Author John Scalzi discusses his megadeal

Sharon Short ( is a novelist and director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop. Contact Sharon with news about your book club or organization. Email: Twitter: @SharonGShort

As authors will readily attest, any book deal is a big deal — personal and emotional affirmation of the hard work of writing a book. Every now and then, a book deal may also be a financially decent, good or even big deal.

But John Scalzi, a popular science-fiction author who resides well north of Dayton in Bradford, has just inked a book deal with publisher Tor that is an historically huge deal by every measure.

John is the Hugo Award-winning author of "Redshirts," of "Locked In" and of the Old Man's War series, to name just a few of his titles. Learn more about John's work on his site,

The deal in late May, which quickly made headlines in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and many other media outlets, was for $3.4 million, for 13 novels, to be written and published over the next 10 years.

This kind of deal is, for writers, an authorly version of the major leagues. Sure, we hear about celebrities and a few brand-name authors getting megadeals for a title or two, but a deal of this amount, for these many books, over a decade?

Though I only know John professionally — I chatted with John years ago at a book conference, I've interviewed him before for this column and he's interviewed me for his Whatever blog, where, among other topics, he regularly promotes other writers — my reaction upon hearing the news was a heartfelt "It couldn't have happened to a kinder writer."

The reaction overall has been positive, John says.

“I’ve been teased that now my family and I will want to leave Ohio and return to California where I’m from,” John says. “But every time I return to California, I’m happy to be in my home state … until I hit the freeway.”

Though the numbers are huge (and don’t include additional deals for film or television rights or foreign language sales), John doesn’t anticipate significant changes in lifestyle or work life, at least on a day-to-day basis.

“What this deal really gives me,” John explains, “is a writer’s version of tenure. I have the pressure, of course, of writing books that readers will want, that will sell for Tor, but I have a freedom from worrying about, say, what happens if a tree falls on the roof or a car needs replaced. Freedom from wondering book by book whether I’ll have a publishing contract or not. I recognize that that’s a freedom that most writers don’t have, and I’m grateful for it.”

He has earned the stability. For the past 10 years, he’s worked away, writing novels on one- and two-book contracts, sometimes for decent advances, and sometimes for modest amounts.

“I’d just wrapped up all my contractual obligations,” John said. “And I thought … what do I really want now? For the next 10 years? I realized that in terms of my writing, I wanted to keep striking the balance of good, commercial stories that I also really want to tell. And in terms of business, I wanted a plan that would be solid enough and flexible enough to see both me and the publisher through the next decade. That made creating the contract interesting — who knows what formats will be in place in 10 years? Ten years ago, digital publishing wasn’t a big deal. So this contract is exciting and challenging and comforting, all at once.”

The idea for such a long-term contract was John’s, and he and his agent presented it to Tor. As far as Tor was concerned, as reported in The New York Times, though John’s books have yet to hit No. 1 on the best-seller list, once a reader discovers John’s work, that reader usually goes back and finds all of his past novels, those on the backlist of his work, as well. In publishing parlance, John “backlists” well, which means as readers find his work, they often fall in love with it and become devoted fans.

With this historic contract, Tor is also betting that John will expand his reading audience many times over.

As I mentioned earlier, it couldn’t happen to a kinder writer.


7 p.m. next Sunday, June 28, Dharma Center of Dayton (425 Patterson Road, just west of Patterson and Shroyer roads): Gem City Poetry Stage will open with a featured reading; open-mic will follow.

About the Author