Publishing 'deals'

by Katie Bryan on August 29th, 2011

Whatever: Real World Book Descriptions

This isn’t gossip, but take a look at John Scalzi’s blog on how Publisher’s Lunch deals should really read - funny but sadly true, if you ask me.

Here’s the link to the blog, to give credit where credit is due...

And here’s the actual excerpt: (thanks John Scalzi!!)

The Real World Book Deal Descriptions

Now, if you’ve read the previous entry about Noreascon, you may have come away thinking that most of what writers do at conventions is drinking and carousing and then possibly drinking some more. And you’d be right. However, I don’t want you to think that nothing of value was accomplished there -- or indeed that nothing of value can be accomplished even while drinking.

As proof of this, it gives me great pride to introduce to the world the Real World Book Deal Descriptions, as formulated at Noreascon 4 at the Sheraton Hotel Lobby Bar by a group of only somewhat inebriated writers including Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Kelly Link, James Patrick Kelly, Lauren McLaughlin, Eliani Torres, Shara Zoll and your humble narrator. A couple others were there as well (if you were there for it, feel free to chime in in the comment thread), but the point is, this is group wisdom, based on decades of collective writing experience.

Now, some background. One of the most widely-read e-mail lists in publishing is Publisher’s Lunch, in which various book deals are announced with certain euphemisms to describe what sort of money was involved. For example, book deals that get the writer up to $100,000 are known as "a nice deal." $100K to $250 is "a good deal," and so on up past the $1 million point, at which you have "a major deal." And well, yes, if you’re up at that point, it certainly is a major deal, you bastard.

Thing is, for most writers (and I include myself here), about 80% of those levels never get used: The vast majority of book publishing deals are "nice." However, using one adjective to describe both the $1000 book deal someone gets from a teeny university press and the $90,000 book deal from the major New York publisher is obviously ridiculous. A $1K book deal and a $90K book deal are quite clearly not equivalent; one is, oh, 90 times better than the other. If only for sheer honesty’s sake, there needs to be book deal rankings that accurately reflect what deals really get done and the financial quality of those deals for the writer.

So, after another round of beers, this is what we came up with.

$0 to $3,000: A Shitty Deal. Because that’s what it is, my friends. Possibly the only thing worse than a shitty deal is no deal at all. Possibly.

$3,000 to $5,000: A Contemptible Deal. The deal you get when your publisher has well and truly got your number, and it is low.

$5,000 to $10,000: A "Meh" Deal. It’s not great, you know. But you can pay some bills. Get a few of these, and a tolerant spouse with a regular income, and you can tell your day job to piss off. This year, anyway.

$10,000 to $20,000: A Not Bad Deal. Note that "not bad" here should be said with a slight appreciative rise of the eyebrows and a small approving nod -- this is the level at which the money begins to look not embarrassing both to writers and non-writers. A couple of these, and you’ll definitely be punting the day job (I did, anyway).

$20,000 to $100,000: A "Shut Up!" Deal. This needs to be said in the same enviously admiring vocal tone as a teenage girl might use to her girlfriend who is showing off the delicious new pumps she got at Robinsons-May for 30% off, or the vocal tone (same idea, lower register) Jim Kelly used when one of our number admitted to having at least a couple of deals in this range. With this kind of money, you don’t even need a supportive spouse to avoid the Enforced Top Ramen Diet (although, you know. Having one doesn’t hurt). But it’s not so much that the other writers actively begin to hate you.

$100,000 and above: "I’m Getting the Next Round." Because if you’re at this level, you can buy and sell all the other writers at the table. Get ‘em a friggin’ beer, for God’s sake (ironically, this is the only level not thought up at the bar, but in the cold hard light of the next morning, by Shara Zoll).

Think how much more interesting and useful the Publisher’s Lunch would be if these rankings were used:

"Joe Wannabe’s THE FIRST NOVEL IS THE MOST ANNOYING, a coming-of-age story about a not particularly interesting 20-something graduate student who is eventually dumped by his girlfriend for being a mopey, emo-listening sack of crap, to Random Small Press, in a shitty deal."

"Susan Midlist’s THE MARY SUE CRITICAL MASS, the story of a world thrown into chaos when large numbers of bookish women spontaneously appear at critical events of historical importance and passively-aggressively demand to play a role, to Not Insignificant Genre Press, in a meh deal."

"Neil Popular’s A DARK UNIVERSE FULL OF CASH, a tale of a man who wakes up one morning with fame and fortune but then must tolerate being accosted at random intervals by strangers who want to be his best friends and/or to have him blurb their own work, to Big Respected Publisher. He’ll get the next round."

See, that’s much better.
by John Scalzi

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