Jealous Much?

In the part of the Internet where I hang out, the biggest news over the long weekend was that John Scalzi signed a deal with Tor Books. It’s a small deal: 13 books over 10 years for $3.4 million.

If nothing else, this proves that I’m probably hanging out in the wrong part of the Internet.

That aside, it does give me a chance to talk about the publishing industry and my place in it, something I should do more often than I have in the past.

Here’s a hint for those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with publishing and the way it works: when I said it was a small deal, I was fibbing. This is actually a huge flipping deal. Seven figure deals are unusual. Especially when the author and publisher work in science fiction and/or fantasy. Double-especially when the author is (a) not a world-famous celebrity and (b) can be expected to write his own books, rather than hiring a ghostwriter.

It may not be a record-breaking deal in terms of either the number of books or the number of dollars, but the combination of the numbers is, as Scalzi himself put it, “unusually big”.

So, as the title of this post asks, am I jealous?

Well, yeah, I am. I could try to deny it, but nobody would believe me.


Not as much as you might think.

Allow me to explain.

It’s easy to fixate on that seven digit number and lose sight of the fact that it’s not going to be paid in a lump sum. Scalzi will get a chunk of money–and I’ll admit, a good-sized chunk of money–each time he sends a completed novel to Tor, and another chunk some time later* when the novel hits the shelves. He’s not suddenly filthy rich**, he’s just got a contract giving him a salary that falls somewhere between “non-CEO in the tech industry” and “well-regarded, non-superstar major league baseball player”.

* And, again for those of you not deeply involved in publishing, “some time” can often mean “a year or more”. Even for a successful, well-known author whose brand is been well established.

** Assuming that a single-digit number of millions still qualifies as “filthy”. With all of the tech millionaires around, I suspect the lower end of “filthy rich” is now somewhere in the double digits. Can we get an official ruling from the IRS on that?

I’ll skip the social commentary on the relative worth of developers, authors, and athletes. You can fill it in for yourselves. Would I like that kind of income? Of course. But it’s not as drool-worthy as it sounds at first blush.

Then there’s the nagging little matter of Scalzi’s side of the deal. He has to write thirteen novels–call it a million to a million and a half words–in the next ten years. I have no doubt he can do it. He wrote eleven novels and assorted other stuff over the last ten years. As the standard disclaimer has it, “Past performance is not a guarantee of future results,” but in the writing game, it’s about the only data point we’ve got. Looking at it another way, let’s not forget that Scalzi is, by all reports, one of the faster writers out there. Even if you allow time for plotting and world building before he starts formal composition, nine months start to finish is well-within his demonstrated capabilities. It looks even more manageable when you consider that several of the books will be sequels, which means they’ll need (at least a little) less world building.


As part of negotiating the deal, Scalzi and Tor agreed to a release schedule for those thirteen books. That’s right: Scalzi now knows what books he’s going to be writing and in what order. There is some flexibility built into the plan, but still, that’s a long stretch of time to plan. Heck, even the Soviet Union only worked in five year plans.

Looking at that kind of plan from my perspective isn’t just intimidating. It’s downright crazy. I’m not talking about whether I could do something of the same sort. I’m sure I could. But would I want to? Honestly, probably not. I’m still on track to finish my current novel-in-progress in early summer. I know what the next novel will be–heck, I’ve actually started the first draft. I’ve enough ideas in my planning file that I could schedule the next ten years, without even considering sequels. But that sounds stifling.

Note to my agent-to-be: Let’s have a long talk before you cut me a ten year, seven figure deal. I’m not saying I’m unalterably opposed to the idea, but you’re going to need to persuade me before you persuade a publisher. Multi-year, multi-book deals in general, absolutely. But not at that scale.

In short, congratulations to Scalzi, along with my thanks for stretching the bounds of what authors in our field can aspire to. But the more I think about it, the less jealous I feel.


The biggest news in baseball right now is that the Marlins have signed their biggest star to a new contract. Giancarlo Stanton will receive $325 million over the next thirteen years to play for a team whose yearbook picture is labeled “Least Likely to Succeed”. That’s the largest contract in MLB history.

Congratulations to Mr. Stanton. Hopefully team owner Jeffrey Loria will honor his agreement to aggressively pursue players who can make the Marlins competitive. Not for Mr. Stanton’s sake–he signed his deal with his eyes open–but for the team’s fans. It’s lonely in the stands at Marlins Park. The fans, used to Mr. Loria’s failure to follow up, stay away in droves. A few seasons of “Stanton and the No-Names” is likely to drive them so far away that even a World Series appearance couldn’t fill the stadium.

That’s depressing to think about.

Then there’s the matter of Mr. Stanton’s escape clause. He can opt out of the final seven years of the contract and look for a better deal via free agency. The new contract is heavily backloaded. If he takes his option, he’ll be sacrificing $218 million. Realistically, that means the situation in Miami will have to become so toxic that he’s willing to sacrifice a metric buttload of money just to get away.

Maybe he could make that sacrifice. Even if he goes in for riotous living and massive philanthropy, the $107 million he’ll get over the first six years will last him a long time. But if he does cut and run, he’s not going to get anything close to $200 million–or, I suspect, $100 million–over the next seven years. He’ll be thirty years old; Rauuuuuuuul notwithstanding, few players stay at the top of their profession in their late thirties. Teams will be making their offers on the assumption that they’ll get four, maybe five years of production out of him. And that’s assuming he can stay focused and productive through the next six years.

He’s going to have a very interesting 2020 season.

Then there’s 2015. Options for teams looking for hitters (hint: that’s all of them) are narrowing. The top two names have signed: Victor Martinez is staying in Detroit and Billy Butler is going to Oakland. Expect major activity at the Winter Meetings next month, as GMs turn their attention from free agents to trades*.

* That’s not to say that they’re not already thinking trade: see the Heyward/Miller deal the Braves and Cardinals swung. But I expect several of the free agents who received qualifying offers to sit idle until mid-season–the Kendrys Morales career path–as GMs opt to pursue deals that won’t cost them draft picks.

Which brings us back to Giancarlo Stanton. Newspaper stories have made a big deal of the fact that his contract includes a full no-trade clause, the first time Loria has allowed such a provision. The phrase “big, fat, hairy deal” springs to mind here. As long as Stanton is putting butts in seats, Loria will squelch any deal. If Loria did decide Stanton was redundant, he’d have to throw in a huge chunk of cash to cover the remaining years on Stanton’s contract*. Given his historical unwillingness to put money into making the team better, why would he throw money into a trade?

* Did the Yankees get their money’s worth for Alex Rodriguez? Not from what I can see. And that’s the benchmark teams are going to use in deciding whether to pick up a megadeal like Stanton’s.

Marlins fans, I hope I’m wrong. I hope the Marlins can field a competitive team and put some pressure on Washington. Somebody has to. But I have to be realistic, and at this point, the best advice I can you is to find a new team to root for. One with a better chance of improving than Miami. Houston, for example.