John Scalzi’s new book may be called “The End of All Things.” But, in many ways, the Hugo Award-winning science fiction author of "Redshirts" and "Lock In" is just getting started.
Scalzi recently made headlines for signing a $3.4 million book deal with his publisher, Tor Books. The deal is a very unusual one in publishing — a 10-year, 13-book long-term contract. He pitched the concept to Tor thinking they would take some of the book ideas but not all of them, and instead they signed up for all 13.
While some might be surprised at a writer seizing the reins of his career that way, rather than leaving it to an agent or some other middleman, it’s part and parcel of the way Scalzi approaches writing.
It’s his passion. And it’s his job.
“I love writing and the act of creation,” he said. “The flip side of that is that I’m super passionate about the business plan. This is what I do. I don’t have a backup plan.”
Scalzi, who was last in Madison in 2013 at A Room of One’s Own with his book “The Human Division,” will be back at the Madison Central Library at 7 p.m. Monday to read from and sign copies of “Things" for a Wisconsin Book Festival event.
Both novels are follow-ups to his groundbreaking 2006 novel “Old Man’s War,” a space opera in which senior citizens got the chance to upload their consciousnesses into strong young bodies, for the purposes of becoming interstellar soldiers. “End of All Things,” the sixth book in the series, continues a plotline started in “Human Division,” in which a mysterious third party seems to be stoking the fires for a human civil war between Earth and its space-faring force.
“Things” also continues Scalzi and Tor’s experiment with writing a novel via a series of stories, and releasing them all digitally before collecting them in print. “Things” is made up four novellas, each from a different character’s point of view, which taken together tell one unifying story.
“It really is like writing four short novels,” he said. “And they had to stack up together, so there’s a narrative arc that runs through all of them. For me, it was on top of everything else that I was doing, and it was a lot of balls in the air. I’ve learned that it is possible to do this and you can create a satisfying hybrid and I don’t want to do this again.”
In fact, in the book Scalzi includes an “alternate take” of one of the novellas, a story he started and then abandoned midway through.
While most novelists would keep such extra material under wraps, Scalzi has always been unusually forthright and open about his writing life through his blog (whatever.scalzi.com) and on Twitter (@scalzi).
Scalzi said it’s important for him to demystify the writer’s life, to show aspiring writers exactly how the business side of things works, so that they know exactly where they stand if a publisher or an agent comes knocking.
“I think it is absolutely fatal for writers to get this idea that writing is some sort of mystical thing,” he said. “It can be, it can be something that is transporting to you. But if you’re going to do it professionally, it’s also a gig.
“So many people get taken advantage of because they are so excited about the possibility of being published that they don’t know what rights they have, they don’t know about the business end of it.”
That’s not just true of new writers, either.
“There are writers I know who sell better than I do, who have classics that are among the foundations of the genre, who should be sitting on beanbags filled with money,” he said. “And they are literally scraping by, because they didn’t take care of their money. It appalls me.”
Nevertheless, there is such a thing as oversharing. When Scalzi started earning over $250,000 a year from his writing, his wife urged him to be more circumspect, largely because she didn’t want him to sound like he was bragging.
And since he revealed the $3.4-million dollar deal, Scalzi has accepted that he will be teased lovingly by fans and colleagues from now until the Old Man’s War about it. You’ll never see him complain again on Twitter about the price of Wi-Fi on an airplane, for example.
“Once they knew about this deal, people just had a ball giving me s--- about it,” he said.