Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Alastair Reynolds, The Million-Pound Man

Various blogs and Twitterers have been asking What It All Means over the past two days, since news came out that Gollancz has signed Alastair Reynolds to an "unprecedented" ten-book, ten-year deal for a million pounds. And so I'll tell you what it means.

But, first, "unprecedented"? There have been deals that would last ten years before (Steven Erikson's big deal with Bantam Press for the Malazan series, for one), and there have been deals for ten books before (ditto Erikson). There have been lots and lots of deals totaling a million pounds or more. It's true that Reynolds hasn't gotten a deal this size before, but he's only been in the book-writing business for about a decade, so the fact that he hadn't signed a ten-year deal before doesn't mean much.

Now -- What It All Means. This means that a) book publishing is not dead, which anyone with two brain cells to rub together knew already. It also means that b) Gollancz sells Reynolds books in quantities that they're quite pleased with, and that they want to stay in the Reynolds business for a long time. It may imply c) that Gollancz is concerned that Reynolds's asking price may rise in the next decade, so they're locking him in at a possibly thrifty hundred-thousand per book. It definitely implies d) that Gollancz intends to stay in the SF business for the next decade, and wants everyone to know it. And that e) they have the money (though it will likely be paid out in the usual publishing dribs and drabs, so much for delivery and so much for publication of each book) to spend on an author they believe in.

Another thing it means, which is more important and encouraging to all of us readers, is f) that Reynolds is definitely going to be writing ten more novels, which we will then get to read. And that means I probably should catch up on The Prefect or House of Suns or both.


Brad Holden said...

Do you have a post (or maybe an old rasfw article) discussing how these contracts usually work? Thanks.

Unknown said...

I def think you need to catch up...he's not disappointed me yet.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Brad: I don't think I've explained it anywhere -- I usually leave that to the editorial types (like Moonrat or Editorial Anonymous) who deal with it more directly -- but here's a quick sketch.

In a typical one-to-three book deal, the advance for a particular book will be divided into either halves or thirds. One part is paid on signing (of the contract, once it's fully executed). One part is paid on delivery and acceptance -- meaning not as soon as it's handed in to the publisher, but once the publisher decides the manuscript is acceptable. (That can be about two seconds after receipt, or substantially longer.)

If the advance is broken into thirds, the third part is paid on publication -- meaning the check is cut on the first check-cutting day after the official publication date.

Now, Reynolds has a ten-book deal. He may be getting half or a third of that million pounds up front -- the signing portion -- but I bet, as in similar deals, that the signing portion is actually structured to pay out in intervals over the next eight or so years.

Also, that million pounds may include sweeteners or kickers -- extra payments that kick in if certain criteria are met (say, that the first five books all earn out their portion of the advance within a year of publication, or if a book hits a national bestseller list), which would mean that the base for each book isn't as high as it might appear. Or it could be structured some other way -- the Erikson ten-book deal from Bantam was famously set up as a monthly pay-out for ten years (which is very untypical). Advances can be paid according to any structure that the publisher and author/agent mutually agree on; I'm just describing the usual situation.

Looking back at your question, I may have assumed wrongly about which part of the contract -- a long legal document with many clauses -- you wanted explained. If so, just comment again and clarify.

Anonymous said...

Brandon Sanderson just signed a new four book deal, worth possibly $2.5mil (six figures per book plus performance bonuses).

Anonymous said...

Off topic:

Was wondering if you'd seen this:

Jeff P.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Jeff P.: Yeah, I've seen that. Zack is either being disingenuous or he's a little confused. Everyone knows that Bookscan doesn't capture the whole book business, but it is consistent, so publishers (and agents) use it as parallax, comparing the sales of someone else's books (via Bookscan) with the sales of one of their books (both via Bookscan and through their proprietary systems). They can then extrapolate to what the other publisher's book really did.

In the case Zack wrote about, it's very obvious that the editor in question is using "Bookscan numbers" as an excuse, since Zack also showed him a real royalty statement. A more accurate rant would be along the lines of "why do editors try to lie to me so shamelessly."

Brad Holden said...

Andrew, you basically answered my question on how this stuff works. Thanks!

Andrew Wheeler said...

Following up on Jeff P.'s comment, and my reply, agent Joshua Bilmes has replied to Andrew Zack at length. He agrees with me, essentially, for different reasons, and explains what Bookscan can do for an agent.

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