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.