respectful of the people whose time you are wasting.

I wish you the best of luck -- but you need more than that; you need to do your homework before bothering editors again.

Please take this in the spirit it's intended -- one of helping you; I rather suspect just about every one of the 46 other editors you addressed your message to won't bother to reply at all.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

The end of an era

Received today, via FedEx, the actual production manuscript for my novel Wake, returned from Ace Science Fiction, my New York publisher. This manuscript is the one that was marked up (in various colors of pen and pencil) by the copyeditor and the book designer and me (and Carolyn, too). I now have 18 such master manuscripts in my files, one for each of my novels to date.

But this will be the last one. Ace is switching over entirely to electronic production (they've come a long way since 1991, when, after much pushing by me and my Ace editor back then, Peter Heck, my Far-Seer, was the very first novel they ever typeset from an author's computer disk).

I now submit my manuscripts by email, and starting with Watch, the second WWW novel, they're being copyedited electronically, too. It's more efficient, yes, but it does signal the end of an era, and, of course, the kind of single, master marked-up manuscript that will no longer be produced was of considerable academic interest (I'm getting close to being ready to donate my papers to an institution). The times, they do change ...
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Congratulations, Alistair Reynolds!

British SF writer Alistair Reynolds just did a 10-book one-million-pounds deal with Gollancz, as reported in The Guardian.

I think I've only ever met Alistair once -- we were on a panel together about hard SF at the 2006 Los Angeles Worldcon -- but GOOD FOR HIM!

Still, I'm irritated by the reportage, because the really interesting details are left out. Yes, one million pounds is a lot of money (it's about 1.64 million US dollars, which might be notionally apportioned as US$164,000 per book).

But what exactly does it cover?

Just UK and open-market territorial rights in the English language? Yowza, that's a ton of money for just that.

World English rights (meaning Reynolds will not have a separate US or Canadian or Australian publisher)? That's still really great money for a genre-fiction author (previously, his US rights had been going to Ace -- possibly because Reynolds himself controlled them, and licensed them to Ace, and possibly because Gollancz, his British publisher, sub-licensed them to Ace).

For most SF authors, UK rights might be worth roughly the same as their American rights, or maybe a little less; for a UK-based author, the UK rights might well have been worth more than the US rights, but the US rights still have real value.

World rights, including all languages/translations? It's still good money, but, well, I don't know how it is for most other writers, but for me, in aggregate, my foreign rights earnings match or exceed my English-language ones.

Ebook rights? Audiobook rights?

The former aren't worth much -- yet (but who knows about a decade from now -- and who knows what percentage royalties for ebooks will be considered fair a decade from now; Reynolds is presumably locking in a rate today).

The latter are easily worth four figures (in dollars) per book, and might eventually be worth five; the audio market seems to be taking off as it shifts to downloads from the cumbersome cassette/CD days.

Almost everyone has to give their print publishers the ebook rights these days; I always retain my audiobook rights.

World rights, including all languages/translations, audiobooks, and ebooks -- plus film/TV rights? The million pounds is still good money, but not super-spectacular.

Of course, a deal like that doesn't mean the publisher gets to keep all the film/TV money, but it does mean they get part of it, and the default boilerplate split in most contracts is that they get half (although that percentage can be whittled down).

I never give my publishers any of my film/TV rights; if I had, well, Tor would have had a very large bonanza on the sale of FlashForward to ABC; instead, I got all the money myself.

And is it ten separate US$164,000 advances -- meaning that each book starts generating royalties when it's earned out its individual advance? Or is it one big US$1.64 million advance, joint accounted (or "basket accounted," as it's sometimes called), meaning he cumulatively has to have earned US$1.64 million back before he sees dime one (or his first ten pence!) in royalties?

That could quite realistically mean he'll never see royalties at all (since one under-performing book can keep you from ever earning out a bulk advance), or, if he does, it won't be until, oh, maybe 2021 or so at the earliest.

That is, the first book under this contract will be published in October 2010 (says the article) -- and so the last book of ten on this contract should be published late in 2020, and advances are usually geared to cover at least the projected first-year earnings of the book, meaning the following year might be the first in which he sees royalties.

Okay, the article that I linked to above is in a mainstream newspaper, but the reportage in the SF press is just parroting it, instead of getting the answers to the above questions, or at least pointing the questions out.

Yes, for sure, for sure, it's an amazing deal, and a huge vote of confidence in Alistair by his publisher (and, for that matter, a huge vote of confidence by Alistair in his publisher). But the Guardian article says:
There hadn't been such a sizable deal for a science fiction writer in the last decade.
That's a paraphrase by the reporter of something Maxim Jakubowski apparently said, and I'm sure Maxim was much more precise in his language, because it's clearly not true as an all-encompassing statement (although might well be true about a deal for UK-rights only).

Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert I believe got US$5,000,000 for their latest Dune trilogy, meaning they got as much per book as Reynolds will get in total for all ten.

And my buddy S.M. Stirling did a deal last year that's for fewer books but might well be for more money per book than Reynolds got (again, we just don't know because the actual parameters of the Stirling and Reynolds deals aren't publicly knowledge [nor should they be]).

The Stirling deal is six books for "seven figures" (in American dollars), meaning a minimum of US$1,000,000 -- which is at least US$167,000 per book, if they're apportioned equally, or at a minimum $3,000 more per book than Reynolds got. But, still, there's no real way to compare without knowing what rights have been acquired.

Now, what about that million pounds? Does it come all at once? And do authors have to repay advances if the books don't earn out?

The answers are no and no. :)

The author gets to keep the advance whether it earns out or not. The only times an author might have to repay an advance would be (1) failure to deliver an acceptable version of the contracted-for book in a reasonable time, or (2) a major material breach of the warranties the author provided in the contract is uncovered (for instance, that the work was plagiarized or extensively libelous).

That said, there will almost certainly be a complex delayed payout schedule in Reynolds's contract: some amount on signing the contract, and then portions on (I'd assume) delivery or acceptance of each manuscript, portions on hardcover publication, and portions on paperback publication -- in other words, at least 31 payout events (overall on signing, plus three installments minimum per book). Of course, even sliced in the smallest possible way, into 31 equal parts, the minimum payout per event for a one-million-pound advance is US$53,000 -- of which an author's agent will typically take 15% as fees, leaving about US$45,000 per event, before taxes.

So, if, hypothetically, an author with a ten-book contract stopped writing after the third book (not that he would!), the publisher wouldn't be out much, because the on-signing portion of books four through ten would be all he would have received for the unwritten books (and those monies would be legally recoverable via the failure-to-deliver clause, anyway).

For a big contract, on-signing tends to be small (maybe even just 10% of the total contract value); for mid-sized contracts, a fifty-fifty split is common (half on signing, half on acceptance of the manuscript). Only for very small contracts can on-signing (or for really small publishers, on-publication) sometimes be the full advance -- that's what we do at RJS Books, the line I edit, for instance, since in most cases it's more trouble than it's worth to fiddle around with a series of small payouts.

Anyway, hearty and sincere congratulations to Alistair Reynolds! Having a decade of job security is something almost no freelancer ever gets. Way to go!
Visit The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Digitial Barbarism

Just bought Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto by Mark Halperin and am very much looking forward to reading it. From the publisher:
Renowned novelist Mark Helprin offers a ringing Jeffersonian defense of private property in the age of digital culture, with its degradation of thought and language, and collectivist bias against the rights of individual creators. Mark Helprin anticipated that his 2007 New York Times op-ed piece about the extension of the term of copyright would be received quietly, if not altogether overlooked. Within a week, the article had accumulated 750,000 angry comments. He was shocked by the breathtaking sense of entitlement demonstrated by the commenters, and appalled by the breadth, speed, and illogic of their responses.

Helprin realized how drastically different this generation is from those before it. The Creative Commons movement and the copyright abolitionists, like the rest of their generation, were educated with a modern bias toward collaboration, which has led them to denigrate individual efforts and in turn fueled their sense of entitlement to the fruits of other people's labors. More important, their selfish desire to "stick it" to the greedy corporate interests who control the production and distribution of intellectual property undermines not just the possibility of an independent literary culture but threatens the future of civilization itself.
The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Job opening: Rob's Canadian editor

Laura Shin, my wonderful editor at Penguin Canada, has moved on to greener pastures. Penguin is now looking for her replacement: a genre-fiction editor who can, among other things, specifically handle science fiction. Note: the deadline for applications is this Thursday.

Commissioning Editor
Penguin Group (Canada)

Location: Toronto, ON

Deadline for applicants: April 30, 2009

Date posted: April 20, 2009

Job description: Penguin Group (Canada) has an exciting permanent opportunity for a Commissioning Editor. This position will be located at the Penguin, Yonge & Eglinton office.

Job Summary:
Responsible for acquiring and developing new titles for the Canadian publishing program. The editor will be acquiring books in the following areas: crime, thrillers, mysteries, historical fiction, horror, fantasy, science fiction, and women's commercial fiction. He/she will work closely with the Rights and Contracts, Production, Marketing and Publicity, and Sales departments.

Major Responsibilities:
  • reviewing submissions from agents and individual authors;
  • commissioning books from writers already on our list and those not yet on our list;
  • presenting proposals to the editorial board;
  • working with production and marketing personnel to ensure that acquired titles meet profit and sales targets;
  • working with authors to ensure quality and timeliness of manuscripts;
  • seeing projects through the editorial, production, and marketing phases of the publishing process.
  • Should acquire a minimum of 12 books per year;
  • Should manage the publication of approximately 15 titles per year.

  • Strong academic background (preferably a Master's degree in a humanities subject); university degree or equivalent required.
  • Several years of experience in publishing, specifically working in Editorial.
  • Proven track record of acquiring and editing books in the assigned areas of specialization.

Interested parties are invited to submit a resume and cover letter to:

Paula Hunter, Human Resources Consultant
Pearson Canada
26 Prince Andrew Place
Don Mills, Ontario, M3C 2T8
Fax: (416) 447-0598

Applications will be received until April 30, 2009.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Major league no-no

So, one of my editor friends just got a partial manuscript that she liked: she took time out of her busy schedule to read it, think about it, talk it over with her colleagues, and ask to see more (and her response time was rapid by the standards of our industry).

And what did the author have to say? Not, "W00t!," or "Yay!," or even "Thank you." Nope. The author replied by saying he'd already sold the book somewhere else.

Folks, you wonder why publishers make reading over-the-transom stuff the last priority? It's because people pulls crap like this. Even if a publisher allows simultaneous submissions (and most don't, precisely to avoid this sort of thing), it's mandatory that you inform editors when your work is no longer available for consideration.

This isn't quite as bad as the clown who 13 years ago thought it was just fine to sell the same story to Carolyn and me (when we were editing Tesseracts 6) and to one of our competitors without telling any of us. But it still sucks.

Writers making submissions: show a little professionalism, please!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Book design

I've been meaning to rant about this for a while, but haven't found the time. But the topic came up in conversation with a good friend today -- a brilliant lady who had done a book with a small press, and had cringed when she finally held the finished product in her hand because the cover, font choices, page design, and so forth all were, in her words, horrible.

Good friend that I am, I, of course, own a copy of her book, and she's being kind. :) So, for those in the small press who think that just because you have layout software you know how to design a book, Rob's four rules of book design, coined spontaneously while looking at the mess in question today:

Rule number one: be conservative.

Rule number two: if you haven't seen somebody else do it that way before, it's probably a bad idea.

Rule number three: actually have a published book at your side while designing your own -- to see how it's done.

Rule number four: don't suck.

(For Robert J. Sawyer Books, we currently rely on the brilliant Karen Petherick Thomas to do our designs, and, back when we were based in Calgary, we used the equally fine Erin Woodward. Yes, designing books is actually a job -- it's not something you just wing.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Realms of Fantasy resurrected

Realms of Fantasy is coming back, it seems. SF Scope -- as is so often the case these days, first with the news -- has the scoop here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Friday, February 27, 2009

The Rocky Mountain News folds

The Rocky Mountain News, a major daily newspaper in Denver, Colorado, one of the few US dailies to routinely and intelligently review science-fiction novels over the years, is gone.

Mark Graham, the usual SF reviewer there, had been very kind to me. For instance, on Calculating God, he wrote:
"I always look forward to Robert J. Sawyer's books. One reason is that Sawyer is just about the best science fiction writer out there these days: compelling stories, believable scenarios, science and fiction that really interact. But the main reason is that after reading and reviewing several Sawyer novels, I know that each book he writes will be unique.

I think it is safe to say that no book of popular science fiction exists that is remotely similar to Calculating God. In an effort to convince Tom Jericho of God's existence, Hollus uses scientific laws and the mathematics of probability. His arguments are the most convincing I have seen since Thomas Aquinas — maybe more so.

I have always thought that a good novel keeps readers turning the pages to find out the fate of characters they care about. But for fiction to be called literature, the story should stay with readers and keep them thinking about it long after the book has been put away. It is safe to say that Sawyer has accomplished both with Calculating God
The paper went on to name Calculating God the best SF novel of the year -- giving it the paper's Rocky Award -- and included it on their list of the year's best books of any type.

And on me in general:
"Here are a few of the things I like about Robert J. Sawyer: His novels are fast moving and tightly constructed; his characters are developed so that I care what happens to them; the science in his science fiction is intrinsic to the plot but not so arcane that readers have to be nuclear physicists to understand it; and he doesn't imitate others or himself."
Robert Charles Wilson and I had a wonderful lunch with Mark Graham at last year's Worldcon in Denver (Mark's a big fan of Bob's books, too), and when I was in Denver on book tour for Rollback, Mark gave the introductory comments about me at my event at The Tattered Cover.

The Rocky Mountain News published its last edition today, 55 days shy of its 150th birthday. They will be sorely missed by the science-fiction publishing industry.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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To serialize a sequel?

Over in my Yahoo! Groups newsgroup, Martin Bennedik wrote:
I read Wake on my phone by downloading the ebook version of Analog from Fictionwise. Not only was the novel excellent, but I found this was a good way to get the book early and in a format which allowed me to take it with me on my commutes.

So I wonder if there is any chance for Watch being serialized in Analog, too?
Thanks for asking. I'm not planning to offer Watch to Analog. It was great publicity for launching the series to have the first volume serialized there (I did the same thing with the first volume of my Neanderthal Parallax series, Hominids), but I'm not sure it makes business sense to cannibalize overall book sales of the entire series.

Analog has about 26,000 readers (paid circulation in 2008); if they all bought the paperback (not the hardcover, just the paperback) of Watch, my income would be $18,000 in royalties ... whereas Analog would pay $4,000 (at 4 cents a word) for serialization rights.

Of course, not all Analog readers will love Wake enough to want to buy Watch, but some number will. Still, even with relatively conservative numbers, it might in fact be best for me personally to sell the serialization rights (assuming they'd want them) to Analog. Some plausible sounding numbers:

1 out of every 10 Analog readers decides they liked Wake well enough that they want to read Watch, too. Of those 2,600 people, three-quarters are content to wait for the paperback and one-quarter spring for the pricier hardcover.

Then the math looks like this (my paperback royalty from Ace is 70 cents a copy; my hardcover royalty is $2.50, on the first 5,000 copies and more thereafter):

((2,600*75%)*$0.70)+((2,600*25%)*$2.50) = $2,990

But that's what I get. What about my publishers (Ace in the US, Penguin/Viking in Canada, Orion in the UK)? What's their share? On serialization rights? Nothing at all. On book sales, well, they doubtless make at least as much profit as me per book sold (even after they bear all the expenses, too -- printing, distribution, promotion, editorial costs, etc. etc.).

Yes, I could sell the serialization rights without their permission, but my publishers have advanced me a lot of money for the book rights, and I owe it to them to help them earn that money back. :)

(I do think that serializing the first book is good for everyone -- me, Analog, and my book publishers, because we have 26,000 people who have read the book now before it comes out, and they can provide good word-of-mouth for the series when the first volume starts appearing in stores next month. But I'm not sure it makes sense to serialize later volumes.)

However, fear not: unlike Tor, which has been crappy about getting my books out as ebooks, Ace is vigorous on that front, so you'll certainly be able to read Wake, Watch, and Wonder electronically.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

How much do novelists make?

I'm lucky, and I know it; most of my colleagues aren't.

Gary Karbon discussed this last year in the blog Culture Feast:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

There goes the Canadian small-press magazine industry

Quill & Quire Online just reported:
The Harper Tories have promised to maintain existing funding levels for the country’s magazine industry ($75.5-million annually), but guidelines announced this week for the new Canada Periodical Fund could put Canada’s small-run literary magazines in jeopardy.

The new Canadian Heritage-run program merges two other federal funding bodies – the Canada Magazine Fund and the Publications Assistance Program – in an effort to streamline operations and tie support of the periodical sector to “the reading choices of Canadians.” This new system won’t become a reality until at least 2010, but when it does, funds will be allocated using a formula based on paid circulation, and magazines with less then 5,000 annual subscribers will be shut out altogether.
(For my non-Canadian readers, Harper is Stephen Harper, Canada's current prime minister; the Tories are the ruling, but minority, Conservative party.)

What a typically conservative approach: let's give the money to those who need it least.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my! Trilogies everywhere you look!

My friend Melody Friedenthal asked me an intriguing question this morning:
At what point in your creative process did you decide that Wake et al., would be a trilogy? And was it the same point for your first trilogy (or 2nd) or was the first one more of the publisher's choice (as in "this is too long to publish as a single novel; let's break it up into a trilogy")?

Has your plotting evolved over time to be more aware of this sort of thing?
My answer is might be of interest to other writers, so I'm sharing it here:

I've sold twenty novels, and almost half of them -- nine books -- are parts of trilogies:

The Quintaglio Ascension: Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, Foreigner.

The Neanderthal Parallax: Hominids, Humans, Hybrids

WWW: Wake, Watch, and Wonder.

(As it happens, right now, I'm in the final few hours of polishing Watch before submitting it to my publishers; it's due on Monday.)

Each of these trilogies had a different genesis.

I wrote Far-Seer as a standalone -- no intention of doing a series (I'd even killed off the main character in the last chapter).

When it was done, my agent said let's try to sell a sequel, and we did (as with the first episode of Hill Street Blues, where Hill and Renko were gunned down in cold blood, my character's fatal wounds suddenly became merely serious injuries, although I, at least, had the luxury or rewriting the ending so it was apparent that he'd lived).

And then the publisher decided to ask me for another sequel after the first two were done. But after that, I wanted to write something very different (With humans! On Earth! In the near future!), and so I wrote The Terminal Experiment instead of continuing the series (which I think ended at a fine point, anyway).

For the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, it was actually my then-British publisher who said the only things selling in the UK were trilogies or on-going series, and so my next project should be a trilogy; otherwise, Hominids would have been a standalone. The original working title for the standalone book would, in fact, have been Neanderthal Parallax.)

After I turned in the third book, Hybrids, my editor, David G. Hartwell, said I could go on writing Neanderthal books as long as I wanted to -- but I wanted very much to do something different at that point. (For more on this, see my essay Commiting Trilogy: The Origins of "The Neanderthal Parallax".)

For the WWW trilogy, I actually sold it as a standalone (called Webmind) to Tor, and after struggling with it for over a year found I just couldn't do it as a single book; the idea was too big.

So I had a meeting with David G. Hartwell (my editor) and Tom Doherty (Tor's publisher) and told them that, and said I'd like to fulfill the contract instead with a new standalone, and wrote Rollback instead. I then re-envisioned Webmind as a trilogy (writing an outline for it that now bears very little resemblance to what I'm actually doing -- I really hate doing outlines).

If I had my druthers, I'd never write sequels or trilogies -- at least not one book after another; I much prefer writing standalones. But sometimes that's not what the market wants, and sometimes the idea can't be handled properly in a single book.

On the other hand, part of what I hate about trilogies is working back-to-back on the same project for years: I take a year or so to write a book, and spending three years in a row on any set of characters is enough.

But to my surprise I was recently asked by David Hartwell if I'd consider writing more Quintaglio books (and I might), and I would indeed like to write more about the Neanderthals at some point.

So, who knows about the future? (Answer, according to the Lawgiver in the last Planet of the Apes movie: "Perhaps only the dead." But I digress ...)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It begins

We just lost one of the big-four US science fiction and fantasy magazines: Realms of Fantasy, edited by Shawna McCarthy, is closing down. SF Scope (which more and more these days is first with breaking news) has the scoop.

Meanwhile, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction recently switched from 11 issues a year to bimonthly -- but at least it has survived (and because the issues are fatter, only lost 10% of its total annual content). Analog and Asimov's resized, too, and that resulted in 10% reduction of content in each of their issues, as well.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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