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?