Writers’ Pay

Yes, writers really do get paid. Unless they fall for the “exposure” scam that’s reaching epidemic levels in the arts. But that’s a different post.

The Rule of Three applies here, as it does in so many areas.

First, there are writers who are on a salary. Technical writers, advertising copy writers, newspaper staff reporters, and anyone else who draws a regular paycheck. Not exactly exciting, is it?

Second, are the freelancers. They get paid by the piece, typically a set amount per word or per article. Malcolm Harris has an interesting piece in Medium on the economics of freelancing. The TL;DR is that the price per word paid to writers has not increased at the same rate as inflation. That’s certainly true in the genre fiction space. In science fiction’s golden age–roughly, the late thirties and early forties–the magazines paid between one and two cents a word. Today, rates are basically between five and ten cents a word, not the twenty-five cents (give or take) inflation would call for.

I’d also include ghostwriters in this group; my understanding is that most often ghosts receive a flat fee per book, regardless of how well it does.

One doesn’t get rich writing short stories, or even non-fiction for glossy, comparatively well-paying magazines. Famous–or at least well-known in your field, perhaps, but not rich.

The amounts are less than many non-writers would guess, but the payscale is simple.

Finally, we have books. This is the group most people are thinking about when they ask what writers make, and it’s the most interesting.

Bottom line, writers of books–fiction or non-fiction–get paid by the number of copies sold. How much? Well, that depends on the writer’s negotiation skills. But let’s use The RagTime Traveler as a reasonably typical example.

If you bought TRTT in paperback*, I got 9% of the list price. Yes, even if you bought it at a discount, my percentage is based on the full price. So each copy sold brings me about a buck forty.

* And my very sincere thanks to those of you who did!

Well, right now it does. But it’s more complicated than that.

There’s an elevator clause. Once y’all have bought 3,500 copies–that’s all of you, not each of you–my rate goes up to 12%. Even better, after 6,000 copies, I’ll get 15%.

Not complicated enough? How about the ebook? I get 40% on ebooks, up to 10,000 copies. That sounds really nice. 40% of $15.95 is $6.38. But wait!

My share on ebooks isn’t based on the cost of a paperback. It’s a percentage of what the publisher receives after the seller takes their cut. Amazon’s cut, for example, varies between negligible and outrageous, depending on the list price of the book. (Other sellers work along the same lines, but the exact percentages vary.)

But let’s run with it. As I write this, the Kindle edition of TRTT is selling for $9.99. Amazon will keep 30% of that–call it three bucks. Of the remaining $6.99, I get $2.80. Not quite as good as that mythical $6.38, but a bit better than the paperback rate.

Of course, if the publisher decides to run a sale to encourage people to pick up a copy, my cut drops in proportion. At a sale price of $4.99, I’ll only get $1.40. If they really get aggressive and run a limited-time promotion at $0.99, Amazon takes a much larger cut. As a result, my share would be fourteen cents.

Great fun, huh?

But wait! It gets even more complicated.

See, there’s this thing called an “advance*”. This is (generally) the publisher’s best guess for how much the author’s share of the money will be over the course of the book’s lifetime.

* Historically, this was money paid to the author before the book was finished. The theory was that he could live on the advance while writing the book. Needless to say, this was one case where theory and reality quickly diverged.

There are a number of reasons why it makes sense for the publisher to pay the author up front, though “tradition” certainly ranks high on the list. And, it should be noted, not all publishers pay advances at all, or pay a fixed amount, regardless of how well they expect the book to do.

But in any case, if the writer gets an advance, she doesn’t get any more money until the publisher recoups the advance from the writer’s share of the book’s proceeds.

I got a thousand dollar advance for TRTT. That means I don’t get anything more until it sells about 700 copies. (I’m ignoring the ebook here, as the majority of the sales have been paperbacks.)

Selling enough copies to “earn out” is something of a big deal. Not because you’re getting rich, obviously, but because publishers will look at how well a writer’s previous books did when deciding whether to buy the next one. Earning out is a convenient flagpole: it shows the book did about as well as the publisher expected, and that’s a positive indication for future works.

I’ve simplified this discussion. When you throw in “actual returns,” “reasonable reserve against future returns,” “remainder sales,” “reuse,” and all of the other contract clauses about money, it gets really messy.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little peek into the darkness. I’ll leave you with a couple of simple questions:

Have you bought The RagTime Traveler?

Wouldn’t you like to have it in electronic form?

SAST 10: Feline Edition

It’s been a busy week in the feline world, so we’ll hit the highlights in a Very Special Edition of Short Attention Span Theater.

20-1For those among us who love toe beans, there are fewer cuter than ‘Nuki’s. They’re amazingly soft and delicate looking; quite the contrast to his thuggish personality.

20-2Kokoro and Sachiko are far from the closest of friends, but when the weather turns unexpectedly cold, they manage to share a heat vent in relative tranquility. Note that Sachiko is kind enough to place a paw on the dome to ensure it doesn’t slip out of place. Kokoro, as is her wont, returns the favor by not alerting her junior to the fact that it’s warmer in front of the dome than behind it.

20-3Rufus has been in one of his exploratory moods this week. And he’s slowly getting more comfortable being around the other cats. Except ‘Nuki, of course. The Two Roos spent an hour or so hanging out on the stairs together–a definite first.

20-4And there’s action outside as well. Only a meezer would choose to sleep on a piece of old school, hard plastic Astroturf. Maybe MM was guarding the water bowl. Maybe she just didn’t want to get dirt on her fur. Regardless, it’s more proof–not that any was needed–that meezers are weird.

Didja Hear the One…

Not that I want to bring you down or anything, but let’s talk about how writers get paid.

I mean, I could talk about baseball, but that would be a real bummer. Fans of the Red Sox (15-2) and Mets (13-4) might want to disagree with that assessment, but if I was going to write that piece, I’d certainly point out that nobody’s going to finish the season with 124 wins, much less 143. (Fans of the Reds, Marlins, Royals, White Sox, Rays, and Orioles may, however, take heart in my assurance that nobody’s going to finish the season with a 45-117 record either, to say nothing of 27-135.)

But anyway. Not talking baseball today.

Except…Did you hear about last night’s game between the Twins and Indians? They were playing in Puerto Rico–part of MLB’s outreach program–and the game an extra-inning thriller. Both teams’ pitchers were overwhelming, keeping the game scoreless into the fourteenth inning.

I don’t care what the commissioner thinks. A pitcher’s duel is at least as exciting as a massive slugfest. More so, in some respects. Granted, nobody came close to a no-hitter, but neither team even averaged one hit per inning. Heck, even adding in the four walks doesn’t bring us to 32. Dominant.

In any case, both teams picked up solo home runs in the fourteenth, and both failed to convert scoring opportunities in the fifteenth. The Indians threatened again in the sixteenth, but came up short, allowing the Twins to win on a bases-loaded single.

This game was the perfect argument against that stupid idea of putting free runners on base at the start of extra innings. Would have changed the whole complexion of the game, made it less exciting and almost certainly shorter. Ask those fans in Puerto Rico if they would have wanted the game to end with an exchange of “bunt plus intentional walk plus sacrifice fly” as happened in their World Baseball Classic game against the Netherlands last year?

Sorry, I digress.

Oh, by the way, if high-scoring slugfests are your thing, there was one of those yesterday as well. The As beat the White Sox 12-11 in fourteen innings. That one featured 33 hits and 18 walks. Plenty of base runners, lots of scoring, and an ending that wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting if extra innings started with runners on base. Note that the only run scored in extras was the game winner.

I still say a pitching-dominant game is more thrilling than a bat-heavy one, and the lack of notice of the Oakland/Chicago game outside of those cities supports my opinion. But even so, why would anyone want to ruin a nail-biting conclusion like that?

But, as I was saying–

You know? Maybe baseball’s not so depressing today. I’ll save the discussion of writers’ pay for another day.

Well, Scoot

For anyone who hoped the Era of Disruption was almost over, I have one piece of advice: don’t hold your breath.

We’ve made some progress, but far from backing off on the importance of disruption in defining business models, today’s corporate warriors are doubling down.

That’s right, we’ve left the first period of the era and entered the second: the Period of Meta-disruption. We’re now seeing the disruptors disrupted. Nowhere is this clearer than in San Francisco.

Uber, Lyft, and their various brethren set out to disrupt the taxi industry, and in large part they’ve succeeded, especially here in the Bay Area. But now we’re getting a wave of companies out to disrupt the ride-hailing business model.

Three companies–Bird, LimeBike, and Spin–are pushing motorized scooters as superior to ride-hailing over short distances or when traffic is congested–and when is it not?

San Francisco was late in regulating ride-hailing (just as they were late in regulating short-term rentals) and the Board of Supervisors is determined to get ahead of the curve on scooter rentals.

Frankly, they don’t have a choice.

The model all three companies are pursuing is “convenience”. They want to be sure there’s always a scooter nearby. That means depositing caches of them in high-traffic areas and encouraging users to spread them around by leaving them at the end of their rides.

Which is great for the companies, of course, but not so great for the general public who wind up dodging scooters left on the sidewalk, in bus zones, truck loading zones, doorways, and basically anywhere there’s enough room for them.

And that’s without even considering the impracticality of forcing riders to abide by state and city laws requiring helmets and forbidding riding on the sidewalk. After all, if the app won’t unlock the scooter if the customer isn’t wearing a helmet, nobody would bother with the service.

I do agree that it’s not the rental companies’ job to enforce the law, but they could certainly do a better job of reminding riders that they shouldn’t ride on the sidewalk. Give ’em a great big warning–a sticker on the footboard, or a click-through screen in the app–and let the police take it from there.

On the other hand, it shouldn’t be necessary to get law enforcement involved on the parking end. It should be technologically possible to use the phone’s camera to take a picture of the parked scooter and then use a bit of AI to determine whether it’s been left in a safe spot. If not, just keep billing the user until they move it*. At fifteen cents a minute, people will figure out fairly quickly that it behooves them to not leave the thing where someone will trip over it.

* Or until someone else rents it, of course. Double-charging would be unethical.

All that said, despite the back-and-forth in the press between City and companies, I haven’t seen anyone address the question of privacy.

By design, the apps have to track users: where did they pick up the scooter, where did they leave it, where did they go, and how long did it take? All tied solidly to an identity (or at least to a credit card).

Who gets access to that information? Do the companies sell information to advertisers? Do the apps continue to track customers between scooter rentals?

Don’t forget, these companies think the way to launch their businesses is to dump a bunch of scooters on the street and let the market sort things out. Do you really want them knowing you used your lunch hour to visit a doctor? A bar–or maybe a strip club? How about a political demonstration?

Uber has certainly been tagged for over-zealous information collection. What safeguards do LimeBike, Spin, and Bird have in place to protect your identity?

Priorities

I went to a wedding last week. More precisely, Maggie went to a wedding, and I tagged along. As long as I was there, I made sure to take pictures of all of the important attendees.

The bride and groom? Pfft.

I said important.

13-1

Who could be more important than two-week old kittens?

It occurs to me, by the way, that I can’t be the only person more willing to go to a wedding if it came with a barrel of kittens. If you’re having trouble getting guests to return their RSVP cards, you might mention the guests of honor.

Their mother was pretty chill too.
13-2

She accepted congratulatory pettings with a dignified air. While she wasn’t playing “all you can eat buffet” with the kids. That’ll ruin your dignity in no time.

Nor were they the only important attendees.
13-3

I’m fairly sure this young lady is a cousin. She was doing a meet, greet, and eat during the cocktail hour. Oddly, I didn’t see her at the dinner. She must have had a pressing engagement elsewhere.

Just to be clear, none of the four-legged attendees came home with us.

Oh, Right

Post? What? Oh, yeah, it is Thursday, isn’t it?

Sorry. I’m about to send the main character of my current Work in Progress–let’s call them “Peeby”–off on a quest straight out of their least favorite fairy tales.

After I finish screwing up their life again, just as they thought they was getting it under control*.

* No, I’m still not happy about “they/them” as a singular pronoun, but Peeby insisted. Darn uppity characters.

Because that’s what writers do. See, there’s a school of writing that says when you don’t know what happens next, ask yourself “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” and then do it. I don’t usually follow that advice literally, but this time I am. It’s amazingly cathartic, but I suspect it’s taking me down several paths that’ll get cut in the next draft.

But I digress.

Anyway, Peeby’s about to go on a quest. Literally. One of those “Find these things, and I’ll make you ruler of the world,” deals. Of course, they is all “I don’t care what that damned song says, I don’t want to rule the world.” But they doesn’t have a choice because, hey, “worst thing,” right?

The problem with quests, though, is they need an object. Or, in this case, a set of objects. Three to be precise.

Why three? Well, as I’ve said before, I generally subscribe to the “Rule of Three” in my work. And in this case, it makes sense in the context of the story because–well, I’ll save that for another time.

I’ve got three targets for Peeby, but at the moment it’s a Three Bears’ Porridge set of objects. One is just right, but one is more video game than fairy tale, and one is clichéd and boring.

I can work with the video game one. In context, it even makes some sense.

But boring is death and cliché is eternal damnation.

The destination shapes the journey–very literally in the case of a fairy tale quest. I can’t send poor Peeby off on a quest for something that’s going to get written out of the book before they finds it. I need a replacement before they sets out, and so I’ve been on an extended ramble around the Web in search of a quest object.

Yes, I’m fully aware of how meta that is. Questing for a quest. Ha ha.

And that’s why I’d forgotten it was Thursday, and thus had to subject you to my ramblings on the creative process.

It’s all Peeby’s fault for not wanting to rule the world.

That Switch On Your Dashboard

Well, it’s been almost a month since I bitched about the impending End of Civilization As We Know It as brought about by drivers. That’s long enough that I hope you’ll indulge me in another rant along the same lines.

It’s not about the idiots who weave in and out at high speed. They’ve upped their game: it’s no longer enough of a thrill for them to zip across three lanes, missing four cars by no more than six inches, on rain-slick pavement. They’ve begun doing the same thing with the driver’s door open. Yes, really. Saw it myself a couple of days ago.

Nor is it about the lunatics who believe 35 is the minimum speed on residential streets, though Ghu knows there are plenty of those.

No, today’s complaint is about the people who’ve either forgotten or never learned the rules for using their high-beams. As best I can tell, based on this weekend’s random sampling, this group amounts to roughly 90% of the drivers on the road.

The rules aren’t difficult. There are only two.

  1. When approaching the top of a hill or coming around a blind curve, turn the high-beams off.
  2. When following another car–especially if you’re tailgating–turn the high-beams off.

That’s it.

They both boil down to the same bit of common sense: don’t blind a driver who might collide with you if they can’t see.

I don’t blame video games for violent behavior. But I’ve gotta admit it’s really tempting to blame them for stupid behavior.

People, there’s a reason why I haven’t hooked up my Atari 2600 in decades, and it’s not that I can’t find the cables. I sucked at “Night Driver“. Okay, yes, I made it through the other day’s unplanned real life version* unscathed. Doesn’t mean I enjoyed it, especially on the higher difficulty/no vision setting.

* Is Live Action Videogaming: Ancient (LAVA) a thing? If not, maybe it should be. If it gets a few of the idiots off the road and…uh…on the road, um…

Hang on, let me rethink this one.

Ups and Downs

Lately we’ve been experiencing double-decker cats.
06-1

Which is not to say Rufus and ‘Nuki are getting along. There’s still a lot of wariness and the occasional verbal disagreement. Not much in the way of actual combat, however, much to our relief.

My apologies for the lousy picture. Let me move in closer and see if I can get a better–
06-2

Thanks a lot, Buddy.

Anyway, we tend to think of cats as being creatures of habit. We expect them to stake out some turf, and return to it over and over again.

Oddly, that’s not the case with these sleeping tubes. Twenty-four hours later, I got this shot.
06-3

Rufus upstairs, Watanuki down below. Not that you can see much more of the latter than those glowing, yellow eyes. Let me–
06-4

Oh, come on, Rufus!

You know what? Screw it.

06-5

Sachiko’s quite the cutey, isn’t she?

Prognostication

It’s time once again for me to predict who’s going to make the playoffs and who’s going to win it all.

Yeah, usually that’s two posts, but because of the way the blog schedule aligns with MLB’s schedule this year, I decided to combine the posts.

As usual, the playoff teams will be determined based on their margin of victory in their first game*. The playoff predictions are based on run differential over the first week of the season.

* It was nice of MLB to schedule everybody to play on Opening Day. Too bad Mother Nature got involved and forced two games to be rescheduled.

So here we go.

Since an American League team won the World Series last season, we’ll force them to go first.

  • East – Regrettably, it’s clear the Yankees are going to take the AL East. It won’t even be close, given their +5 run differential.
  • Central – The White Sox are obviously the class of not just the division, not just the league, but all of MLB. Their +7 margin of victory shows the season’s going to be smooth sailing for them.
  • West – It’s going to be a close race on the Pacific coast. The Astros will take it in the end, in line with most professional prognosticators’ predictions. But a +3 isn’t much; they’re obviously going to have to work for their victory.
  • Wild Cards – Another tight race. The Rays will take the first slot, based on their two run victory in their first game. But there are three teams tied with a +1 record. The tiebreaker is total runs, which eliminates the Mariners, but Tampa Bay and Oakland both scored six. I hadn’t expected to need a second tiebreaker, so I gave Commissioner Manfred a call. “Reward whoever did the most to speed up the game,” he said. By now you all know my feelings about pace of play and those people who profess to be worried about it. Accordingly, the second Wild Card goes to the Athletics, on the grounds that their game was sixty-two minutes longer–an extra innings thriller.

Matters are slightly simpler over in the National League.

  • East – To the surprise of nearly everyone, the Mets are going to take the NL East on the strength of their +5 run differential.
  • Central – It’s obviously Chicago’s year. The Cubs pulled out a +4 margin of victory to make it a Central division sweep for the Windy City.
  • West – The team that can’t be beat in the NL is Arizona. The Diamondbacks‘ +6 falls a little short of the White Sox’ number, but it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.
  • Wild Card – The Braves and Pirates both put up +3 records. Since nobody else did better than a +2, we don’t need a tiebreaker to settle who goes to the playoffs, but somebody needs to host the Wild Card Game. We’ll award that to the Pirates, in recognition of their 13 runs, far better than the Braves’ 8.

So, with our teams selected, let’s move on to the results of the playoffs. To simplify matters, here are the teams with their records–the first tie-breaker–and run differentials over the first week of play:

Won/Loss

Run Differential

Yankees

4-2

35-21 (+14)
White Sox

3-2

29-31 (-02)
Astros

6-1

41-20 (+21)
Rays

1-5

15-28 (-13)
Athletics

3-4

24-29 (-04)

Won/Loss

Run Differential

Mets

4-1

22-13 (+09)
Cubs

2-3

19-19 ( 0 )
Diamondbacks

5-1

35-20 (+15)
Pirates

4-1

30-27 (+03)
Braves

4-2

48-27 (+21)

Laid out in tabular form, I think it’s obvious what the results will be. But leaving it at that would be an awfully short post, so let’s take a closer look.

In the AL, the As will knock off the Rays in the Wild Card game and then get flattened by the Astros in the Division Series. Meanwhile, the Yankees will knock off the White Sox without breaking a sweat. In the Championship Series, Houston will knock off New York.

Over in the NL, the Braves will steamroller the Pirates in the Wild Card, trample the Diamondbacks in the Division Series, and fold, spindle, and mutilate the Mets in the Championship Series.

Which brings us to the World Series, Atlanta versus Houston. The teams are evenly matched on run differential, suggesting we’ll see a high-scoring seven game series. The teams’ won/loss records to date make it clear that in the end, the Astros will win Game Seven, most likely on a home run in extra innings, to repeat as champions–the first team to repeat since the Yankees won it all three times in a row from 1998 to 2000.

Take that, pace-of-play-we-want-shorter-games advocates.

Last Chance

Maggie and I spent way too much time and money at the Toys R Us going out of business sale.

I’m not glad to see them go. I’m certainly not looking forward to the near future day when our only retail choices are Amazon and Walmart. And dedicated toy stores are just plain fun, even if you’re not buying anything.

Without TRU, where are we going to buy loud toys with easy-to-step on sharp edges for our nephew? It’s just not the same buying a properly sibling-annoying Seussian instrument online. It’s hard to get a good sense for just how loud it will be and how many rooms of the house it’ll fill.

But I digress.

The sale is a wonderful experience in that “piles of stuff you never knew you needed at prices you’ll never see again” way that’s normally only found in bottom-of-the-line junk shops.

And I do mean piles. Nobody’s reshelving anything. Small items wander all over the store, and larger ones migrate three or four aisles away from their starting places before people decide they’re too heavy and dump them.

Don’t assume all the items on a hanging rack are the same, because they’re probably not. Check the back of the bottom shelf. Check between the shelves. Don’t bother looking for prices. Most of the shelf tags are missing; just assume whatever you grab is going to be cheap.

Like 2-inch Kawaii Cubes, normally $5, now $0.98 to $2.

03-1
“Crossy Roads” Penguin–who doesn’t love a purple penguin?–and “Teen Titans Go!” Starfire make a nice couple, don’t they? (I was hoping for a Raven to go with Starfire, but no such luck. Pengy-san is a reasonably adequate Plan B.)

03-2
How about a Star Trek trio: Lt. Uhura, Spock, and an Orion Slave Girl.

I got a matched set of six-inch Ren and Stimpy plushes for $3 each (normally $8). But I turned down a Powdered Toast Man. Which should concern me more: that one can buy a PTM plush or that all these years later, I still remember what “PTM” stands for?

The “SpacePOP: Not Your Average Princesses” board game, which I think I’ll use to horrify my friends at next month’s games night.

03-3
More Powerpuff Girls and DC Super Hero Girls figurines than I should really admit to having–though I think the Wonder Woman poster from last year’s movie redeems my taste somewhat.

03-4
I couldn’t resist Poison Ivy’s sly, cynical smirk.

And several other things I can only describe as “random shelf flotsam”.

So, if you’ve got a small, tchotchke-shaped empty space in your soul, hoof it on over to your local Toys R Us before the lock the doors later this week.

And if you find a cuddly, cubical Raven, grab it for me, would you? Thanks.