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Posted by John Scalzi

My Big Idea schedule says I was supposed to run the Big Idea for Fran Wilde’s Horizon today, but I already ran it last week. Which means that I screwed up, because today is the release day. So: If you missed the Big Idea when I posted it early, here it is today. Also, congrats to Fran for the release of her third book!

Also, a small public service message: Hey, if you ever want to just see Big Idea posts, there’s a way to do that: Use the BigIdeaAuthors.com URL. It works! Try it!

Also, also: I’m sending out my final batch of October Big Idea slots today. If you sent me a request for October and have not yet heard from me, check your email accounts. If you haven’t heard from me by the end of the day, I’m all slotted out.


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Posted by John Scalzi

There was thread over at Metafilter this week talking about book sales and author earnings, including a link to a study that purported to chart author earnings, based on sales at Amazon.  I have to admit I had a bit of a giggle over it. Not because it was attempting to guess author incomes, which is fine, but because the methodology for estimating those earnings came almost entirely from trying to estimate sales of the authors’ books on Amazon, and extrapolating income from there.

Here’s the thing: For non-self-published authors, the correlation between annual book sales and annual “earnings” as a writer can be fairly low. As in, sometimes there is no correlation at all.

Confusing? Think how we feel!

But let me explain.

So, I’m a writer who works primarily with a “Big Five” publisher (Tor Books, which is part of Macmillan). For each of my books, I’m given an advance, which in my case is paid in four separate installments — when I sign the contract, when I turn in the manuscript and it’s accepted, when the book is published in hardcover and when the book is published in paperback. This is fairly typical for most writers working with a “traditional” publisher.

Once the advance is disbursed, my publisher owes me nothing until and unless my book “earns out” — which is to say, the amount I nominally earn for the sale of each unit (usually between 10% and 15% of each hardcover, and 25% of the net for eBook) exceeds cumulatively the amount I was offered for the advance. Once that happens, my publisher owes me for each book sold, and that amount is then usually disbursed semiannually…

usually. There could be other complicating factors, such as if the royalties of the books are “basketed” (meaning the contract was for two or more books, and the royalties are not disbursed until the advance amount for every book in the “basket” is earned out), or if some percentage of the royalties are held back as a “reserve against returns” (meaning that some books listed as sold/distributed are actually returned, so the publisher holds back royalties for a payment period to compensate).

Bear in mind that most publishers try to offer as an advance a sum of money they think the book will earn, either over the first year in hardcover, or across the entire sales run of the work. Which means that if the publisher has guessed correctly, it will never have to shell out royalties. Sometimes they guess poorly, which means either they paid too much for an advance or not enough; in the latter case, that’s when the royalty checks come (please note that even if a publisher pays “too much” and the advance isn’t earned out, it doesn’t mean the book wasn’t profitable for the publisher — their bottom line is not necessarily heavily correlated to the author’s advance — nor does the author have to pay it back).

So what does this all mean? Well, it means that for a non-self-pubbed author, often none of their annual earnings from a book are directly related to how many of those books sell in a year (or any other specified time frame). In fact, depending on how the advance is paid out, three-quarters or more (even all!) of the author’s earnings from a book are disbursed before the book has sold a single unit.

Like so:

Book is contracted: 40% of the advance (“signing installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0.

Book is turned in and accepted: 20% of the advance (“delivery and acceptance installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0

Book is published in hardcover: 20% of the advance (“hardcover installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0 (there may be pre-orders, but the sales don’t usually start being counted until this time).

Book is published in paperback: Final 20% of the advance goes to author. Books sold to date: Hopefully some! But even if the number is zero, the final installment gets paid out (if so few books are sold that the publisher foregoes the paperback release, there’s still usually the contractual obligation to pay out).

Note these advances can be paid out over more than one year — I once got a final installment for an advance roughly six years after I got the first installment (it was a complicated situation). Likewise, once the book starts selling, it can be years — if at all — before the author starts earning royalties, and even then, thanks to the reserve against returns, what the author gets in those semi-annual royalty checks is not 1:1 with sales for the period the check covers (note: this sometimes works to the benefit of the author). Also note: Those semi-annual checks? Often cover a period of time located in the previous fiscal or calendar year.

All of which is to say: For a “traditionally published” author, at almost no point do what an author’s yearly earnings for a book directly correspond to how the book is selling in that particular year.

(Is this bad? No, but it needs paying attention to. Authors tend to love advances because they’re not directly tied to sales — it’s money up front that doesn’t have to be immediately recouped and can help tide the author over during the writing and the wait for publication. But it also means, again, that it can be years — if at all — before money from royalties comes your way. Authors need to be aware of that.)

To move the discussion to me directly for a moment, if someone tried to guess my annual earnings based on my yearly unit sales on Amazon (or via Bookscan, or anywhere else for that matter), they would be likely be, well, wildly wrong. At any moment I have several books at various stages of advance disbursement — some contracted, some completed but not published, some published in hardcover and some published in paperback — a few all paid out in advances but not earned out, and several earned out and paying royalties.

Add to that audio sales (another set of advances and royalties) and foreign sales (yet another) and ancillary income like film/tv options (which are not tied to sales at all, but sales help get things optioned) and so on. Also note that not all my sales provide royalties at the same rate — a lot will depend on format and how many were previously sold (if they are in print or physical audio), unit price (if they are eBook or audio files), and on other various bits that are in contracts but not necessarily disclosed to the wide world. Oh, and don’t forget my short fiction and non-fiction!

Basically, my yearly earnings as an author are a delightful mess. I’m glad I have an accountant and an agent and a very smart life partner to help me stay on top of them. These earnings have almost nothing to do with unit sales in any calendar year, and more to the point, never have, even when I was a newbie book writer with a single book contract to my name. I signed my first book contract in 1999; since then I have yet to have a year when my earnings from being an author approach anything like a 1:1 parity with my book sales in that same year.

Does this matter? Well, it matters if you are, for example, trying to extrapolate what “traditionally published authors” make based on their annual sales, and are then comparing those “earnings” to the earnings of self-published authors. It’s ignoring that these are entirely different distribution systems which have implications for annual earnings. I don’t think one is particularly better than the other, but a direct comparison will give you poor results. Note also that’s true going the other way — applying “traditional publishing” income models to self-published authors will very likely tell you incorrect things about how they’re doing economically in any one year.

(And as a further note: Do likewise be aware of the caveats for anyone trying to extrapolate self-pub/indie annual author earnings from Amazon as well. It misses direct sales, which for authors who ply the convention circuits can be significant, and also may not fully incorporate how Amazon deals with payments in its subscription models, which are handled rather differently than actual sales, and which (unless it’s changed very recently) come from a pre-determined pot of payment rather than a straight percentage of sales. Hey, it’s complicated! Almost as complicated as the “traditional” model.)

Here’s one thing I suspect is true: It’s possible to make money (sometimes a lot of it) as a traditionally published author, or as an self-published/indie author — or as both, either in turn or simultaneously, since, as it happens, there’s no deep ideological chasm between the two, and generally speaking an author can do one or the other depending on their project needs, or their own (likewise, it’s possible to make almost no money either way, too. Alas). It’s not an either-or proposition.

But yes: Here is a grain of salt. Please apply it to anyone who tells you they know how much any author (traditional or self-pub/indie, but especially traditional) is earning in any year, based on Amazon sales, even if they’re  limiting it to Amazon sales. They’re just guessing, and you have no idea how far off their guesses are. And neither, I strongly suspect, do they. Only the actual authors know, and most of the time, they’re not telling.


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Posted by Thomas Biskup

Hi everyone!

We are happy to announce the (pre)release of ADOM 2.3.3 - yet another ASCII-only (pre)release for our impending graphical and Steam release. Besides having fixed lots of bugs and optimized some of the new features even more (see the changelog) we this time would like to direct the attention of our prerelease testers to two focus areas:

  • We have revised the configurable character generation process. You now can choose between the following base difficulty modes:
    • Tutorial (the introduction as you know it)
    • Easy (a new mode that reduces deadliness and somewhat favors the player)
    • Classic (roguelike, the standard mode for ADOM ever since the game was created)
    • Personalized (the configurable character generation sequence)
    • Please try them out, test the navigation and provide us with feedback. The idea here to find an easier introduction for new players with the Easy mode - and give experienced players more means to personalize their game experience (among other things with a means to configure a "medium" level for hunger, fudge die rolls to some extent and configure on whether and how to use talents in your game).
    • This mode is a very important addition for Steam where we learned that many of the more casual games get too easily frustrated by the steep learning curve in ADOM. Together with the many UI enhancements (and many more to come in the graphical version) we hope that they will enjoy ADOM far more and that this will allow us to get better visibility with a wider audience (more happening in the background for that - stay tuned for a later update).
  • Since ADOM 2.3.0 we have included a completely revised point-based character generation process for your attributes. It provides a lot more flexibility and basically factors in all the points for your disposal which in former versions were hard-wired. Naturally we also would like to know how you like that mode.
That's it - barring any major hiccups the next release will be the graphical prerelease - we are closing in. Here are some more teasers to what is going on with the graphical version :-)



Out For the Weekend

Sep. 23rd, 2017 03:54 pm

New Books and ARCs, 9/22/17

Sep. 22nd, 2017 06:52 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

Just in time for the weekend, a new batch of books and ARCs at the Scalzi Compound for you to peruse. Which would you want to give a place in your own “to be read” stack? Tell us in the comments.


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Posted by John Scalzi

And being an “Audible Deal of the Day” means you get to spend very little to get the book — in this case something like $3. The deal as far as I know is limited to the US and maybe Canada, and it’s only for today. So if you want it at this price, you need to jump on it. It’s perfect for the folks who love audiobooks, or for the folks who have never tried audiobooks but would be willing to give them a chance at a low price point, or for the folks who simply want Wil Wheaton to read to them in those dulcet tones of his.

Here’s the link to the audiobook. Enjoy!


The First Sunset of Fall, 2017

Sep. 22nd, 2017 12:19 am
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Posted by John Scalzi

Featuring an Amish gentleman on a recumbent bicycle. As all the best first sunsets of fall do.

So long, summer. You did all right.


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Posted by Thomas Biskup

Hi everyone!

Today I pondered slaughtering a potential holy cow (but maybe not - I'm curious for the responses):


I'm sure people who know their key presses in reflex-like motions will hate me but IMHO it makes a lot of sense to have more intuitive bindings and I never have been afraid to look at holy cows while sharpening a knife.

The next logical step would be to sort races, professions and star signs alphabetically on the corresponding selection screens instead of using the current chaotic mess.

But I have a gut feeling that I will create some irritations with long time fans. On the other hand I strongly believe that all these changes would be very beneficial for new players.

So let me hear your thoughts!

P.S.: Yes, I also shortened the texts in the menus as the many filling words ("View the...", "Read the...", ...) probably just unnecessarily clutter the screen.

P.P.S.: Yes, there is a new game mode progression. The idea here is the following:

  • "Tutorial game" is the introduction you should take to learn the basic mechanisms of the game.
  • "Standard game" is a game mode that is suited at the "average" (and more casual) player out there. Hunger effects will be lessened (probably just cumulative negative attribute modifiers instead of killing effects, slightly better survivability). It should serve to show all the tricks and traps of the game but with less immediate killing power. No talents.
  • "Roguelike game" is the standard way of playing ADOM (but without the customization screen - basically spontaneous selection at each step).
  • "Customized game" is the complex customization screen you have today.
  • The other modes are unchanged.
The next release also will add more customization options:
  • "Hunger" no longer will be just on or off but get a third "debilitating" setting. And "on" probably will be renamed to "deadly".
  • "Talents" will be added with the settings "off", "automatic selection" and "custom selection".
  • "Balance" will be added with the settings "Roguelike" (die rolls like today) and "Pampered" (making die rolls in certain situations slightly more favourable for the player with the goal of making gameplay even more exciting - I found this article very fascinating: https://www.polygon.com/2017/9/8/16263050/game-design-magic-tricks)
The above-mentioned standard game will use "Talents: off" and "Balance: pampered". 

MerkenMerken

Why I Had a Good Tuesday This Week

Sep. 20th, 2017 10:50 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

Because yesterday I got to hang out a bit with Alison Moyet, who if you didn’t know is one of my absolute favorite singers, both in Yaz, and with her solo work. We’d become Twitter buddies in the last couple of years and when I mentioned to her Krissy and I would be at her Chicago show she suggested we have a real-life meet. And we did! And it was lovely! And brief, as she had to prepare to entertain a sold-out show (and she did; the concert was excellent), but long enough to confirm that she’s as fabulous in the flesh as she is in her music. Which was not surprising to me, but nice regardless.

(Alison has also blogged about our meet-up as part of her tour journal, which you can find here. Read the entire tour journal, as she’s funny as hell.)

I noted to some friends that I was likely to meet Alison this week and some of them wondered how it would go, on the principle that meeting one’s idols rarely goes as one expects (more bluntly, the saying is “never meet your idols.”) I certainly understand the concept, but I have to say I’ve had pretty good luck meeting people whom I have admired (or whose work I admired). I chalk a lot of that up to the fact that while I was working as a film critic, I met and interviewed literally hundreds of famous people, some of whose work was very important to me. In the experience I got to have the first-hand realization that famous and/or wonderfully creative people are also just people, and have the same range of personalities and quirks as anyone else.

If you remember that when you meet the people whose work or actions you admire, you give them space just to be themselves. And themselves are often lovely. And when they’re not, well, that’s fine too. Alison Moyet, it turns out, is fabulous, and I’m glad we got to meet.

(Which is not to say I didn’t geek out. Oh, my, I did. But I also kept that mostly inside. Krissy found it all amusing.)

Anyway: Great Tuesday. A+++, would Tuesday again.


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Posted by Thomas Biskup

Hi everyone!

After ADOM 2.3.0 and ADOM 2.3.1 we are happy to announce ADOM 2.3.2 for our prerelease testers. Again we have lots of bug fixes but as I am a bit late in doing the official announcement (being on vacation - in theory) we sadly also already have our first bug report :-( Luckily it's not tremendously important in so far as most players never will even get close to that situation in the game - but it is very annoying as it again affects one of the cool new quests. So there probably soon will be yet another release in the very near future.

The changelog is getting shorter but still somewhat impressive. Enjoy the game for now and also give us some feedback on the revised point-based character generation, pick/drop, etc.

Stay tuned!
Thomas & Team ADOM

P.S.: Our focus (besides maybe another small bug fix release on the sideline now is a graphical release - we are getting closer).

The Big Idea: Fran Wilde

Sep. 20th, 2017 12:42 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

Today, award-winning author Fran Wilde has a shocking confession to make! About something she said! Here! And yes, it involves her new novel, Horizon. What will this confession be? Will there be regret involved? Are you prepared for what happens next?!?

FRAN WILDE:

Dear readers of John Scalzi’s blog, for the past three years, I’ve been keeping secrets.

I’m not sorry.

Trilogies are a delicate thing. They are a community of books unto themselves. They inform and support one another; their themes and actions ripple and impact one another. They have their own set of rules. Among them: Write down the main character’s eye color or favorite food so you don’t forget it. You’ll regret using that hard-to-spell naming convention by the middle of your second book. Destroy something in book one, you’re not going to magically have it to rely on in book three — at least not without some major effort. Everything gathers — each choice, each voice.

Trilogies are, by intent, more than the sum of their parts.

And, when brought together, a trilogy’s largest ideas sometimes appear in the gathered shadows of what seemed like big ideas at the time.

In Updraft, book one of the Bone Universe trilogy, what began to crumble was the system that upheld the community of the bone towers. It didn’t look like it then. So I didn’t tell you when I wrote my first Big Idea.

Instead, the first time I visited this blog, I wrote: “At its heart, Updraft is about speaking and being heard and — in turn — about hearing others…”

That was true – especially in the ways Updraft explored song as memory and singing and voice. But it was also kind of a fib. I knew where the series was headed, and voice was only the tip of the spear.

I planned to return here a year later to write about leadership, and I did — and, I wrote about demagoguery too, and abut having a book come out during a charged political season. That was September 2016, Cloudbound, the second book in the series was just out, and wow, that post seems somewhat innocent and naive now. But not any less important.

Again, saying the big idea in Cloudbound was leadership was true on its face, but it was also a an act of omission. And again, singing came into play — in that songs in Cloudbound were being adjusted and changed, as were messages between leaders.

With Horizon, I’m going to lay it all out there for you. Horizon is about community.

Structurally, Horizon is narrated by several different first person voices — including Kirit, Nat, and Macal, a magister and the brother of a missing Singer. These three voices come from different places in the Bone Universe’s geography, and they weave together to form a greater picture of the world, and its threats. A fourth voice appears only through a song — a new song — that is written during the course of Horizon, primarily by one character but with the help of their community. That song is the thread that ties the voices together, and, one hopes, the new community as well.

And, like Horizon, for me, the big idea for the Bone Universe series is also community. How to defend one, how to lead one, how to salvage as much as you can of one and move forward towards rebuilding it.

In my defense, I did leave some clues along the way. I shifted narrators between Updraft and Cloudbound in order to broaden the point of view and reveal more about the lead characters and the world, both between the books (how Nat and Kirit are seen each by the other vs. how they see themselves), and within them. I shared with readers the history of the bone towers and how that community, and the towers themselves, formed. I showed you the community’s [something] – that their means of keeping records and remembering was based on systems that could be used to both control messages and redefine them. I made the names of older laws and towers much more complicated to pronounce (and, yes, spell SIGH), versus the simpler names for newer things. This community had come together, then grown into something new.

The evolution of singing in the Bone Universe is, much like the idea of community, something that can be seen in pieces, but that resolves more when looked at from the perspective of all three books together.

Remember that solo voice — Kirit’s — singing quite badly that first book? In the second book, Nat’s voice joins Kirit’s — a solo, again, but because we can still hear Kirit, and because we know her, it becomes a kind of duet. In the third book, three voices present separate parts of the story, and when they all come together, that forms a connected whole.

When you listen to a group of people sing, sometimes one voice stands out, then another. Then, when multiple voices join in for the chorus, the sound becomes a different kind of voice. One with additional depth and resonance.

That’s the voice of a community. That drawing together of a group into something that is more than the sum of its parts. It is an opportunity, a way forward, out of a crumbling system and into something new and better.  

That’s the big idea.

—-

Horizon: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.


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Posted by Thomas Biskup

*** UPDATE: The hunt is over!!! Congratulations & thanks to Laukku for providing a save game that finally allowed us to reproduce the problem in a reliable way. Now we also could fix it. It was a damn complex item identity problem and some conservative safe guard code from the old drop routines seem to have been lost in the transition to the new code ***

Hi everyone!

Currently we face one remaining truly major bug that was introduced in 2.3.0 and has been plaguing as again and again: http://www.adom.de/forums/project.php?issueid=4991

It does not make any sense to release 2.3.2 before we have fixed this bug. Sadly we fail to reliably reproduce it. It happens every once in a while but so far we have not found the actions required to get it reliably - which prevents us from understanding and fixing it.

As this one bug is holding up everything else (more releases, finishing the crowdfunding promises, Steam release, etc.) we hereby would like to make a special offer to our prerelease testers:

The first person who manages to produce a save file that allows us to reliably reproduce this bug will receive a free copy of the ADOM Lite RPG with a special dedication. I do have a few surplus copies so I feel that I could give away one of those.

Please try to create a save file that (preferrably within the next action) allows us to reproduce the bug described above. It seems to happen when you pick up / drop items in a shop. The Terinyo food shop works perfectly for that - we just have no idea how to get this bug. It just happens sometimes and everything else is unclear to us.

Thanks for your help!

Thomas & Team ADOM

P.S.: If none of our prerelease testers manages to reliably reproduce this guy, we might consider doing some kind of more public release to help finding it as I feel that we are wasting our very limited resources on trying to get this guy and achieving nothing :-/
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