ten books in ten years for tons of cash.

British SF writer Alastair Reynolds just signed a ten-book contract with publisher Gollancz.  He’ll be delivering one book every year for the next ten years, and receive a million British pounds in return.

My first reaction was “Good for him!”.  The second thing that went through my head was “Would I sign a similar contract for a million bucks?”

At first glance, it seems a no-brainer, especially for a writer at the very beginning of his career who is not exactly in the same writing income bracket as Orson Scott Card or David Weber, to put it mildly.  A million-dollar advance for a Decalogue would mean a guaranteed hundred grand per book—which is nothing to sneeze at, even after Uncle Sam takes his share.  It would mean financial security and income stability for a decade, which is a rare thing in the writing field.  A book a year, for ten years, and a million bucks in advance?  Most writers I know would sign their name so fast, the pen would leave a contrail.

But is that kind of deal really only positive?

I mean, I can do a novel a year—that seems to be my natural pace.  I’ve written one per year for the last three years, and there’s no reason to believe I won’t be able to keep that pace going.  In ten years, I’ll probably have another ten novels under my belt.  But tell me that I have to write those ten novels, at the pace of one per year, and I’d probably seize up mentally at some point, and start writing crap.  Right now, I’m on my own schedule, but a ten-year contract obliging me to write ten novels would feel like sort of a golden cage.  Being put on a schedule like that would mean a certain loss of creative freedom.  You can’t just take a year off for whatever reason, and you know you have no choice but to adhere to that schedule, lest the publisher asks for their money back.

That said, writing’s a business like any other, and ten years of guaranteed employment/income means a security that may just crank up the creative flow.

Truth be told, 99.9% of writers won’t ever have to face such a decision, and this is a highly theoretical discussion that will most likely never occur in real life in this particular household.  But would I sign that kind of contract if someone were to put it in front of me right this second?  And more importantly…how would I best protect my head against the cast-iron skillet Robin would swing at me if I turned it down?

33 thoughts on “ten books in ten years for tons of cash.

  1. Jay G. says:

    I’d sign it.

    I’d also cash the first check before the ink dried, because any outfit that’d sign me up for writing is most likely run by syphillitic chimps…

  2. Michael says:

    Are you already published? If so where can I purchase them?

  3. Matt says:

    If writing is something you love to do as a career and can produce now at a regular pace, what changes with a 10 year deal in front of you? There is no guarantee that you’ll not write crap 5 years in as it stands now so why not ensure the security for you and your family? In the balance, I’d argue it would be a worthwhile trade. No different than any other career with a stability, as you say, that most of us don’t have.

    I can’t guarantee I won’t write crap code for my employer 5-10 years from now but I know from my ethics and worldview, I’ll do my best. Just as you would. I think in the end that is all that would matter.

    If it were me, I’d sign it without a second thought provided that the penalties didn’t wipe me out for failure to produce everything. If it were 100 grand a book, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

    I’m on a schedule with software development. I’d say you’re no different and I don’t think the sudden expectation of a predetermined schedule over what you’re doing now would be any different.

  4. georgeh says:

    Never sign a fixed price long term contract without an inflation escalator. By year 10 the hundred grand might not buy you lunch at Micky D’s.

  5. Chang says:

    Bear in mind that Reynolds has written something like 8 books in the last 5 years or so. I think he can pull it off.

  6. T.Stahl says:

    What if the last few of the ten books were crap because you wrote them under pressure? Who’d buy the books after number 10?

    What’s better? Ten mediocre books in ten years or five really good ones? Which will ensure your income in the years past year ten?

    No, if you’re good enough that someone offers you such a contract, then you’re good enough to make more than that.

    If I were a writer, I’d not sign it either. I’d then have to dodge my panda and her kitchen hatchet.

  7. Tam says:

    That’d be about guaranteed to trigger Epic Performance Anxiety in me.

  8. Regolith says:

    Lineman’s football helmet. Unlike helmets built for the backs and receivers, lineman’s helmets have a larger face mask which completely protect the face from stray fists and fingers. This would be perfect for when she decided to abandon the cast iron skillet and take up fencing with the rolling pin.

  9. I think the more appropriate question would be: Would I read the tenth novel in ten years?

  10. RevolverRob says:

    T.Stahl has it right, if you’re good enough they offer you a contract like that, you’re good enough to make more money, doing it.

    I would never pigeon hole myself into a situation like this. It’s one of the quirks of Academia that is exceptionally irritating. While, it’s typically not contractual to you being hired into a tenure track position, your work production is critical to actually getting tenure. If you were a prolific author before being hired, they anticipate that you will continue to be once you are hired. Furthermore, there are some who have fallen into this very same trap, I.E. to continue research funding/department funding/keep their jobs, some have to publish a certain amount every year. This is where the pressure to publish becomes so high that the data and research is either crap or false.

    Once again, I know I would not put myself in a situation like this. The pressure and anxiety from it would kill me, no doubt.

  11. Ritchie says:

    I might think about starting with an escrow account or something similar, in, say, Swiss francs.
    The other stuff is even farther out of my small circle of competence.

  12. MarkHB says:

    *scratches nose*

    In terms of “timescale” and “expectation”, in one year with enough money to just forget taxes, oncosts, Moore’s Law and upgrades to keep to the bleeding edge, I think I could probably klonk out a 90-minute animated story. I’d say that’s probably equivalent in terms of “Expended Effort” to a novel. Could I do it once a year, on 100K index-linked? Fuck, yes – even if it was a case of dropping 20K (index-linked) on a co-writer and probably 30K for a sizeable chunk of an Elastic Compute Cloud.

    Hell, to just keep my pulse beating takes about 12K PA in Uckdosh. Aside from that and a steady voltage, my needs are simple. On average, I spend maybe 85% of my time finding work, negotiating rates, doing credit-control, fixing my kit, twiddling my thumbs while the source materials I was promised Monday turn up on Thursday, waiting for approvals, waiting for changes, waiting for sign-off, waiting for renders, waiting for Godot and waiting for the day to happen.

    If all that disappears, then suddenly, all I have to do is stop worrying about keeping the infrastructure farting along and create. And I’d even be able to afford someone along to whack the magic elf box with a spanner instead of spending (approximately) 7% of my time on my knees with a mouthful of screws nursing (this time) a 3-year-old RAID array built of same-batch drives that’s already shat over it’s shoes twice this year.

    Take the worry away, and leave me alone to just Make Shit Up? For a whole decade? Man, you’d best leave the pen on the desk, or I’d take your hand off signing. Contrails, pschaw! Have you ever seen blueshifted knuckles?

  13. Robert says:

    It seems to me that, back in the ’80’s when long-term lucrative contracts were popular in baseball, you ended up with high-paid players spending all their time on the disabled list who couldn’t be gotten rid of because of those contracts. Good for the individual players, bad for the teams involved and the fans.

  14. Don Gwinn says:

    Hmmm . . . I see what you’re saying, but frankly that middle-line where you’re not starving and you’re not a kajillionaire has most of the advantages of the kajillionaire with none of the drawbacks of the starving artist. I’d be OK with that. Keep in mind, too, that he’s getting a million pounds, not dollars, so that’s like 1.85m dollars, right?

    I give some consideration to the fact that both parties with skin in the game thought this was a good deal, too. They could be wrong, but I bet they spent more time thinking about it than I have.

  15. depends, mw, and you’ve pondered it vicariously before.

    would you rather be will or brother bob?

    you can make a pretty good case either way, but if your writing is your art, dependent upon inspiration and not perspiration, then there really is no choice.

    yes, writing takes self-discipline. but i’m thinking if you wanted to punch a clock that’s what you’d be doing. and i’d bet your mate would support (heh) your decision completely.

    jtc

  16. perlhaqr says:

    What MHB said. As a contract, erm, everything, I spend an inordinate amount of overhead just finding clients.

    A guaranteed client for 10 years with such a low performance threshhold would be the tits.

  17. Strings says:

    For me (ten years of articles for $1Million), the pen wouldn’t leave contrails: I’d need a second copy of the contract, due to the first igniting from friction…

  18. Leadhead says:

    While a million pounds sounds like a lot of money, when
    it’s spread out over ten years it’s not really all that much.
    Don’t get me wrong, you would be very well off but I
    wouldn’t say you would be rich, it’s not like you could
    retire and never have to pick up a pen again. Before
    signing there are a few things to consider. As you pointed
    out, can you put out ten really well written books or
    would the pressure get to you and have the quality go out
    the wazoo. Second, as georgeh mentioned, inflation has
    to be taken into account. From what you wrote I wasn’t
    sure if Mr. Reynolds was getting all the money up front
    or if he would be paid on a yearly basis. And finally,
    what if after your second or third book you become more
    popular then Stephen King or J.K. Rowling? I would
    definately want a rider in the contract where you would
    get bonuses depending on the number of books sold.
    Think of how little money the Beatles actually got for
    their first few albums. Still, a million pounds is a million
    pounds and is very tempting. I guess what it boils down
    to is do you have a greater faith in your writing abilities
    than what the publishers do.

  19. MarkHB says:

    Leadhead,

    As a rule, writers get an advance to keep them in pencils and hooch while they write the things, then they collect royalties on each sale past the cost of the advance. I doubt it’s different in this case. So the “Wild Popularity” bonus exists anyway.

    Here’s a thing, though – the difference between “A Starving Artist” and “A Professional Artist” is just that – professionalism. It’s bloody difficult to create on demand, but as A Pro Artist of any stripe (novellist, editor, painter, actor, songwriter, animator, singer – anything) your job is to create. On demand. Or at least to draw from the notebooks full of what-iffery that get filled with the ideas which awaken you at 0300.

    That’s sweat, for sure. For every hundred schlubs fooling nobody in the coffeeshop with his MacBook, there’s one or two people who realise that waiting for lightning to strike is no excuse for not doing the unglamorous but necessary grind to put together the bottle that holds the lightning when it gets around to striking. Whether it’s outlining, editing, rotoscoping, writing up backstory for a character, humming, whatever – there’s always something that the pro creative (ahaha) will be doing to advance their lot.

    As you’ve got to that anyway, getting to not-worry about keeping the lights on and the fridge stocked whilst doing the unavoidable grindy groundwork is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. Just make damned sure that advance is index-linked…

  20. LittleRed1 says:

    I would probably not take the contract, but for a different reason. My primary writing is non-fiction. I spend a fair amount of time in archives, looking for archives, trying to find people who know where things not in archives might be hiding, et cetera. I’m not certain I could produce a well-written, well-researched book every year for ten years without losing quality somewhere.
    Ditto my fiction.
    I’d suggest a motorcycle helmet as a pan-defense device, since most of the ones I’ve seen come with a warranty that lets you get a replacement free or at lower cost if the original gets smashed.

  21. correia45 says:

    My first novel contract was for a teensy fraction of that and I signed so fast that I got a hand cramp.

    Yep, I’d sign that contract in a heartbeat, provided that it worked in the traditional manner of that is your advance, and then you are paid a per copy royalty afterward. That way if something goes nuts and you’re selling huge numbers, you aren’t being shorted.

    A million pounds is actually closer to two million dollars. I can live pretty darn well on 200K a year, even after the government molests me.

    My actual writing pace is about 2 books a year. I’ve got 1 shipping in 30 days, sequel is done, then I’ve got 2 books of another 3 books series that are 75% done and 50% done. Then I’ve got the 1st book of a third series 70% done.

    And I still have a normal job. I do about 1,000 words a night during weeknights, and do about 5,000 words on a weekend day. Give me an advance sufficient to live comfortably, where I can write full time as I feel like it, and my production will increase drastically. When I sold my gun store and was Mr. Unemployed Writer Guy for three months, I was cranking out about 50,000+ quality words a month, that would actually work out to 3+ a year.

    My problem would be coming up with ideas for 10 additional books if I don’t count the ones that are already in progress. I’ve got five more outlined, and after that, I better start brainstorming hard.

    Marko, you get a book deal, jump on that sucker.🙂

  22. well, we are all whores to one degree or the other i guess.

    and some have a pretty loose definition of art to include talents and skills as opposed to that elusive and nebulous something that sets real art apart in my mind.

    taking the big payday might be the right move for someone with superceding responsibilities and priorities, and it’s even apparently a “no-brainer” for some without them.

    not for others though. don’t think what tamara does is art? a fat offer might trigger her performance anxiety, but she is still singing for her supper and even struggles with an unexpected car repair. that’s art for its own sake.

    not to say that she -and marko- shouldn’t get the big bucks for what they do…but it’s “what they do” that’s really at issue.

    jtc

  23. MarkHB says:

    *pinches bridge of nose*

    If it’s “whoring” to sell the things we make of our own minds and hands then really, we have nothing further to say to one another, despite you breaking your previous protestation of ignoring me from now on, Pawnbroker.

    What should be worked for? Peer Acceptance? To grovel for approval from others? This puts food on the table… how?

    Tamara is, yes, an artist of word and deed and an historian I will never approximate equalling.

    Should her labour go unrewarded? Or will the bonhomie of the Internet sustain her?

    As for someone with “No higher responsibilities” – you presume, sir. Again. And, again, for the sole purpose of throwing a cheap insult.

    As to what sets things apart in your mind, I but wish you would stand by your statement of setting me apart from it. It’s not a place I’d inhabit.

  24. MarkHB says:

    I did Burt Rutan’s animated “birthday card” with his son for no money, but I think he earned it, I know he loved it, and the X-Prize foundation front-paged and YouTubed it. So really, it wasn’t a loss at all.

    On reflection, whoring is an honest profession where you receive compensation for making people happy.

    I’m good with whoring. It’s basica capitalism.

  25. MarkHB says:

    One last thing.

    If you think the manned exploration and exploitation of space and our own backyard isn’t worth putting your shoulder to the wheel for…

    …then you don’t know what “tomorrow” means.

  26. MarkHB says:

    Well, kids. You wanted to see Socialism. There it squats.

    Your compensation will be decided by others. You have no voice. Even the very definition of “Art/Not Art” will be decided by people thousands of miles away.

  27. Tam says:

    Mark,

    Well, kids. You wanted to see Socialism. There it squats.

    Your compensation will be decided by others.

    Your compensation will always be decided by others, and that is as far from socialism as it’s possible to get.

    I can hang whatever price tag I like on my wares, but it’s ultimately the customer that decides whether the merchandise is worth plunking down the dosh. The world doesn’t owe me a living.

    And you’re right: what’s wrong with whoring, anyway? Is there something dishonorable about an honest exchange of goods and services for a pre-agreed price? Bob Heinlein was comfortable with the appellation.

    • “what’s wrong with whoring, anyway?”

      not a damn thing; capitalism at its purest.

      we all do what we have to do to survive. the point is that it is often not what we would choose to do or what fulfills us and inspires us…like art.

      that whore (or this one) doesn’t likely relish what she does for a living. but what innate beauty and desire is hidden (even repressed) inside?

      jtc

  28. correia45 says:

    If you’re going to be a real writer, you have to be a businessman and an artist. I’ve gotten to be friends with a pretty large group of authors now since I’ve been doing the Con panelist thing. Everybody who is successful looks at their writing as their job. And you get paid for your job.

    Nothing pisses me off more than the angsty artist types, who create crap, and then complain that they aren’t commercialy successful, because their audience doesn’t “get” them. That is their fault for not reaching their audience, but since they aren’t making any money, at least they get to keep their “integrity”.

    You offer me a 2 million dollar contract for ten years, I just got guarenteed employment for a decade. I’ll still try to write the best possible stories that I can, but being able to pay that mortgage check will sure take a load off of my mind.

    Or another example, lets say that a big director comes along and offers me half a million dollars for the movie rights to one of my novels. Now I know that he is a no-talent hack who will probably butcher it. He’ll change the story, dumb it down, and it will star that sack of oxygen wasting meat, Megan Fox, oh, and they’re adding a subplot about gay cowboys eating pudding, and changing the bad guy to Dick Cheney, and now the super weapon is Global Warming.

    So the movie version of my book will probably suck (I’m looking at you Starship Troopers), but in exchange, I will get a big sack of money.

    I’m taking the money. I can write more books.🙂

    • Marko says:

      Damn skippy, on all counts.

      I get a kick out of the people who say Heinlein would have been pissed at Verhoeven for “Starship Troopers: 90210”. Bullshit, sez I…Heinlein would have taken the check, and laughed all the way to the bank.

  29. art and business are sure as hell not mutually exclusive, and i didn’t say they were. they are also not mutually dependent.

    c45: you ran your gunshop primarily for profit; that’s what business is for. would you have still done it if it were not profitable, or operated at a loss? no? i don’t blame you…dump it and do something else, strictly a business decision. can you say the same about your writing? i doubt it.

    and marko…you’ve said you hated your tech cubicle, but you did it for the money. would you have done it for free? f that, right? what about your writing? if your recently completed novel doesn’t sell, will you stop? that’s what i thought…even though it costs you time and money.

    and the problem with those angsty, artsy types that piss off correia is that they obviously don’t get the disconnect either. just like a lots of other folks.

    price. cost. value. profit. success. not interchangeable terms, especially when it comes to matters of the he(art). it sure is sweet when what sustains you spiritually also sustains you monetarily. but sometimes it doesn’t; fortunately cash is not the only meaningful measure.

    jtc

  30. MarkHB says:

    Tam,

    As long as the ability to say “No, I shan’t sell for that price” exists, then it’s still capitalism. That’s not having the price dictated by others. It’s still a voluntary deal.

    When an external party is dictating terms of price – with the general overtone that “charging too much” isn’t to be tolerated, or the silly intimation that charging what the traffic will bear is in some way wrong… *shrugs* then maybe it’s not socialism – I was a tad miffed as I typed – but it’s something I find tacky.

  31. MarkHB says:

    correia45 says “If you’re going to be a real writer, you have to be a businessman and an artist. ”

    Absolutely. If you’re going to be a real any creative-endeavour type you have to be both. As Tam said, the world doesn’t owe anyone a living – but the people living on that rock will hose a soft touch so fast it’d make your head spin. Once you take a creative line of work as a job, then like any other job you have to create product, of acceptable quality in sufficient quantity and on time.

    Just because it’s fun doesn’t stop it being work. There’s unlimited pleasure to be derived from finding a creative outlet that actually pays the bills. When I got my first paycheck from Baen for doing cover art, I had to have the thing pried out of my hands to cash it. Money, schmoney – I had Jim Baen’s autograph!😉

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