22
April

One Year In

13 Comments

I’ve gotten a lot of interest in my posts about how I manage my finances as a full time writer. I’m fine with that. I know that’s a topic near and dear to my heart, and I remember being fas­ci­nated (and, frankly, grateful) when John Scalzi, Jim Hines and Tobias Buckell did sim­ilar posts. I’m happy to keep on posting about it, if folks find it helpful.

To that end: Yes­terday, April 21st 2012, marked my first year as a full time writer. To mark the day, I sat down and took a look at my finances.

Once I’d tal­lied up all my expenses (*every­thing* from rent, food and util­i­ties to busi­ness expenses like going to cons, printing up busi­ness cards, main­taining my web­site) and all of my income (3 sources: Writing, odd jobs and the mil­i­tary reserve) and I came out almost exactly $1,000.00 in the red.

My orig­inal plan was to give myself 3–5 years to make this writing thing work finan­cially, and I saved a nest egg/budgeted a lifestyle that would acco­mo­date that time frame. If future years are like this one, I can sus­tain this lifestyle (full-time writing, part-time mil­i­tary ser­vice) indefinitely.

That said, there are some things that make this year unusual:

1.) I was acti­vated for roughly 2 months, and earned a full-time salary as a Coast Guard Lieu­tenant (jg) during that time.

2.) I got a sub­stan­tial tax refund this year. That will likely not be hap­pening next year, as I no longer have mort­gage interest to write off.

Here’s the other problem: I’ve blogged before about how I live in a lousy apart­ment in a dan­gerous neigh­bor­hood. I have almost no dis­pos­able income. In the one year I’ve lived in Flat­bush I’ve been attacked once, threat­ened three times, been offered crack once, been “brack­eted” (two guys working together, trying to hem me into a corner) once, and a lot of other stuff that keeps my sit­u­a­tional aware­ness at Baghdad levels every time I leave my apart­ment. It’s exhausting to live like that.

While I can *sus­tain* this lifestyle indef­i­nitely, I don’t *enjoy* living like this. I don’t need to make a lot more money, but I’d like to make enough to afford a small crappy apart­ment in a neigh­bor­hood where I can let my guard down for thirty seconds.

Here’s what I figure I need to do to build my career into some­thing finan­cially self-sustaining in the next year:

- I need to get more for­eign rights deals for my books. I can’t con­trol that. I have the best agent in the busi­ness for that, and it’ll either happen or it won’t.

- I need the books to earn out/start pro­ducing roy­al­ties. Again, I am con­trol­ling what I can there. I go to cons, I guest blog, say yes to inter­view invi­ta­tions, try to be inter­esting and nice and keep my name in the public eye. I wrote the best books I could and pro­mote them as best I know how.

- With the SHADOW OPS con­tract drawing to a close (it’s a trilogy. The first two books are done and I’m now writing the 3rd), I need to get another book or series under con­tract. I cur­rently have five pitches written, which I’m mulling over, get­ting feed­back on. The hope is that my agent will fall in love with one of them and I’ll be able to sell it.

- I need to diver­sify my writing income streams. And I mean in genre (I’m fairly con­fi­dent I could get gigs in non­fic­tion writing on mil­i­tary topics, but that’s not the life I want). I need to find ways to write in the video-game and comic book indus­tries. That’s rougher going. I’ve estab­lished some con­tacts, gone after some oppor­tu­ni­ties, even came close to a media tie-in gig (but had to walk away due to a con­tract I simply couldn’t sign). But in the end, there’s nothing to do there but keep trying to meet people, throw out pitches, gen­erate interest in my work and hope some­thing will happen.

All in all? The first year shows promise. But I’ll admit to also being very wor­ried. My biggest fear is to have the writing not pan out, and find myself having to go back on the job market after having been away for many years, unhappy at having failed, and with my life’s sav­ings burnt through. In that case, I think I’d be most likely to just try to get Extended Active Duty (EAD) con­tracts with the guard. That is, of course, a backup plan. I am hoping like mad it never comes to that. With the DoJ case and pub­lishing buf­feted from all sides, the future has never been more uncertain.

But what can I do? Stay hopeful and keep writing. This is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. I will *not* got to my grave won­dering how it would have worked out if only I’d really tried.

Onward.

  • Joseph Selby

    The first rule of suc­cess in writing is that you deter­mine what suc­cess is. If you decide that suc­cess is being able to live a life sus­tained only by writing in a place that isn’t trying to kill you and don’t accom­plish that, then that’s the mark. If you decide that you are going to write and work a second job, that is only failure if you say it is. Plenty of writers have other jobs to sub­si­dize their writing efforts. Hell, even if I could live off my writing alone, I wouldn’t leave my com­pany because the ben­e­fits are amazing and would cost me an arm and a leg on my own.

    So before you declare failure, per­haps you should review what you feel is success.

  • Joseph Selby

    The first rule of suc­cess in writing is that you deter­mine what suc­cess is. If you decide that suc­cess is being able to live a life sus­tained only by writing in a place that isn’t trying to kill you and don’t accom­plish that, then that’s the mark. If you decide that you are going to write and work a second job, that is only failure if you say it is. Plenty of writers have other jobs to sub­si­dize their writing efforts. Hell, even if I could live off my writing alone, I wouldn’t leave my com­pany because the ben­e­fits are amazing and would cost me an arm and a leg on my own.

    So before you declare failure, per­haps you should review what you feel is success.

  • Mindy Klasky

    Thanks for sharing this, Myke.  My unso­licited two cents:  Con­sider the mil­i­tary non-fiction writing as one-of-many income streams.  I gen­erate about $10K a year doing free­lance legal writing (almost all for one client) — not some­thing I want to do full time, but some­thing that makes me feel *much* more com­fort­able with my fic­tion income.

  • http://profiles.google.com/griffin9111025 Griffin Barber

    Thanks for the post. I am going to go out on a limb and guess that the con­tract you couldn’t sign was with Black Library?

  • http://twitter.com/LAGilman Laura Anne Gilman

    Speaking as someone who has been free­lance for almost a decade now, the glamor/importance of being a _full-time_ free­lance writer wore off about five months after I started.  Espe­cially when I saw other people clinging to that glamor…and not paying the rent.

    I’m a writer, yes.  Always.  But I worry about finances, not lifestyle (if you’re broke all the time, or living some­where you hate, what life is that?).   When you’re paid on a project basis, and those projects can be delayed, or cancelled…

    Yeah, mul­tiple income streams, and ide­ally at least one that isn’t publishing-based (I’ve been a wine-seller, a PA, and a patent-writer, among others, in my time). And I’ve found those jobs enhanced my life — and my writing — in ways beyond the extra income.

    So don’t diss the non-fiction writing, Myke.  It’s all of a piece.  And  if nothing else, it makes us remember to appre­ciate the time we have to write fiction…

  • Rebecca

    Have you thought of adding to your writer income by doing a line of books as an indie author and self-publishing in ebook format? 

    Those who write well and have pub­lishing busi­ness acumen (which you obvi­ously pos­sess) do very well.  It would be an addi­tion, and might even bring in more readers to your legacy books.

    Rebecca

  • casz brewster-rothe

    Myke, you are absolutely cor­rect. You have to keep writing (and keep sending it out). I couldn’t go to my grave won­dering either. I’m a few months behind you, how­ever. June 17 will be my one year anniver­sary of living life as a full-time writer. You’re way ahead of the game for me, and I would say way more suc­cessful (I’m in the red by $10k and only had short sto­ries pub­lished). But, I’m not going to give up, either. We’re both war­riors in the foun­da­tion of our souls and we’ll use that strength and sta­mina applied to our writing lives. 

    As you know, the future is uncer­tain regard­less of DoJ rul­ings, multi-flank “attacks, ” etc.  When it comes to our writing lives, we have to remember that no one is shooting at us and if one story fails, we won’t be wounded from it. We just dust off our pens and shoot down range at the target again. You’re a credit to all the word slaves out there and do honor to the pro­fes­sion. Onward indeed. 

    *Please excuse the exces­sive squad-leader a/o cheer­leading tone. I can’t help myself sometimes. 

  • casz brewster-rothe

    Yes, I make extra income streams from other types of writing, too. It’s all a part of the free­lance game. 

  • Philip Goetz

    You’ve chosen some tough objec­tives.  I don’t know much about writing for video games, but comics are sup­pos­edly THE hardest market to break into.

  • http://twitter.com/grimgoroth Rob Hall

    I’m trying to help!  I buy your book and give it to friends. :)

  • http://twitter.com/grimgoroth Rob Hall

    I’m trying to help out.  I buy your book and give them to my friends as gifts! :) Sorry for the double post.

    • http://www.mykecole.com Myke

      No problem, and thanks!

  • Kenny Chaffin

    Being three months into attempting to make a living at writing.

    Thanks for this Myke!