A Great Post By John Scalzi About Money

For anyone here who is a writer, knows a writer, or is thinking about becoming a writer, please read John’s post this morning about money. I agree completely, and I don’t always agree with John on some aspects of this business. But on this one I do.


This entry was posted in On Writing, publishing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to A Great Post By John Scalzi About Money

  1. Yes! And might I add: HELL YES!

    I’m in this for the money, because I want writing to be my career. I want to make as much money as possible in my career. Writers are told over and over that “you can’t make money writing” and “only 1% of writers make a full time living from writing”. People hear this enough and they start to believe it. So they sign that $10,000 contract for all rights for life of copyright, paid in 3 or 4 installments over two or more years. Because they don’t believe they can make more than that, and/or they’re so desperate to see their book on the shelf from a “real publisher” that they don’t stop to think about what they’re giving up.

    Right now I only make enough for a fancy cup of coffee each month, but I know I have the potential to make much more. It just takes time (and constant work).

  2. Roxie says:

    Good article. I’m annoyed at Stephen King for saying that you “can’t be in it for the money honey” because when I first decided to write, it was because of the potential money you could make doing something reasonably enjoyable, plus get to read a ton of books on the side.

    His little line stopped me from taking a writing class, pursuing literature studies on a part time basis, and experimenting with my own writing. His line has remained with me for years, in the back of my mind, reminding me that you couldn’t be a writer if you wanted to make money. I wasted years trying to do something else for money (like real estate, like selling alarms, like running around the white collar labourer’s maze), and only last year I finally decided to enrol into part time Uni to study literature and creative writing.

    I want to get good enough to sell a story, then another, and then some more. I’m not ashamed to say I’m in it for they money. If I’m good enough to entertain people with my stories, I’ll get paid. Just like an actor gets paid to entertain. The good thing about today’s potential, is that writers can finally steer their own ship.

    I’m glad you write this blog.

    • dwsmith says:

      Roxie, Stephen King makes so much money, he’s often on the Forbes list. When someone like that says something that stupid and wrong, I say, “Well, if you could do it, then I can do it.”

      Actually, people need to be saying that about me. (grin)

  3. Mark says:

    Way back in the early nineties, I listened to some of my English profs at Loyola in New Orleans: “You can’t make a living writing. Are you sure you don’t want to switch majors to Business?” and “I would never encourage anyone in this class to try and make a living by writing.” Oh, and “why are you majoring in English if you want to make money? That’s for those over there in the BUSINESS college, damn it!”

    If I had a time machine to go back to 1993 and inform my other Self about ebooks, Amazon, Kobo, This Blog, etc, I would be stinking rich…and well before 2013!

    It does make me wonder what the profs are saying these days at that university, and for that matter, any university.

    • dwsmith says:

      Mark, they were right. Learning business is the best thing a writer can do. The problem was the English department wasn’t teaching how to be a creative writer, but instead how to be an English teacher. Kris and I tell writers who want to go back to school to take history or business or both. Both are a huge help.

      And if you really want an advanced degree besides a MBA, go to law school. Going to law school or having a masters in Architecture or having an MBA don’t stop you from becoming a writer and actually can help you more than an English degree.

      • Truth. I advise people to get something practical that won’t steal writing energy. Something to fall back on in hard times and to do until the writing makes enough money. That’s what I’d do if I had it to do over again. I’d go into athletic training.

        I have a Creative Writing minor and Religious Studies degree, switched from English. I don’t regret most of the Creative Writing because I had one of the best poetry teachers. Learned so much about the nuts and bolts of writing from him. But that’s rare. The degree I do have allowed me opportunities to learn a lot but it’s not practical.

    • Will Overby says:

      The only problem with that line of thinking is that the opportunities we have now for self-publishing didn’t exist in 1993. If you’ve used the past 20 years to hone your craft and become a better writer, you are poised at the edge of success you couldn’t have come close to back then.

  4. Thomas E says:

    The thing that I notice is that a lot of the people who write that “no one goes into writing to become rich” have a very small idea of “rich.” Writers in general have little knowledge of how much money people can really make.

    But I don’t say anything.

    ( There are three categories of rich.
    Stage 1: you have as much money as you are likely to need.
    Stage 2: you have so much money the interest payment more than cover what you want, so you become richer every day even without working.
    Stage 3:you tell presidents what to do.

    Writing can get you all the way to stage 3.)

    • dwsmith says:

      Thomas E., pretty much. Considering that a young adult fantasy writer was the richest woman in England, yup, pretty much.

  5. …this is the sort of thinking, intentional or otherwise, that gives bad people cover to screw writers with regard to money, and gives uncertain writers a reason to shrug off being screwed.

    Exactly! Great article. I write because I love it, but I definitely want to make money too.

  6. Angie says:

    I actually believe that less than 1% of all writers (let’s say anyone who’s ever been paid money for their fiction) make a living at it. Because seriously, there are bazillions of people out there who’ve had one or two things published and then wandered away, let alone all the people who get their $10K advance every year or two and otherwise live on their day job income. Heck, I’d be shocked if it’s as high as 1% making a living on their fiction without a day job.

    I think what makes this discouraging isn’t the stat itself, but the belief that a writer has no control over whether she’s part of that one percent. Everyone talks like it’s complete chance — that the claw chooses you and the money rains down (like it does on King and Rowling) or else you’ll starve without a day job. The belief that it’s complete chance, that the writer has no control over how well they do at this profession, is IMO the poisonous meme.

    What you’re doing here that’s valuable in this area isn’t refuting the “Only a few writers make a living” myth. Because I don’t think it’s a myth. What IS a myth, and what you’re shouting through your megaphone (or at least what I’m hearing) is that we have control over how our career goes. That we can work hard, learn and improve, keep submitting or self-pub or do both, that if we practice enough and if we get enough work out there available for readers to buy, that we can eventually make a living. The idea that it IS within our control to have a viable career — that’s what’s valuable about your message.


    • dwsmith says:

      Angie, that’s exactly what I am saying. Thank you.

      What is interesting that even with minimal sales in this new electronic world of indie publishing, it is possible to simply make a living in time by publishing enough work. That’s different and new. A writer is in control now. Great fun. Maybe I should do a post on just that. (grin)

  7. Hayden says:

    What about the role of the market you write for? I write niche fiction and am published by a small (niche) press. I tried to self-pub once, but I saw that it wasn’t for me, and I found a publisher whose contract terms I really like, and I’ve been very happy with them. Trouble is, I’d love to be able to live off my writing (i.e., quit my day job), but even with an expansion to short fiction (and a print anthology for those) to supplement my novels, as well as an increasing number of novels I aim to publish each year, I’m still not earning enough because my market’s too small. I’ve also been publishing niche fiction since 2008, and I really can’t write anything else; this is my home, so to speak.

    True, there’s been a pretty good increase in my earnings ever since I switched over to my current publisher, but I don’t think, even after achieving my production goals this year (or even next year), that I’ll be making enough money to finally retire from my day job. I do wonder, though, if it’s possible for niche writers to get to that point, and if they do, I’m sure it takes far, far longer for them than for writers who specialize in more popular genres.

  8. Roscoe says:

    At the risk of sounding like an MP3 on loop:

    Right on!

    I remember the late 1990s, when I inhaled decade-old How to Write books, and I read everyone up and down from Asimov to Anderson telling me nobody actually lives on their writing proceeds. One of the saddest facts I knew was that Ray Bradbury paid his rent on his speaker’s fees, not his royalties.

    Then Rawling. Then Hocking. Then this blog, really. I can almost imagine a “writer next door,” just as you have the bookkeeper up the road, and a nurse across the street, and the man who sells washers and dryers at the end of the block. Making enough to live comfortably, to look our fathers in the eye and say “see? Doing fine.”

    It’s worth noting that Jack London, after coming back from the Yukon Gold Rush, looked at his options, and decided that his pen was the only way up and out of poverty. In other words, he made the business decision to write. And, toward the end of his life, he commented that he writes “to put a new room in my house.” So cheers to the writers who are not ashamed to be professionals.

    • dwsmith says:

      Roscoe, spot on. And I learned a great lesson from a couple of friends on this as well. And at one point, following one of those friend’s examples, I named my books. “Star Trek: The Hot Tub” and so on. Great fun when you love to write and love what you are writing.

  9. John Walters says:

    I want to make tons of money through my writing too. I’ve been poor most of my life and could use a change. The paradox, I think, is that you can’t focus your writing towards making money – that is, look at the market and try to create something you think can sell. You have to write from your heart and have fun, and the readers will pick up on it. The key is to keep active, keep working, keep producing. That’s what’s so marvelous about this new world of publishing. In the past, if what came out of your heart did not meet the specifications of the gatekeepers you were out of luck. Now you can bypass the gatekeepers. Now, no matter how unique your material is, you can find a platform for it by creating one yourself. The key is to keep at it, never compromise, and never give up.

    • dwsmith says:

      John, I agree, the paradox is that you can’t focus on the money when writing, you only focus on it when planning your business and working in more time to write and so on. When writing you only focus on telling a great story. Spot on there. Thanks.

    • Roscoe says:

      For what it’s worth, I usually picture the “business,” “editing,” and “writing” aspects as different people. So when I’m writing, I’m the turtleneck-and-beret “artist” one. When I’m editing or doing other necessary (if not necessarily creative) work on a piece, I’m in rolled-up-sleeves-suspenders-and-chomping-cigar “editor” mode. And when I need to make business decisions about where to sell or setting production goals, I’m three-piece-suit publisher. Sometimes I imagine all three guys in a room together, hammering out a compromise.

      It helps me to keep it straight, and keep not only the money out of my art but the art out of my money. The other side of writing while mentally spending your millions is making foolish choices because of your artistic attachment to the piece. It might have been the most fun short story you ever wrote, but that doesn’t mean it needs a $150 custom cover. You may personally feel that your novel is best suited for a tour of duty in the men’s room stall, but that doesn’t mean you should actually keep it locked in a drawer like the second coming of J. D. Salinger.

      • Mark says:

        Last night I was reading “Writing Fiction” by Dean Koontz, who suggested that a struggling new writer should not do as most writers do and spend most of their newly earned money, but instead save up at least ONE year’s worth of financial support for himself. That way, if the market tanks, aliens invade, etc, he’ll at least have something to feed himself with.

        Or buy ammo, as the case may be with an alien invasion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>