Talking About Writing Income, or Not
A question in email:
On Twitter, you’ve linked to Jim Hines and Kameron Hurley when they’ve talked about their writing income, and you used to talk about your own writing income in detail. Do you ever plan to do that again?
For context for those of you who have come in late, for a number of years I talked about what I make as a writer, and how I made it, in part because I think it’s useful to have writers talk about what they make and to share information. It demystifies the process and keeps publishers and editors asking for writing from underbidding. The more we all know, the better off we’ll all be (in the long run, he said, hopefully).
As time has gone on, I’ve talked about my writing income less. One significant reason is that I have become an outlier, financially speaking, and sharing that particular bit of information has less overall utility for most folks. Jim and Kameron, among others, are in the thick of it more than I am and I think have more relevant things to say to most jobbing/aspiring fiction writers about writing income than I do, which is why I point to them and recommend people read their thoughts on the topic.
(Also, and I want to be very clear about this because the risk of being seen as condescending here is oh so very high, I don’t want to suggest a great separation between Jim and Kameron and indeed most working novelists and myself in terms of quality of work. We’re all within hailing distance of each other, skillwise, and who you think is better is mostly a matter of personal taste. I’m a financial outlier for a number of reasons, and one of them, a big one, as I frequently remind people, is luck. I have been very lucky in my career.)
Another significant reason I talk less about it publicly is because Krissy prefers I don’t. I’m inclined to respect the wishes of my spouse, who I live with, and love, and who is effectively the chief financial officer of our homey little domestic corporation. I have this general rule that any time I want to discuss online something that affects Krissy or Athena directly, I check in with them to see if they’re okay with me talking about it. Why? Because it’s their life, too. I literally just now checked in with Krissy on whether she was comfortable with me talking about my current writing income, and she was “yeaaaah, no.” Which means I won’t.
The closest I’ll come to talking about my current income level here on the site is to note a) I’m in the 1%, b) this discussion in 2015, when I got my long Tor contract, and I noted in relatively non-specific terms what I’d been making leading up to the contract. Without going into it further, I will say my income since then has not gone down. It does fluctuate year to year, but possibly less than you might imagine, since we’ve designed things to keep income flowing to us on what passes for the regular basis for a writer. This (relatively) consistent flow of income is at least as important as the dollar amount, to be honest about it. It makes budgeting and tax planning a little more predicable than it might otherwise be.
That said, there’s certainly a chance for things to substantially change one way or another. If several of my books flop, in the long term that’s going to be stone on my income level. If the movie/TV stuff actually happens in a significant way, that’s going to be a rocket. Who knows? I don’t! Other than trying to keep writing good books that people hopefully want to read, there’s a lot that’s out of my hands. What we’ve done is to set things up so that if problems do happen (and they might), we see them far enough out to prepare. And if things go great? Great! We’re prepared for that too.
But essentially that’s where I am with talking raw income numbers at this point. If you were hoping for something more here, I’m not sorry to disappoint you, but I do hope you’ll understand. And as noted, with Jim and Kameron and others on the case, there are more useful discussions about writer income than I could do, based off my own numbers. As a community, we’re not lacking in disclosure. And I’ll talk about other things regarding writing and careers, never fear.