A Moment of Financial Clarification
Posted on January 25, 2013 Posted by John Scalzi 124 Comments
Every once in a while someone in the comments here says, usually as an aside to something else, that no one becomes a writer to get rich. So as a point of clarification, and to give everyone else who is slightly exasperated by this sort of comment something to point at:
Hey, I became a writer to get rich. I’ve always been in the writing business not just to write, and not just to make money, but also to make a lot of money — basically, to get rich at it. Why? Because speaking from experience, being poor sucks, and in the world we live in, things are a whole lot easier if you have a lot of money. The thing I do best in the world in a professional sense is writing, so if I were to become rich, getting rich through writing seemed like the most likely way for me to do it.
Making money — and making a lot of it — has always been part of my professional writing game plan. It’s one reason why I have been both shameless and unapologetic about the commercial aspects of my writing, whether it’s me working as a writing/editing consultant for business or writing accessible novels. The money I make from writing means less time now I have to devote to sources of income other than writing, and less time later having to find other sources of income when (inevitably) my career slows down from its current happy level. The money I make from writing allows me to do nothing other than writing. So it helps to make a lot of it if at all possible.
Do I write only to make money? No; I write for lots of other reasons as well. Do I only consider money when it comes to choosing writing projects? No; I’ve written things for the pure enjoyment of writing them as well as for other factors, although once I was done with them I often looked to see how best to profit from them. Does writing with money as a consideration and being rich as a goal mean that waving money at me is the magic key to unlock my participation in something? Not always, because not all money is created equal, and the money I’m looking at is not only what’s being waved in front of me now, but what taking the project will make available in the future. I can afford to look long term because making lots of money was always part of my thinking, and because it has been (along with many other factors including staggering good luck) I have the ability to turn down work that doesn’t meet the long-term financial goals, and work that just doesn’t appeal to me, for whatever reason.
(Nor do I think that everyone has to write with the goal of getting rich or making money. People like to quote/paraphrase Samuel Johnson, who once said “No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” but Johnson is as full of shit as any writer on the subject. You can write for all sorts of reasons, money being only one. If you want to be a professional writer, writing for money helps. Otherwise? Optional.
Also, sadly, acknowledging you write for money (or to get rich) will not guarantee success in that endeavor. Yes, that sucks. But there it is.)
At the end of the day, however: This is what I do for money. I don’t want to have to do anything else, now and (as far as I can imagine) in the future. As luck would have it, much of what I like to write, and the style I prefer to write it in, appears to lend itself to the acquisition of money. So, yes, I write to become rich. It’s always been part of my plan. I suspect that there are at least a few other writers probably write for the same reason. I imagine, like me, it’s not their only reason. But it’s still a reason.
As a final thought on the point, one of the reasons that “no one writes to get rich” and “no one writes to make money” bug the crap out of me is that 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. If you as a writer buy into the idea you can’t/won’t make money and that you can’t/won’t get rich, then you are more than halfway to ensuring that you won’t, in fact, make money (much less get rich).
So don’t accept it. When someone says it, feel free to contradict them. Some of us do write to make money, and maybe even to get rich. It doesn’t lessen what one does as a writer to acknowledge that making money, and maybe even hopefully making a lot of it, is one of the reasons to do it — if in fact it’s one of the reasons one does it. It is for me.
To put it out there before anyone else gets to it:
YES I AM A HACK SO THERE.
I’ll wait until you do your Perry Rhodan reboot novel. Then I’ll call you a hack.
Maybe. But you’re our kind of hack, so it’s totally okay.
I aspire to be half the hack John Scalzi is.
I write to make money. I don’t make anywhere near what you do, but yes, I write to make money. Writing is my most marketable skill, and I’d be a fool not to take advantage of that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
Holy crap! John Scalzi is an unlicensed cab driver! I’m…I’m speechless…and I could use a ride.
I like how you deleted “quick” from the title of this post. #WritingIsEditing
Yeah, after a certain number of words, it’s no longer quick, is it.
That’s cool — in total honesty I’m just writing in a coffee shop this afternoon, so I have all the time in the world to read quick notes on things.
I think what people usually mean by it is “no one whose highest priority is getting rich and who is not stupid picks writing as their strategy”. Which may well be true. But there are certainly people who would like to earn a living, who pick writing, who then intend to try to become rich doing so.
By your definition Heinlein was a hack too.
Being poor sucks. Notwithstanding Mother Theresa, the other most famous Albanian John Belushi had other plans.
In the USA (according to a 5-part article in The New York Times a couple of years ago) there are only these things which determine your class (unlike many other countries):
Thus, by definition, college graduates cannot be lower class. Doctors, Lawyers, and Engineers by definition are at least middle class. Writers? Well, the curve has high skewness and kurtosis. The AVERAGE American novelist is upper middle class, but only by averaging in the Stephen Kings and John Grishams. The median American novelist who DID have a novel published last year probably had total revenue from ALL writing of about $10,000 to $15,000 per year. Would you like fries with that?
I will not climb on my soapbox and declaim the theory of the nine subclasses in the USA. But I will note that the characteristics of Millionaires are well documented in scholarly studies. They tend to be boring penny-pinching hard-working people, whose family members (and there were roughly 13,000,000 Americans in Millionaire families when one such book I own was published, don’t know that a parent is a millionaire, as they drive a used car, and live in an apartment or previously occupied house.
I study the Forbes 400 carefully. Billionaires take huge risks, and are never boring. I think of myself as a Billionaire, who happens at the moment to be an unemployed bum without a Billion dollars. Yet.
Thanks for saying this. It’s actually really encouraging to me. I used to buy into the “you don’t write to make money” philosophy (along with any number of other self-defeating cliches) and I’m working hard to deprogram myself. And to write like I want to get rich from it.
I’ll never look down on people who are successful at their craft. This bullshit ideal of the starving only ensures that a lot of really talented people will steer clear of doing things that they would actually be really good at. if only because they buy into the lie and choose to make their fortunes elsewhere.
I always figure a better way to phrase this is ‘If earning wealth quickly and reliably is your only goal, professional writing is probably not the best way to do so’. Which is true for a lot of careers to be honest: I’m in grad school for astronomy because people will pay me to do things I like to do anyway, which is pretty sweet. But, if I wanted to trade off ‘I like my job’ for ‘I can earn more money’, I would probably be better off in engineering or the more technical aspects of law. I don’t want to make that trade: I’m comfortable with my balance of income and job satisfaction. (The latter of which helps with long term retention: if my job makes me too stressed, I’m likely to look for a new job even if it’s not as well paying.)
And if I wasn’t getting paid to do astronomy, I wouldn’t do it as much as I do now. I love it and I love contributing to human understanding, but I also love things like ‘eating’ and ‘paying rent’ and ‘occasionally taking plane trips to visit friends’ a lot more.
I think it’s an extension of the Starving Artist meme. Creative work is valued, but there’s a pervasive belief that it’s worthless even though we’re surrounded by well-compensated creative work no matter where we go.
And sadly, writing to get rich doesn’t always coincide with literate writing as it does in Scalzi’s case. While I love the idea of publishing for money, it has led to some absolutely abysmal work being let loose. And in my opinion (which counts for very little) that is SO unnecessary. There is no reason why you cannot publish a decently written book that will also make money. So many wonderful ideas are ruined by bad writing.
So true. Writing is something everyone thinks they can do. Since everyone can do it, then it doesn’t need to be paid for does it? Truth is that writing can be hard work and good writing takes time and effort even if you don’t need a degree (and some with one of those still can’t write) to do it.
As it happens, I covered this over on my blog this week: http://nolanparker.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/engineers-are-enigneers-writers-are-writers/
‘cos sometimes badly writen books would be better off as trees and it anoys the hell out of those who can’t get a break when they read one.
Hear hear! Stephen Pressfield said something similar. Completely agree.
As I tell my kids, if you can do something you enjoy doing and get someone to pay you a living to do it, you have found found one of the biggest sweet spots of life.
I wouldn’t restrict this just to writing fiction, actually. I can say this because I applied for a gig of editing a book designed for pharmacy students to pass their boards. The writer showed what he’d done and wanted an evaluation of what I could do for him and how much I would charge. I gave him a probably way more than reasonable figure on it, and given my medical background, I’m a good fit for the project. I haven’t heard from him. Maybe he’s just waiting for someone else to low-ball it even lower than I did, or perhaps he’s just stunned that, gulp!, how dare a writer with expertise in this area dare to charge a living wage for the 15 or 20 hours the project would require.
From someone who wants to support his family by writing, thank you for this.
I think the whole, “writers don’t write for money” meme is in part a carryover from the concept of the writer as an artiste. I’ve written professionally. I did it to make money. Although I like to think some of what I wrote had some artistic merit, I never considered myself an artist. I considered myself a craftsman. A storyteller. I also think that it is telling that some of the most commercially successful writers of our day, such as Tom Clancy and James Patterson, were successful businessman before they ever became successful writers.
John Scalzi: “YES I AM A HACK SO THERE.”
Shut up and take my money.
Miles Archer: “By your definition Heinlein was a hack too.”
I’m guessing that Heinlein would not have disagreed.
You only qualify as a hack when you take on projects “only” for the money and do a half-assed job of producing. Until then you are a “commercial” writer, which isn’t a bad thing all things considered. Either way, as long as you produce prose I enjoy I’ll keep buying and recommending to my friends.
As for me, right now money is a background part of my writing career, such as it is. I have a good steady day job so I don’t need to write or starve, meaning I can write and experiment and find my voice while I work towards producing publishable material. Of course, my output only hit a higher gear a few years ago when I obtained a steady enough income I had the space and time to write instead of working my ass off just to survive.
Even though I’m relatively new I won’t give others my work for free. The only time something I’ve done goes up for free is if it’s on my blog of if it’s a guest post I’ve written for a friend.
I guess one person’s hack is another’s honest man.
This made me think of Heinlen’s character in Glory Road, “I used to think I loved money, now I realize its just dependency.”
As I’ve often said to young journalists, “Amateurs give it away for free, Professionals get paid.” There’s nothing wrong with being an amateur, I have several amateur passions, but they don’t put food on the table.
Speaking as a writer who makes a heck of a lot more money on his non-writing day job then on his writing, I think the old saw should be “nobody should write solely to get rich.”
I think there are too many people who only know writers from what they see on TV and think that all writers are rich and have time to dash around and solve crimes, or whatever. For those people, communicating the idea that writing is not equivalent to winning the lottery is worthwhile.
I also think the “write to get rich” could be more broadly restated as “nobody should do [X] solely to get rich.” There is no quick and easy way to get rich (short of being born in the right family) so when evaluating professions, one should find something one likes and is good at, and then try to monetize it.
Just my two cents.
Your honesty in this website has actually inspired me to purchase (and enjoy) your work. Pieces like this are just confirmation that I made the right choice. Thanks for speaking your mind. I sometimes don’t agree, but I never doubt your veracity, and I really like that.
Was it not Robert A. Heinlein who wrote something like “The most elegant prose a writer will ever see is ‘Pay to the order of’ ”
Which, for you children out there with your textings and your twitters, is what paper checks say.
Sir Walter Scott wrote for money—-a bad partnership early in life left him deeply in debt, so he wrote a LOT of books in a style that was very popular and on popular subjects to sell as much as he could and pay off his debts. I doubt anyone has ever called Ivanhoe hack-work, so there you go: you can make money AND create art at the same time. Also related: it’s not bad art just because a lot of people like it. And people liking it leads to money. So if you commit the double sin of writinh things people want to read and pay money for, you MUST be a hack, right? ;)
As you note, part of the reason you’ve been able to make a lot of money writing is that you’ve been fantastically lucky. And that’s the thing. If you look at the expected value of writing, that is, what you make in a year from writing multiplied by the odds of a person making that much money by writing, then writing probably turns out to be a very poor way to make the amount of money you do.
Even though writing may be your best talent, you’re a pretty smart guy overall and I’d be willing to bet there are careers you could have gone into that would have been more likely to deliver a comparable paycheck.
Which is not to say you made the wrong choice. It worked out for you, obviously, and you’re also doing something you love doing. But for a person who is solely looking to make money, even if they believe writing is their best talent, the odds are good a different career path is the “rational” choice.
Good point J. Swan. Also, wasn’t Shakespeare a “hack” as well? After all, he wrote the equivalent of sitcoms and CW dramas for his day…
I have never read a novel written by a non-hack. The non-hacks dont get published and dont publish anything of interest to me. The hacks write things that entertain me.
I write to get rich but no luck in that department (yet). But I also plan to live forever and so far, so good.
Why does making money and wanting to make money by being an author make one a hack? I am a programmer, 90% of the code I write is boring stuff for my job. The other 10% is fun idea exploring and creation. I think most of us who are lucky enough to be able to do as our job what we already enjoy doing (writing/coding/research/journalism/engineering/dancing/etc) are similar % wise and don’t consider themselves hacks, nor would outsiders consider some of those professionals hacks. Those that are successful enough that they can increase their % done for fun and earn a good living are just that: successful. Calling them hacks is envy, pure and simple.
> As luck would have it, much of what I like to write, and the style I prefer to write it in, appears to lend itself to the acquisition of money.
Not luck. Hard work and positive reinforcement. Money is not evil. It’s society’s way of saying, ‘We value this.’ You guided your writing to get more of that reinforcement.
My first career was in the arts, and I swallowed an incredible amount of mistreatment on the grounds that Artsy Work Is Done For Love Therefore We Don’t Have to Pay You a Living Wage, as well as You Are An Artsy Person, Therefore You Cannot Be Happy Doing Anything Else and Must Live With Whatever Crap We Choose to Throw At You.
Guess what? I was wrong. Fortunately, I figured this out. I make a very decent living now AND I’m happy. I don’t regret the first career — I’m damned proud of the work I did — but it’s a grand, grand thing being able to afford to buy other people’s art.
My goal was always to make a living writing. I knew it was possible, so why not?
I’m making a better living at it than I thought I would. I mean, I even have health insurance!
It really does help to not sabotage yourself from the get-go.
I’m a professional writer, somewhat to my surprise; tech writing and instructional media creation keep the insurance going and keep a roof over the wreckage.
Perfesser Scalzi makes a good point – self-sabotage is much easier than pressing on regardless through the obstacle race that is traditional publishing. I’ve watched many of my fiction-writing colleagues work themselves to the nubs in the ‘write – flog for agent – flog for publisher – flog to public in bookstore – repeat’ cycle. So a couple years ago I dropped my ambitions to fictioneering in favor of a more reliable revenue source, one that would allow me to spend at least some of my time with my esteemed spouse and our critters.
So my view of what makes a hack may be a bit different than what’s been cited so far. I am directed to do only ‘what’s good enough’ for the end-users. The work could be better. But that’s all the client wants. I take their money, and scramble for more.
Might be time to go back to work on my fiction . . .
Similar reasoning is often used to justify giving teachers endless crap and crappy wages, too. I loathe it in both arenas.
I’ll wait until you do your Perry Rhodan reboot novel.
I would buy this in a hot second
I’m not at all sure I would want to do all the research I’d need to do for something like that. It’s like writing a Doctor Who novel — the fans would EAT ME ALIVE.
Here is comes:
Pretty typical american.
It would have been so much better to say one is writing for make decent living or something like that. Getting rich on other hand is just selfish act by which you are putting yourself above rest of the people. And by rest of the people I am not talking about your neighbours but in global scale. Everybody should be scale their living and not be greedy and want more and more “riches”.
@Ori- You know, luck plays a huge role in success in just about any field. I am about Scalzi-level successful in my field (in dollars, not in name-recognition), which is a STEM field. I often get asked for career advice, and I try to give honest advice. However, I always say that if you look at my particular career path, there were at least three points on it when ginormous huge helpings of luck just happened to come my way. Was I qualified and ready to advantage of that luck? Hell, yes. But so were a bunch of other people who didn’t get the chance and are getting by but are not anywhere near as well off as I am. Honestly, these days, having the skill and the qualifications for even supposedly “safe” careers seems to just be the lottery ticket. Winning the lottery and becoming successful is in large parts down to luck.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that in terms of what advice to give the college kids and grad students who ask me for career advice. I don’t think I’ve got great answers yet. Here’s what I have so far: http://www.wandering-scientist.com/2012/12/thoughts-on-majors-and-career.html.
And hey, all you people making digs about STEM types not being able to write: there are some very good writers in the STEM fields. It is just not as much of a prerequisite for success as for, say, writers.
BRAVO. And thank you :) Voice over has the same issue and now there is a handy dandy Thing to Point At next time someone asks me to do a project for free…
“It would have been so much better to say one is writing for make decent living or something like that.”
No it wouldn’t, because that would be a lie in my case. Why would you want me to lie, simply for the sake of appearances?
“Getting rich on other hand is just selfish act by which you are putting yourself above rest of the people.”
Oh, nonsense. One, my personal accumulation of wealth is neither here nor there in the much larger issue of global income inequality. Two, I fully support the idea of all humans everywhere raising their standard of living. Concurrently and independently, I live in the real world, where wealth confers advantages, and I’m going to go ahead and take advantage of those factors now. Three, given your name and IP address, I’m going to guess that you live deliciously comfortably in a first world European country, so please, give the lecturing tone a rest. You live in the same glass house as I do.
People who have been poor and are no longer in that miserable state look at money differently than other folks. They become focused on never returning to that state and it drives them in odd ways. Some people, like you and me, end up in the “Fuck you, pay me” mindset. We do the thing we’re best at, we know the value of our work, and we intend to be fully compensated for it. Others go the, “Oh God, I have to endure whatever misery I must to retain this income” route. They feel like they inexplicably lucked into this non-poor state and it could vanish at any second. They trade the misery of being poor for the misery of being terrified of being poor.
I always hold you up as a really good role model for both writers that make money and poor kids who made good. Diversification of income, understanding the marketplace (and your place in that marketplace), and insisting on being treated as a professional (because you are one!) are the keys to success in any field. If you had decided to be an astrophysicist, you’d approach it the same way. If you had decided to be a musician, you’d approach it the same way. You own your financial destiny and you shepherd it effectively. There are a lot of people who could learn from you.
“I’ve written things for the pure enjoyment of writing them as well as for other factors, although once I was done with them I often looked to see how best to profit from them.”
I think this is the best (maybe ideal is the better word) way to write. Sometimes you might find yourself in a position to have to write for profit, but that aside, writing for love and then deciding what to do with it makes for the best stories and a paid author. Win-win.
What @Becca Stareyes said. Though as a professor in a STEM field, I make in the low 6-figures, there are other things I could be doing that would make much more. So nobody goes into academia to be rich, BUT the trade-offs can often be worth it (and you can still come out with a pretty nice salary and net worth as a STEM academic, just not as high as it would be if you’d chosen to do something else with that degree).
http://somethingpositive.net/sp01242013.shtml (for the punchline, not the phone sex part)
You’re an honest guy, John. Not going to fault you for wanting to get rich. I tell my son all the time, “Do what you love and the money will come if you want it. That’s because you’ll be the best. It won’t be so much work as oodles of fun.” Well, maybe I didn’t use oodles. He is almost 13 and such usage is weak and unmanly. Anyway, if you’re bringing home case loads of bacon from something you love, I’m tipping my hat to you. I’m buying it because it’s good stuff, you’re not making me pay. So there.
Isn’t Ekla’s post the reason we have the term “eurotrash”? There is a mindset among some Europeans (continental or across the channel) that, due to their cultures being far older, they possess some sort of ponitfical right to the rest of us. (For the love of God please note that I said “some” Europeans.)
I’ll store the “be grateful you don’t use a Reich passport” vitriol, and just point out that without socialized medicine and a mandatory six week vacation, we still possess an outstanding quality of life here in the Evil US Empire.
Mr. Scalzi, I reiterate that I appreciate your frank honesty. I read Old Man’s War before I found this site, and while my views don’t always match up with yours (politically speaking), I enjoy your writing very much. In fact, I read OMW while deployed; and I did so for free which was thanks to your generosity, if I recall correctly. With success comes the ability to be generous–a truism that often gets forgotten in our society.
* or pontifical I am still not sure its a word…but it briefs well.
Krusatta: “There is a mindset among some Europeans (continental or across the channel) that, due to their cultures being far older, they possess some sort of ponitfical right to the rest of us.”
Given the lack of the “older culture” reason, I wonder why so many people here in the US also have that mindset.
It’s probably a wise decision. All three of the hard-core Perry Rhodan fans out there would indeed want your guts for garters.
@Bearpar An excellent point, which is why I qualified it. We Americans, on the other hand, enact the teenager principle of being immortal, invincible and omniscient.
“Do what you love and the money will come if you want it.” works much better if you happen to love programming computers than if you happen to love art history.
In the real world, I think you’ve actually got to find something that provides a balance between being enjoyable and paying reasonably.
Interesting. I was never really poor, but I’ve eaten a bit of spaghetti in years past. Richer is better, within broad limits. Good fortune in your future quest. :)
One of my favorite sf writers, M.A. Foster, gave up writing because he couldn’t make enough money at it. IMO, he’s a BETTER writer than you are, John. For a variety of reasons, including timing, he didn’t capture a large-enough audience with his (IIRC) DAW-published books. Due to the era, there were also probably a lot of limitations on the kind of independent audience encouragement you’re excellent at. So, timing, luck and skill at audience generation all make a difference, above and beyond talent.
Incidentally, timing is VERY important. You made an extra $2 off of me this month. I bought the ebook of “Redshirts” the day before the price dropped. It happened because you mentioned it here at a point in time when I was between books. No regrets, but I only gave it 3 stars for other reasons.
I think there may be some confusion over the meaning of “rich” here. Becoming a writer because you want to be the next Bill Gates or Warren Buffett is probably not the best plan. Becoming a writer because you want to earn enough to, say, buy a nice house, well, it worked for my Auntie Melisa (who also became the SFWA webmaster for many years), but not so well for my mom.
Of course, Scalzi’s one of the lucky ones who manages to get some big hits. Auntie Melisa had decent sales, but she was no Scalzi. I think she had at least one Locus Award nomination, but her only major award (let alone nomination) was a special “service award” Nebula for her contributions to SFWA. Which, nice as it was, really didn’t help boost her sales much.
Growing up in SF fandom, being Randall Garrett’s page in the SCA, and a regular house-sitter for Poul and Karen Anderson when they went out of town, etc., none of it inclined me to think “hey, this writing stuff is the path to riches.” I chose software development as my profession in part because the money looked a whole lot more reliable. :)
So long as your desire to get rich doesn’t lower the quality of what you write, I don’t particularly care what your motivation is; moreover I am more than happy to do my small part in helping you achieve your dreams of fabulous wealth.
Meh. The real trick is to write something that sells so well as a backlist title that you never need write again, except for little vanity essays and throat-clearing introductions and the occasional bit of sportswriting for fun.
Still workin’ on that.
I believe in you, Nick!
The same type of comments allow people in the social services to get shafted all the time. Instead of saying, “Wow! That person works her ass off doing a job I don’t want to do,” people say, “It takes a special person…” I hate that special person bullshit. I can do other things for a better living. Am I now a less special person, because I work at a computer helpdesk instead of a group home for developmentally disabled people? Maybe. I’m still helping people in a professional capacity (which I really, really enjoy), but I’m compensated reasonably. There’s not a thing wrong with wanting that, in my opinion.
John, I think you’re into “everybody has a different definition of ‘rich'” territory.
Heck, I’m not sure I have the same definition I did this morning…
John I think you’re full of it. If all you wanted to do in your life was make money, you would have been a cover model. :) I think you are more in the Bill Gates mode. You love what you do to make a buck and you’re good at it. The money isn’t a major part of it, only a way to keep score.
If the world was coming to a end in the next 15 minutes, you’d be writing our obit. But only if your family was out of reach.
Just a very simple “Thank you.” From another writer who makes his living doing this, who only writes what he loves, who enjoys the work and sometimes the business. I also hate when people say they don’t write to get rich. My response is often “Then you aren’t working hard enough.”
I’m in a line of work that requires making decisions that immediately impact the lives of people in an occasionally profound way. It pays well and is a hard job to get. Every once in a while, one of my colleagues will say something like, “I love this job so much, I’d do it for free!” And I always tell them that they are either (a) lying, or (b) such a poor judge of the way the world works that they need to quit. Because, let’s face it, why would you work for free?
I do think that one could reasonably say, “Doing [x] to get rich is not my primary goal.” Sure, okay. But I agree that the entire “you aren’t doing this to get rich” bit is a tired canard that used to play people for suckers to justify taking their labor for free.
What Seebs said
KSB. I say the same thing, with a caveat “I love this job so much, I’d do it for free….. But the paperwork will cost you $100 an hour.” To your why work for free question, I have one for you. Why work at anything that you absolutely hate doing? Life is too short to be doing that.
I’m always amused by people who misuse that Johnson quote. In Boswell’s Life of Johnson, the rest of the paragraph that line appears in is devoted to listing writing the Johnson did that was most emphatically not for money…
I think when most people say “Don’t write to get rich” they’re just acknowledging the reality that the vast majority of authors, even published authors, die without making even a minimum wage for their time.
I think the phrase should be “If you want to be a writer or some other type of artist, don’t count on getting rich.”
By the way, could you or one of your correspondents tell me if there’s a way to simply subscribe to The Human Division?
Preach it, brother!
I would argue that for every financially successful artist, there are dozens of struggling ones, and maybe ten really talented struggling ones. As you yourself noted, you’ve had ample good fortune and privilege to help your prodigious talent get on the map. So if writing is your sole marketable forte, and you want to live comfortably, then writing for a living makes sense. One certainty in life is that if you’re do something only to make money, without regard for your aptitude or enthusiasm, you are considerably more likely to fail. I won’t say no one ever got rich doing something they were mediocre at, but the odds are against it. While I definitely choose my career path to make money, I made sure it was something I was passionate about and good at. Conversely, passion and talent are no guarantee. Making money in any field of endeavor requires keen business sense, and there are many otherwise talented professionals who become babbling idiots when faced with managing a business. I personally think this is like math panic, more a psychological block than an actual incapacity for understanding.
This theme occasionally resurfaces here. I always think of this episode of Numb3ers. This post sounds just like Miles Sklar.
Really good article, John!
Just one question: What is … money?
p.s. I thought we wrote for the chicks.
I think in some ways one of the (less insulting) attitudes behind the “writers don’t write to get rich” statement is the awareness that an awful lot of writers also have jobs that do not involve writing–“day jobs,” as in “don’t quit your day job.” The hidden assumption is that if a writer could make a living by writing, he/she would–and that most writers don’t because they can’t. Aside from the fact that that just isn’t true–I know several writers who make very good livings by writing full-time–it also ignores the possibility that some people keep the “day job” for reasons having very little to do with whether or not they could make a good living by full-time writing. Some people aren’t cut out to be freelancers; those people shouldn’t try (or should try to get a writing job that is more structured than freelancing). Some people just really, really are passionate about their day job, too–it’s possible to have more than one passion–and can’t imagine giving up on it, or on writing. One of the advantages of writing is the flexibility of it as a profession; it can (if the individual writer wishes) dovetail nicely with all sorts of other activities, both professional and otherwise. In my opinion, “writers don’t write to get rich” is therefore wrong on so many hidden levels; the only sense in which it is true is the extremely general one in which happy people rarely do anything for just one reason . . .
The real trick is to write something that sells so well as a backlist title that you never need write again, except for little vanity essays and throat-clearing introductions and the occasional bit of sportswriting for fun.
The Spiegelman maneuver?
Maybe it’s better said that nobody writes solely to make money. I’m not even sure if that’s true though.
Can something be entertaining if it’s written solely for the money with no thought or concern toward quality? If so, would that make the author a sellout? (Going back to a conversation from about three weeks ago).
Thanks for this. The money’s usually somewhere in my calculation, even as a newbie, and even though I’ve occasionally been made to feel silly for it.
Also, this makes me think of Calvin and Hobbes discussing high art vs low art. “Vapid. Juvenile. Commercial hack work. ‘Low’ art.”
I have no problem admitting that I’m a hack. I read better-written things from better writers (like that hack Scalzi, he’s a better hack than I am) and my hackness is evident.
…but I’ve been supporting myself primarily as a writer for eleven years now. And I own a house inside the DC beltway.
…y’know what? I’m comfortable with my hackness. And my girlfriend just bought me a drum set. My life is pretty good.
My first career was in the arts, and I swallowed an incredible amount of mistreatment on the grounds that Artsy Work Is Done For Love Therefore We Don’t Have to Pay You a Living Wage, as well as You Are An Artsy Person, Therefore You Cannot Be Happy Doing Anything Else and Must Live With Whatever Crap We Choose to Throw At You.
I do handwork with fibre, and I paint. Some of the things I have made either with fibre or a brush are drop-dead gorgeous, and that’s not just me patting myself on the back. I do good work and I take good care to do good work. (It’s a pride thing.) I don’t sell my work, because there is no way that I could get paid what I consider to be a fair price for what I do. A recent project of mine is a wedding blanket for some friends. If I were to pay myself a fair living wage–$15/hour for a 40 hour week is $30,000 a year–then including the cost of materials, the blanket would cost $1000. There is no way on this green earth I could sell the blanket for even half that. On Etsy I might make a quarter of that, of which about half would be the cost of the materials.
That’s what is so insidious about Artsy Work Is Done For The Love. Whether you’re talking about putting words on a page in a way that people want to read them (and that extends to technical writing, journalism, educational texts, and translations), working with fibre, woodcraft, etc, it takes a huge amount of skill to be able to do a good quality job. Skill means practice and training and frequently formal education, all of which cost money. Skill means that there is a high level of expertise, and maintaining one’s expertise takes more time, money, effort, and training. A quality product means using high-quality raw materials (for writing, this comes out of education and imagination), built with high-quality equipment (computer, word processing software, storage media), and distributed in such a way that it preserves the integrity of the product (hard-bound, e-books, etc). All of that costs yet more money. Somehow, you’re expected to gain all this expertise, put in all this work, pay for all this equipment, and give it away for free or cheap for the betterment of society, but the grease monkey who changes your oil for you charges for it? All because what you created is decorative, or musical, or literary?
What really blows my mind are how cities will waffle at considerable length about their artistic community and the need to attract creative industry, but don’t recognise that creative people need to eat hot food and sleep indoors, too. Austin, I am looking at YOU.
@Mary Frances, something else about a “day job” that isn’t demeaning is that it’s nice to have a steady, predictable source of income (and benefits, and health insurance). Windfalls from freelance work aka the next novel are GREAT, but so is knowing that there will be a paycheck in the bank when the rent comes due.
Clytemnestra’s Sister @ 8:45: Yeah, that’s kind of what I meant when I mentioned that some people just shouldn’t freelance–at anything. Doesn’t matter if you can actually earn enough to live on while freelancing; if the process of trying to do so also gives you ulcers, migraines and emotional breakdowns, you aren’t going to be doing it for long . . .
Jimbot: I can think of one reason – because the other option is not having any money at all. This is, after all, why I wound up taking a call centre job which was offered to me while I was on unemployment benefit. If I’d turned the job down, I’d have been in breach of my conditions of benefit, which would have halved the (already minuscule) income coming into our household straight off. So, I took the job for the six weeks it ran, did the hour-and-a-half each way of country driving it required, poured $50 of fuel into the car every three trips, worked myself into a nervous breakdown as a result, and wound up financially out-of-pocket. But at least I was still eligible for unemployment benefit at the other end of the whole thing (yays?).
Short version: sometimes you take a job that sucks because the other alternative is starvation.
@Clytemnestra’s Sister I thought San Antonio was a good place for your work? Not saying you should move. Is commission work a possibility? (I’m simply curious.)
Hope everything works out with Paris…or are you the other sister? I’m not really teasing, I smiled when I saw your screen name.
John Scalzi: “YES I AM A HACK SO THERE.”
Shut up and take my money.
Miles Archer: “By your definition Heinlein was a hack too.”
I’m guessing that Heinlein would not have disagreed.
__ I doubt very seriously he would have disagreed. I don’t remember the exact quote, but he did write that there are no new ideas. All you can do is take one, file the serial numbers off of it, slap a new coat of paint on it, and claim it as your own. In other words, all writers are hacks to some point I guess.
John, I’ve never believed that writers don’t write to make money. I learned at an early age that writers have this amazing power to suck money out of my wallet. Continue doing so please. As for commercialism in writing: I’ve read commercial stuff.. and I’ve read stuff that claimed to be the opposite… enjoyed a lot of both. But at the end of the day, the commercial stuff netted a lot more cash because.. well it was a lot more accessible to people. The writers knew who they were writing to and what they wanted and sold them a brand new 2013 Egyptian chariot with only 100,000 plus miles on it… and that little touch of new paint and GPS on the dash made the story stand on its own.
Feel free to remove cash from my wallet as you please.
“Why work at anything that you absolutely hate doing?”
Said the person who couldn’t possibly be concerned where his next heating bill or meal is coming from. Having the ability to seriously adhere to that life philosophy is a huge a privelege, and one you should exercise as much as is allowed to you. But, this question has a multitude of legitimate answers that aren’t “Totes!”
Eating food in a non-sub-arctic temperature is a lifestyle choice I’ve made. And, if working a shitty job I loathe allows me to enjoy that lifestyle choice, well. Super.
I understand the sentiment. Just, respect that there are people who would trade anything even just to get a foot back in the world of employment, in any capacity. So, that when they finally get that job interview that might go somewhere, they have an answer for the ‘what have you been doing’ question that beats the bar of “doesn’t make their self want to barf on the spot”.
“…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.”
That quote is something that isn’t true, but is honest enough to make you think. And it’s not just a point about writers getting screwed over by printing press owners. In my opinion, you can’t write a good piece of work if you’re busy thinking about how well this will sell or if you’re too scared about ticking off your loyal customers to take risks. You have to put the storytelling part of it ahead of the other stuff, and if you do it the other way around, you risk turning into a dumb hack.
@Krusatta, I’m happily employed full time in a STEM field and living in Houston. I have watched Austin over the last few years, though, get so entranced with its own reputation that it’s starting to strangle its golden goose. The cheap part of town where the artists all moved (musical, graphic, theatre, etc) got hip and vogue, taxes went up, affordable studio space became dear, and the art community that really really does provide a lot of work in Austin got squeezed. Lather, rinse, repeat, build fancy schmancy expensive condos downtown, and so on.
I do both fibre and visual art in my own time for the pleasure of it, and wouldn’t dream of selling. Partially because there is NO way I can make it worth my time to sell, partially because I don’t want to just charge whatever and undercut people who are trying to make a living out of their art, and partially because I don’t want to turn my fun hobbies into Work. I’d love to have a showing at a coffee house or something, but I’m not going to knock a Real Live Professional Artist out to assauge my ego.
Also, Paris Alexander was a jerk and I’m never eating apples again. (Congrats on recognising the story!)
I’ve been addicted to writing since I was five. I never wrote to make money; I write because it’s part of who I am. However, I do edit and publish my stories to make money. I signed an option for a movie project (which is currently in development) with the hopes of making lots of money. I plan on writing sixteen more novels over the next three and a half years to finish my five year plan of being an overnight success. That what I’m doing is so much fun is a huge bonus.
By contrast, I’ve spent much of my life bumping into people who assume that being a writer means I MUST be rich beyond the dreams of avarice, because the writers they’ve =heard of= are JK Rowling (richer than the Queen), Nora Roberts (estimated to make about $60,000,000 per year), Stephen King, Danielle Steele, John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell (making over $10,000,000 per year according to news pieces on her current lawsuit against her financial managers), etc. So when I say I’m a writer, people are dumbfounded that I live in a local townhouse and drive a Corolla rather than dividing my time between my mansions in California, New York, and the Caymans (where I presumably visit my secret bank accounts). What’s WRONG with me?
At the other end of the scale, I also constantly meet people who assume that no LIVING writer ever makes a penny, that only dead people like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens actually sell books. No, I don’t quite follow the logic of dead people having careers, either, but I really do hear this rather often when I say, “I’m a writer…. Yes, that’s what I do for a living…. Yes, for a living… Yes, I do mean writing and getting paid for books…. Yes, books that get sold in bookstores… Yes, the same bookstores that sell Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.”
I was raised by a writer and raised knowing writers, so I had no idea until I became an adult that someone being a WRITER was not something that most of the world identified or recognized as yet another pay-the-bills sort of profession. But it’s not. And that was recently driven home to me AGAIN this past year when I applied for a mortgage. It’s AMAZING how many mortgage officers no longer want to talk to you once you say the words “freelancer” and “novelist.” It’s like saying “halitosis” and “STD” on a first date. I did get my mortgage (and my house!) in the end… but by the time I was done, I realized it would have been much easier just to plan and execute a bank heist.
@Laura Resnick: Your comment reminded me of an encounter with a small child, years ago, who had been similarly raised by writers and among writers. I was complaining about the building I worked in at the time–not the job, just the physical plant–and she looked at me wide-eyed and said: “Why aren’t you a freelance writer like the rest of us?” It was just the logical choice of profession for her . . .
There are a lot of more likely ways to get rich than by writing, and if you do write then it may get to a choice between doing it well OR getting rich. So overall I’d recommend following Kenneth Grahame’s example: rise to a senior position in a bank, and write in your spare time to stay sane.
Most writers I know want to make money writing so they can keep writing. And if you’re going to make money, might as well make a lot of it.
I believe it’s the best time ever to be a writer because we have more options. Because of the internet and digital publishing, my wife and I believe our only limit is ourselves. We’re no longer beholden to whether the agent likes it, the editor likes it, the sales force promotes it, the bookstore places it on the right shelf.
Everyone has a different path, but I really enjoy getting at least a dozen checks every month, like clockwork, from all the various platforms. I know exactly how much money is coming in for the next three months that is already earned.
Writing is a strange business in so many ways, not the least of which is this notion that you should someone hang your head in shame if you have an interest in making money. Plumbers want to be paid for their work, and doctors, and accountants, and everyone else on the face of the planet, so why is it that many people think that it’s “bad form” for authors to want similarly?
I’m proud of the fact that I earn a full-time income from writing – I won’t hang my head for being a “sell out genre writer” I wake each day with 100% freedom and excited because I get to do the thing I love the most AND be paid to do so.
To me the sad part is that it really is hard to do so. I know far too many talented authors who have a day job, and that means that the world is being deprived of books that can’t be written because the person has to supplement their income. Do I want to get rich? I’d settle for “financially secure” so as to not have the dagger over my head. Right now I feel like I’m treading water living “book to book” and I’m looking forward to the day when there is a little more cushion built in.
Why work at anything that you absolutely hate doing?
Jimbot, weren’t you, over in a different thread, just screaming about people who are foolish enough to go to college and get something other than a nice, employment-oriented STEM degree? Can’t have it both ways, brother.
As to money, I’d guess that the awards, fame, publication credits, ranks on the NYT bestseller list, people cosplaying as your characters, etc. etc. are really the way of keeping score. The money’s for buying shit.
Re writers and money, y’all have read Starve Better, I hope. Whether you like or dislike Nick’s politics or fiction writing, he is a working writer and has a lot to say about making a living as a writer. WRT the discussion elsewhere about writerly ethics, his chapter on writing essays for college students is fascinating.
“Why work at anything that you absolutely hate doing?”
Because it pays the fucking bills! Try 20 months with no job… then you’ll see that that bit of “advice” is what it is: a bunch of bull.
I hate the job I have now, but the money I make from it allows me to keep a roof over my head, the power on, and few creature comforts. I really don’t want to be driving a forklift in and out of the cold all night long on 3rd shift, or busting my ass to keep 3 (or 4-7) fast paced production lines running full speed.. but it is better than not having a job.
Having done it, I can say it is much better to be able to do a job you hate, and do it well, than it is to spend your time looking for that perfect job that may never come. If you get the chance to do the job you love, like our host, then bully for you and I’ll buy you a beer (or beverage) of your choice and be glad that you have a job you love doing. As for me, I’ll be glad doing the job I hate because it A) pays my fucking bills, B) it keeps me from sitting at home all day and C) because my parents (and the U.S. Army) taught me to give my all even to tasks I don’t like. I hate my job, but goddammit I’m gonna be the best fucking driver they have if I can pull it off.
“Why work at anything that you absolutely hate doing?”
Because I need to pay the mortgage, and taxes, and various bills of all kinds. I would LOVE to make a lot of money from my writing, but I am incredibly thankful to have a secure day job, even though I do hate it. And YES, I write for money. I would love to be rich.
And to those who think “being rich” equals “being EEEvil”, consider this: it’s hard to write nice large checks to your favorite charities if you’re poor!
And here’s a terrific quote about the difference between profession and hobby which I’m sure many of you will recognize:
SCYLLA, the most famous whore in Rome: “The difference between you and me, actor, is you’re a snob and I’m not. And the difference between this great lady and myself is that my work is her hobby. My hobby happens to be gardening, for which I don’t expect to be paid.”
Sure, I’d keep writing if I were suddenly struck rich — but it wouldn’t necessarily be anything other people would want to read…
Nobody wants to work a job they hate. Nobody wants their finest skills to go unused. And most folks, I believe, would rather not to worry about money. If we except these as axioms, then I’d imagine the corollary would be: People would prefer to make money doing what they love, and what they’re best at, to the point of not having to worry about money anymore.
I mean, I’m not a logician, but it seems to make sense.
Put another way: The contractor who renovated my bathroom last year took a great deal of pride in a job well done — that’s why I hired him. The result was a new bathroom that was not only functional, but also aesthetically pleasing. There is most certainly an artistic aspect to his work, centered around design. Yet I’m pretty certain he wouldn’t have done it had I not paid him, and I would not denigrate him for wanting compensation.
A strange opposite: As a woman entering computer science a lot of people (strangely) assumed I was only doing it for the pots of money I was supposedly going to make. It was one of many ways people discouraged me from getting my degree. “If you’re only doing this for the money we don’t want you.”
I did get my degree in computer science. It was never about the money. I just could never convince my fellow students or professors of that.
Your honesty is refreshing and admirable. Many great English novelists from the late nineteen- and early twentieth-centuries were trying to get rich. May your gravy train continue.
I’ve made 6 figures two years running from self-publishing. I am absolutely in this to get rich. The math just doesn’t add up to being poor unless you A. Can’t write well enough to attract ANY audience or B. Don’t write enough.
If you are prolific enough and have even a moderate amount of talent, I challenge you to stay poor over the long haul. Look at this long term, and considering an actual work ethic… when you have 100 titles in ebook, print, audio, and in multiple sales outlets all over the world, how can you be poor?
YES I AM A HACK
Like Shakespeare (a much sleazier opportunist). Or Dickens (who knew exactly why he was morbidly afraid of poverty). So?
And I think what a few of the previous commenters may have been looking for is “Let’s not kid ourselves: We’re fighting for their beer money.” -Robert A. Heinlein
Unfortunately, “no one becomes an editor to get rich” is pretty much impossible to refute.
Hmmm. I am a writer. A fiction writer. And I only started publishing my work because I saw an opportunity to be compensated for it that was equitable. The current trad pub route wasn’t equitable – I knew far too many fine talents who got their $10K advance and then saw nothing for a year or more, only to be told the book didn’t earn out, and they were going to be dropped, so not to bother submitting anything else. That sucks a bag of d#cks, to plagiarize a popular comedian. But when I saw the Amazon kindle start to make sense for an increasing number of folks, and ran the numbers on 70% commission on a $5 title… Suddenly my hobby, which I did for my own enjoyment, seemed viable.
I got very lucky. Timing. Genre. And I worked 15 hour days, seven days a week. I started in June, 2011, and I think my total income that year from writing was a few grand. In 2012, I sold over 100,000 books. I’m on track to double that in 2013.
I write because I love it. But I got into the book selling business because I saw an opportunity to make a decent amount of loot selling my wares. Turns out that quite a few folks are willing to exchange their $5 for what I write. Because I live in Mexico, I’m a big believer in trickle down economics, so I invest it in tequila, strippers and naval staring, and fritter away the rest. It seems like an equitable exchange.
I think you should write because you love it, but if you are going to try to sell that which you write, you should set your sights high. WTF not? I’ve made piles of cash being good at other things, and never for a moment felt guilty about being richly rewarded fro my work. Why wouldn’t I want to be richly compensated for this as well? Book selling is a business, and businesses are generally measured by how much money they make. I want to have a very successful book selling business. So far so good. Of course, luck plays a huge role, but so do the long hours and the insistence on quality being baked into the cake at every level. The luck part is what they call business risk. All businesses have it. The book selling business simply has more of it than other businesses. If you can’t deal with that, pick a different business.
A hack? We’re all hacks to someone. I just happen to prefer being a hack to tens of thousands rather than to a few. Because it pays better.
Suspense author, hack, malingering misanthrope
I write novels to make money, and I hope it’s a lot of money someday soon. I see no shame in that. Anyone who has a problem with that is probably jealous or bitter.
Every once in a while someone in the comments here says, usually as an aside to something else, that no one becomes a writer to get rich.
I think lots of people write to become rich. I think a lot of people view writing as something of a lottery and they just want to jump in on that and get a piece of the action. J.K.Rowling went from homeless, single mother to having more money than the queen of england by winning the writer lottery. And I think lots of people jump into writing specifically because they want to win that lottery.
The more interesting question for me would be, how many people try to get rich as a writer, but fail? And are the numbers for tried-but-failed-writers on par with other career choices?
It would be interesting to plug into some omniscience database and just graph out how many people have ever tried to write a short story or novel and submit at least one work to a magazine or book publisher, and how much they end up making as a writer. If the “X” axis is lifetime income in dollars, and the “Y” axis is how many writers attempted to get rich and how rich they actually got, it would be interesting to see what that curve would look like.
I can imagine a bunch of different kinds of curves might be possible, but if I had to guess, I would guess that the X axis point that is zero-to-one-thousand-dollars would contain a massive spike of people who tried but only got rejection letters, or tried and published one short story in their lifetime.
The rest of the X axis could probably be broken down into John’s categories here:
And then summed up for lifetime totals. How many people get a couple of “shitty deals” and then stop writing? How many get a few “contemptible deals” before they die? How many get a number of ““I’m Getting the Next Round” deals in their lifetime?
How many writers end up as rich as Rowling?
I do think that because writing does occur to a lot of people as a lottery system of sorts, that it has a lot of people in the try-and-fail category or the “less than $1000” category, probably in similar proportion to other “lottery” type jobs, such as, Oh, I don’t know, how about “panning for gold”, and probably in complete disproportion compared to non-lottery type careers.
If we tapped into that omniscient database and did a similar graph for other careers, my guess is that “writer” would probably look more like “gold miner” than it would look like “librarian”. I dont think many people view the career of librarian as a lottery type career choice.
So, while I think a lot of people write to become rich, it might actually be accurate to say that writing as a career might have a disproportionate number of people who try writing and never make more than a few bucks at it, and that that spike at $0 to $1000 isn’t quite so big in certain other kinds of careers.
Focus on a niche. I prefer ransom notes. Pays very well and, on the upside, you have plenty of free time to write when your ransom note “career” comes to an end.
Well said, John. We should all write foir our own reasons, and not other peoples.
Many years ago, a friend told me he’d met a much older lady novelist at a Science Fiction convention, and she’d invited a whole bunch of people round to her house to use her swimming pool… Sounded like a great lifestyle. At that point in my life, I knew very few writers, but I wasn’t planning on starving in a garret while I sweated over a manuscript for years. Aspirations for my own writing? Too right.
The notion that a person who writes for money is only capable of creating an ‘entertainment’, while a person who writes with the highest of literary aspirations must — by definition — eschew the importance of financial remuneration (“This isn’t a product, it’s ART!”) is as old as the hills.
For some people, it isn’t good art unless the artist is starving. Any work that is both well-reviewed AND popular is scrutinized with suspicion. These people will brag “I was into ‘this guy’ BEFORE ‘this guy’ was cool!” and then turn a jaundiced eye toward the person’s work once “being ‘in the know'” becomes “everybody knows about it.”
There is nothing ignoble in Mr. Scalzi admitting that he has financial as well as artistic goals with his writing. As a reader, your enjoyment level of his work should not be predicated on any personal knowledge of his bank balance. The work itself is the important thing. If he writes something where he’s only in it for the money, then that motivation (or lack of creative motivation, if you will) is most likely going to show through in the writing. More importantly, remember Sturgeon’s Law [emphasis mine]:
90% of EVERYTHING is crap
— In other words, Yes, 90% of everything that’s written for money is crap; and, equally, 90% of everything that is written without any regard whatsoever to “getting rich” is ALSO crap.
John, I actually gave up on the idea of being a writer some years ago because it seemed like no one could make money at it. If I had to get another job anyway, and probably spend 80% of my working time on it, why not focus on that instead? I only came back when I heard midlisters were making money at it.
I would say I’d like to earn a comfortable living. Get out of debt, give handsomely to my favorite charities, pay for my kids’ college one day, have some land with a few horses, acquire a few choice comforts, take my kids to Disney World if I wanted to… and this would qualify as “rich” in many people’s books.
So far I just write to imagine myself writing for money. So I’m a work in progress :-)
“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” – Attributed to many (but I like to think it was W.C. Fields first)
I’ve always contended that the two most powerful human forces are greed and laziness. Which sounds awful until you really think about it. A basic tenet of human progress, I think, is that it follows the money. For example, do you think the explorers, the guys who wondered “what’s over the next hill”, the ones who sailed around the globe expanding knowlege, all did it just because they had a sense of adventure? Oh, hell no. They did it because they hoped saling west was faster and more profitable than saling east. They did it because they wanted to be rich, not (or at least, not solely) because they wanted to expand human knowledge, that was simply a nifty side effect. It’s the side effects of people get rich that are, usually, good for the rest of us.
In Mr. Scalzis’ case, he wants to be rich. The nifty side effect? We get entertained. This works perfectly well for me. I *like* to be entertained and am more than happy to plop down my 99 cents every Tuesday for the next couple of months to help Mr. Scalzi get there and to be entertained. It worked to explore the world, it works to entertain, it just works.
Oh, and the tenet that laziness is the other most powerful force? Well, how much of the world around you is shaped by someone, at sometime in the past, simply saying to themselves, “there’s just *got* to be an easier way to this…”
Reblogged this on You'll need an umbrella, I think and commented:
Writing has to make me rich.
suggested tags: Ellison, Harlan; Heinlein, Robert. Both had/ have the same sentiments.
I think ‘writers don’t do it for the money’ can actually be a dangerous meme, as it can be used to push writers to devalue their work, or give it away for free. Not that giving it away for free isn’t a reasonable choice sometimes, as long as it’s a choice, rather than someone else making money off you.
I write for money. I love to write, and I write a lot of work for which I don’t get paid, but getting paid and getting paid WELL is a major incentive for me. I’m a stay-at-home Mum to two children, and if I’m not bringing in income from my writing, then I’m spending a crazy amount of time on an indulgent hobby instead of doing laundry more often, or taking them to the bike park. When I am earning income from my writing, I feel like I can justify all those hours at a laptop.
If I viewed myself as an “artiste” without any consideration for future professional income, I think I would write as often as I quilt or bake birthday cakes or sketch, which is to say… rarely. And that would make me unhappy because writing regularly is pretty essential to my sense of identity. A vicious cycle, perhaps, but it’s MY vicious cycle.
I’m bemused by the folks dissenting in the comments — it feels like you’d have to deliberately jump through hoops in logic in order to disagree with this post.
1) There’s this prevailing idea that because we writers CAN do what we do for the joy of it, we should ONLY do it for the joy of it. So wait . . . does that mean that if we are unhappy about writing, it’s okay to get paid? Does that mean that the more you hate your job, the more you should be compensated? Because I know people with some really crappy jobs who ought to get a raise if that’s the case.
2) There’s this idea that money and artistic quality have any correlation whatsoever. It doesn’t. It’s why Teletubbies is famous and so is The Great Gatsby. Fame/ money cannot be charted on the same graph as artistic merit. No more than you can point out a relationship between the average height of corn this summer and how many young adult novels for boys were sold.
3) The folks who are protesting over the whole working a job that you would hate thing. Mm. I reckon they ought to talk to some writers before they trot down that path too far. I know that I, for one, lived at poverty level while I was getting my artistic career underway, and I made a conscious decision to make those wretched sacrifices to have this career I now have. I’m not saying that I expect everyone to be willing to live like I did in order to eventually end up with a job they love. Or that it always works out. But I take offense on Scalzi’s behalf that anyone here should think the advice here is “bull.” Digital Athiest said: “Having done it, I can say it is much better to be able to do a job you hate, and do it well, than it is to spend your time looking for that perfect job that may never come. ”
Well, I’ve done the opposite. And I can say that you can’t call your way better. You can only call it YOUR WAY.
As someone who used to think I shouldn’t make that much money because I’m a writer, this has been a really enlightening post. Ultimately, I always thought it was wrong to want to write for money, and to make a living off my words, but now I see that’s not exactly the case.
Old thread but I just found a link to it and had to put in my two cents.
I’ve encountered intellectual snobbery first-hand, which I think is nothing more than jealousy. While working on a master’s degree in education/English, I had to take nine graduate hours in English–and had the freedom to choose any three English classes. I thought I’d enroll in the creative writing classes, since I’d already had two books published and thought it might be a good way to polish my craft. To my surprise, after submitting writing samples that consisted of copies of my books (two middle-grade children’s novels) and clips of articles I’d published, the professor denied me entrance to the course because I didn’t write “literary fiction” and didn’t have an undergrad degree in English (mine was in music). On researching this professor I realized the only publishing credits he had were short stories in a couple of obscure anthologies, with a circulation probably in the hundreds (but he won an award for it!). On the other hand, one of my books has sold 100,000 copies through the Scholastic book fairs and made a nice down payment on my 3200-square foot home.
So I guess the prevailing notion in academia is that you’re not allowed to make money writing. I’m writing full time now, with a large chunk of my income coming from ghostwriting and freelancing in addition to my own books. Meanwhile this professor is getting $40,000+ per year to teach talented graduate students how to write obscure stuff that no one is going to buy.
I’m so glad he didn’t let me into his class because I’d have probably had to take a pay cut.
BTW John, we have the same agent, Ethan Ellenberg. Great guy who always goes to bat for me.
Thanks for this, John. I have always struggled to make a decent living as a writer, but I also struggle with the “real” 9-5 job scene because I’m so utterly bored and unhappy when I’m not writing fiction. And I’m no longer, if I ever was, the kind of guy who can work 40 hours during the week, parent, do the dishes and the recycling and the garbage, and still have anywhere near enough juice left for the Great Canadian Novel. Or even the Middling Canadian Short Story.
My wife has said, and I think you’ve driven the point home, that somewhere I just gave up on the idea that I could become rich (or even earn a passable middle class income) from fiction. I think you’re both right, and it’s getting in the way of both the art and commerce of writing for me. I need to re-think.
I agree that it’s disingenuous to say people don’t write for money — of course they do.
However, maybe it’s just because I’m up to my nostrils in aspiring what-have-yous, but the “Nobody ever…” phrase has always seemed like a Zen koan to me, to be used at that moment when the aspiring what-have-you finishes their first short story, lands their first role, puts their first video up on YouTube, etc., they take a deep breath… and announce: “Cool, I’m ready to be rich now, thanks. Where do I sign up for being rich?”
Okay, so maybe those aren’t their exact words, but that is what they mean. When they’ve finished one TV script and want to send it to a bunch of TV shows “to get hired onto staff.” When they’re planning a visit to LA and intend to “drop by” various agencies to set up meetings. When they want to know how to get Joss Whedon or J.J. Abrams to mentor them. When they want to mail their head shots to Quentin Tarrentino.*
In my better moments, I can find the words to redirect this enthusiasm back towards the work that needs to be done before any of the above plans will likely bear fruit. In my weaker moments, “Nobody ever…” is a viable shorthand that can help the aspiring what-have-you focus on the *real* goal they’re pursuing. Yes, they want to make money, but really? Really what they want is to be good at what they do. And the phrase “Nobody ever…” makes you ask: Well, if that’s true, then why does anyone ever do it? Oh right, to get better.
Absolutely, there are some people who have NO interest in being good at this particular thing, they just want to be famous/wealthy/popular because this is a thing they do. I’m probably being optimistic in thinking that a quippy line will be the thing that brings them to their senses. But on the other hand, those are exactly the people I try not to spend any time mentoring/advising/reading, so a quippy line is all I can really spare them.
And yes, once a certain level of competency is achieved, it no longer applies. But whenever I travel through those misty foothills of pure, charmingly innocent inexperience, I find myself saying it about once a day.
*All actual examples written or said on the internet or in my presence in the last year.
I have literally spent the afternoon setting up an alternate identity– email address, Facebook, Twitter account, G+, domain names, you name it as a precursor to starting to publish my work. I’m using a pen name because my day job is “teacher” and I’m not super interested in my students finding my blog. So I’m absolutely at the low end of the totem pole here– but you can bloody well bet that there’s no earthly chance I’d be doing all this work if I wasn’t hoping I’d make some money from it. Get rich? Don’t care– I wanna pay off credit card bills, and I’m hoping this will help. We’ll worry about getting rich once that’s done.
Hell, I even chose a last name starting with S so as to be physically close on shelves to a few specific authors I’m fond of: Sanderson, Stross, one other whose name escapes me at the moment. But even *that* was a financial decision, on the longshot possibility that anything I create might end up on bookshelves in the first place.
Thoughts on the pen name thing here: http://infinitefreetime.com/2014/02/01/on-prose-and-privacy-and-paranoia-and-pens/
*cough* Right. Necropost.