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February 9, 2005

Did I miss the memo? “Publishers usually ask that their writers keep their advances a secret,” writes Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing. Is this true? Speaking as an acquiring editor, I don’t recall ever asking a writer to keep money details secret. As far as I’m concerned, it’s incumbent on me not to blab my writers’ personal financial details all over SF fandom or the internet, but if the writers themselves want to talk about it, that’s fine.

I have no doubt that some publishers and editors have indeed made demands like this, but I keep hearing it asserted that it’s the usual practice, and as far as I can tell that’s just not true. [11:45 AM]

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Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Did I miss the memo?:

Jack Womack ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 12:07 PM:

Agreed. My assorted publishers & editors (present company included) never said much more than "don't spend it all in one place."

Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 12:17 PM:

You mean there was enough to have a drink in two different bars?

mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 12:22 PM:

Maybe the memo accidentally went into the spam folder?

The topic reminds me of a corporate pet peeve. Every company I've worked (which is not that many), HR tells us that one's salary is confidential and should not be discussed with one's co-workers. That's always struck me as something that ought to be illegal; shouldn't employees have a right to discuss their compensation with whomever they want?

Anyway, sorry if that's going off-topic.

TomB ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 12:31 PM:

Anyway, sorry if that's going off-topic.

Hitting the nail on the head is not illegal, despite what you may have been told.

JamesG ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 12:33 PM:

As long as you have taken us off topic :), the reason that HR says not to discuss salaries is so that "Bob" who has been working for the company for ten years can sleep soundly at night, blissfully unaware that "John" Whom they hired right out of college is making 20 Gs a year more for doing the same job (possibly even less work load since he would still be pretty green). The company wants to get by with paying their employees as little as possible.

I used to tell my guys that if they really wanted a raise, they should quit and reapply for the same job.

tobias buckell ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 12:36 PM:

Only a few authors have indicated to me that they've signed gag agreements when emailing me to add comments/critique about the survey in regards to what they get. It seems to be more common in romance than in SF.

I gather that media novels might have to sign a gag agreement.

I was curious to see if editors would think of the project :-)

Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 01:12 PM:

I was curious enough to dig out all my contracts from books past; I knew Tor had never asked that I not disclose my advances (Grandma used to say that was just a matter of good taste, because we don't discuss money, do we dear?), but neither did Fawcett, in all of its various corporate guises. Even the contract on my one tie-in book had no language of the sort. Once the money's yours, what there is of it, it's yours.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 01:23 PM:

My first offer for my first Science Fiction novel was $2,500 in 1972 for "The Ten Teeth of Terra: The Decadents" per an offer from Pat LoBrutto when he was at Ace, later retracted. I've written since to thank him: it would have been a Very Bad first novel, albeit written when I was 15.

Correcting for inflation, according to the Consumer Product Index, is an important normalization of the data. According to
The Inflation Calculator

"if you were to buy exactly the same products in 1972 and 2003, they would cost you $2500 and $10853.36 respectively."

Since then, my average SF novel submission sits on the desk of each editor for between 2 and 3 years, with roughly 1/3 of submissions lost outright, and I don't yet have good statistics on how many editors per sale. The $8,000.00 book contract I had from Jim Baen was for nonfiction, even though it had plenty of SF references and style. Several chapters of said nofiction book "Computer Futures" have appeared in Science Fiction venues, such as "Human Destiny and the End of Time" [Quantum SF, No.39, Winter 1991/1992?, pp.??, Thrust Publications, 8217 Langport Terrace, Gaithersburg, MD 20877;
ISSN 0198-6686
which in turn was acknowldged by Greg Benford who used a dozen excerpts, transfigured into italics, in his novels of the galactic core.

Moral 1: a contract in the hand is worth N in the bush, for some value of N being experimentally determined.

Moral 2: really cool ideas propagate more rapidly in smaller particles than books, with articles faster than books, excerpts in other peoples' novels faster than in your own novels, letters to the editor faster than articles, and blogs approaching the speed of light.

Moral 3: editorial submission is a stochastic process, apparently following Markov Chain statistics, with several absorbing barriers, namely sale, return of mansucript, death of editor, and/or loss of manuscript (lossy transmission).

Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 01:59 PM:

Well, if you look at "First Novel Advances by Publisher" on the page Cory links to, you'll see that Tor pays the highest average and median advances, so it would make sense for you *not* to want to keep them quiet, in order to get good first-time authors to submit to you first).

But, as Tobias notes, the margin of error on the "by publishers" numbers may be as high as 42%, so the differences between publishers are unlikely have much significance.

tobias buckell ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 02:16 PM:

If, or what?

Damn, my inner typo strikes again. I meant what not if...

I would reemphasize Jeremy's comment as well, my averages by publisher are very suspect.

Adam Stemple ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 02:37 PM:

Lies, lies, and damn lies besides!

Patrick bought my first novel. I am looking at the contract now. Let's see...

er...first born chi...no...sacrifice three goa...no...wait here it is:

"Thou shalt not reveal the details of this contract in any way, shape, or form, on pain of death, disfigurement, or having to read Steppenwolf repeatedly while listening to same."

Jim Gardner ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 02:54 PM:

Nobody ever told me to keep quiet about my advances (even for the Lara Croft novel I did).

However, from reading the Locus "publishing news" page, where people use phrases like "mid six-figure advance," I got the impression that too much specificity might be considered tacky. This was purely me jumping to conclusions; no one ever said anything explicit.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 03:37 PM:

No, no, the reason for all that cloudy "mid-six-figures" language is so that authors and (in particular) agents can imply that they got much better deals than they did.

How to turn $33,000 per book into a "mid-six-figure advance"? Easy. Start by selling six books, which gets you to $200,000. Add on escalator clauses--hefty chunks of further advance payable for each week on the New York Times bestseller list, or if one of the books is adapted into a motion picture that opens on at least X number of simultaneous screens--and pretty soon the total amount theoretically payable on this contract is up to $400,000, the generally-accepted lower boundary of Mid-Six-Figures territory.

And of course, even the basic $200,000 is unlikely to be payable all at once. More likely, a fraction of it will be paid on signing, and the rest split into increments to be paid at certain miletones, such acceptance of each finished manuscript, and also first publication of same. So unless the writer cranks out at least two books a year, they're probably still making less than a legal secretary. However: Mid! Six! Figures!

How to get paid better in publishing? Make it so more people are dying to read your books. It's that simple, and that impossible.

Michael ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 03:39 PM:

At least in the high-speed world of programming book non-fiction, there's no such restriction. (That was in no way an excuse to trumpet that I'm writing a chapter for a Real Book! No!)

Jonathon: Deca...dents... AAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 03:46 PM:

I've published with maybe a dozen publishers now. Not a one has asked me to keep the dollar amount of the advance secret. (You might want to keep it quiet out of embarrasment, but that's another question entirely.)

Seeing as the last place I worked the salary you earned was voted on by congress and the exact amount was published in a helpful table by the Navy Times, you could tell just by looking at a guy's sleeve exactly what he was earning as base pay, and could figure housing allowances, TAD, and such fairly closely, ... well, that whole thing is silly.

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 04:21 PM:

Jim Gardner -- there's a slight but discernable difference between "Talking specific figures is tacky..." and "Thou shalt not reveal thy advance!"

I think Tobias's poll is very interesting, I'm looking forward to seeing it get more data.

C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 05:23 PM:

Keep in mind, guys, that not all of publishing behaves the same. For example, confidentiality provisions are far from uncommon—perhaps even the default condition—in serious trade nonfiction, although I've encountered it very rarely in non-tie-in fiction. On the other hand, the fact that I see these things only when the fecal matter has hit the air-circulation device just might skew my sample ;-)

Within serious trade nonfiction, the more-frequent users of "all compensation is confidential" clauses seem to be outside of the big five. Without trying to imply that these two are such, that means publishers like Oxford University Press and Harvard University Press (chosen for name recognition). My gut instinct is that these publishers have… other… reasons for trying to keep their financials as far from the light as possible.

<sarcasm> Beware that you cannot use any of this data in trying to negotiate contracts, though, because that would constitute an unfair restraint of trade. Authors aren't employees, so they can't be in a union. Unless, that is, they're writing tie-in WFH, in which case they are employees! </sarcasm>

Cory Doctorow ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 06:09 PM:

You're right -- "most" is a generalization that appears to be untrue. Pearson made me promise not to say what I made in the advance on the book I did for them, and I've heard this from other writers, as well -- but I've updated the post. Thanks for the correction.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 06:58 PM:

The more I think about how I would describe the civilian business world in terms of military ranks and pay grades and chains of command, the more it looks like an Abu Ghraib waiting to happen.

Temperance ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 07:25 PM:

Human Resources departments are Satan. Even the name is offensive (although that's not the reason they're Satan). I am not some corporation's "resource".

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 07:30 PM:

And like Gerry Ford said, nobody's human.

mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 07:50 PM:

Temperance, that is my _other_ pet peeve! I seethe everytime some project manager whines about "not having a resource" when he means not having a _person_. Grrr. Arrgh.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 09:36 PM:

Regarding "Human Resources": everyone who has not already done so should read Vernor Vinge's A Deepness In the Sky. That is all.

Vera Nazarian ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 09:50 PM:

Patrick,

This is completely off topic, but I think it's time....

We have only Chapter 9 and Chapter 38 of ATLANTA NIGHTS left unclaimed.

Fess up! Which of the two did you write? *evil grin*

Vera

Death to Vermin ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 09:50 PM:

everyone who has not already done so should read Vernor Vinge's A Deepness In the Sky. That is all.

How do we know this is really Patrick talking, and not a billion-year-old galaxy-spanning entity that's simulating Patrick, or worse, controlling the original Patrick like a sock puppet? Until we know for sure, I wouldn't read any books "he" suggests.

Just to be safe, we could demolish his planet. I'm just saying.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 10:09 PM:

Thank you, Ellen Mae Ngewthu.

Vera, the answer is, I wrote not one word of Atlanta Nights, alas.

Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 11:45 PM:

Temperence - HR? Evil?

Personally, I think of them as the people who would have been in the Stazi if they were born in East Germany. Now that we have the Department of Homeland Security, it may become hard to find good HR people.

Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2005, 01:45 AM:

Interesting. FWIW, it's not even a universal practice at Pearson. I published a book in Addison-Wesley's Professional Computing Series, and nobody told me I couldn't talk about the terms of my book contract.

Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2005, 02:12 AM:

"I wrote not one word of Atlanta Nights, alas."

Observe the interesting form of those words. Observe that he who uttered them has made a career out of, among many other things, eliminating equivocation, except by design. I'm just saying.

jane ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2005, 04:03 AM:

Given that half or more of Publisher's Lunch is devoted to authors and their agents bruiting about their advances (in coy language, but it's not hard to figure out) as pre-publicity, I'd say that a publisher asking someone to keep quiet about monies is the exception not the rule.

Now all the extras gotten by squeezing the publisher. . .

Jane

John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2005, 04:09 AM:

Now all the extras gotten by squeezing the publisher. . .

. . . as the otter exudes the precious otter of roses.

alkali ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2005, 07:41 AM:

mayakda writes:

Every company I've worked (which is not that many), HR tells us that one's salary is confidential and should not be discussed with one's co-workers. That's always struck me as something that ought to be illegal; shouldn't employees have a right to discuss their compensation with whomever they want?

In fact, they do have that right, at least in the U.S. An employer who promulgates a policy to the contrary may be in violation of section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act. See, for example, this NLRB decision. (Tip of the hat to Sam Heldman, who wrote a paper that clued me in about this.)

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2005, 10:43 AM:

alkali, mayakda, et al.,

Q: Why do they bury ordinary people 6 feet deep, but HR executives 100 feet deep? Answer after some comments.

Last night I literally dreamed that I declared: "I am not a Human Resource. I am a Human Being!"

The VP of HR, on my first day at EarthLink, told me (in front of 50 winesses) that if he caught me wearing a tie to work again, he'd fire me. I did continue to wear a coat and tie -- as a manager 30 years older than the rest of my department. That VP was later fired by the Board in the midst of stock scams anyway.

HR at Rockwell put me under 100% prior censorship. I had to submit everything before publication. Not just aerospace, but Science Fiction stories, and poems. This was due to the plagiarist pathological liar in his preemptive attack on me in the Space and Science Fiction communities to distract from his obvious plagiarism. Two years after my job was terminated, they figured that out, and canned him too.

HR at Hughes typed in my school as "California Institute of Aeronautics" rather than HR at Hughes typed in my school as "California Institute of Technology" which prevented the discovery thast I was a coalumnus with the CEO.

I could go on forever about how HR exists to screen out anyone with talent, and to stuff the hat of prize coupons with themselves getting the big prizes. But instead, I'll second the motion that they don't want us to discuss salary, law be damned.

This happened to me. There was a magic time of year when enough Social Security withholdings had been made, and my paycheck was suddenly much bigger. I engaged various other senior engineers and managers for their feelings on this. They were acutely uncomfortable, due to HR (and perhaps normal reasons). Everyone who engaged far enough in this conversation realized at last that the magic date was later each year, as Social Security took a bigger and bigger bite of their earnings, until (for most) it exceeded their Income Tax.

I'm not saying that Social Security is in crisis, as Emperor Bush II lies. Was his MBA in HR? I'm just saying that the ignorant lawbreaking petty bureaucrats who ruin the workplace for educated creative people do not want us to compare notes.

Q: Why do they bury ordinary people 6 feet deep, but HR executives 100 feet deep? Answer after some comments.

A: Because, deep down, they're not so bad.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2005, 11:14 AM:

Thank you, Ellen Mae Ngewthu.

*snort*

You know, I don't often wish the SF industry was as ready to jump the shark as the comics industry, but I would so read a Fall Revolution / Zones of Thought crossover.

Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2005, 12:30 PM:

My experience with HR has been much more positive than the people above report. There are so many laws around taxes, nondiscrimination, training (and documentation of training), workplace safety, etc...I think it's good for a company, and I know it's good for my peace of mind, and my efficient use of time, to have experienced people to keep track of it all.

At the moment, my company's HR person is helping me acquire a dozen (mostly prescription) pair of safety glasses for the lab. This involves negotiating with a local optician and needs a detailed awareness of lab safety regulations and health insurance policies. I could do it all myself, but it would take me ages, and I'd hate it. I'm delighted to be able to hand it off to an expert.

Jonathan, I'm really sorry you worked with such horrible people, but some companies are horrible all the way through...the people working in the HR department reflect the same values you see among salespeople or engineers.

The naming custom of calling people "resources" in a management context doesn't bother me at all. There are too many situations that come down to, "We need 3 people and 2 machines, or maybe we could manage with 2 people and 3 machines." My colleagues might be interested in me as a person, but the company as such is interested in what I can do for them. They're interested in me as a resource, which sparks their interest in my continuing education, in tools that make me more productive, etc. That's ok with me.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2005, 01:02 PM:

How unaccountably sensible. Are you sure that's allowed on the internet?

Seriously, our own HR department has pulled off some heroic feats of bureaucracy-fu for me, for which I'm extremely grateful. I do still reserve the right to find "human resources" an oddly...soylent construction, though.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2005, 01:19 PM:

Adrian:

Patrick is right in valorizing your unaccountable sensibility. I stand corrected. HR is not to blame, as you say. They do indeed reflect their corporate culture. It is, I believe, precisely the clash of corporate cultures that makes huge mergers so likely to fail, as Carly Fiorina learned too late from the Hewlett-Packard-Compaq event, and AOL-Time-Warner also learned too late.

And as Emperor Bush II fails to realize in his naive attempted friendly take over [or "roll-up strategy" in MBA-speak] of the Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Confucist, and Animist world by American Empire Culture...

There, now I've reverted to the mean of the internet sensibility metric after Adrian's local maximum.

Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2005, 04:54 PM:

Reminds me of an old limerick:

A connosseur dining at Crewe
complained of a mouse in his stew.
Said the waiter, don't shout
and wave it about
or the rest will be wanting one too.

Furthermore, I have heard of some magazines referring to their team of writers as a "stable" or a "bullpen"

Would that make them a Human Racehorses department?

Chuck Nolan ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2005, 05:33 PM:

Places I've managed, we always thought of HR as the dept you'd put your stupid brother-in-law in, so he wasn't anywhere that he could screw up anything important.

Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2005, 07:12 PM:
Places I've managed, we always thought of HR as the dept you'd put your stupid brother-in-law in, so he wasn't anywhere that he could screw up anything important.

The British used to think the same about their Quartermaster's Corps, once upon a time. Among the many valuable lessons painfully gained at Gallipoli was the fatal flaw in that approach. Marlborough could have told them better.

Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2005, 07:23 PM:

I think in general the value of bureaucracy is underestimated, resulting in less good bureaucracy. A good bureaucrat -- a manager, a clerk, any of those things -- can make all the difference in how the work of a place gets done. A good set of bureaucrats can make a workplace or a community more than bearable, they can make it gracious, effective, and beautiful. And satisfying to live or work there.

Can you tell I've known some really good bureacrats in my life, and that I am pretty sure I'm too scattered to be one?

Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2005, 07:25 PM:

JVP wrote:
HR at Rockwell put me under 100% prior censorship. I had to submit everything before publication. Not just aerospace, but Science Fiction stories, and poems.

I can think of several employers locally (Dayton, Ohio) that have that sort of restriction for certain classes of employee.

Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2005, 09:44 PM:

I'll allow that a good HR department can be an asset, but I've only experienced one that was uniformly good (at a startup - it was the acquiring company that wielded the hatchet) and I have no basis to say anything bad about my current employer's HR department.

I have, however, had HR people violate confidences that they should not have concerning people I managed (most of which I already knew about from the horse's mouth).

So, for better or worse, my instinct is to not trust 'em.

Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2005, 02:12 AM:

Hee hee.

I was last year offered an opportunity to write for a reference publisher; the gig is an introductory book on Jane Austen. The deal was $5000 for the whole. I went to my dissertation advisor and asked him what he thought about it. He said, "You can get paid for books?" He'd written 12 himself... darn good ones, too.

Oh well.

Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2005, 02:30 AM:

> “Publishers usually ask that their writers
> keep their advances a secret,”

I wouldn't doubt it at all. I've had editors ask me to keep my novel secret.

(insert video of Groucho Marx flicking his eyebrows up and down)


Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2005, 03:55 AM:

Andrew:

"You can get paid for books?"

The paradox of academic publishing is that the publishers get the work from the writers so cheap (even negative cost) and then turn around and sell the work profitably to the very universities that employ the academic writers.

For Mathematics and Science journals in the USA, where authors typically have to PAY the journals a "page charge" -- tell me this isn't vanity publishing! -- the total profit for publishers is estimated at $300 to $400 million per year. An editorial in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society speculates that mathematicians accept this without complaint because they feel that, since the articles are written by mathematicians for mathematicians, they are "our" journals.

Dr. Geoff Landis, OTOH, says he's seen a study somewhere that the indirect lifetime value to an academic scientist for a published journal article is roughly $10,000 in terms of getting promotions and tenure sooner.

Can anyone help me and Geoff with the reputed myriad-dollar figure, while I dig up the AMS editorial for a skeptical reply?

The VP of Academic Affairs at Woodbury, where I taught Math for 2 years until recently, thrilled a Faculty Senate meeting by saying that he was close to Presidential approval to issue awards for faculty achievements: "publish a book, win $1,000." The Dean of Faculty, who'd just published a small book about kayaking the last California wild river, beamed. I started counting my chickens on the grounds that my 360+ short math/science publications in 2004 alone, including refereed and edited online pieces, must be the equivalent of at least two or three books. Then came the pink slip...

Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2005, 08:57 AM:

Getting back to Patrick's original topic ...

I have, in the past couple of years, been asked to keep quiet about the money at stake in a book deal ...

... by my agent. While the offer was on the table but not yet officially accepted, and she was trying to get another publisher to make a counter-offer.

(Funnily enough, I went along with this :)

Otherwise, no: I don't think I've ever wrriten for an organization that asked me not to discuss what they were paying me.

Paul Robichaux ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2005, 09:55 AM:

The norm in computer book publishing, which is the only publishing sector I know anything about, is for contracts to have a confidentiality clause that forbids disclosure of advance or royalty amounts. In the last few years, contracts I've seen from Microsoft Press, Sybex, and Pearson have included this language; I don't remember offhand if O'Reilly's contracts have it or not (but I doubt it).

Castiron ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2005, 01:07 PM:

JvP:

"The paradox of academic publishing is that the publishers get the work from the writers so cheap (even negative cost) and then turn around and sell the work profitably to the very universities that employ the academic writers."

Profitably? *scratches head* On what planet?

Okay, if you restrict this statement to scientific publishing, as JvP's further comments suggest, then that may be accurate, depending on the publisher. However, I doubt that many academic presses make much if any profit on, say, Latin American literary criticism books.

The university press I work for has no confidentiality clauses on advances (on the rare occasions where they happen) or royalties; our authors are welcome to brag about how their royalty check enabled them to supersize that burger combo.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2005, 02:17 AM:

Castiron:

"... Elsevier and Academic Press journals are a highly profitable part of a big corporation. Bertelsmann has recently divested Springer, and now Springer, Kluwer, and Birkhauser are owned by an investment company (who did not buy these publishers in order to make less profit than before).... [The] AMS [American Mathematical Society] charges under 22 cents per page for its primary journals and makes a decent profit that subsidizes other AMS activities. The Annals of Mathematics, Pacific Journal, and geometry & Topology are cheaper yet. On the other hand, the big commercial journals typically charge in the range of 40 cents to over 100 cents per page...." A good source for price information is either
http://www.ams.org/membership/journal-survey.html
or
http://www.mathematik.uni-bielefeld.de/~rehmann/BIB/AMS/Publisher.html

"In an article in The Mathematical Intelligencer, John Ewing writes: 'a rough estimate suggests that the revenue from each article in commercial journals is $4,000.00.' (Imagine a 20-page paper sold at 50 cents/page to 400 subscribers.) 'Therefore, the 25,000 mathematics articles in commercial journals in 2001 generated about $100 million in revenue for the commercial publishers.' This is serious money, much of it profit. Roughly speaking, it takes a billion-dollar business to get that sort of profit...."

"Fleeced" by Rob Kirby, Notices Associate Editor, University of California Berkeley
Notices of the AMS, February 2004, p.181

Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2005, 12:20 PM:

I never truly recognized the value of HR departments until my partner was hired by a mid-size (100 employees) organization that didn't have one. Personnel policies were made up by the director. They were byzantine and weird - even fairly straightforward ones, such as what constituted overtime and at what rate overtime hours would be paid.

Eventually they hired their first HR staffer, and our family, for one, was very grateful indeed.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2005, 01:04 PM:

Dr. Geoffrey Landis comments on the Math paper statistics, and on not remembering the counter-data:

Wish I could help you here, but I had been remembering an old article I'd read fifteen or twenty years ago. And, of course, it was in some
print venue, so it isn't likely to be on the web, and I can no longer recall where I'd read it-- possibly Physics Today, but it could have
been in any of hundreds of magazines I used to browse. The number is probably long out of data anyway, I would expect-- the academic climate
is much different now.

It's clear, obviously, that papers do have some monetary value for the scientists who publish them, in terms of promotions and tenure; what
was interesting about that particular one was only that it gave a specific number. That's been the driving force behind the explosion of growth
of scientific (and mathematical, apparently) journals; all the scientists and academics looking for promotion need to find places to publish. (You can tell that a good part of the driving force is publishing papers and not reading the papers, by the way that a lot of the journals charge page charges to authors. Certainly violates the SFWA dictum, "money
flows to the writer.")

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2005, 03:10 PM:

I dabble a bit in CGI graphics, and one thing I've noticed, which may extend into other commercial-art areas, is the book of samples, where the artists are entering a competition to be published, in a book which will go out to advertising agencies, and paying an entry fee.

I don't know the business, so I can't say how commonplace it is, but, as I've said else-net, other sorts of creative people would see it as a scam.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2005, 12:52 AM:

It seems to me that the established author with an agent is the beneficiary of keeping contract terms secret; it puts the agent in a much better negotiating position if prospective publishers do not know how much the author got for the last book.

It also seems to me that agents perform a very important function as brokers in the relationship of author and publisher; they know the prices that a number of authors get, so they have a sense of what they can get from publishers, and (if they are honest) keep their authors secrets, so that the publisher does not know how low authors will go.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2005, 10:20 AM:

Charlie's Diary [Stross]

has an interesting posting for Wed, 09 Feb 2005 that ties together "a rather neat article in First Monday, musicians and artists for the most part don't earn their living through intellectual property rights; there's a power law at work, with maybe the top ten individuals in a given country earning twice as much as the next 200 put together, and more than the bottom 10,000 professionals in the field put together" and Tobias Buckell's survey of SF writers' book advances (in the USA), with "Galambosianism."

This latter was a short-lived doctrine of intellectual property absolutism, founded in the 1960s by Joseph Andrew Galambos... and descended from libertarianism and/or the teachings of Ayn Rand. The primary concept of Galambosianism was that one's ideas were one's "primary property", a higher form of property than physical assets (which were merely "secondary property"), and second only to one's life (one's "primordial property").

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2005, 03:41 PM:

"It seems to me that the established author with an agent is the beneficiary of keeping contract terms secret; it puts the agent in a much better negotiating position if prospective publishers do not know how much the author got for the last book."

Speaking for "prospective publishers," I must point out that how much the author got for their last book is, for me, distinctly secondary in importance to how well that book sold. And, today, that information is generally easily obtained.

Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2005, 03:47 PM:

My dad mentioned today that he'd just signed a contract with a publisher for his latest book. This one's on jurisprudence - a followup of sorts to his textbook on symbolic logic for lawyers. So, definitely going for a niche market. I facetiously asked him if he got a six-figure advance and he said "yep! zero,zero,zero,zero,zero,zero."

He said he tells his students that his payment for writing books (aside from the occasional dinky royalty check) is that the Dean says "oh, look, you wrote a book this year!" and gives him a raise.

Too bad they don't do that at most day jobs...

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2005, 02:45 AM:

"Speaking for 'prospective publishers,' I must point out that how much the author got for their last book is, for me, distinctly secondary in importance to how well that book sold. And, today, that information is generally easily obtained."

Would you say, then, agents are less useful to authors than they used to be?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2005, 10:26 AM:

Randolph, why on earth would I think that?

Dan Bloom ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2005, 10:39 AM:

No editor or publisher has ever told an author to keep quiet about the advance. That's pure fiction. But it's true, the entire advance thing is pure marketing hype. First, it's not a real advance. You get one third on signing the contract, one third on handing in an accepted manuscript, and one third on publication day (which is usually about 6 months AFTER publication day).

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2005, 12:24 PM:

"No editor or publisher has ever told an author to keep quiet about the advance. That's pure fiction."

What a strange thing to say, since it's easily documentable that this has, in fact happened.

The gist of my remarks was that it's not standard practice, not that it never happens. Do you really have trouble with this distinction?

"[T]he entire advance thing is pure marketing hype. First, it's not a real advance. You get one third on signing the contract, one third on handing in an accepted manuscript, and one third on publication day (which is usually about 6 months AFTER publication day)."

Actually, payout schedules vary wildly; sometimes it's all split between signature and acceptance, and sometimes it's spread over several milestones. What you're missing, however, is that fiction books are returnable by retailers for full credit, which means the publisher doesn't really know how many copies have sold until one to two years after publication. So even advance money delayed to the point of publication is still indeed an advance. Otherwise, the author wouldn't be paid for another year or two.

If you want to regard this arrangement as a variety of unjust "marketing hype", there's a ready remedy: don't enter into it.

Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2005, 12:30 PM:

Patrick, I think Randolph thought you were saying that there are solid formulas for what to pay authors based on their sales record, and he was wondering if therefore the art of negotiation is less important.

Randolph: it's not like that.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2005, 12:34 PM:

No, I wasn't saying there are solid formulas that render negotiation impossible. Far from it.

Books aren't bricks. They're all different, and they all present different kinds of difficulties and opportunities.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2005, 08:59 PM:

Patrick, Lucy--I was thinking more that the widespread availability of sales information might have weakened the negotiating position of agents--there doesn't have to be a simple pricing formula for that to happen.

Tom ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2005, 06:13 PM:

While I doubt that many (if any at all) editors in genre actually tell or demand authors not speak of their advance, I have no doubt that editors and agents generally prefer that authors do not. Certainly it seems unspoken, but universal, wisdom among writers that many editors will consider it a slightly hostile act to publically discuss one's advances. (Things that might make a difference when the previous novel didn't sell *quite* as well as hoped, etc., etc.) And certainly I've never heard any editor do anything to discourage this belief.

Hence the promises of secrecy necessary to get people to reveal advances.

Now it's perfectly natural for editors not to be thrilled by the practice, just like HR departments don't like it. It makes two groups unhappy and prone to making life difficult. Those who are being underpaid for their work, and those who *think* they're being underpaid for their work. I'm not sure which one (from an editor's perspective) is more painful to deal with.

Agents don't like it either for the same two reasons. Except that underpayment reflects on their lack of competence rather than their shrewdness in bargaining.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2005, 08:55 AM:

"Certainly it seems unspoken, but universal, wisdom among writers that many editors will consider it a slightly hostile act to publically discuss one's advances...certainly I've never heard any editor do anything to discourage this belief."

I don't know what it is about this issue that causes people to come over here and make wildly unsupportable categorical statements. See, for instance, Dan Bloom's earlier claim that "no editor or publisher has ever told an author to keep quiet about the advance," an assertion thoroughly contradicted by several anecdotes directly upthread from Bloom's own post. Now we have the bravely unsurnamed "Tom" coming upon a weblog post in which an actual editor was going out of his way to discourage the belief that editors and publishers want, as a rule, authors to stay quiet about their advances--and posting a comment saying that he'd "never heard any editor do anything to discourage" that belief. Hello? What was my initial post, chopped liver? Did sixty-something comments here never happen?

Just to reiterate, I'm sure there are editors who are unhappy when authors compare notes on their financial arrangements. I'm generally happier when authors understand the business better, rather than feeling like they've been kept in the dark. As far as I can tell from looking around my immediate professional vicinity--i.e., the Tor/Forge editors I work the most with, and the editors at other houses whom I know the best--the overwhelming majority of them take my attitude, rather than the former.

However, whether or not my immediate colleagues are representative of the industry as a whole, I think it's pretty evident that "Tom"'s claims about "unspoken" and "universal" beliefs and perceptions need to be taken with a big grain of salt.