Fisking Buzzfeed, Because They Don’t Understand How Writers Get Paid

When I read this nonsense yesterday, I knew I was going to have to fisk it. As a full-time working author who actually makes a good living off my writing, I hate destructive crap like this.

Of course the article is trash. It comes from Buzzfeed. They get everything wrong. But worse, some of the quotes in there from certain writers are agenda driven garbage, which give aspiring writers a completely ass backwards view of how publishing works.

I want to see writers be successful. I’m rooting for you guys. This crap right here? It is defeatist garbage, and if you buy into this pity party, you are going to artificially limit your career. Making it as a writer is already really challenging as it is. You don’t need to make up additional fake bullshit to get upset over.  Do you want to be angry, or do you want to make money?

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/tomiobaro/publishing-paid-me-twitter-hashtag-black-lives-matter

This article is mostly authors I’ve never heard of complaining that they aren’t getting paid enough, and apparently the inevitable conclusion is that must be because of racism. As usual, the original article will be in italics. My responses will be in bold.

Book Authors Are Getting Real About How Much They Are Paid

The hashtag #PublishingPaidMe has reignited a conversation about the disparities between how much Black authors and non-Black authors make.

Of course, the party that hash tag fucking loves science is able to draw conclusions about industry wide payouts based entirely upon a series of tweets from a handful of authors out of thousands. Thank goodness those tweets just so happen to fit their preconceived notions!

Today, many publishing houses are participating in a day of solidarity, pausing their work and donating to organizations that support the Black Lives Matter movement.

I was going to try real hard to avoid politics, because the goal of this post is to teach aspiring authors how publishing actually works. But I can tell already that is going to be damn near impossible, so what the hell. Here goes. If you are new to this world, the publishing industry is predominantly based in Manhattan, and is so overwhelmingly liberal that conservatives are virtually nonexistent. Seriously, when they did that big survey of careers by political affiliation, the pie chart for publishing was so blue that I don’t even think you could see the red line on it. Keep that in mind, because we will come back to this fact again later.

But some Black authors are calling out publishing houses for the glaring disparities in how much Black and non-Black authors are paid for their book advances.

Well isn’t that interesting, since those amounts are determined by an industry totally dominated by white liberal self-proclaimed “allies” who love to label everybody who has ever disagreed with them racists.

This past weekend, two Black YA authors, Tochi Onyebuchi and L.L. McKinney, began a Twitter campaign to prompt the publishing industry to reckon with this gap. “Publishing houses, y’all BLM statements are cute but I’ma need that SAME energy when we start talking Black writers and book advances. If y’all think the receipts are bad now, it’s about to be CVS on this website, and y’all don’t want that,” Onyebuchi tweeted on Friday. McKinney picked up the momentum, tweeting on Saturday: “Do y’all need a hashtag? #PublishingPaidMe. There you go.”

The hashtag soon took off as prominent authors, such as Roxane GayJesmyn WardShea SerranoN.K. Jemisin, and Kiese Laymon, were frank about the money (or lack thereof) they received for writing their bestselling, critically acclaimed books.

I am only familiar with one of those authors, and she hates my guts. But then again, that’s probably because I think she is a grifter.

Ward, a two-time National Book Award winner for 2011’s Salvage the Bones and 2017’s Sing, Unburied Sing, tweeted that even after she won the award for the former book, she had to fight for a $100,000 advance for her next book deal. In contrast, white literary fiction author Lydia Kiesling sold her debut novel, The Golden State, for $200,000; a year and a half after publication, she tweeted, she is still “very far from selling that many books”.

Okay. This part is HILARIOUS.

First off, all those advance amounts? Comparatively speaking, they are both HUGE. I’m dead serious here. I’ll get more into how advances work later and break down how authors get paid, but we’ve actually got people whining that their six figure advances weren’t good enough? To put this in perspective, most advances are in the $5,000-$10,000 range. Racism? Hell. I know a hundred white authors who would murder their grandma to break six figures.

Second off, winning an award is utterly meaningless when it comes to the actual financial worth of the book. This dumb article eventually gets around to explaining how advances are actually calculated, so I’ll talk more about it then, but it is mostly about expected sales, and in that case, awards mean dick. In some genres the awards are so polluted with politicking and social justice nonsense, that they actively scare customers away from buying them.

Gay received a $15,000 advance for her 2014 New York Times bestselling essay collection, Bad Feminist. In comparison, white author Lacy Johnson tweeted that her 2018 essay collection, The Reckonings, sold for $215,000.

For the record, I am baffled that anybody would actually pay money for a collection of feminist essays at all. I can’t speak for this genre, because frankly I’d rather suck start a shotgun that read a collection of feminist essays, but are you trying to tell me that the only reason one collection sold for 14x the other… is racism? That’s it. That’s the only possible explanation? Was one of these more sellable? Did the market somehow change in four years? Did one of these people appear on Oprah? Beats me. Not my genre, but if New York liberal feminist editors are just that racist, then that’s fucking hilarious.

“I think one of the most surprising things is how far [the hashtag] actually went,” McKinney said in a phone interview on Monday. “Like, I expected maybe a few people, the usual good eggs, to be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll say something.’ I did not expect it to reach the likes of Roxane Gay and people outside the YA sphere, because that’s the circle that I usually travel within on social media.”

Heh. On that note, the “YA sphere” is notorious for being infested with angry social justice harpies who will find something to be super offended about and then scream at the writers until they pull their books and beg for forgiveness. https://monsterhunternation.com/2019/01/31/to-the-book-community-go-fuck-yourself-an-anti-apology/ It is the proverbial wretched hive of scum and villainy.

A note on how payments work:

FINALLY. You know, if you were honest you probably should have explained this before blaming everything on racism.

An advance — which most of these tweets are referencing — is the amount a publisher pays for a book ahead of its publication; it’s an advance on the royalties the author could receive from book sales, so it is theoretically a projection of those sales. In most cases, the advance is broken up into three installments, paid upon signing of the contract, filing the full manuscript, and the date of publication.

Oh my gosh… Buzzfeed was almost factually accurate for a whole paragraph. Don’t worry. It won’t last. Now let me explain how this actually works.  

A publisher and an author agree to a contract. Part of that contract says that the publisher will give X number of dollars to the author in an Advance Against Royalties, and in exchange the author will provide a contractually suitable book by Y date to the publisher.

The reason it is called an advance against royalties is because this is just the money you get up front. You don’t get paid again until after the book “earns out.” What that means, basic short version, is that for every book sold, the author gets a percentage of that. However, the publisher isn’t sending you any more money until the amount given to you in the advance is covered.

To illustrate, I’ll make the math super simple. Say that you got a $100,000 advance (which remember, is actually really fucking good, especially for newbs). Each book sells for $10, and the author gets 10% of the cover price, so $1. That means that when the book comes out, it will need to sell 100,000 copies for your advance to earn out. You will not get any more money until that number is reached. Then for each book sold after that, they’ll send you $1.  

Their bit about getting 1/3 on signing, 1/3 on turn in, and 1/3 on pub is useless obfuscation. That depends entirely upon your contract, and how it is spaced out is pretty much irrelevant to this conversation EXCEPT for when we get to the bit about marketing.

I’ve talked about advances here many times before, but basically a large advance is nice because A. money in your pocket now, B. it’s a good indicator that the publisher will actually promote you, because they have invested in you. However, B is not guaranteed, because publishing is filled with idiots. Which brings us to the downside of a large advance. 1. It takes longer to earn out. 2. If it fails to earn out, your publisher may now look at you as a financial loser, and no longer want to purchase any more books from you.

The payments are pretax, so money has to be set aside for that;

Duh. Remember kids, we’re independent contractors. You have to do your withholdings.

there’s also the agent’s cut, usually 10%–20%.

15% is industry standard. And honestly, you don’t need an agent. I don’t have one. They are becoming increasingly superfluous. You can choose to have one if you want, and the idea is that they work for you, and negotiate you better contracts in order to pay for themselves. (and really, if your agent is such shit that you are getting paid less because of your skin color, FIRE THEM)

If you are writing nonfiction and you would like to have it fact-checked, you have to personally pay for that, too.

Oh my gosh. You mean if you want to pay a professional for services rendered it costs money? Whaaaaaaat? Now you’re just padding the list. Also, I don’t write non-fiction, but that sounds like total bullshit to me, and I’d have a conversation with my publishing house about why their contracts suck so badly.

Suddenly that $100,000 advance, spread over the course of a year (which would be an incredibly fast turnaround for publishing a book, but let’s go with it)

I’ve averaged two books a year for the last 12 years, you giant crybabies.

becomes around $60,000 — a decent salary as long as you don’t live in a major city.

Cry me a river. No seriously, if you have a job that can be done literally anywhere in the world that has an internet connection, why would you choose to live someplace super expensive? I’m fresh out of pity for the struggling artistes who simply have to live in $5,000 a month apartments in order to find their muse. Because muses are bullshit anyway. Shut up and do your job.  

Now imagine that same process with an advance of $60,000, 

That’s still a giant ass check for most Americans, who also have to pay taxes and bills. Now imagine that advance was $10,000, which is far more common. Which is why the vast majority of us didn’t quit our day job until something like book #5.

which is what New York Times bestselling author N.K. Jemisin received for her most recent book, The City We Became, which came out in March. As Jemisin noted on Twitter, “Advances aren’t an indicator of earnings and they aren’t an indicator of book quality. … What, then, do they indicate? Let’s call them an indicator of ‘consumer confidence.’ Specifically, the publisher’s confidence in consumers. And *yeah,* racism has an impact on that confidence. In a racist industry trying to sell books to a racist public within a racist society? Come on. Implicit bias alone will make negotiations harder. There are overtly biased gatekeepers, too.”

Oh my gosh. What a bunch of horseshit that was. There’s so much nonsense in that one quote I’m going to have to break it down in depth.

$60,000 is actually a pretty good advance, far above average, and the part this extremely disingenuous person is leaving out is that most working professional authors don’t live off a single advance. Advances are merely one part of our income. Because if your previous books actually sell, you have earned out your previous advances, and you are now collecting new royalties every royalty period.

Honestly, advances are bullshit anyway. Authors who do this for a living live off of our backlist. Advances are nice, because they are a big chunk of money at once, but the vast majority of my income comes off the twenty something books that which have already earned out, which are still selling. I’ve beat this dead horse many times, but the key to financial success as a writer is consistent production. The best thing about when I have a new book come out isn’t the advance, but rather the sales bump it gives to all of my previous books which have already earned out. The back list keeps turning over, I keep getting paid.

EDIT: Because I used to be an auditor and I get curious I actually went and checked. Advances made up 13% of my income in 2019 and almost the same exact percentage in 2018. 2017 was 32%, 2016 was 30%. 15% in 2015. So maybe a better title for this article should have been Authors Get Real About A Third Of What They Get Paid.

Basically, if you want to make it as a writer, you have to actually, you know, sell books. Crazy, right? Advances are only one part of the equation. And if you don’t sell enough to earn out, oh well. Better not quit your day job yet.

Since all of my books have earned out in the first advance period anyway, I honestly don’t care too much about advance sizes. Yet, my advances have grown considerably since I have started. Why? Buzzfeed would assume it is my warm beige privilege. Nope, I get paid a larger amount because I have a consistent track record with my publisher, so that she knows to expect a certain minimum level of sales from my product.

Now, I mentioned marketing earlier. One nice thing about large advances is that it indicates the publisher will put work into promoting you, because they have made a greater investment in you. However, this isn’t always the case, and I’ve seen some truly shitty marketing for first time authors who got advances 10X the size of my first advance.

So seeing an author who gets a marketing push better than what 99% of authors get from their publishers, complaining about the racist industry treating her badly is pretty funny.

Also, keep in mind, this industry is so overwhelmingly liberal that conservatives are about as rare as unicorns, so I find that bit hilarious. Especially when she gets to the part about “biased gatekeepers” because I seem to recall when I started a campaign to prove how politically biased the gatekeepers of a certain award were, the author quoted above wanted me burned at the stake. She then won that award three years in a row. 😀  

I remember one time she got on Twitter and declared that she heard that Larry Correia had been “rude and racist to an author of color at GenCon”, so of course 10,000 people went GASP WHAT A MONSTER and retweeted it. I responded, saying “Cool, every single panel I was on was recorded. Which one? Let’s watch the tape.” So she promptly blocked me, and everyone patted her on the back for being so stunning and brave.

Let’s follow the logic. So because she is only getting advances that are far beyond what most authors get, and she is also getting a better industry reception and marketing push than what most authors get from their publishers, and she is collecting royalties for whatever sells that has already earned out just like every other author, obviously the real problem here is that Nora Jemisin is a victim of systemic racism, so you’d better go donate to her Patreon. Which I just checked, is taking in a whopping $5,687 A MONTH!  I shit you not! That’s $68k annually off of just DONATIONS.  

Heh. I’ve actually got to respect the hustle. Once she complains about this blog post I bet she’ll bump that a couple hundred bucks a month. 😀

Contrast Jesmyn Ward’s trajectory with Emily St. John Mandel’s: In 2014, Mandel published her breakout novel, Station Eleven, a finalist for a National Book Award, for which, according to her, she received a $210,000 advance. The advance she received for her next book, The Glass Hotel, was subsequently much higher, at $800,000 for US rights only, which means she likely received even more with foreign rights sales. The point here isn’t to claim that Mandel is not deserving of this money, but merely to once again highlight the disparities between what Black and non-Black authors are paid.

First off, holy fuck balls. I don’t care who you are, $800k is crazy awesome. Good for you.

But here is the problem as far as this article’s point goes. That information is completely useless without context.  So one author got a shit ton more money up front than a different author, ergo racism. But hold on. There are a million other factors at play here. The biggest being, how much money did each of these two books actually make? How profitable were they?

Usually when I see giant advances like that there is a reason, often a bidding war between publishing houses (and that is when agents are actually semi-useful for once). Where for some particular reason, publishers really want that book (usually because they think they can make a shit ton of money off of it). This usually isn’t for some scrub nobody heard of though. It’s for a product that has gone viral for some reason or has some form of marketing tie in or narrative that makes it exceedingly valuable.

I mentioned marketing a bit earlier, but one thing about super huge advances like that is that they are often publicity stunts by the publisher. They throw out an epic huge advance as a show that they think some author is going to be The Next Big Thing, in the hopes that bookstore buyers go wow, they sure do have faith in this guy, I’d better order tons of books and put up big displays. Sometimes this works, usually it does not. When you go into the bookstore, and there’s a giant pile of the same book, marked down 80% in the clearance bin? That’s when this ploy failed. It’s a marketing gamble like any other. But if you’re the author lucky enough to blunder into this deal, cash that giant fucking check and celebrate.  

This is where the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3, break up is actually pertinent though, because if it’s a multibook deal, the super mega huge advance sounds awesome and important in Publisher’s Weekly, but it’s broken up in such a way that over time that the publisher isn’t actually risking that much financially.

The size of an advance can be the determining factor in who can afford to be a writer and who can’t — or who is paid enough to be able to spend two years writing, editing, and then promoting a book and who has to make time for that while working a second, or even multiple, jobs.

Yeah, that’s just nonsense. The vast majority of us who do this shit for a living now probably wrote five or six books before we had enough money coming in consistently from our back list to justify quitting our day jobs. That’s totally normal. If you get a nice advance and immediately quit your day job to be a full-time writer, you’re probably an idiot, or your spouse has a good job you can both live off. I can count on my fingers how many authors I know who took that first advance and immediately jumped into being a full-time writer and made it stick for a whole career. The one book wonder kid does happen, but so does winning the lottery. The odds are similar.

It’s worth noting that some authors who get paid low advances are able to “earn out” their advance, which means that their books sell enough for publishers to recoup so the author can start receiving royalty payments, which usually starts at 10% of the retail price of each book sold.

It is truly pathetic that they made it this far through the article before explaining the single most important financial concept in all of publishing. Earning out is life or death. Advances are nice. Actually selling books is what keeps you in business, and means that you’ll have more advances in the future.

And look at that loaded language “worth noting some authors with low advances will earn out”? What bullshit. Those of us who stick around and make a career of this do so by consistently turning out product. And why do publishers keep buying our stuff? Because it ALL earns out. If it didn’t earn out, they quit giving us contracts. And our advances will be approximately in line with our sales level. If your sales are good, then your advances are correspondingly good.

Some authors, like fantasy writer Nnedi Okorafor, prefer this route. “Note: I took no advance and a higher royalty percentage for Binti. Great decision,” she tweeted.

Good for her. Seriously. That’s fantastic.

But there’s no question that a disparity exists.

Uh… no. Anybody with any critical thinking skills at all has come up with a bunch of questions about your assumptions. For example, if publishing bases its advances upon skin color, and publishing is overwhelmingly liberal, why are liberals such flaming racist assholes?

If agents, who are also overwhelmingly white liberal, self-proclaimed “allies”, are such garbage at their jobs that their clients are consistently being paid less based on their skin color, why haven’t writers fired these assholes and hired someone who will actually represent their interests? Why are you giving racist morons 15% of your money?

I can keep going, but you get the idea.

For McKinney, she hopes the hashtag and the conversation it provokes is the beginning of concrete change. And she urges publishing houses to actually support Black authors whose books they acquire. “I hope that [the publishing industry] stops treating Black authors and Black stories like they’re there just to shut us up. It almost feels like at times, like, ‘Here, there are some Black stories coming out this year, now shut up and let us go back to doing what we do’ — because those Black stories don’t get a marketing push, they don’t get the budget that you see these other authors get.”

Now this might surprise you, but I don’t disagree with what she’s saying here. She’s right about one thing. There’s a ton of shallow, vapid people at various publishing houses who love to virtue signal. They don’t actually give a shit about black authors, but they sure do like to posture about how much they do.

Which is why I always tell aspiring authors, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, do not let liberal publishing assholes stick you in a box. Don’t let them declare you are an X Writer. Black Writer. Gay Writer. Muslim Writer. Or whatever box that angsty liberal is trying to check today so they can brag about signing an X to their snooty friends at a Manhattan dinner party. You want to be a writer. Period. I don’t just write books for libertarian gun nuts. Don’t limit yourself. If your stories are awesome, you will entertain people from all sorts of different backgrounds. And that’s amazing.  

If you are going to a convention, and they are sticking you on programming, same thing. Don’t let them just stick you on the Mandatory Diversity Panel. That’s bullshit. You want to be on the plot panel, or the character panel. Don’t let these assholes stick you in a box.

Because ultimately all that matters is selling books and making readers happy so that they’ll buy more books. Hanging social justice labels all over books does the opposite. It scares readers away. They’ve been beaten over the head so much with unsubtle heavy-handed message dreck for so long that when they see that kind of marketing they run away. You want your publisher to push your work because its entertaining, not because you are some specific demographic. You deserve better than that. Guilt doesn’t sell books. (though apparently it kills on Patreon!)

“The bottom line of the #PublishingPaidMe conversation is that many publishers clearly have the funds to pay Black authors more money, so they should pay Black authors more money,” romance writer Alyssa Cole tweeted. “The end.”

No. Sadly, it’s not the end. Because regardless of how big your advance is, the only thing that matters is if you sell books after it comes out. You could get that six-figure advance, which is great in the short term, but if it doesn’t come close to earning out, your career is toast. Play the long game. You are in it to win it.

This whole article is really kind of stupid. I can think of authors who I think suck, who make a lot more money than I do, and I can also think of authors who I think are way more talented than I am, who make far less money than I do. This is a business with a thousand inputs determining success or failure. Only a fool would blame the entire output all on one single input.

And one last thing, gatekeepers got mentioned above. Yes. They do exist. And they are incredibly biased, and often very stupid people. So if you do run into somebody who shuts you down because of your identity, fuck ‘em. Go around those gatekeepers. You can do that now. Right wingers have been doing it for years. We live in a golden age of indy publishing. You are no longer beholden to one inbred monoculture out of Manhattan. Now indy has a whole different set of challenges, and I’ve written articles about those on here if you are interested (go to the Best Of Tab and look for the Ask Correia writing advice posts).

Good luck. This business is tough to make it in for anybody. Don’t make up new reasons to make it even harder for you.  

July Update Post
Destroyer of Worlds, book 3 of the Saga of the Forgotten Warrior, eARC available now

140 thoughts on “Fisking Buzzfeed, Because They Don’t Understand How Writers Get Paid”

  1. Although not a writer, I love your articles that detail out the inner workings of the industry. Thanks and please keep it up!

  2. “I mentioned marketing a bit earlier, but one thing about super huge advances like that is that they are often publicity stunts by the publisher. They throw out an epic huge advance as a show that they think some author is going to be The Next Big Thing, in the hopes that bookstore buyers go wow, they sure do have faith in this guy, I’d better order tons of books and put up big displays. ”

    I’m reminded of something I read a long time ago, that big-dollar contracts sometimes had escalator clauses with bonuses if the book wins a major award or reaches some circulation goal. Do they still do that?

        1. Interesting. So if sci-fi is inherently “progressive” (meaning socialist) where are all the innumerable great writers of sci-fi thrown up by the Soviet Union? Communist China? Cuba? Vietnam?

          1. They wrote the encyclopaedias they accessed, I reckon.

            I was given a gift, as a child, when we lived in East Berlin. It was an encyclopaedia, single volume. The giver was a member of the Stazi, but I only knew him as a police officer snd the father of one of my school friends who lived in the same building as I did. He was particularly proud of the ‘fact’ that the Soviets had ‘more advanced rocket ships’ than the Americans did, and showed me the illustrated entry. It depicted a bulkier version of the rocket system that had more of …everything, making it look fancier. I had been taught at this point to not correct any of the misinformation I was being told, so I smiled, gratefully said thank you, and accepted the gift.

            I wish I still had the book. I think it was one of the ones eaten by the termites that had gotten into our library after one of the small earthquakes that the Philippines regularly suffers made a small crack in the wall that had them get in. Years and years ago. Lost a lot of the heavier books, including a bunch of the Berlin photobooks that Dad purchased back then, and that encyclopaedia.

            (Dad was a diplomat, assigned to the Philippine Consulate in East Berlin, later 80’s, which is why we were there.)

          2. Well, there was one extremely good sci-fi writer (that I know of) in Soviet Poland, namely Stanislaw Lem. There were some pretty good sci-fi wrters in USSR, too, like Strugatsky brothers and Kir Bulychev.

            But yeah, they all had to fight censorship and other kinds of red tape (all the publishing houses belonged to the state, with obvious horrible consequences).

          3. In addition to censorship as Furo mentioned, both Stanislaw Lem and (AFAIK) the Strugatski Brothers began slipping subversive messages in their later writings. Lem’s “Star Diaries” have entire stories dedicated to tearing the socialist regime a new one. One particular tale – that’s evidently still all too relevant – involves precisely the obsessive remodeling of old monuments in tune with the new regime… again and again as the latter changes.

            In general, I suppose it can be said that sci-fi is inherently subversive, rather than progressive. That is, by presenting a vision of the future, whether critical or idealized, it still opines on the issues of the present. And as libertarianism itself is among the more subversive schools of thought, it’s not surprising to find it expressed in sci-fi.

            For that matter, once you get past the obligatory first paragraph about how communism made everything wonderful and so on, Soviet sci-fi reads a lot like Asimov or Clarke – slow pace, focus on mystery and the Big Idea rather than interpersonal conflict, and a hefty helping of melancholic navel-gazing – though that’s a given in Eastern European literature in general. For westerners, I suppose it would be an acquired taste, but there are definitely some surprising similarities in thought, particularly for conservatives.

  3. Thank you for the explanation on royalties and advances. Obviously, I’ve heard the terms but never seen this much detail on them.

  4. As always Larry, thank you for this.

    So entertaining when you break down lunacy line by line!

    You are one of only two authors on my list of whom I can say “I own every one of his books,” and I intend to do what I must to keep making that a true statement.

    God bless you, sir!

  5. Reading this I can’t help but think that the people complaining just really SUCK at writing books. Because the advance doesn’t matter. If their books were any good, they’d be earning the same money that a big advance would have gotten them, it just would have come to them later.

    I’ve never gotten an advance, because I’m Indy and yet I’m earning a very good living, consistently. Because I built the back list. Because I write to entertain. Because I took the time to figure out my audience and my demographic and ways to serve my readers and make them happy.

    You don’t make any money in this business bitching about what other people make or what they get. You only make money by writing and publishing good books.

    1. So YOU’RE the guy who’s been taking all my Audible credits! Seriously, been enjoying you stuff for the two months. Thank you for the much needed entertainment as the lock downs wind down.

    2. If they were writing well, they’d have a regular fanbase who would buy their books as soon as they came out / preorder them. That would regularly not just earn out an advance, but also earn them a regular income perhaps on backlist purchases as they introduce new readers to the author and their works.

    3. I’ve never gotten an advance, because I’m Indy and yet I’m earning a very good living, consistently. Because I built the back list. Because I write to entertain. Because I took the time to figure out my audience and my demographic and ways to serve my readers and make them happy.

      That reminds me of something R&B singer Johnnie Taylor once (apparently) said: ‘There’s a reason why show business is called that; it’s 100% business and 10% show!If you don’t know your own business, you’re in trouble!’

  6. I hate the assumption of racism for the public on this. Any time I pick up a new book by an author I don’t know, I have no idea of what the race of the author is. And, I don’t care. All I care about is whether or not I enjoy reading the book. Maybe if these authors concentrated more on writing books the general public enjoys they might get paid more.

    1. Nobody cares about that unless they were boosted only because of ID politics. Which, honestly, would make authors insecure about whether they’re being sold for image reasons and not really their skills, unless that’s what they want.

    1. you’re a woman? damn, from your name, I thought you were a aromatic deciduous tree. No worries though, if you want to identify as a woman, I’ll go along. As long as you don’t drip sap on my car. Sap on the car is a dealbreaker.

      I’m just sayin’….

      p.s. loved the pixie with an attitude.

      1. The name ‘Cedar’ was used by John Gardener as the name of the female character in the (second) James Bond continuation novel, For Special Services.

    2. I don’t tell people I am mythical, not right away anyway. I let them work it out for themselves.

      This exchange really happened

      * Someone discovers my metabolising of codeine is NOT “textbook”:

      “You’re not even human!”
      “Thank you.”
      * Puzzlement ensues. (What, he thought I’d be insulted?!){1]

      [1] I have NO issue with being called “not human” and might let pass “inhuman”, but will argue against ‘subhuman’ – and I carefully NEVER claim to be ‘superhuman’. I am just me. Nobody else wants the job, far as I can tell.

    3. Reminds of Theodore Roosevelt’s address to the Knights of Columbus.
      ” There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all. This is just as true of the man who puts ‘native’ before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or English or French before the hyphen. Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance. “

  7. Reading this I can’t help but think that the people complaining just really SUCK at writing books. Because the advance doesn’t matter. If their books were any good, they’d be earning the same money that a big advance would have gotten them, it just would have come to them later.

    I’ve never gotten an advance, because I’m Indy and yet I’m earning a very good living, consistently. Because I built the back list. Because I write to entertain. Because I took the time to figure out my audience and my demographic and ways to serve my readers and make them happy.

    You don’t make any money in this business bitching about what other people make or what they get. You only make money by writing and publishing good books.

    1. Pretty much the whole of your first paragraph.

      To your last one: having a decent fanbase you can regularly make happy that they buy each new book that comes out, and introduce your stuff to new readers also helps loads.

      Out of curiosity, what’s a decent number of fans?

    2. What John said. I earn enough from writing to pay some of the bills, because I write escapist stories that people like to read. They tell their friends, and their friends sample the books and (ideally) buy them too. No marketing push, just a lot of steady writing and work, and building up a backlist and fan base.

  8. Things won’t change. Oh, we’ll see struggle sessions and outward weeping and calls for change by the publishing industry, possibly followed by a #campaign and a few large token advances to the right people. But, all will be just hot air. Nothing will really change at all.

    1. On the contrary, since the majority of the publishing industry is dedicated to being A) monumentally boring and B) imposingly stupid (see; eBook pricing) it seems highly likely that there is a big change coming when most of the New York publishers go tits up.

  9. You forgot about how everyone was all up in arms about Scalzi receiving a $1.2 million advance, but it was for 10 books… he’s been awfully quiet during this time, come to think of it.

    1. Whatever my opinion otherwise of Scalzi, he seems to produce books on a fairly regular basis. He’s probably on target to meet the terms of the contract.

      FWIW, he recently tweeted saying it was 13 books for $3.4 million.

      1. I imagine structure of a multi-book contract plays in a lot here to how good it really is. Much like in the NFL, it’s easy to structure contracts that sound like they are for a lot more money than they are.

        I’m assuming that publishers would not be above structuring a “ten million dollar 11 book contract” on the order of… books 1-10 are actually $100,000 each, and book 11 nine million dollars, but the publisher can at various points in the contract walk away and by doing so waive all payouts for unaccepted books. But meanwhile the author gets flattered and gets press coverage making them sound like a Big Thing.

        1. Weasel word contracts are fairly common in media, and it is well known that movie and music companies are quite adept at legally screwing people over.
          One thing about a big advance is that it can blind people to the various sub clauses and micetype in the contract, such as your movie and merch rights. A person dazzled by a 6 figured sum isn’t going to be looking to closely at what they are signing.

      2. Ayup…Like the guy or not, he does actually act like a Professional when he’s writing, and gets the books contracted out the door on time.

      3. Must be a new contract then, because the old one was a lot less and he almost didn’t finish the contract out. I forget why he stumbled but I remember there were a bunch of hastily slapped together novellas which he put out to fulfill the contract.

        $3.4 million advance though? That’s nuts. $260k per book (roughly)? Let’s see…. that means every book needs to sell about, what, 15,000 copies total to earn out the advance for the book and cover promotional, editorial, and cover art? Well, scratch the cover art… said publisher has had some butt-looking cover art lately which looks like it was photoshopped by a drunk 5th grader.

        It’s possible for him to sell that amount. He’s done it before. The reason I pointed him out, however, is because whenever a Twitter campaign lambastes someone, you can usually find him at the forefront. This time, he’s been quiet, and understandably so. A liberal white male ally earning higher advance checks than Nora Jemisin?

        Clearly he’s a RACIST.

  10. That’s one of the perks I’ve always thought of being a writer: Doing it ANYWHERE. If I could launch a successful writing career I could move somewhere nice and quiet and inexpensive and not have to deal with big city life anymore.

  11. Larry, you missed another reason why claims of pervasive publisher racism are so stupid: Publishers want to make money. If a writer is doing well, they will want to make more money by carrying that writer’s books, and they will compete with other publishers by offering as much as they think the author is worth. Thomas Sowell has written about this very thing in other contexts.

    1. “Publishers want to make money. If a writer is doing well, they will want to make more money by carrying that writer’s books, and they will compete with other publishers by offering as much as they think the author is worth. ”

      This presumes that they are rational. A casual examination of the history of the publishing industry show this is not the case. Now, as a matter of fact, the actual irrational biases in the industry are mostly counter to Teh Narrative. but the exist, and have little to do with profit.

    2. Humans are not rational creatures. They are emotional. They make decisions and later rationalize a reason, and even then only if somebody else insists.

      This is why economics is called “the dismal science”. It is not science, and it is based on a false premise (human rationality).

  12. “Reading this I can’t help but think that the people complaining just really SUCK at writing books.”

    Could be, or could be just writing for a small market. Or it could be that they are trying to make a buck in the racial grievance industry, all the while defaming all the normal people that they resent so much.

  13. Reading this I can’t help but think that the people complaining just really SUCK at writing books.


    That’s it exactly. They write shitty books, and then blame ‘systemic RAAAACISSSSM!!!!’ when nobody wants to read them.
    ———————————
    “Neville Chamberlain was very keen on peace!”

    1. How do you know that their books are shitty, sir? You’re probably not a minority, and don’t know what they’ve gone through in life to say that they are.

  14. Thank you for the candor, as always.

    As someone who hopes to break into the industry, and is doing his best to find a route around the gatekeepers, I am interested in any advice you have to give. I think it’s amazing what you’ve been able to accomplish, writing books that don’t talk down or up to people, but that simply transport them to another world.

  15. This was a fun read. Thanks for fisking it!

    And seriously, some of these arguments made by Buzzfeed are just … $60,000 as an advance is too little? I spent YEARS getting a backlog going living off of $600 a MONTH. I learned how to live cheap, work quick, and write hard, like my life depended on it. $60,000 is insane compared to working one’s butt of for $600 a month at a part time job and spending every other spare moment writing.

    And as always, for all their talk, Buzzfeed simply can’t bring themselves to admit that the admittedly, massively left publishing houses (by their own words, if you check their censuses) are massively biased and racist despite all their talk. They just can’t do it. Something is CLEARLY wrong with those publishing houses, they claim … but how could anyone ever know what or why?

    1. They aren’t racist, although it appears that way. of course, by most liberal standards, if the statistics show a disparity, it MUST be due to racism. or sexism. whatever the BadThink ISM(s) de jure may be.

      Nope, it’s something that Larry hasn’t even touched on.

      1. Not that I disagree with you at all, but I think if I expand what I meant what I said above might make a little more sense. I consider lip service or attitudes like the “white man’s burden” to driven by racially-bound ideals. Publishers acting one way while looking another certainly where race is regarded to my mind would definitely be construed as a form of “racism.”

        I wasn’t intending to imply that secretly a bunch of publishers are members of something like the KKK, but rather that despite their censuses and their words, they do seem to deliver quite often contrary to what they claim. Both in cases of gauging or promoting work off of ethnic background, and in other areas such as politics.

        I definitely could have said it better the first time around. Ah well.

  16. I really appreciate the breakdown on how advanced and royalties work. The lambasting of Buzzfeed was a nice bonus. Personally, I’d be thrilled at a ten thousand dollar advance.

  17. The payments are pretax, so money has to be set aside for that; …

    Suddenly that $100,000 advance… becomes around $60,000

    That’s some misleading bullshit right there – nobody says “well, he makes $100,000 a year as an accountant, but that’s pretax, so it’s really like $70,000”. The fact you’re paying taxes directly vs. withholding from a paycheck doesn’t make a difference in what you ultimately get to keep in a year.

    (they’re also lumping agent fees in there, by my point remains)

    1. I don’t know. I find it more painful to sit down and take out 25% for social security, more for this, more for that, and then 20% for federal income tax rather than just having Day Job withhold from a pay check. (Which is why withholding was invented, so people wouldn’t see just how much of a bite federal taxes take.)

  18. This whole issue about authors struggling because of racism doesn’t pass the smell test for me because in most cases, I have no idea what race an author is just by looking at their name. If they have a typical European-sounding name, that tells me nothing about their race. If they have a non-European kind of name, I know it’s different than what I’m used to, but it still tells me little about their race.

    Look at the impression I got from the names mentioned above:

    Tochi Onyebuchi: Oriental, possibly Japanese, no idea if male or female.
    L.L. McKinney: Initials tell me nothing, except maybe a British author, especially with that last name.
    Roxane Gay: Default guess is white American.
    Jesmyn Ward: Maybe black American if I think about it, unless I heard the name first before seeing how it’s spelled. Definitely had parents with creative naming ideas.
    Shea Serrano: Irish.
    N.K. Jemisin: Another Brit, but this one not for sure.
    Kiese Laymon: No idea about race with this one; it’s just an unusual name no matter how I look at it.

    Unless I see a picture of the writer to put with their name, I have no idea what they look like or what their racial background is. I’m pretty sure most publishers would be as good as I am at such guesswork without a picture as well.

    1. Serrano would be more a Latin name, we Irish put the “O” at the start of the surname. Of course so do the Japanese O’Hara / Ohara 🙂

      1. Serrano is Mexican-American. I used to read him when Grantland was operative; he had some actually laugh-out-loud pieces about coaching seventh and eighth graders in football and basketball.

    2. Here’s a thought experiment:

      Person 1 walks into a books store and goes to their favorite aisle. They look over the books and see a cover that catches their eye. They pull the book out and read the title. They turn the book over and read the blurb. This book is looking more and more like a buy. They open to the first page and read a few paragraphs, nod to themselves and put it in their ‘buy’ stack.

      Person 2 walks into a books store and goes to their favorite aisle. They look over the books and see a cover that catches their eye. They pull the book out and read the title. They turn the book over and read the blurb. This book is looking more and more like a buy. They get out their phone and google the author and are horrified at what they see. This author is NOT the correct color/sex/whatever! They slam the book back down and rage quit the store.

      Which person is racist? Which person has an inherent/systemic bias? Which person is more than likely a raging hypocrite?

    3. There used to be (possibly still is) a British film site with a joke checklist about how to become a famous film director. One of the tips was “Change your name to something weird, like Coppola or Spielberg”.

      It took me a long time to get the joke on that one, because those seemed like perfectly normal names to me.

      Not in the UK, I guess.

  19. Wait, so they explain, in the article, that the size of the advance has no affect on the total amount of money an author makes if a book earns out, but non white people somehow make less because they get smaller advances? Did they even read their own article?

  20. And honestly, you don’t need an agent. I don’t have one. They are becoming increasingly superfluous. You can choose to have one if you want, and the idea is that they work for you, and negotiate you better contracts in order to pay for themselves.

    I’ve always been under the impression that none of the Big 5 and their multitudinous imprints will look at “unagented” (if that’s the correct term) submissions. Meaning if your goal is to write for Tor, Orbit, etc., you by definition need one. Is that no longer the case?

    1. Apparently Tor now has a few times a year where it accepts “over the transom” as they used to say manuscripts for a slush pile. I haven’t kept up with them to see if that’s currently in place or not.

      1. If I were going to write a book, Tor would be somewhere below the official North Korean government press on my list of submission targets.

        1. It’s not Tor The Publishing Company that people despise, but Tor The Website, which is a separate thing

          1. Um…
            No.
            .
            The website is bad, but it was public comments by editors, illustrators, etc. (that the publishing house tacitly endorsed) which soured the brand.
            .
            Tor delenda est.

    2. Eh….it depends. I know a writer who represents herself. She writes a submission package like an agent would and sends it to editors. Only when they ask who the agent is to negotiate with do some of the editors tell her they don’t want to talk to her without one. Most of them are fine or will negotiate along with a literary attorney instead. The writer is a lawyer, so she understands the clauses in legalese meant to favor the publisher and not her. And then she only signs with a deal that’s fair.

      Agents don’t have contract legal training, so they won’t spot what a lawyer does. A literary attorney specializes in publishing.

      1. The writer is a lawyer, so she understands the clauses in legalese meant to favor the publisher and not her.

        Geez, no wonder the publishers don’t want to talk to her!

        Reading Kristen Kathryn Rusch’s blog on agents was something of an eye-opener. It’s amazing how little training they have in the things you would expect an agent to do.

    3. Agents have a place. If your book has the possibility of being an IP in the same way that Bond, Harry Potter, Twilight, etc. are, an agent can assist in selling the media rights.

      I wonder if David Weber has an agent. If he does, he ought to fire the agent that sold the media rights to Honor Harrington to a production house with no experience in film making and that decided the best route to a film was to do a videogame first.

      1. Wing Commander, The Witcher, Final Fantasy , Doom, Tomb Raider, …. I could list movies from games all day. The reality is that today there are two routes, graphic novel to film and video game to film.

  21. “This presumes that they are rational. A casual examination of the history of the publishing industry show this is not the case. Now, as a matter of fact, the actual irrational biases in the industry are mostly counter to Teh Narrative. but the exist, and have little to do with profit.”

    I agree, and should have said something like that. Publishers do not shun or exploit black writers, although they do treat conservatives badly. Unless a particular book or author conflicts with their leftist ideology they are likely to seek to maximize profit–to the extent that their limited intelligence and wisdom allow them.

  22. Sounds to me like what it boils down to is that the number of books sold is what determines what an author makes. So all that blabbering about advances in the original article is pointless bullspit. Hmmm… pointless bullspit on Buzzfeed… who-would-a-thunk-it?

    On the bright side, it gave Larry something to fisk, which is always enjoyable and educational to read. As a wanna-be author, this was all very educational, and appreciated.

    1. Keep in mind that one can argue that Larry is spoiled by who he does most of his writing for.

      The more likely one feels that their publisher is going to completely screw them on royalties, the more important the advance feels.

  23. As I read this, I flashed back to the panel you ran last February on royalties, contracts and Getting Paid. It was a fantastic panel.

    Sounds like some of these people need to sit in and listen to the next one.

  24. For whatever reason, tons of libraries bought Station Eleven in hardback. I wasn’t aware she even had a second novel, but Station Eleven sold above expectation.

    Of course, it’s not surprising that her publisher apparently didn’t market the second novel worth a dang, after giving the woman a bigger advance. Because the Big Five are indeed stupid.

    The artist who does the watercolor-look for her covers comes up with some attractive stuff. Doesn’t make me want to buy them, but it’s probably good for the “I read literary fiction, not that science fiction stuff” market.

    1. While they are an imperfect indicator of sales, consider the number of Amazon reviews for her books…

      The Glass Hotel: 295
      Station Eleven: 5,956
      The Lola Quartet: 97
      Last Night in Montreal: 184

      Notice anything?

    2. Station Eleven is a WONDERFUL book; the writer deserved the advance for that. And as a huge fan of the one novel, I didn’t even know another had ever come out by her, so yeah w/the bad marketing.

      Tangential: I recommended it and The Dog Stars to everyone I knew as soon as the pandemic stuff hit, at least when they asked for reading material for the stay-at-home stuff (seemed appropriate) and also used “The Georgia Flu” as a reference point, as in “this doesn’t seem to be the Georgia Flu or Captain Trips, so why can’t people visit dying parents?”

    1. Depends on the contract, but usually no. Because it is on the publisher to market and distribute the book. However if you fail to deliver a contractually suitable book, or it is a multi book deal and you fail to deliver the next one, then depending on the contract they can demand that back. I know of this happening a few times for various reasons, but it depends on the publisher. One I know of there was a falling out between the author and the assigned editor, so the 2nd book never happened, and in that case the publisher wrote it off.

      1. I’d ask why the publisher didn’t just swap a new editor in that the author could get along with; but that would be assuming the people involved are sane.

  25. Is it weird that reading your stuff makes me want to write a book more? I’ve pretty much come to terms with it not happening, mostly because I’m lazy and burnt out by the time I have free minutes to do anything. But yeah. You’re always encouraging somehow.

    It’s also encouraging to read the total tripe that most paid authors write. It’s kind of insane how bad most of it is.

    1. If you don’t want to buy, check it out of a library. The writing is wonderful. Obviously ymmv.

      (I only read it because I walked into my local library and the librarian was trying to get more people to show up for a book club discussion of it, which consisted of exactly two people, who, like me the eventual third, had not read it. Librarian convinced me to try it even tho I too thought it sounded probably “meh”. Started out of politeness w/the intent to never finish. Wound up a huge fan (obviously)

  26. “Publishing houses, y’all BLM statements are cute but I’ma need that SAME energy when we start talking Black writers and book advances. If y’all think the receipts are bad now, it’s about to be CVS on this website, and y’all don’t want that,” Onyebuchi tweeted on Friday.

    Given this example of her writing quality, why wouldn’t a publisher have confidence in future sales?

  27. Hmm…sounds like there’s some good advice here. But, as an aspiring writer, who (or what) can I blame for my lack of skill, lack of motivation, and my general complacency with my current lifestyle that leads me to spend approximately zero minutes per year writing? I’d be interested to know if there’s a systemic explanation I can use when describing my plight to captive family members at periodic gatherings.

    Thanks in advance,

    Brian

  28. Maybe Jemisin would sell more books if she wasn’t all “White people are the devil!” all the time.

    I mean, Mein Kampf probably wasn’t a big seller in the Jewish community, either.

    1. Maybe, maybe not. When I worked for Time-Life Libraries they were pushing their “The Third Reich” series…and one hell of a lot of the sales were to the Jewish community. Probably The Despicable Austrian didn’t sell a lot of copies of his drivel to the Jews, but since then they have developed an interest in knowing their enemies.

  29. TLDR: Advances don’t really matter, its the number of books you sell.
    Market your books to a broad audience. Books directed at mime firefighters aren’t going to sell a lot of copies.

    Joking aside, looking at most of these authors listed here you wonder outside of college rhetoric classes, or X studies courses how many copies are they selling to a general audience. When I was a member of a teachers union we would get emails from time to time from the NEA marketing books to teachers based on what demographic group you were teaching kids about. Very few of the books were for a general audience of students and those that were for a general audience tended to be 40 years old or older.

  30. Advances are a completely legal way to give somebody a LOT of money. Like paying a politician a $250,000 advance for a ghost-written POS that might sell 50 copies. Of course, that politician’s subsequent support for certain pieces of legislation will be just a coincidence.

    1. Sander’s $5M book deal.
      Hillary’s $8M and $14M book deals.
      Bill’s $15M book deal.
      Obama’s $65M book deal.

      These are political contributions and payoffs, not sound financial investments.

      1. They’re more sound than anything by The Orange Cheeto that somebody like you voted for, because unlike The Orange Cheeto, they’re well liked and intelligent people, in particular Obama, who was a better (and more successful) POTUS than The Orange Cheeto will ever be (check out these attendance records):

        Appearance in Toronto: https://www.thestar.com/business/2020/01/23/barack-obama-urges-young-people-in-toronto-to-embrace-creativity.html

        Inaugural crowd sizes: Trump v. Obama

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPZ1UmHEEdc

        Also, here’s the success/achievement record of Obama vs. The Orange Cheeto:

        http://pleasecutthecrap.com/obama-accomplishments/

        1. I honestly can’t think of one way Obama was successful, and I voted for him first term. After getting a peace prize he sent US troops to at least seven countries with disastrous results. Amusingly enough killing Ghaddafi brought slavery back to Libya. Despite quantitative easing galore I have seldom seen such a relentless downturn in the market as in 2014. 2015, and 2016 right up to the Trump rally. The jobs created in that time were mostly service and minimum wage, or else computer jobs, which are simply not for everyone, despite Obama telling us that everyone should learn to code( or starve, I guess). I pay 4X more in premiums then before Obamacare, and have to go to a sleazy inner city hospital. I think we all know about the “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” much like “A Youtube video caused the attack in Benghazi”. Obama certainly was a big success at stuffing his pockets, which is what you seem to admire about him, I guess. I am very certain he took bribes from Iran, China, and Russia at the very least. I think we all remember his hot mike slip when promising Putin favors. I assure you, no intelligent person could possibly have liked Obama after they saw what he did. But if you admire conmen, then he is second to none.

        2. Funny as that list of Obama “accomplishments” is, starting with letting states use pot legally, no, Obama had nothing to do with it. Pot is still illegal on the state level, and Obama had zip influence on state level. Even the bootlicking moron writing that article probably knew that was a lie. Not that any of that list is much accomplishment. More like giving out tax dollars to his buddies like Solyndra.

      2. Obama Admin ruled in favor of Nexflix then they allowed him to create? take credit? Not really sure but the Obama’s got a lot of money of Netflix. And yes you are right these books deals are bribes, contributions and kick backs.

      3. It might be informative to find out where they got that money.

        Who pays all those millions of dollars for books that will never be read, and speeches nobody wants to hear?

        1. That would depend on exactly what they’re paying for…
          ———————————
          My grandpa voted Republican until the day he died — but he’s been voting Democrat ever since.

  31. Even in my little pulp/neo pulp corner of the industry, I still get paid on stuff from several years ago. Now I just need to quit making excuses and wasting time reading GA Comics on my DC Universe membership.

    Darn, short attention span. I tell you …

    SQUIRREL!

  32. The only “racism” incidents I know are in the romance world – 1) Harlequin canceled their black romance series. It was one of those dumb instances of customers not buying enough of books because HQ wasn’t supporting it but because it wasn’t profitable people must not be interested. 2) Romance Writers of America nearly imploded:

    In December 2019, RWA suspended its ethics committee chair, novelist Courtney Milan. Milan, who is of Chinese-American descent, had accused editor and author Kathryn Lynn Davis of perpetuating racist stereotypes of Chinese women in her 1999 novel, Somewhere Lies the Moon, in a Twitter thread. Davis, along with publisher Suzan Tizdale, filed complaints about Milan’s tweets, which led to her expulsion.

    The public backlash ensued.

    Since then, criticism surrounding RWA has publicly played out in extensive Twitter threads, the cancellation of the RITA awards, boycotts of the annual RWA conference, board resignations, the ousting of a controversial president, and a criticized independent ethics audit. Meanwhile, major book publishers—along with authors like Nora Roberts—publicly doubled-down on their disapproval.

    In late March, RWA held a special election for a brand new Board of Directors, with author Alyssa Day taking over as president. April 2, the organization issued an apology: “RWA has broken your trust, and the impact of that was devastating. We are sorry for this. We will do our best to heal these wounds and regain that trust.”

    The former president and board members resigning was reported back on Jan. 1.

    It’s been a sad thing for the romance author community, as a lot of authors love their local chapters. Some of the big chapters were separating from RWA back in Jan/Feb (a chapter has to pay their way out), but I don’t know how many went independent at this point. News died off when Covid took over everyone’s lives.

    1. You know, until she threw a screaming fit, I had no idea Courtney Milan was “Chinese-American”, nor did I care.

      However, her behavior in trying to cancel another author because she didn’t like something the other author had written two freakin’ decades ago has made decide to never buy her books again–and I had bought a lot of her books previously, as I found her Regency romances entertaining (if wildly inappropriate for the actual historical period in which she set them).

      I’ve been giving money to indie Romance authors instead–the RWA can piss off.

  33. Has your inner accountant ever run the numbers to see if you’d be better off in the long run with no advance but a slightly higher royalty?

    1. Of course that’s better in the long run, assuming your books always pay out their advance and you continue to write new books. More money per book is more money per book. (Until you hit a tax cliff, that is. But that’s not the publisher’s fault. Probably.)

      It’s getting to “the long run” that new authors have to strive for.

    2. Nope. Because I just follow the standard contract with my publishing company, who I have a really good working relationship with.

  34. Reading this and seeing Buzzfeed lie with statistics reminds me that SJWs consider math a “tool of the patriarchy” but then again x studies is a much easier major than accounting or engineering.

    1. Reading this and seeing Buzzfeed lie with statistics reminds me that SJWs consider math a “tool of the patriarchy” but then again x studies is a much easier major than accounting or engineering.

      And because they love to encourage young(er)women to take these classes, or have them focus on such EQ (emotional quotient) things, they then wonder why said young(er)women/girls don’t get into STEM fields.

  35. Personally, I don’t attack people saying stuff like the lady said. Everyone to some degree has bias and stereotypes. That’s how our brain works. We are streamlining machines that like to get from point A to point Z by skipping as many letters in the alphabet as we can to save energy, to minimize required food intake, to ultimately survive longer. I say let people complain and throw up hashtags because the more it upsets people, the more that they balk at the entire message instead of embracing the underlying concept of “All Humans Bleed Red”

    1. May not have been clear. When people fight over semantics, they lose sight of what the argument was about. That’s a political science trick. Let’s say you have two people fighting over whether the beef burger or turkey burger is better. Polisci douche walks up and says, “Hey, what’s up with the wax paper wrapper? You can’t recycle wax paper!” Eventually, the argument is no longer about turkey or beef, it is over what type of wrapper should be used since that is a safer topic. This situation is like that. The goal is conveying inconsistency. Maybe right, maybe wrong, eh… Neither matter because the ultimate goal is to raise awareness of possible problems. When you have “X” employee making decisions, even if they are being watched, there is a possibility that “X” employee has motivations that even they might not even notice. I don’t see anyone of any political stripe capable of saying, “I belong to this political party, that means I (am or am not) racist!” Some people don’t even know they are when they actually are. So, I say let them scream and yell. Maybe it wakes someone up to their own motivations they didn’t even realize they had.

  36. On Tor’s website I read a synopsis of a new young adult novel by, I assume, a “woman of color.” It was about the adventures of a black teen lesbian, set a few centuries after the events in Cinderella.

    And they wonder why they don’t get big advances.

    1. Considering how black women fare in (North) American society generally (especially black lesbians), I’d say that such literature is sorely needed. Its not as if they don’t need it, they do.

    2. “And they wonder why they don’t get big advances.”

      Pretty much. The way I see it, the problem isn’t with the nature of the characters, but that this sort of marketing tends to be reserved for thinly veiled polemics with zero interest in actually entertaining anyone but the author.

      For instance, if someone had promoted, say, “Gunsmith Cats”, as the dramatic story of a biracial teenage lesbian struggling in a man’s profession, alone in a world where nobody truly understands her – yeah, I’d be rolling my eyes so hard, my optic nerves would snap. Fact is, it is a bit like that… only it’s also an action-packed thriller about a badass bounty hunter-slash-gunsmith and her pyromaniac apprentice, written with such meticulous attention to firearms as to rival the ILOH himself. And luckily, that’s how it’s advertised.

      All in all, characters of any kind can star in stories of any kind, and sell well for it, but audiences have every right to recoil whenever they sense a piece of fiction was produced not to create entertainment, but to make a Point™, literally demanding money for a half-baked sermon.

      1. How you promote something isn’t going to matter that much. I mean sure people who like the genre should know about it, but after that, readers can read a page and know if it is for them. Personally, BOTH those descriptions leave me cold. I have to admit the name “Gunsmith Cats” turns me off. I have pictures of snarly furries in catsuits bounty hunting, and I want none of that. I don’t read Larry’s books because I need a primer on guns. Badass too often means violent/destructive, uncaring about the opinions of others/selfish, and cruel. There are too many people like that in the world already. I don’t need to read about them too. Badass female characters can often mean an obnoxious and unrealistic scenes with some poor male schmuck underestimating them, and getting put in their place cropping up again, and again. I don’t want to read about that either. Too much like watching CNN. I am also getting visions of a know it all kid, which I also don’t want to read about. Teenagers have a very small base of knowledge, I simply can’t see them doing something that takes a lot of experience, like bounty hunting. What people want are characters you care about. Badass far too often means an all powerful and annoying Mary Sue who is always right, and always wins…. and its double the annoyance if the MS gets picked on all the time because she is female/young/gay so she can show off her badassery.

        1. Point is, neither description needs to be to everyone’s taste. People can indeed still flip a few pages, and decide if they want to purchase the whole deal or not. At worst, it’s a missed sale, but, well, you can’t please everyone.

          The difference is, marketing of the former type – with almost exclusive focus on the main character’s race, gender, sexuality etc. – is far more likely to blame missed sales on the readers themselves, looking for some hidden bigotry where one simply doesn’t exist, instead of just acknowledging that it’s pushing a crappy product the market doesn’t want. That’s the central issue here – using identity politics to defend low quality goods, and low return of investment, and then going Pikachu when people begin associating one with the other.

          1. What’s being marketed? The book or the virtue of the editor and publisher who bought it?

            Or maybe the book is being marketed to librarians?

          2. What’s being marketed? The book or the virtue of the editor and publisher who bought it?

            And that, right there, is the real million dollar question. I strongly suspect that the reason a number of writers, editors and publishers focus so much on otherwise underselling social-justice-laden titles, is precisely so as to give themselves a nice political cushion, defending their other business from cancel culture feeding frenzies.

            This works for any company, really. It’s like the marketing version of “I have black friends” – see, we’re totally progressive, and diverse, and, er… [reads next card] “woke”. And people should totally feel obligated to buy our stuff, not because it’s actually good, but because it’s the Right Thing To Do™, and We’re In This Together™, and… and if you believe any of it, I have a nice bridge on the Bosporus to sell you. Meanwhile, it’s back to reprints, indies and the last few remaining apolitical publishers for anyone who wants entertainment rather than a sermon meant strictly for the choir.

      2. All in all, characters of any kind can star in stories of any kind, and sell well for it, but audiences have every right to recoil whenever they sense a piece of fiction was produced not to create entertainment, but to make a Point™, literally demanding money for a half-baked sermon.

        You and other American conservatives (if I’m correct about you being one; if not, then correct me) can have and claim that, but remember the converse; the rest of us can also do the same when we hear similar patriotic neocon sermonizing about how right it is for Americans to own guns, why it’s good (or great) for America to have a large bloated military always getting involved in foreign conflicts (especially about the two recent ones), how every American must be patriotic to the United States, right or wrong, how society must get back to what it used to be in the ’20’s, ’30’s, ’40’s, and ’50’s, plus anything else that neoconservatives think the United States (or the rest of the planet) should be like.*

        */Anybody thinking I approve of everything on the left, think again; I don’t. I despise the extremism on both sides.

        1. Conservative – yes… sort of; the classical political spectrum diamond doesn’t work all that well globally. American – not so much; former Warsaw pact, really, meaning I have personal experience of all the wonders that socialism can offer, never mind the fallout after its collapse. And like I said, people are free to like, purchase, and create whatever kind of fiction they want, without being politically condemned for it. I’ve seen where the opposite leads, and I’ll tell you this – the people considering themselves “moderate” nowadays, will be the ones suffering the worst of it.

        2. Seems about the right time to point something out about “Patriotism: Right or Wrong”. I suspect you don’t know what patriotism is.

          I love my children, right or wrong. Because they are MINE.

          I know that it’s a progressive sort of thing to act like the attachment of families to their members, MY children, MY parents, is wrong somehow. That’s not even new. Homeschooling thirty years ago and it was common to run into someone explaining how your kids weren’t yours and how someone else should teach them. Also not uncommon to end up with someone explaining how wrong it was to burden people with caring for their parents. Too many ownership type words used to describe family relationships you know, and plenty of people to tell you about how it’s wrong to favor the welfare of your own.

          Patriotism is favoring the welfare of your own. Doesn’t mean you don’t recognize what’s wrong. It means that you don’t gain virtue points by abusing your own in public so others can praise you for how great you are for telling people everything your kids do wrong and how miserable and awful they are and how maybe they should just try to “be better” and also they sh*t their pants when they were six and wet the bed until they were twelve.

          And then people say, wow, at least you’re not like those awful people who actually love their kids.

  37. ” Hanging social justice labels all over books does the opposite. It scares readers away. They’ve been beaten over the head so much with unsubtle heavy-handed message dreck for so long that when they see that kind of marketing they run away. ”

    This accurately describes me. As soon as I realize a fiction book has a SJ theme, I stop reading.

  38. I actually made my living as a writer (non-fiction, technical) back in the mid-80s to early 90s, and remain proud of it, because — as Larry notes — it’s _hard_. And you have to write a _lot_. I did magazine articles, software manuals, and books. Also, I couldn’t do the same thing today — the market conditions back then (the first tech bubble, which started in the early 1980s and then began to deflate in 1988) meant a lot of money was being thrown around, until suddenly it wasn’t. Nowadays, I’d be lucky to get any advance at all for a technical book vs. the $40K(!!!!) that I got from Addison-Wesley in 1988 for _The NeXT Book_.

    Beyond that, publishing industry economics and bookkeeping make Hollywood practices look like a Big 4 accounting firm. Publishers have been doing ‘creative’ things with royalties and expenses for centuries.

    So, yeah, pardon me if I don’t shed a tear for authors complaining about getting a $60K or $100K advance on a novel, or ascribing the perceived inequities to racism.

    1. Hollywood accounting today for films is pretty simple.

      They form a corporation to make the film. Say we have the rights to a really interesting series about a company that does bounty hunting of supernatural monsters. We form “MHI Film Co”. All the people that work on the film are contractors to the company. Our production company funds MHI Film Co and in return gets the rights to distribute it. MHI Film Co hires the director, writer, cast, and crew. They make the film. They turn it in. The production company arranges distribution and there are splits of the money from ticket sales among a number of entities. Not to MHI Film Co, though. That company never makes a profit. It exists solely to be an accounting entity and gather all the one-time expenses in one place.

      Payouts after the film gets turned in are usually based on the gross. The people that are “above the line” (i.e. they get paid even if the film never gets made) – the director, cast, producers, screen writers – all get residual payments based on the gross according to various union contracts. The other crew will not get residuals, but their unions (if it is a union film) do get small residuals that go towards reducing the cost of health insurance. Now. It is possible that the production company never turns a profit on the film and so anyone that takes a percentage of the profits is a fool. You take a percentage of the gross. This is the one area where accounting games can take place.

      A well known YA author had her lawyer, that had never done film contracts – only book ones, handle the contract for the film/TV rights and took a profit percentage. She got nothing. They did throw her a bone on the next book they bought by making her a producer and giving her a percentage of the gross.

  39. It’s pretty clear from Onyebuchi’s tweets that writing in standard English is a challenge for her. I wouldn’t read a book written by someone who struggles with the language to that degree.

  40. “Or whatever box that angsty liberal is trying to check today so they can brag about signing an X to their snooty friends at a Manhattan dinner party. You want to be a writer. Period. I don’t just write books for libertarian gun nuts. ”

    This is true for anything. As a woman, I’m supposed to be fine with being referred to as a “female [insert job/hobby here]”. Except I’m not. I didn’t join the military as a female airman; I joined to be an airman. I’m not a female gamer; I’m a gamer. Me being a chick has nothing to do with the things I choose to do. I’m not trying to make some statement on behalf of all women. I just want to do my damn job/enjoy my hobbies, and that’s it.

    1. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to explain to people fussing about titles… If Airman Pascal has an appointment and a five foot one blond girl walks into the office NO ONE IS SURPRISED.

      I went back to school a few years ago and tried to sign up for a career mentor. Over and over again the mentor descriptions were all about how to be a woman in the field rather than the career itself.

      I KNOW HOW TO BE A WOMAN.

      Just saying. 😉

    2. Shouldn’t that be airwoman in your case and in the cases of other USAF ladies?

      Just sayin’.

      1. No.

        And the farking female professor who responded to my “way cool, I got that job you told us about so now I’m a landman assistant” who thought it was funny to say “shouldn’t that be landperson”…well, she didn’t get punched in the nose only because I’m a lady.

    3. That’s your official title? “female airman”? I would very much like to see that. I am 100% certain that the more skill, humility, and pleasant attitude that you bring to the table the less you will be seen as a female such and such, and more as a professional.
      Unlike the military, which has to play by politically correct rules, the gaming community can refer to you however they see fit. If you just want to do your job/hobbies, then maybe you should pay less attention to what people call you, or else spend more time impressing them, so something other then your gender is remembered.
      As a woman, I know women do things differently then men do. They have different psychology, different aptitudes, and different goals. Gender is probably the most important descriptor a person has. So I don’t find it out of place when someone sees me and thinks first and foremost that I am female.

      1. And maybe that’s why some of us really *really* liked the mostly-male environment of the military.

        If gender is the most important descriptor I have, just kill me now.

  41. The official title is, or was, Airman. There’s a bunch of fussing to make it “aircrew” or something like that.

    At least they’re not Deltas, yet.

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