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!