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An Addition to the Site Disclaimer

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For roughly all of its existence, this site has had a Site Disclaimer, Comment and Privacy Policy page, and from time to time I will make updates or emendations to its text. Today I made a fairly significant one and I’d like to talk about it a bit.

Here’s the update:

This site features content going all the way back to the 1990s. Pieces I’ve written here reflect my views and writing style at that time. A piece written years ago may not reflect my current thinking on a topic, whatever that topic might be, nor might it represent how I would approach the topic stylistically. It is often useful to check to see if there is a more current piece on the topic that better reflects my current thinking and writing style. There is a search function on the site.

Why have I added it in? Basically, because I’m not at 51 who I was at 29, which is how old I was when I started this site. I’m also not who I am when I was 35, 40 or even 45. To be clear, I think there’s a pretty strong through-line between 29-year-old John Scalzi and 51-year-old John Scalzi; I don’t think you would read something I wrote then and be confused as to who the author is. But twenty-two years is a long time. Times are different than they were at the turn of the century, and with that, some of my opinions are different, as are the ways I would choose to express them.

Having written here for more than two decades, I don’t think it’s possible or useful to go back and try to tweak the site’s contents for 2020s sensibilities; I don’t have the time, and even if I did the Internet Archive is out there with the originals. Generally speaking I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve written here, and I think there’s something to be said to having a record of who I was (or more accurately, how I chose to publicly express myself) over the time I’ve written here.

Consequently, with a few exceptions I have kept the text here as it was when I wrote it, plus or minus  edits shortly after posting, mostly for clarity or to remove unintentionally offensive things. Basically, it’s very rare for me to update a piece more than a couple days after originally posting. Thus, this site includes not a few pieces that I look at today and think eeeeeeh, I wouldn’t put it that way now, and at least a couple of actual and genuine fuck ups on my part. I have it as part of the site disclaimer that “I can be as full of shit as anybody else”; I didn’t put that in there just to be amusingly disarming. I have bad takes on a bunch of stuff on this site, and a few things I had to go back and apologize for. Pulling these from the site wouldn’t change the fact I wrote them at one point, and I’m okay with people seeing me in my full and flawed scope.

For all that, from time to time I have seen people pull something from the site from, oh, like, 2003, and post it elsewhere as if it was reflective of my current thinking, or how I might state things today. On one hand, it’s entirely fair to quote me, if indeed I did say something that one time way back when, and I wouldn’t stop someone from doing it, even if I could, and even if their intent in doing so is to paint me in a bad light. On the other hand, when someone does that, or if someone comes across something that I wrote way back when via a Google search or suchlike, and is confused/upset/angry by something I wrote, I think it’s reasonable for me to be able to say, “Yup, I said that then, and also, you might want to check to see if that’s still a position I would support.”

Because sometimes it is! But sometimes it’s not. And in all cases, further context is probably useful. I do think it’s all right to suggest that people over time might change their minds, or evolve their thinking, or be less of a raging dickhead, or however you want to put it. It’s especially helpful if there is textual evidence of that change, which, as it happens, I often have, because I’ve been writing here for more than two decades.

(Whether people will choose to believe that later text more accurately reflects my current beliefs is another matter. People will believe what they want to believe, and also, some people think I’m a smooth operator who changes his public opinions solely to stay in the good graces of whomever they believe to be the thought police at the current moment. I find this belief delightful; the fantasy version of me they have in their head is far more industrious and canny than I am in real life.)

I will additionally note that I have not achieved my final form; the 55-year-old John Scalzi will be different from me today, and the 60- and 65-year-old versions of me more different still, and so on. This site, as long as it exists, is made by the current me, who very quickly becomes the past me. I suspect there will always be things here that the then-current me will look at and say “huh, I’d do that differently today.” It’s part of being a human, and (hopefully) growing and thinking and changing as you go along.



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Flameeyes
53 days ago
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To Talk, Or Not

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Easyrihiner asks, in the comment thread from yesterday’s Five Things post:

What’s your take on authors/artists that aren’t talking about current events right now?

I don’t attach a value judgment to it. There are any number of reasons why a creative person isn’t commenting on current events. Some reasons, and in no specific order, might be:

1. Deadlines are imminently looming and they have to focus on that if they want to eat;

2. Issues in their personal lives, positive or negative, might be taking up their attention;

3. The creator in question might decide they don’t know enough to comment usefully;

4. They don’t want to comment because they realize as soon as they do they will have to respond to/manage responses from others, and that takes a lot of time and energy they may not have;

5. Their opinion might be controversial or counter to the general trend, and they decide it’s smarter to stay quiet than have the Internet drop on their head and/or be “cancelled”;

6. They are trying to process what they want to say and how they want to say it in a way that best expresses their opinion, which sometimes is not collapsible to tweet length;

7. They may simply not give a shit.

Or some combination of any or all of the above, plus a whole bunch of other reasons, too; the list above is not meant to be exhaustive.

It’s easy for people to demand creative people, especially ones of some notability, have a public position on whatever topic those people think is important. But creative people are people too, and they only have so much time and attention to devote to… well, anything: work and family and friends and community and current events. They can’t and shouldn’t be expected to comment on everything, even if you (whomever you might be) think it’s important. I’ve commented about this fact before, in my own special way. And of course what applies to me here applies to anyone else.

I think it’s accurate to say that notable people, creatives among them, are sometimes in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation with regard to public commenting on social issues. I’ve gotten the “shut up and stick to writing” sort of comments when I have offered an opinion on a current event, and the “your silence equals complicity” sort of comments when I haven’t. In both cases the commenter can stick their opinion up their ass and twist it sideways; I’ll say what I want on any topic, including not saying anything at all. But in a world where people want creatives to comment and also not to, I don’t blame creatives who decide the best thing to do is to keep their head down and hope not be noticed.

People can and should comment on current events if they want to. People can and should not comment on current events if they choose not to. Creative folks are people. So.

One final note on the subject, which is that a choice by a creative person to be publicly silent on a matter is not necessarily indicative of their neutrality on the matter. A creative person (or any person) may actively have an opinion or support a cause, and choose to do so quietly, and again for any number of reasons (including not painting a target on those they are helping for abusers and trolls).

Which is another reason not to attach a value judgment to a public silence. All public silence means is that you don’t know what’s going on with that person. You may think you deserve to know, but no one else is obliged to agree with you, including the creative you may believe owes you an accounting or opinion.



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Flameeyes
59 days ago
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The Brave web browser is hijacking links, and inserting affiliate codes

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It’s as if Brave is performance art put on by Mozilla’s advertising department.

— heavyset_go, Hacker News

The Brave web browser sells itself on privacy, security and ad-blocking. It also has its own cryptocurrency, the Basic Attention Token.

As such, it’s a favourite with crypto people — or ones who don’t know how to install uBlock Origin, anyway. [uBO Firefox; uBO Chrome]

 

 

What Brave’s done this time

Brave is very into affiliate marketing. Just in March this year, Brave was caught running eToro affiliate marketing without the legally-required disclaimers — and Brave staff were caught deleting all mention of this from the /r/brave_browser subforum on Reddit. [Github, archive]

If you’re using Brave and try to go to the Binance crypto exchange, Brave hijacks the Binance link you typed in, and autofills with its own affiliate code. This was spotted by @cryptonator1337 on Twitter earlier today.

The animation in @cryptonator1337’s tweet shows you what happens: [Twitter]

 

 

Sites that Brave attaches a referrer ID to include binance.com, binance.us, coinbase.com, ledger.com and trezor.io. Searches on “bitcoin”, “btc”, “ethereum”, “eth”, “litecoin”, “ltc” or “bnb” that lead to Binance also get a referrer attached. This is all in the file suggested_sites_provider_data.cc . [GitHub, version as of today]

The landing page for Coinbase even says “Brave Software International invited you to try Coinbase!” [Coinbase]

Brendan Eich, the founder and CEO of Brave, assures us that putting his referrer links into URLs that users typed in, to try to get people to click through accidentally, is all completely upright and above-board. [Twitter]

This ignores the legally required disclosures for affiliate links — the disclosures that Brave also ignored for the eToro links in March. In the US, the FTC has required full disclosure of affiliate marketing since 2009 — you have to put it right there on the page. Similar rules apply in the UK and the EU. (See my Amazon disclosure at the bottom-right of this post, for example.) [FTC; CAP]

However, Eich is very sorry that Brave got caught — again — and something will be changed in some manner to stop this behaviour, or at least obscure it. (Eich doesn’t say precisely what the totally fine thing Brave thought it was doing was, or what’s going to change here.) [Twitter]

Whatever the change is, it will at least apply for Binance — though Eich conspicuously didn’t mention the other sites, and there’s no update on GitHub as yet to the source code file I linked above. [GitHub, master branch]

How does this keep happening?!

I have been told by multiple past subordinates of Eich’s how — in discussion of any matter whatsoever — he will not be swayed from any opinion that he feels he has reached through logic and reason, and will vehemently argue his correctness at length.

This doesn’t go so well when he’s trying to convince people on Twitter of his bona fides, when they think he’s just scammed them.

When Brave was caught in December 2018 asking for donations on behalf of other people without telling them, Eich started alluding in Twitter replies to Plato, Hume and Nietzsche. “In short run, without sounding Nietzschean, will matters. Patreon’s is weak or corrupt. Ours is not.” This didn’t convince anyone either. [Twitter archive; Twitter archive; Twitter archive]

What should Brave do?

I’d like to assume Eich is acting in good faith here — but this sort of nonsense keeps happening.

When you see you’ve done something wrong, you should fix it — then explain what you got wrong, that you understand why your users are upset, and precisely how this happened, step by step.

Then you don’t do it again. And you put systems into place so that you don’t do it again.

What you don’t do is to rack up a chain of other unmarked affiliate advertising, or pull what looks remarkably like donation fraud. Then apologise each time, say you’ve fixed it … and then do it again.

This is precisely what scammers do — they apologise, they swear they’ll fix it, and then they do it again.

So don’t do that.

What should I do, as a Brave user?

There is no good reason to use Brave. Use Chromium — the open-source core of Chrome — with the uBlock Origin ad blocker. [Chromium download, uBO Chrome]

Or use Firefox with uBlock Origin — ‘cos it blocks more ads than the Chromium framework will let anything block. [uBO Firefox]

Or, if you want a really cleaned-out Chrome — ungoogled-chromium, with uBlock Origin. [GitHub]

If you’re on Android, use Firefox with uBlock Origin, or the new Firefox Focus browser. [Mozilla]

Brave is a browser for suckers who want to keep getting played — so it’s a 100% crypto enterprise. As Eich’s pinned tweet still tells us: “Who gets paid? If not you, then you’re ‘product’.” [Twitter]


Update: Brendan Eich has responded to this post by claiming “David lies about us all the time.” I have pointed out that this is a prima facie defamatory statement, and asked him to detail these claimed lies. [Twitter, archive]

 

 



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Flameeyes
65 days ago
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2 public comments
zippy72
64 days ago
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Welp, time I deleted @brave it seems
FourSquare, qv
freeAgent
65 days ago
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Brave has always seemed a bit off to me. The idea of replacing websites’ ads with Brave’s ads feels icky. Throwing in their weird BAT just made things even sketchier. Now this.
Los Angeles, CA

Guest post: The Last Last Word on Bitcoin’s (horrifying) Energy Consumption

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A response to Nic Carter’s “The Last Word on Bitcoin’s Energy Consumption” (CoinDesk, 19 May 2020), by Michael Reece Purson.

 

 

Now I am no environmentalist. In fact with the amount of stuff I have plugged in at the moment (simply because I’m too lazy to unplug anything that isn’t within arms reach), I’m probably the exact opposite.

But even I could smell something was wrong with this article the moment I saw the number of (otherwise lovely and sane) people gushing over it on my Telegram feed.

You should always be extra skeptical of anyone who says that they have the “last word” on any topic, especially on world changing ones. Sorry, Nic, but you don’t get to tell the rest of the world what the “last word” is on a large scale issue simply because you have “analyst” in your job description.

So bored, drunk, and angry that my favorite cafe is still not doing takeout, I decided to take my anger out at something that completely deserves it.

Let’s get started with this dissection. (Quotes are from Carter’s article.)

Electricity decays as it leaves its point of origin; it’s expensive to transport

So instead of improving this, we create a system where you’re incentivized to not ever improve transport or battery technology, because you are making internet money out of thin air. How is this better?

Unless I’m completely blind, his entire argument is “We lose energy because we are bad at allocating it, so we should incentivize never fixing it.”

While there certainly are fundamental limitations on how much energy can be transported, subsidizing inefficiency and not increasing the efficiency of energy production and storage is the wrong way to deal with them.

This doesn’t fix the problems he describes, it entrenches and monetizes them. All this does is subsidize inefficiency.

This also brings up the question if subsidizing poorly performing remote energy sources (that would otherwise be shut down) is a good thing. Why dismantle a poorly running energy plant as long as you can keep squeezing more Bitcoin out of it? [“Australian coal-fired power plant to mine Bitcoin”]

Before Bitcoin, aluminium served this purpose.

Aluminium has a large use-case (beyond just speculation), and after aluminium (and gold) is mined, you don’t need to keep mining it for it to exist. Also, if Bitcoin displaces aluminium production and aluminium still has a high demand, then this would mean we would be mining the same amount of aluminum AND mining Bitcoin. This is worse for the environment overall, not better.

I can’t even make my tinfoil hat out of Bitcoin.

This is why so many oil miners (whose business results in the production of lots of waste methane) have developed an enthusiasm for mining Bitcoin.

As a general rule, it’s never a good sign when the oil industry is on your side and cheering you on while arguing about the climate. They are happy because they have a way of generating profit without having to come up with any solutions that would help distribute that power. Why risk and innovate when you can just mine internet money?

And considering that so many different governments have limited how much power miners are allowed to draw, I don’t think it’s as rosy a picture as Nic is implying.

[“Government of Abkhazia Cuts Off Power to 15 Cryptocurrency Mining Facilities”; “Norway Withdraws Electricity Subsidies From Bitcoin Mining Farms”; “Rural Washington County Utility Proposes Increased Electricity Costs for Crypto Miners”; “The fightback against the bitcoin energy guzzlers has begun”]

What matters is the type of energy source being used to generate electricity, as they are not homogeneous from a carbon footprint perspective.

The assumption that renewable (“green”) energy is somehow neutral or preferable to no energy being used or wasted is laughable. [“When 100% renewable energy doesn’t mean zero carbon”]

Along with that, Bitcoin mining is not beholden to only use renewable energy, only when it’s the cheapest. When said renewable resource is not available at a certain time or the price of other fuel becomes less expensive, miners will switch back to dirty forms of electricity in a heartbeat. With the falling costs of energy, what would stop miners from moving to a cheaper but dirtier source? (Good will? Caring for the planet? Existential dread?)

The ‘Bitcoin is powered by renewable energy’ narrative seems to only be true as long as renewables are cheaper than dirtier types of energy.

[“Renewable energy is growing fast in the U.S., but fossil fuels still dominate”; “Antonopoulos: Drop in Oil Prices Give US Miners a Competitive Edge”; “Sichuan Rainy Season to Give Bitcoin Hash Rate a Much Needed Jolt”; “How Wasteful Is Cryptoasset Mining?” (p83)]

Nic (and apparently everybody else who writes about this) is also forgetting that the mining hardware itself costs a hell of a lot of energy to make, and in areas where it would otherwise be used (e.g., Shenzen); plus the minerals and metals needed to make them (conflict resources); and (potentially slave) labor; [“China Moves Uyghur Muslims Into ‘Forced Labor’ Factories”; “China Uighurs ‘moved into factory forced labour’ for foreign brands”] and transport and disposal, when those miners become overpriced paperweights when the difficulty adjusts.

The razor thin margins of mining forces prices to be a low as possible (necessitating finding the cheapest sources of materials and labor possible), so this probably won’t change to something more ethical either. It’s not like phones, where people will pay a premium for more ethical hardware. You won’t find the Fairphone of ASIC hardware any time soon.

The discussion seems to have been limited only to CO2 emissions, rather than the entire cost of Bitcoin mining.

Here is the short version of the life of an ASIC miner:

  • Minerals/metals mined (from generally unethical sources and driving up the price of the materials).
  • Materials are shipped to China to be turned into the machines (using generally badly regulated worker conditions).
  • Miner is then shipped to Mining/Energy company.
  • Miner is used for 1-2 years.
  • Miner is either scrapped or sold to a grey market with low electricity costs (Iran, Venezuela, etc).
  • Miner is finally scrapped or disposed of (bear in mind that the recycling of the parts also takes energy).

Each one of these steps creates greenhouse gases, heaps of pollution and miscellaneous waste like styrofoam/cardboard for shipping. None of this ever seems to be accounted for in Bitcoin climate impact estimates.

Now you might ask: “But what about computers? Aren’t computers just as wasteful?”

Well my good sir or ma’am, computers can be used for more things than just hammering at sha256 puzzles all day. Their lifespans can be extended until their components break and can be repurposed or donated. ASICs on the other hand can only be used for one thing, and only as long as the mining company can profitably use them.

Also, I can’t watch any cat videos on an ASIC.

The prospects look even sunnier when you consider the changing nature of Bitcoin security spend. Eighty-seven percent of Bitcoin’s terminal supply has been issued already.

Bitcoin’s energy consumption is a linear function of its security spend. Like any other utility, the public’s willingness to pay for block-space will determine the resources that are allocated to providing the service in question.

This is completely irrelevant if the demand for Bitcoin keeps growing, and if we are talking about its environmental impact. There isn’t a cap on the difficulty, so you could theoretically start burning stars, and still need more energy if people are willing to pay for what you produce by doing that.

Thus it’s unlikely that security spend results in the world-eating feedback loop that has been posited in the popular press. In the long term, Bitcoin’s energy consumption is a linear function of its security spend. Like any other utility, the public’s willingness to pay for block-space will determine the resources that are allocated to providing the service in question.

If it scales with security AND becomes muh world currency, then it would be using WAY MORE energy, not less. Unless we want our world currency to have the security of a moldy biscuit.

The Bitcoin-energy supplicants are mum when it comes to the energy used to illuminate Christmas lights, to power the data centers behind Netflix or to distribute untold millions of single-serve meal kits.

Yes, but these industries ACTIVELY TRY TO LOWER THEIR IMPACT and lose money the more energy they burn. Bitcoin mining is the precise opposite in terms of incentives and in practice.

They lose money the more energy they use. Bitcoin mining is the exact reverse. Making it so that burning more energy is profitable rather than reducing consumption, improving efficiency, and re-allocating it to areas that need it is a horrible proposition.

I can also choose to buy more eco-friendly Christmas lights that work just as well as less eco-friendly ones. I can’t buy a more eco-friendly version of a Bitcoin.

Not to mention the fact that “Other things are bad for the environment so my bad thing for the environment isn’t bad” isn’t great logic.

The truth is that blockspace is a service which is paid for, and that’s where its resource cost is derived

If it costs tons of CO2 and environmental damage just to buy a coffee with Bitcoin, then I don’t want to live on this planet or use Bitcoin for anything.

[“Bitcoin’s inescapable, inconvenient truth”; “Bitcoin’s stupendous power waste is green, apparently”]

Something duly purchased cannot, by definition, be a waste.

I see you’ve never been on eBay.

Just because people buy things doesn’t mean those things are not completely stupid and wasteful (see cruise ships). The fact that someone is willing to buy something doesn’t excuse its impact on others.

Also sidenote, Bitcoin is not the only cryptocurrency burning energy on a massive scale. Are we forgetting ETH, BCH, BSV, etc? Are those also being mined and is it justified based on “Something duly purchased cannot, by definition, be a waste”?

Ultimately it’s just a matter of opinion as to whether the existence of a non-state, synthetic monetary commodity is a good idea.

No it’s about how much that money kills the bloody planet in being a “non-state, synthetic monetary commodity”. It’s a false dichotomy to assume that its either non-state money or a livable planet.

These same arguments have been made countless times about perceived “costs” of the gold standard

Yes, gold is a shiny rock. Stop liking a shiny rock. It’s just as dumb when people destroy the world over a shiny rock.

The fact that gold production wastes energy and pollutes does not excuse Bitcoin production wasting energy and polluting. And again, you don’t need to keep burning energy to keep gold existing.

There is a solution. All they must do is persuade Bitcoin fans to use and value an alternative settlement medium.

So convince mad people to not destroy the planet for internet money?

Seeing as the demand for cryptocurrencies won’t go down, I suggest either pushing for anti-ASIC mining (which won’t lower the amount of energy used but at least would push for more advancement in consumer grade computers) or adding some extra use to Bitcoin mining (like folding proteins or finding prime numbers) or (if this ever comes into existence rather than be a pipe dream) robust Proof of Stake (eliminating the problem entirely).

Cheering and defending a system that creates pollution for (only one type of) security is a step backwards for crypto and humanity in general. You don’t need to bullshit to defend what you like.

After reading this article, my opinion is that the only renewable resource in crypto is hot air. If we would power our miners with that, then Nic might have a point.

 

 

Thank you to David for letting me hijack his blog for a minute.

I’m off to find another cafe.

— Michael Reece Purson
(Researcher, crypto fan, and perpetually annoyed person)
medium.com/@m.reece.purson



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Flameeyes
69 days ago
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I Have No Opinions of Note to Express Today, So Here, Have a Cat

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She’s not feeling very argumentative herself at the moment. And that’s okay.



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About That Deal, Five Years On

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Today is a red-letter day in my personal history, because five years ago (and also on a Sunday, calendars are weird), the New York Times announced that I had signed a 13-book deal with Tor books for $3.4 million, a deal notable for its length (we expected it to run for roughly a decade) and for the amount of money being splashed out. In the wake of the announcement was a week of congratulations for me (which I appreciated) and a whole lot of Monday morning quarterbacking about whether this deal was actually a good deal for me, or for Tor (which I found mostly amusing). We’re now halfway through the expected decade of the deal, so I figure now is as good a time as any to offer some thoughts on it and how it’s been for me, living with it in the real world.

First, how has the deal been working out? Well, so far, four books covered by the contract have been released: The Collapsing Empire, Head On, The Consuming Fire and this year’s book, The Last Emperox. Of the four, three were New York Times bestsellers and the one that wasn’t was nominated for the Hugo and won the Locus Award (there was an additional bestseller in there too: The Dispatcher, which showed up on the NYT’s inaugural Audio Fiction best seller list). In terms of the Interdependency series, the sales and bestseller rankings grew from the first of the books to the last. All the published books in the deal have been optioned for film/TV, and some of the currently unpublished ones have been, too. All the published books have sold in multiple languages.

This isn’t (just) luck. The deal was designed, in large part, to allow Tor and me the luxury of time to strategically build on the sales and the following I already had. One of the things I said to Tor when we were negotiating the deal is that I was perfectly happy to be known and to be labeled as a science fiction writer — I didn’t want to suddenly go “mainstream,” but I would be happy to be science fiction’s ambassador to the mainstream. Since the deal, that’s been the general thrust of our efforts; I write unapologetically science fictional books that non-genre readers might find approachable, and Tor’s magnificent marketing and PR people pitch me to the usual suspects in terms of press and readership — and then beyond that, too.

So yes, the deal has absolutely been working out so far. I have been the beneficiary of intentionality, and the agreement of the two primary parties to work strategically toward a goal, that goal being selling loads and loads of books to as many people as possible. To my credit, I’m writing accessible books that people (mostly) seem to like, and to Tor’s credit, they’ve been very active and creative in marketing and selling the books, and me. I can’t overstate the importance of the latter, and I saw it in action in the last few months, when my physical book tour had to be scrapped and Tor’s PR/Marketing folks built an online tour for me in a matter of days. I am in awe of and grateful for Tor’s publicity machine (and particularly Alexis Saarela, my direct PR person), and in return I try to hold up my end of the deal, not just in what and how I write, but in helping them promote me, and in supporting Tor and the other writers they have and promote. This is how the deal is supposed to work, and how things get done.

I’ve been asked if having a contract with so many books on it exposes me to pressure, as in Oh Jesus, I just finished another book and yet I still have nine more books that I have to write please release me from my prison of words. The short answer to this is, lol, no. I get to write for a decade (at least!) and don’t have to worry about whether what I’m writing will sell and if I’ll get paid for it. There are very few writers who would turn down that deal.

The slightly longer answer is: Hello, have you looked at the global economy at the moment, it’s in a shambles and it’s absolutely the freelancers and gig economy workers of the world — including the writers — who are going to take it on the chin. It might be years before things hit a new equilibrium. Many if not most of the writers I know are incredibly apprehensive about what this means for their ability to support themselves and their families through writing. And then here’s me, who all he has to do is — write. If I write, I get paid. Someone is contractually obliged to pay me a specified amount for every single book they’ve already agreed that they will take from me when I finish writing it. I have many problems with the state of the world today — oh boy, let me tell you about that — but getting paid isn’t one of them. That is an actual gift.

(Well, no, not an actual gift, since I still have to, you know, write the books in order to get paid. But I think you know what I mean.)

When I first talked about the deal five years ago, one of the things that I noted was that it gave me stability — rare for a writer in any era, and it feels even more rare in this one. Stability, as it turns out, is a huge boost to my productivity. This should not be a surprise — strange how when you don’t have to devote brain cycles to how you’re going to afford eating or keeping a roof over your head, you might have more cycles to commit to creativity — but when talking about a large, long contract, I think people tend to see the obligation it requires rather than the constancy it affords. For me, I don’t really see the obligation, because, you know, as a commercially-oriented author whose only job is writing, I’m obliged anyway. If I didn’t have this bigass contract, I would still have to write a book a year, more or less, plus a bunch of other things, or else I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills. That obligation was already baked in to how I live my professional life.

What the contract did, again, was alleviate the anxiety of whether what I wrote would sell, or whether I would get paid for it (or more accurately, if I would get paid what I thought was reasonable). Now, being the lucky dick that I am, I will cheerfully note that selling work was never really a problem for me prior to the contract; my modus operandi was to say to Tor, “Hey, here’s a book, want it?” and they would say “Thank you, yes, that would be lovely.” But on the other hand, there is a three-year gap in my novel publishing schedule between 2008 and 2011, and it’s there for business reasons, not because I didn’t want to write novels in there. Yes, it’s weirdly coincident to the last major global economic downturn. Strange, that. Lesson: There are no guarantees in this business, even if you’re already a best selling award magnet. Unless you get that guarantee in the form of a contract.

That stability has business applications aside from money. For example, Tor has, for print and eBook, my entire back list of novels — fourteen so far, and (obviously) more to come. Having them all with the same house means we plan and strategize on how to use the back list to our advantage. So, for example, this April we did a one-day giveaway of The Collapsing Empire and a one-day $2.99 eBook sale of The Consuming Fire, directly ahead of the release of The Last Emperox. Tor can also do things like make the entire backlist readily available to bookstores when a new release comes out, so people who like the newest book have no problem finding older work, to the benefit of us and to bookstores. Book sales aren’t just about new books and bestseller lists — Old Man’s War is still my biggest seller, and it’s never been near a NYT list — and having stability and continuity in who is distributing the Scalzi library is a huge competitive advantage not every author gets to have.

Mind you, when the deal came out, there were a number of commentators who suggested that I had traded stability for the opportunity to make real money, since, depending on how one decided to slice it, an average of $261,000 per book or $340,000 per year, guaranteed, wasn’t all that much money; it wasn’t, really, what a bestselling, award-winning author should be making, now, was it?

(This is where actual authors, and actual bestselling authors, throw their heads back and laugh outrageously loudly, by the way.)

But these commentators are not entirely wrong. I mean, they’re wrong about $261k not being “real” money for a book, honestly, that’s just a ridiculous assertion in a world where the average advance for a science fiction novel from a “Big Five” publisher is something like $12.5k. But they’re not wrong that stability was as important to me as the price tag on the deal. And this was for a couple of reasons.

The first is: Look, unless you’re buying yachts and helicopters and trophy spouses and cocaine, or live in San Francisco, there comes a certain financial threshold where all your life needs and wants are taken care of and more money just becomes more money and not much more. What that number is for you depends on several factors, including where you live (see: San Francisco above), what your debts and owes are, how important being flashy with your money is, whether it’s really critical to you that your kids go to an Ivy-level school rather than Eastern Michigan University (or your state’s equivalent), where you vacation and (hopefully) how much you save for the day when you’re not making money anymore.

Turns out, for me, that number is somewhere around $200,000. At $200,000 all my bills and debts are paid, I’m able to invest and save and pay for my kid’s college, I get to buy whatever thing it is I want to buy (usually tech stuff and musical instruments), I can donate to charities and most of all I can just stop worrying about whether I can afford to live. More money after that? Great! Love it! I’m a capitalist! Into savings and investments it goes. But for me, the quality of my day-to-day life is not manifestly changed above $200k — a sum which in itself, incidentally, would still put me in the top ten percent of income earners in the United States.

What that realization means for me is that after a certain point, I had the luxury of looking at a book deal not just in terms of what the money was, but what else I was getting from it and what that would mean in the long term, financially and otherwise. It might not surprise you to know that before Tor made their offer, I was actively being scouted by other science fiction imprints, and had more than one lunch with editors and publishers where we talked about how I would fit into their house and plans. I think it’s not unreasonable for me to suggest that I could have gotten something like a seven-figure, three-book deal from another Big Five publisher, where the average advance per book would have been significantly higher than what I got from Tor.

But here’s the other reason stability was as important as the money: Because the tradeoffs matter. Is it better, for example, to go for a book deal that offers more money up front but has a shorter term, and represents a concrete break with your publishing past (this is the back list thing again), requires you to get used to a new publisher, editor, PR/Marketing team and so on, with the knowledge that if those three books underperform, for whatever metrics “underperform” represents, you’re out on the pavement again and everyone knows why? Or is it better to get possibly less per book up front than you might get elsewhere (but still more than enough, I mean, Jesus), work with people you know, like, and respect professionally, know — because it’s in the contract — that your books will be a priority on release, and if one or two (or more!) underperform, you have time and resources to adjust and compensate? For a decade, at least?

There is no wrong answer to this, incidentally — the answer is entirely about one’s own tolerance for risk and/or desire for the ability to do long-term planning and strategy. By this point, I think, my own answer is obvious.

And part of that, and because I’m not entirely immune to the charms of money, even when I have enough, is because here’s a thing I know: Money makes more money, and calls attention to itself — which is to say that the longer you’re making significant amounts of money, the easier it is to make significant amounts of money, and to be visible to the people who will give you money. When commentators looked at the deal as $261k per book or at the $340k per year figure, they were only seeing the money in a blunt and not very useful breakdown that was only about the money in the contract. What they didn’t see was what the attention a $3.4 million, decade-long, 13-book deal, could get me.

Which was, in this case: a separate deal for the audiobook rights, mirroring the Tor deal in length, with the result being that each book release is a priority for a second publisher (Audible, who is a delight to work with), meaning more publicity and marketing, also from exceptionally smart folks. More long-term deals from foreign publishers with more money attached. Increased interest from Hollywood, with option deals following. Paid speaking gigs and other business opportunities. Write ups and profiles and analysis in mainstream media, not just genre and trade publications. A raised profile that Tor and my other publishers can work with and use to increase interest in my work and grow sales, which makes the next round of publicity and marketing easier, raising my profile further — something we can do over and over and over, not just two or three times. And — this is important — increased interest in my back list, which generates sales and royalties between new releases.

Money makes money, or can, anyway. With this deal, at least, that has absolutely been the case. Krissy does not like for me to talk specific sums and I think she has a reasonable basis for this. I can say, without being overly specific, that with respect to the contract and all the knock-on deals and benefits that accrued because of it, and after (absolutely earned) agency and lawyer fees, we left that $3.4 million figure in the dust a while back. With luck, we’ll close out the contract having made a respectable multiple of that amount (Ifif I don’t mess up and write something unreadable, if the economy doesn’t crash so hard that people just stop reading, or at least, paying for books, if I don’t die of coronavirus or marauding bears, if I don’t become such a complete jerk that people can’t bear the sight of my name on a book, if a meteor doesn’t dinosaur us all, if, if, if). Please note that if I’ve already cleared that sum, my partners, Tor most of all, are doing pretty well with the arrangement too. Sometimes things work like they should.

So yes, I paid for stability. I’m happy to say it’s paying me back.

Perhaps the best thing I could say about this contract five years in is that if I had to do it over again, I can’t think of much that I would do differently. It created for me the ability to write the books I want to write, and apparently the books that people want to read. All while knowing that I have partners I can trust to sell the work, and me, to the world, over and over again. Again, this is a gift that not every writer gets to have. I’m immensely grateful for it, and I look forward to writing more books under this contract. Nine more, in fact. I can’t wait.



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Flameeyes
79 days ago
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London, Europe
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