John Scalzi, Baen author

It’s probably a good thing John Scalzi is looking to find some new publishing outlets, because Tor Books obviously isn’t of the opinion that they got their money’s worth with his most recent submission:

So, here’s the Very Important News about my 2016 novel release:

Currently, there isn’t one. Not a new one, anyway.

Which isn’t to say I’m not writing a novel in 2016. In fact, I’m writing two(!). Merely that Tor has decided to wait until 2017 to release the next new one.

Why the wait? Among other things, because Tor just dropped a ton of money on me so we want to make sure we debut this next novel, the first in the new contract, just right. I’m on board with this plan — note the “we” in that last sentence — since (again, among other things) I actually want to try to earn out the silly large chunks of money Tor has dropped on me. I also don’t mind the extra time it gives me to write/tweak the novels I’m currently working on.

I’ll admit it. I laughed. I fully expected Scalzi to crack under the pressure, but not this quickly. It’s one thing to talk about writing a really good book that will sell 100k+ copies, but it’s another thing to deliver on it the big talk.

Now, those who don’t know much about the business of publishing may not understand how serious this little delay is. You see, each quarter, a mainstream publisher has certain books upon which it is relying in order to make its numbers. This is particularly important now, in a market that is characterized by declining sales; all the Big Five have seen their sales shrink as a result of bookstores closing and competition from independent publishers and self-published authors on Amazon.

Now, Tor had never previously depended on Scalzi; as recently as 2012 its bestsellers were Orson Scott Card and Karen Traviss’s HALO novels. But they lost HALO and Robert Jordan isn’t writing any more books, which is why they badly need Scalzi to step up to the next level. Hence the big contract and the aggressive book tours, which are essentially PNH throwing a Hail Mary in an attempt to save his job.

The recent announcement means that Scalzi hasn’t been able to do it and his new novel didn’t meet requirements. He turned it in, and after reading it, the editors at Tor know that it won’t sell enough to meet their needs. So, they’ve pushed it back one year in the hopes that Scalzi can tweak it enough to turn it into something that will justify their investment in him.

But it’s not going to work any better than signing a WR3 to be a WR1 does. More time won’t change the core problem, which is that Scalzi is a stunt writer. He relies heavily on flash to disguise the fact that he’s not a good storyteller, he has no original ideas, and he’s merely a competent wordsmith. There is nothing wrong with that, and he could have had a perfectly satisfying career as the midlist writer that he is – as an editor, I concluded some time ago that writing snarky dialogue for short TV episodes was probably his ideal medium – but he is not the sort of bestselling writer on whom you would ever want to bet the company.

(For what it’s worth, I’m not either. Very, very few writers are. There is no shame in not being a King, a Heinlein, or a Rowling, and even those writers can seldom deliver on that scale for more than a decade.)

But, as we know, SJWs always double down. Tom Doherty or the Macmillan executives should have fired PNH when he gave them the chance last year, because he is going to cost them heavily due to his decision to ride or die with his pyrite boy. It’s far too soon to say this is definitely the case, but the smart money would bet on PNH’s Hail Mary pass falling incomplete. Sooner or later, one has to stop spinning and massaging the Narrative and actually deliver real-world results.

In the meantime, boycott Tor Books!