In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.
I have waxed lyrical about the welcoming nature of the Aussie spec community on many an occasion, and one person who typifies that is today’s guest, George Ivanoff. Since I have met him, he couldn’t have done more to make me feel welcome and to help me out. Add that to being perhaps one of the best dressed authors around (with the coolest jacket you can imagine)–and one of the most talented–he’s one of my favourite people in the scene. Welcome, George!
Everybody, sing with me: “Money, Money, Money. Must be funny. In the author’s world.” Sorry…had to get that out of my system. My journey from unpaid writing to making a living from it, was a long and slow process—a process indebted to my wife and to my children.
When I started getting published, back in the 90s, writing was a hobby. I had a nine-to-five office job. I didn’t have children. I had plenty of spare time and I used it to write. Money was not the issue. Getting my writing into print was the goal. Most of what I wrote was unpaid.
In 1999 I had my first two books published—a YA short story collection called Life, Death and Detention and a non-fic book for the primary school education market called Real Sci-Fi. I got a small but reasonable advance for each of these books. Suddenly, I had dollar signs in my eyes. After years of writing for nothing, the allure of getting paid (and along with it, the notion of being more valued) took hold. I wasn’t planning on giving up my day job, but I decided that writing could provide me with some extra pocket money, perhaps even contribute to my income.
The short story collection didn’t do wonderfully well…but the educational book did. Real Sci-Fi led me to a string of other education market titles. These books, although often quite short, were also frequently research-heavy. I spent more time writing.
After being made redundant at work, I went to a contract position in web development. And after the contract was finished, I made the decision to go freelance in web development and project management. This decision came about partly because the opportunity presented itself in the form of a potential major client…but also partly because I wanted more time to write. I figured that if I was freelancing, I could devote more time to writing when needed. It worked. And I wrote more education books.
By this stage I was doing less web development and more writing, which meant that my income had decreased. Meanwhile, as my wife shifted from a salaried position to her own graphic design business, her income increased. It made more financial sense for her to work full-time and for me to be the stay-at-home parent. This decision was helped along by that fact that I was the more naturally domestic of our partnership.
So, we decided that I’d become the full-time stay-at-home dad. I would stop freelancing in web development and spend all my spare time working on building a writing career, with the goal of eventually being a full-time writer.
Along the way we had another daughter.
For a number of years I continued to write books for the education market. And I re-entered the trade market with Gamers’ Quest, a teen novel that eventually became a trilogy. I wrote when my kids napped. I wrote in between games of hide-and-seek at the park. I wrote in the evenings after they had gone to sleep and I wrote on weekends while my wife looked after them. And, when there were pressing deadlines, I wrote while they were baby-sat by the television (yes, I know…it’s award-winning parenting).
Slowly, over this time, my income increased. I solidified my reputation in the education market. I had lots of books in school libraries, which meant a decent annual ELR (Education Lending Rights) payment. And I started to build a reputation in the trade market with the Gamers novels and with stories in anthologies.
Fast forward to 2015. Both my daughters are now in school. I’m still not a completely full-time writer, as I do school drop-offs, pickups and lunches, as well as shopping and meal preparations…but I’m pretty close to it. I am now earning a living, albeit a modest one. And my income continues to slowly increase.
Lots of people think that now, because I have a successful series with a major publisher (You Choose with Random House), my writing income is secure. Let me shatter that illusion. The You Choose books certainly go a long way towards my income, but they are not the be all and end all. I still write for the education market. And I also get a reasonable portion of my income from speaking and running workshops at schools, libraries and literary festivals. With two kids and a mortgage it would be extremely difficult to survive on my income…if not for my wife and her higher income.
I used to earn a lot more money in freelance web development than I do now as a writer. But (and this is a really big BUT) I am now a much happier person.
George Ivanoff is an author and stay-at-home dad residing in Melbourne. He has written over 80 books for kids and teens, including school readers, non-fiction books, chapter books, novelletes and novels. He is best known for the You Choose series and the Gamers trilogy. He has books on both the Victorian and NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge lists, and You Choose: The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove has been shortlisted for a 2015 YABBA. George drinks too much coffee, eats too much chocolate and watches too much Doctor Who. Check out his website: georgeivanoff.com.au