Revenue Streams 2010

In my continuing quest to demystify things related to the business of writing, at least inasmuch as they relate to me, today I am going to talk revenue streams. As many of you know, I am a huge proponent of writers having multiple revenue streams, so that when one of them cuts out on you — and it will cut out on you — you still have money coming in while you look for something to replace the income you’ve lost. I am also a huge proponent of recognizing that even within an individual stream of income, there can and will be substantial variation from year to year.

To make these points, I’m going to lay out to you my own revenue streams for 2010, and point out what I currently expect from each of these in the coming year. Note that for this exercise I will be discussing only my income from writing and writing-related activities, not my overall household income. I am not noting the specific dollar amount of my income last year (because I’ve been told not to by the Scalzi Family CFO, i.e., my wife), but you may assume that when Congress and the President chose to extend the Bush era tax cuts on the top income earners in the US for the next two years, one of the people who didn’t see his top marginal federal tax rate go up was me.

So, to begin. Here is a handy dandy pie chart of where my income came from in 2010:

My income profile has changed significantly over the years; it’s only been in the last couple of years that the majority of my income has come from books. Prior to that the largest chunk of my writing income came from corporate consulting work and writing non-fiction and journalism. The change has happened primarily because a) I now have a body of work that remains in print and generates royalties and b) I now generally get paid more per book.

However, if I am smart what I won’t do is look at this chart and think, well, this is the way it’s going to be from now on. It won’t be, either in the distribution of income or indeed, in the size of pie in a general sense. To explain why, let me discuss the individual slices of this pie.

Books (new, royalties, foreign sales): This category breaks down as roughly 40% new sales, 40% royalty payments on existing books, and 20% foreign, both sales and royalties. 2010 was a very good year for me in this area, but there are reasons not to count on this remaining as large a pie slice in 2011. Why?

1. Tor paid me a nice amount for Fuzzy Nation, which drove the chunk of income here devoted to new sales. However, the next novel I have with Tor is being slotted in to fulfill an outstanding contract I’ve had with my publisher for some time; it was originally part of a two-book series I never wrote, for reasons I’ve mentioned before. That contract’s price is substantially below what I’m being paid for Fuzzy, and I had already taken receipt of the first installment of that advance several years ago. Basically Tor will be getting my next novel at a discount. I’m fine with this, and I’ll almost certainly make it up on the back end, in terms of royalties. But depending on sales and reserves against returns, those royalties will take between 12 and 24 months to get to me. So for 2011, it’s almost entirely certain that my “new book” income will go down.

2. My royalty payments have been good over the last few years, but Fuzzy Nation is also my first new novel in three years (the last was Zoe’s Tale in 2008) and while that gap was filled with various editions of METAtropolis and Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, there’s been a natural decline in backlist sales over time. Now, the announcement of the movie deal for Old Man’s War has given the backlist a boost, as likely will the release of Fuzzy. But thanks to the way royalties move through the system, I’m unlikely to see that benefit for a year or so. Also given the advance for Fuzzy, depending on sales it might be a while before it earns out its advance. So for 2011, I’m likely to see my royalty income either stay stable or go down a bit.

3. Foreign sales and royalties have been healthy but again the lack of new novels between 2008 and now has had an impact. The good news is that Fuzzy is selling well overseas and that the movie announcement for OMW has spurred interest in markets it’s not already in, so that helps. I expect foreign book income in 2011 to remain about the same overall.

So, overall, for 2011, my book income will probably be down from 2010. Where it goes from there depends on a number of factors, including, of course, whether I continue to get out a new novel about once a year, and how well those novels do, both at debut and then as back list. This sort of thing is impossible to predict with any certainty.

Film Option: The film option is in a category I like to think of as “extraordinary income” — that is, income which sort of falls into one’s lap and may not ever be repeated again. The option is due to be renewed later this year, at which time one of two things will happen: either it’s renewed, in which case I get another nice chunk of income, and the possibility of further income down the line, or it’s not renewed, in which case I get nothing (unless we sell the option to someone else). Naturally I hope for the first but would be foolish to assume it’s a given. Another wrinkle: the next option step has an 18-month window, which means no film option income in 2012, unless the start of production on this film in that timeframe. So no matter what my film option income will be down, either this year or next.

TV Consulting: This was the money I made being the Creative Consultant on Stargate: Universe. The show was canceled, alas; this income stream has gone away, and in the short term, at least, is unlikely to be replicated. So for 2011, the income from this category will be zero.

Film Column: This is the column I first wrote for the site and now for the site (which is owned by AMC). I enjoy doing it and they seem to enjoy having me do it and as far as I know they’re going to keep having me do it. So I expect income in this category to stay the same for 2011.

Corporate Consulting: Primarily for a single client; who it is and what I’m doing I can’t divulge due to a non-disclosure agreement. I can say it’s been fun and interesting. Because the bulk of my payment so far has been in 2011, I can say income in this category will be going up this year. Where this category goes from there is anyone’s guess.

Miscellaneous: This includes income from various small freelancing gigs, teaching, and other odd bits, like performing at w00tstock. I have no idea what to expect from this category this year; that’s one reason why it’s called “miscellaneous.” Before any of you ask, no, so far I’m not doing any w00tstock 3.0 events. But who knows?

Short Stories: The smallest category of my writing income and likely to stay that way in 2011, seeing as it’s already April and I’ve only written and sold one short story. But I’ll probably write at least a couple more between now and the end of the year, which means that I can reasonably expect this category to stay about the same, income-wise.

In all, while I expect 2011 to work out just fine for me — Neither I nor my family will be coming anywhere close to financial instability, for which I am immensely grateful — I also expect to make less than I did in 2010, and possibly much less, and to have the relative percentages of the categories from which I make money to change, sometimes quite dramatically.

This is the way of the writing life. Year to year, some income categories will go up, some will go down, some will remain static and some will go away completely. And, also, possibly, some new ones might emerge. I might get to do more newspaper or magazine freelancing, for example, or I might get an offer to do a speaking engagement or two, or I might do some editing. Maybe I’ll get another consulting gig with a TV or a movie. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to write a comic book — or maybe I’ll write a movie script and sell it (ha!). Or maybe none of that will happen, my books will fall out of print and no one will be interested in what I’m currently writing. Some of this will be about me, but a lot of it won’t be; some of it will be about factors completely out of my control. What you can expect is that I will continue to seek out a variety of writing revenue streams, rather than keep all my financial eggs in a single basket. I will find a way to work, one way or another.

What I do expect — and if you are a writer or hope to be, what you should also expect — is that no matter what, year in and year out, writing income will be volatile. It is not a field in which you can expect anything to stay the same for any length of time, nor can you expect your fortunes to be sunny every step of the way. I am thankfully fortunate today. I hope to remain fortunate tomorrow. I work to allow continued good fortune a place to happen in my life. I plan financially with the expectation I will not be so fortunate. This means keeping a sharp eye on expenses, living within (and when possible, below) my means, and saving and investing the majority of what I have come in so that when (not if) less fortunate times come we have a margin that allows us to maneuver and prepare and plan for more fortunate times.

One reason I’m airing my revenue pie to you is to make the point that the next time I do it, it will probably look nothing like it does today. That’s not unusual. What would be unusual is that if it did look the same, year in and year out.

90 Comments on “Revenue Streams 2010”

  1. And all of the above is the reason I still have (and will keep) a day job. At least, if I have zero writing income, I shall still have my regular income and can pay my rent, etc.

    Nice visual, btw. :)

  2. This is a great post, and the sort of thing that I hope lots of creative professionals will think about. It reminds me of this post from yesterday’s practicalfreespirit, especially the sixth bullet — for working writers, especially ones whose position isn’t strong enough to sell books to publishers as fast as they can write them, making their works available electronically is a way to diversify revenue streams.

    Many writers seem slightly allergic to thinking about their work this way, but I think there’s a lot of value in it.

  3. Thanks for sharing that. I’m not a writer (except for my blogs) but I think it’s important for everyone to think of A) where there money comes from, B) will it still come from there in the near future?, C) is it enough? and D) where else can I get income from? Diversification is for more than just your investments.

  4. Scalzi-fied comics could be cool indeed.

    If you don’t mind the question, DC, Marvel, or independent?

  5. Question for you: One of the reasons I’ve been working at writing and releasing different kinds of books is that they look like different revenue streams to me — the YA market is different than the SF&F market, and the urban fantasy market even seems to be its own creature sometimes. I look at those and see different eggs in different baskets. “Diversification,” if you will. Developing different audiences, relationships with different publishers, etc.

    Alternatively, someone could look at that and say I’m still getting most of my income from book sales, which _isn’t_ very diverse.

    What’s your take?

  6. Again, thank you for the de-mystification. In particular because I just handed in my two-week notice, and want to earn my bread in freelance editing, even if it means a future of feast-or-famine. Wish me luck.

  7. I read the blog daily, rarely post comment, usually because all the good ones have been taken by the time I get here. I want to commend you for posts such as this. Few people–writers, agents, editors, publishers–are willing, or able, to give potential r fledgling writers such unvarnished information about a writer’s life. Your post on this topic are neither encouraging or discouraging in tone, though they may be perceived as either, depending on the reader’s circumstance. This is as it should be, as you are providing seeds for ideas they would not otherwise have thought of, which is a valuable service.


  8. I assumed you received some sort of bacon payment from the National Pork Producers Association.

  9. D’oh! Stupid NDAs… I’ve had to live with them my entire career, and I was SO curious what kind of corporate consulting you do.

  10. This post is why I keep coming back. (Well, that and cat pictures.) Lots of authors blog about how to write, but you blog about everything else that goes with being a writer. Thanks, John.

    If you get the urge to make another educational post some time, I wouldn’t mind seeing how your business expenses break down. It seems like writing can be done frugally until you start figuring in book tours, con appearances, and iridescent tunics.

  11. So as I’m reading all this my first thought is….. Thank You! for continuing your blog, and trying to keep such a level head about the realities of writing to not just relinquish Whatever to the concerns of focussing on paid writing gigs alone. You are helping many writers by sharing your experiences in this way. May your tribe increase!

  12. Thank you. I appreciate it as a full-time freelance writer, editor, novelist and ghostwriter. And yes indeed, for better or worse, I can attest that a freelance writer’s income does exactly what Nelson Rockefeller said the stock market does when asked, “What will the stock market do?”


  13. Scalzi,

    Tremendously helpful graphic that jives with assumptions I have made that writing as a day job is about the annuity income from royalties as a stable income source. Only long term and consisten success as a writer is going to create that. I find it interesting that your income from film options is only 25%. A fellow writer once told me he was making more off options for his books than royalties in the long run. I wonder if that is a matter of the age and breadth of your corpus as well.

    Don’t quit your day job. At least until your royalties are equal to a considerable percentage of the income it provides.


  14. Thanks for this John. I do have a quick question. How does the situation work out tax-wise for a writer in the US? Where I am (Ireland), writers are exempt from tax so long as their work is ‘creative’; is there any equivalent at state or federal level where you are?

  15. I wasn’t a follower of you blog before but I certainly am now! Great post!

  16. Thank you for sharing all this information, John. A quick question to both you and your readers: have you formed a corporation for tax purposes to which all your payments get made? If so, which kind did you form? Thanks in advance.


  17. I know the short story market is probably never going to be very big, but I would love to see that part of the chart get bigger. I like the form almost regardless of genre, and Scalzi short stories are always highly entertaining.

  18. Additional side revenue can be made by fencing in property and raising sheep. Special Sheep. It would save money on gas for the lawnmower. I wonder if Electric-Blue sheep taste like bacon?

  19. Lemme add my voice to the chorus (Okay, there’s just a couple of us, but there should be a chorus!) of people who think a Scalzi-written comic book would be a dandy idea and that somebody should offer you one.

  20. Carrie V:

    I think diversifying withing fiction is not a bad idea, as long as one keeps in mind that all the different fields are still vulnerable to general fluctuations of the publishing market.


    Since I just came back from my accountant’s office, I can tell you my income is definitely taxed, on the federal state and local level.


    I have a corporation but at this point I don’t run any of my income through it.

  21. Thanks for sharing the details of the writerly life!

    Now I’m curious what your ideal writerly income pie chart would look like. Bigger of course, and apple flavored I’m assuming. But what percentages would you like to see different? Any new categories you’d like to get a taste of?

  22. I’m curious – what does corporate consulting consist of for you? I don’t mean specifics on what you’e doing with the company you’re doing it with lately, but I’ve always wondered what it meant when you’ve mentioned it, as corporate consulting can, in my experience, mean nearly anything.

  23. Matt Marquez:

    I don’t have an ideal pie chart, actually. I’ve generally found that I find time to do the writing that amuses me, and separate from that I enjoy getting paid. When those two factors combine, I am happy. When they don’t, I’m still pretty happy.

    Justin Jordan:

    Indeed, my corporate consulting runs the gamut of tasks. It’s different for each client.

  24. One interesting counterpoint that could also help novice authors would be a similar pie chart of your expenditures (accountants, lawyers, agents, web hosting, non-lenten coke zero). I suspect that many people are unaware of how much money you spend to make money, and where it goes.

  25. If I may go on a tangent from royalties, what are your thoughts as to how long copyrights should reasonably be?

  26. Kevin Williams:

    Yeah, that really is a tangent to the discussion, so one I’d prefer not to have here at the moment. Wait for the next copyright-related thread.

  27. John,

    one argument ebook proponents make is that backlist sales don’t fall off as much since the ebook is always available whereas a physical retailer might see sales falling and not reorder that title which leads to fewer sales of course. As a reader, I know that I’ve gone into a bookstore to find a title, not seen it and shrugged and bought other things. Does Bookscan or other tools give you any insight into the backlist sales curve for physical vs electronic versions? It seems to me that sustained backlist sales over time could amount to a noticeable portion of that pie and I’m curious to see if having e-versions of books makes a difference there.

    PS: For everyone else – I’m not talking about self-publishing here. I imagine most of John’s titles are both available in both paper and electronically form from Tor and I’m just curious about the backlist performance of each format. So, while I KNOW that John would very much like to debate the merits of Working For The Man vs Bravely Going It Alone yet again… let’s not.

  28. Rick:

    “one argument ebook proponents make is that backlist sales don’t fall off as much since the ebook is always available whereas a physical retailer might see sales falling and not reorder that title which leads to fewer sales of course.”

    It’s possible but at this point I think it might be difficult to quantify. In my particular case it’s hard to say, since as you note all of my novels are in print, and I know they also sell reasonably well electronically. I don’t believe BookScan yet plugs in e-sales.

  29. Thanks for the reply. It’s too bad if Bookscan isn’t tracking this data – I can see it being valuable information. Even for books in print, I’ve wondered if the number of stores that carry a given book decreases over time and whether the number of copies per store decreases. It’s probably next to impossible to do a study on at this point, but 5-10 years from now it would be interesting to look at that data.

  30. It’d be sweet to have your accountant make you one of those pie charts every year, then you can bundle them, normalizing the areas for total income, and then animate them.

  31. Ooh, crunchy numbers. Yum.

    I was surprised how low the short story figure was. Do you have a general sense of whether this is people not reading short stories (which would surprise me even more), or just don’t expect to pay for them (i.e. see them as promotional tasters)?

  32. Mike:

    In my case it’s because I don’t write a lot of them. I sold two last year, and while I got paid well for them, as an overall segment of my income it’s just not a significant amount.

  33. I may teach high school English now, but I am still a CPA. Goody, goody, goody! A pie chart and its maximum magnitude can be inferred from “the President chose to extend the Bush era tax cuts on the top income earners in the US for the next two years, one of the people who didn’t see his top marginal federal tax rate go up was me.”

    I like the suggestion made by several commenters that you do a similar pie chart on the expense side of your activities that generate the income you analyze in the pie chart here. I am particulary interested in seeing what slice of such a chart would go to “agent commissions” and “home technology expenses.”

  34. Thanks and very interesting. Same thing happens for freelance artists, and I wholeheartedly agree with trying to have as many revenue streams as possible. I have streams from TV concept art, game concept art, game cover art, 4 or 5 different types of storyboarding, book illustration, cartooning, sketch cards, advertising/marketing art and illustration, direct sales of my original art, and now happily a small one for music too. These all vary wildly from year to year.

    Keeps me from getting bored, too. Drawing the same type of stuff every day for months or years gets really dull. I need variety and challenges to keep me happy.

  35. Thanks for sharing John. It’s really informative stuff and my data-junkie self delights in it every time you cover this.

    I do wonder – you say you plan for the possibility that you won’t be so fortunate in the future. Can you share anything with regards to exactly how careful/cynical you are in that planning? By which I mean, how dark a possibility do you plan for?

    Do you presume that you’ll be able to work and bring in a certain ‘typical’/national average salary from writing through your working years (whether it be fiction writing or some form of commercial work) or do you approach it from a “it might all go to hell and I’ll be in barista training” kind of attitude?

  36. Don:

    I frequently model what we would need to get by on an annual basis if everything indeed went totally to Hell. It’s an instructive thought exercise.

  37. The statement “one of the people who didn’t see his top marginal federal tax rate go up was me” confuses me a touch.

    Granted, I did not pay a lot of attention to the details of the Bush tax-cut (because if it did happen that I were in a position to optimize my income via efficient utilization of the tax code, I would assuredly have an accountant who could take care of that for me), but isn’t it true that everybody’s top marginal tax rate didn’t go up as a result of the extension thereof?

    Or are you continuing to attempt to obfuscate your actual income (which is totally OK by me, my wife and I don’t even tell our families what we earn, let alone friends or 40,000 total stranglers* on the Internet) by dancing sardonically around the issue? :)

    *Attempted humor, not a typo.

  38. Georgmi:

    I expect most people understood it, but if you like I can put it this way: If the tax cut had not been extended, I would have seen my top marginal rate go up.

  39. I’m not a writer but one think i did when i was free lance consulting was to model my income as an hourly rate as well as a gross and net. If you fully load it, it can be very enlightening.

  40. That’s what I thought you might have possibly meant. :)

    Thanks for the clarification for the excessively pedantic.

  41. I’m still trying to figure out how a science fiction writer, with no background in science, can be a “consultant” to a science fiction show. Can’t they just hire their regular wrtiers? What do you do, man?

  42. There’s a general understanding among certain enlightened business and government types that wild and crazy idea people, even ones without formal degrees, often either point the way to or outright invent new concepts that physics allows and engineering takes a while to get around to, but eventually makes possible. And the engineers are inspired by the wild and crazy ideas people who write really fun books and create good visual fiction and so forth. Some of these enlightened business and government types want to listen to the wild and crazy idea people and hire them from time to time to talk to them.

    Beyond that, one might speculate that he’s advising companies on things he’s good at other than speculative fiction such as web presence and blogging, etc.

  43. ” I frequently model what we would need to get by on an annual basis if everything indeed went totally to Hell. It’s an instructive thought exercise.”

    Hi John,
    Just idle curiosity but with all these income streams to juggle, plus actually thinking and writing creatively, how many hours per week do you actually work?
    I ask as I am also self employed, and relatively high income, and I know I put in a LOT more than the average 9-5 worker.

  44. “I frequently model what we would need to get by on an annual basis if everything indeed went totally to Hell. It’s an instructive thought exercise.”

    Well at least you have the acreage to grown your own food. And raise some animals. Farming is FUN! Now, excuse me, I need to run to the supermarket.

  45. Scorpius:

    “I’m still trying to figure out how a science fiction writer, with no background in science, can be a ‘consultant’ to a science fiction show.”

    You’re making an incorrect assumption that I have no background in science. In fact it’s been part of my writing portfolio for some time. And I consulted on other aspects of the show than science. Also, there’s no reason to have the word “consultant” in quotes in your comment.

    Jeff Ball:

    I suspect on average I do 6 – 8 hours a day, with more during crunch times.

  46. I’m surprised at how much they’re paying for the film option. By my calculations, it’s in excess of $60k. Is that normal for a 18-month option? Would additional royalties be paid if a film was actually produced and distributed?

  47. Ted:

    I don’t keep track of other people’s film option deals. And yes, I’d be paid more if the film is produced, although I won’t get into the details of that.

  48. Scorpius@49: Science fiction doesn’t have to be accurate, just believable. Anybody can make reality sound believable; it takes talent to make fiction sound that way.

    Otherwise it ends up soundling like my daughter explaining that Santa Claus broke the lamp.

  49. May I add my voice to the support for the idea of Scalzi graphic novels….definitely something that I would buy, thus contributing to the colorful pie chart :)

    But this is a great summation of the points that you’ve been making through the years about the importance of planning and budget for a working writer. Personally, I’d expand that philosphy to include “pretty much anyone who works and has bills.”

  50. Ted – consider that a full-on, big budget OMW movie would likely cost in the tens of millions to make (and that’s assuming they don’t go for it as a tentpole, summer blockbuster thing). An option in the neighborhood you suggest isn’t much to pay if someone feels there’s a decent chance of a book being a good, bankable film. I imagine it’s much like venture capital in the software world where small bets are made on a variety of properties, larger bets are made on some and big bets made on a few. You don’t do that assuming everything will suceed, but that on balance enough succeeds that you can do another round of “lots of small bets, some larger bets…”.

  51. Without going into details, I don’t want to upset your CFO :), is your (is salary the right word? Income?) enough? I’m not sure if you are the sole income earner for example, but I’m pretty sure you live in a relatively low expense part of the US. Do you find yourself getting by easily on your current income with plenty left over for savings? Is there plenty to cover expenses like health insurance for example? Can you take family vacations at will? Are you considering buying your own tropical island?

    I guess what I’m trying to get at is, does being a successful science fiction writer pay “well”? I realize well is very subjective, hence the quotes, but I’m interested in your opinion.

  52. Gal:

    Yes, we’re financially comfortable by almost any standard. Also, I’m not the sole income earner; my wife works and we get insurance through her.

    Being a successful science fiction writer pays about as well as being a successful writer in a general sense, since the books generally cost the same (and the royalty structure is generally the same) across all genres.

  53. I initially read ‘Film Column’ as ‘Fifth Column’ and was surprised that subverting democracy and the government paid so poorly. I’m much happier knowing that a weekly film review column is a smallish portion of your income rather than service to the rise of a new Nazi party.

  54. John, thanks for the transparency. I know that in polite society, one isn’t supposed to discuss politics, religion, or money (especially one’s own, in any of those categories), but I’m always educated and frequently amused when you flout that taboo.

  55. I love your blog, Scalzi. You serve up bacon, raw fresh meat, desserts, and … things like this are the vegetables … so well done, and they’re both tasty and good for us.

    Great explanation of how to run your financial life, whether or not you’re a writer. The days of having a career at one employer from school to retirement are long, long gone. We all have to learn how to do this.

  56. About the film: if they do make the film, you are no longer selling the option, but you would make royalties off of the film itself right? Or did you sell that away?

  57. Well one thing is clear: you need to write more short stories! And yes, this is a self-serving comment as “Judge Sn Goes Golfing” was great, I’d love to read more. In fact, how about a short story collection? That way your book income goes up AND your short story income goes up! A double win!

  58. Thank you for this, John. I am attempting to build a writing business now (and blogging), and this was very useful. I’ve been reading Whatever for years. Is Whatever monetized in any way (other than as the ‘free’ advertisement for your books?) and if so, is it anything like significant?

  59. Maureen O’Danu:

    No, I don’t make money directly off Whatever. It’s a possibility for the future if I need it, but right now I don’t need it.

  60. If 80% of life is showing up, as Woody claimed, the rest is planning for contingencies.

  61. John, the heck with w00stocks, please make every effort to work yourself onto the next JoCo Cruise Crazy cruise!

  62. Useful. However, it’s looking more and more like my Day Jobbe income may end up looking more like your pie chart, because I strongly suspect I’m going to be freelancing those skills pretty damn soon now. In fact (sigh), while today is normally my planned ski day, I’m going to be busy today developing the promotional materials for that skill set….

  63. Thanks, John, for the reply. I’ve been torn between concentrating on blogging and concentrating on longer works. I’m a bit of a magpie (oooh, shiny), so I’ll probably do both :-)

  64. Have you blogged about the kind of corporate consulting you do?

    I have seen some other fiction writers mention corporate consulting writing. As an outsider this surprised me. I would think that the skills do not totally overlap. Writing a technical document or advertising (I am not sure what a writer/consultant does to be honest) would require experiences and skills than writing fiction.

    I would also think that corporations would have their own staffs to do this or if they are outsourcing it would do it through an outsourcing firm. Another very interesting piece. I think most people forget that authors are small business owners. I have my own software business and the types of things you do overlap alot with what I do. Even though our products are considerably different.

  65. This is interesting to see. Right now my pie chart would be something like: 95.8% Day Job; 4.1% Freelance Consulting; 0.1% Miscellaneous money found on the ground/in the sock drawer/in my spring jacket from the fall. I hope to expand the consulting in the coming years, but am infinitely grateful for the day job.

  66. Thanks so much for this breakdown! I am working on getting my multiple income streams going, but the one that pays right now is consulting for the pharmaceutical industry. (When they think a drug is going to make US$1B, they throw money around like hyperactive flower girls, and all you need is a net.)

    Thanks again. Certainly gives one lots to think about.

    TK Kenyon

  67. Guess wrote:
    “…I have seen some other fiction writers mention corporate consulting writing. As an outsider this surprised me. I would think that the skills do not totally overlap. Writing a technical document or advertising (I am not sure what a writer/consultant does to be honest) would require experiences and skills than writing fiction…

    There’s both more and less overlap between the skill-sets than you might think. In both areas (corporate writing and fiction) your goal is to convey the image or message in your head to a reader in such a way that the reader “sees/experiences” the world you’ve created for them. The messages may be vastly different, the topics you research may be polar opposites or identical; either way, you’re writing to an audience.

    As an example, picture in your mind a large, black SUV. Got it? Okay, now sell me that truck (advertising writing). Use that truck in a chase scene (adventure or spy or thriller writing). Pack it with groceries then pick up the kids from soccer practice (television commercial or women’s fic writing). The SUV your readers see will vary with the choices you make in the way you write the scene, the ad, the blurb; but in each of those cases, all you’ve done is told your audience the story you wanted them to hear. And if you did it well, they saw the SUV the way you wanted them to see it.

    Corporate writers, technical writers, fiction writers — the skills they share in using words to convey an image, a mood, a message, are, in many ways, stronger than the specific techniques that separate them. Doesn’t mean you can automatically jump from one type of writing right into another (although some people can), but it’s been my experience that it’s mostly a matter of practicing a new technique, a new way of working with the words until writing a letter, a novel, a blog post, a tech manual, an ad, are all forms of writing that you have become fluent in and your mind just slips into the appropriate gear when you pick up your pen or sit down at your keyboard with a particular task in mind. In my opinion – and my experience – learning those additional techniques just makes you more versatile as a writer, and helps you do as John and I have done (though I’m obviously not as successful yet as he, or you’d be following my blog!), and diversify your writing into multiple revenue streams.


  68. This is a great post, Jon, and I have to say that it’s thought-provoking (in a very useful way) for me, even though I get 100% of my money from my day-job. That’s in part because now that I’m a partner I’m paid differently and for different criteria, and there can be much more fluctuation. It’s also because the FH is a violinist in the Toledo SO, and also teaches, and works for the orchestra in a day job capacity, and also has gigs. So if we did our household pie chart on a joint basis, we would see more diversification and also that kind of fluctuation year to year. I’ve never actually sat down and thought about it that way, and your post has given me an idea for working on our future planning!

  69. JOHN, I’m sorry for calling you JON. My “superior” on an ABA committee is a Jon, and I sent him an email RIGHT before I left this comment. So rude. I apologize!

  70. John, thanks for letting us see beyond the publishing & the conventions. I (and all your other readers, I hope) like to see what people don’t tell us about a writing life. It changed my mind about other writing fields and now I have to work harder and dream bigger to try and make it successfully as a writer.
    P.s. hang in there, 17 more days ’til your next Coke Zero.

  71. Interesting data. I would have guessed that the film option and tv consulting percentages would have been flipped though. Your film option deal seems to be REALLY good.

  72. This is very enlightening for me. I have a day job, but am working on my first novel. Thanks, tremendously for putting this out there. BTW, my CFO agreed and found your CFO’s instructions amusing.

  73. Very cool to see it so organized and colorful. I’ve lived that life for a long-ass time, but mainly through writing for tv and film (under a different name, so not that anyone would care, but… don’t bother with IMDb.) Now as I claw my way into the blogosphere and try to expand beyond the infuriating nonsense of hollybullshitwood, your pie reminded me how hungry we writers can often end up while tilting at keyboards and trying to live the impossible dream, rather than just dream it. Noble endeavors, but all too often, infuriating, frustrating, and poorly compensated ones. Then again, your pie also gives us hope. So is that a good thing or a bad thing? Probably best that you use it to remind us to put some slices away for a rainy day. Better than that? Advise aspiring writers to marry someone with a stable income!

  74. Interesting post, and having multiple revenue streams is good advice for practically anyone, not just writers.

    I assume though that if things go well with the movie, you do have a Plan To Take Over The World based on establishing an OMW franchise, including movie sequels, a comic book series, an action figure line, Saturday morning Nickolodean cartoon, a prequel movie series, FPS and RTS games, a MMORPG, etc.

    (I hear growing a beard and wearing flannel shirts is optional.)

  75. John,

    Thanks for sharing that, it makes for an interesting read.

    Do you think short stories have the same potential for movies as novels? If so, it would be a good strategy to write & publish them regularly (maybe 1 book every 2 years? Or as $0.99 direct-to-kindle options). You would then multiply your chances at a movie deal, and of course a movie would also be a good reason to publish a full length book in the same universe.

    I always love to read how artists think about their craft as a business. Derek Sivers does that really well for music.

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