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Book Review: John Scalzi – Redshirts – Did I miss something?

Let me start with saying I’m not a John Scalzi basher. I read his blog and for the most part I enjoy what he posts. I read Old Man’s War a long time back and thought it was an okay book. Interesting concept. Adequately told. Just not really my cup of tea. Also keep in mind that I’m not the kind of person that likes bashing a book just for the sake of bashing a book, but because this one has so many great reviews, and awards, I have to wonder…Did I miss something?

I bought the RedShirts ebook thinking this is something new by him. It’s won awards. Been nominated for others. The thing that got me to actually finish this book was that the audio book version was read by Wil Wheaton. As I said, I like John for reasons other than his writing. Wil Wheaton could read the phone book and I would enjoy listening to him. His reading of Ready Player One was brilliant. I had downloaded the sample of chapters 1-4 and thought he really had something here.

Sadly, the only reason I finished this book at all was because of the narration. Wil did a fantastic job reading this book even though ‘said’ was probably the #1 word in the book. Enough that it was like nails in my brain every time I heard ‘said’ over and over and over again.

The writing was okay. The humor, well, if Wil hadn’t been reading it I think it would have fallen flat for me. I giggled at a couple points (sadly only in chapter 1 and 2), but there were no surprising, laugh out loud moments that, based on other reviews, I went in expecting. I mean, award-winning sci-fi here! Am I missing the entire point? It felt, to me, like bad fan fiction with better grammar and decent editing and an actual plot.

Honestly, the short stories after the main part of the book were better, but felt like bloated afterthoughts. Long rambles just to try and up the word count.

As I said, if it hadn’t been for Wil, I would never have finished this book. I’m sad it won awards when so many far better books lost out.

Was it a complete waste of time? No more than sitting and watching a home improvement show or a cooking show would be, and only slightly less entertaining. If I had only ever read Chapter 1, I think I would have loved this book. Everything that followed just kept going downhill at an accelerated rate.

I think Scalzi really wanted to write something that would resonate with Trek Fans, play up the tropes, and have fun. I’m sure he did, but overall it felt awkward, clumsy, and an effort I was not expecting from one of the top sci-fi writers out there in the world today. Like I said, I gave it a shot because I like John’s blog and I like what he stands for. Sadly, this book was a miss for me. Sorry John. I’m hopeful his next book will be a better effort.

Until Next Time!


Weekly Update: Giving it all away.

Hey Howdy Hey!

Not sure if you noticed or not, but I’m blogging the contents of V&A Shipping. I find it a little funny that when I would ramble about myself I’d get 10-20 hits per day. Now that I’m giving away a story by blogging a couple chapters daily I’m seeing fewer and fewer hits. Color me confused, but I know it’ll take more than just a couple of days before people start to take notice. If you’re here and you’re reading, I hope you’re enjoying the story so far. If all goes as planned 2013 will see content every day for the entire year. I’ve got a lot of stories to publish and I’ll be blogging the contents of every one of them.

Here’s where I take one moment to say, “If you like what I’m doing, pick up a copy.”

Also, don’t forget, if you get a print copy, I’ll send you the ebook for free as well as the ebook Astel. If you pick up the ebook of V&A Shipping, I’ll put you in the drawing for a print edition. If you leave a comment on the blog, ReTweet on twitter, like it on FaceBook, give it a +1, I’ll put your name in the drawing for a print copy of the book. I’m giving stuff away! Come take advantage. I’ll do the drawings on Friday, Feb 1st. Act now!

To understand the below rant, please Visit John Scalzi’s Whatever blog. Never did I think the name of his blog would be so well placed here.

I’ve seen a couple blog posts lately. One was by John Scalzi trying to break down what he would have earned on the ebook edition of Redshirts had he self published. If you look at his blog, he has a neat pie chart showing the sales breakdown for 6 months. He sold roughly 35,000 ebooks. I’m sure other people will have a better analysis of his math, but someone pointed out that he would have made $300,000 on the sales of the ebook alone. He did his own math which, if you’ve done your home work, was terribly incorrect, to show that he would have only made roughly $100,000.

Here’s where he gets things terribly wrong. The ebook was $11.99. Now that’s a price point for Amazon that’s too high, so let’s push him down to $9.99 so he’s getting 70%. His first error was to say that since he’d be selling the ebook elsewhere, he’d only get 35%, not the standard 70%. Bzzz. Wrong. If your ebook is priced between $2.99 and $9.99 you get 70%. Period.

His excuse I didn’t care for. It was, in my opinion, pretty lame. He’s lazy. Okay, I get lazy, but there’s lazy and there’s just being dumb. Sure the publisher got the book edited, got a nice cover, interior layout design, did some promo on the book. How much of a price would you put on that? Well, let’s do a simple breakdown of what a normal contract would look like.

35,000 ebooks x $11.99 (publisher price) = $419,650

$419,650 * 70% (the money the publisher collected from Amazon) = $293,777

A standard contract would pay the author 20% of the net. If we use the amount the publisher got from the sale of the ebooks, Scalzi would have made:

$293,777 * 20% = $58,751

This means, in Scalzi’s opinion, editing, book cover, and promotion is worth $235,026. And let’s not forget that he’s paying an agent 15% on that $58,751 leaving Scalzi with only $49,938 on a book that brought in over $400,000 (slightly better than 12% of the cover price where even 35% starts to sound good).

Um, that’s a lot of money. And that’s just for the ebook. He still sold 35,000 hard covers. 35,000 audio books. If we assume roughly the same amount (obviously numbers would be more skewed) Scalzi thinks it’s down $705,078 for a publisher to edit a book, do the layout, record an audio book, and do some promotion on his work! While he brings in roughly $170,000 (minus 15% agent fees). That’s a huge disparity. Even if he were to do it on his own, hire two personal assistants, pay his own editor (between $1500 and $3000 for editing services), pay to have his audio book recorded ($2000-$5000), get a fantastic cover ($1000), and pay for some promotion, he would still be far ahead of the $170,000 he made. He could spend $10,000 and go it on his own, reap all the rewards, and take in all the money.

Or he could be lazy and say it’s worth $700,000 for a publisher to do this all for him. And this is just the first 6 months and doesn’t include paperback editions.

My thinking, that’s not lazy. That’s putting your head in the sand, singing “LALALALA CAN’T HEAR YOU LALALALALA” and pretending like it’s alright to lose somewhere near $1,000,000 per book because you don’t want to take the time to learn how to do things on your own. Things that aren’t that difficult. Things that could be budgeted for to pay for services one time and not for the entire life of the book.

Now keep in mind I don’t know what Scalzi’s contract looks like. These numbers are just small guesses, but I can bet they’re pretty close to the truth.

And Scalzi isn’t alone in this world. At World Fantasy Con 2011 I spoke with a couple authors who are starting to do things on their own, get the rights to their backlist novels, and start doing things that make them more money. Those few have been beating on other authors who are “too lazy” to go after their own properties and start making money they should be making rather than allowing a publisher to either sit on the rights, or pay a pittance for what they do exercise.

Do I have all the answers? No. Would I like to just sit and write and watch checks roll in? Well, sure, but I’m not going to watch money go out the door waiting and hoping that I’m being treated fairly when I could very easily spend my time learning how to do many things myself or find someone to pay a fair price to do it for me. I’ve decided to start self publishing and I know it’s a long hard road to build an audience. I won’t sell 35,000 ebooks this year unless I get really lucky, but the books and print books I do sell will be money that rolls to me so I can keep doing this, buy better covers, perhaps get better audio books done, and keep quality work going out to the you, the reader.

I didn’t mean to rant today. Normally I’ll read Scalzi’s blog and think “Man, he’s making a good point here.” But his blog post today about being lazy and it not being worth it is like saying, “Oh, I accidentally threw away a $1,000,000 lottery ticket and if you dig it out of the trash for me so I don’t have to, I’ll give you $900,000 of it.” That’s not lazy. Sorry. Even if you only sold half the number of ebooks (16,000), you’d have made $150,000. Still far better than what was potentially paid to him based on my math.

I need to get some writing done. I just needed to vent. If you see an error in my math, if you think I’m wrong, if you think I’m right, post in the comments below.

Until Next Week!