Yesterday I rather cryptically announced on Twitter that at that moment someone was using me as an example of something; that person was Cory Doctorow, in a Twitter discussion with author David Hewson about writer career models. Hewson wrote about how he wouldn’t take career advice from Cory, which precipitated a rather long Twitter conversation between the two in which I was brought up by Cory as an example of a writer who has several revenue streams. Other writers, including Nick Harkaway and Suw Charman-Anderson, also pinged in; Charman-Anderson saved the Twitter conversation and also posted her additional thoughts here.
Leaving aside the specifics of Cory’s own personal brand of income generation, the general discussion seems to be about revenue streams, and whether book authors can/should have a second (and third, fourth, etc) income stream burbling along, complementing the book income writing stream. Hewson appears to be of the opinion that not every author can muster that second revenue stream; Cory argues for the value of a multistream career, and the others chime in with thoughts and points to make in support of Hewson or Cory’s general position.
Most writers, mind you, have multistream careers whether they want them or not; they have day jobs. For the successful few who manage along without one of those, I think it’s better to have multistream careers than not, for the simple reason that you never know when a line of income is going to evaporate, and when it does, it’s best it’s not your only way of making money. Also, again, I don’t think most full-time writers have a choice about whether to have a multistream career, since generally speaking, when it comes to writing, most income streams don’t offer enough to live comfortably on.
If you are someone who makes enough from writing one sort of thing — usually books, but not always — that you can argue that writers shouldn’t have to have multiple streams of revenue, well, then. Excellent for you. But you’re in a small minority of all working writers, and you should probably recognize that. Even among those folks, mind you, I would recommend multistream careers if you can manage them. Because that extra cash is nice to have (and to save, hint, hint).
Pursuant to the above, I think it’s worthwhile to make a distinction between two different types of writer revenue streams: The ones that support the writing, and the ones that come as a consequence of the writing. In the former camp you have things like day jobs, and writing gigs you get without reference to the main thrust of your writing career (or perhaps more accurately, what you would like the main thrust of your writing career to be). In the latter camp you have things like movie options and speaking engagements. They are important distinctions to make because the latter are both quantitatively and qualitatively harder to get and to keep. Any writer can get a day job of some sort to pay the bills. Not every writer will get paid by Hollywood, or get paid to show up and talk about their writing. For those, again, nice if you can manage them. I don’t know that it does anybody any good to lump those two categories together when making examples, however.
My overall thought on all of this is that if you can only write one thing and get paid enough for it that you don’t have to (or want to) do anything else, then do that — it’s nice to be you. Otherwise I’m a big fan of authors keeping their eyes open for opportunities and to be aware of the (distinctly relative) fiscal security that having more than one source of income can bring. I don’t think writers should be too proud about how they make their money, within the bounds of their personal ethics; it all spends (and saves) the same.