Tag Archives: career

Paying for our Passion – A new guest post series

Quite often, an article will come out and make the rounds of my writerly social circles, popping up seemingly everywhere, and exciting much comment and discussion. When it simultaneously gets posted all over the place and by a range of people or sites, it’s a good indication that it has touched a nerve or tapped into a subject that is of concern to a lot of people.

Recently, the provocatively titled “Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from” seemed to be everywhere, and have everyone talking. From the article:

Here’s my life. My husband and I get up each morning at 7 o’clock and he showers while I make coffee. By the time he’s dressed I’m already sitting at my desk writing. He kisses me goodbye then leaves for the job where he makes good money, draws excellent benefits and gets many perks, such as travel, catered lunches and full reimbursement for the gym where I attend yoga midday. His career has allowed me to work only sporadically, as a consultant, in a field I enjoy.

All that disclosure is crass, I know. I’m sorry. Because in this world where women will sit around discussing the various topiary shapes of their bikini waxes, the conversation about money (or privilege) is the one we never have. Why? I think it’s the Marie Antoinette syndrome: Those with privilege and luck don’t want the riffraff knowing the details. After all, if “those people” understood the differences in our lives, they might revolt. Or, God forbid, not see us as somehow more special, talented and/or deserving than them.


In my opinion, we do an enormous “let them eat cake” disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some way succeed. I can’t claim the wealth of the first author (not even close); nor do I have the connections of the second. I don’t have their fame either. But I do have a huge advantage over the writer who is living paycheck to paycheck, or lonely and isolated, or dealing with a medical condition, or working a full-time job.

Thinking back to when I was first starting out (not that I claim to be to much further up the ladder or anything) I remember having some major illusions about the whole writing thing. I assumed that most of the established writers I knew wrote full time and were able to support themselves in doing so through the books and stories they sold.  I have to admit this created some false expectations of what I could expect, and a degree of pressure in my own mind about making money out of writing.

I think that many writers first starting out have similar ideas. We might look at the J.K. Rowlings of the world and assume that with our first book we can quit our day job and write full time. The setting up of false expectations can be very damaging when you don’t immediately take off. Juggling your creative time with a full time job can be draining at the best of times, how much more so when you feel like the time put into writing is being wasted because it isn’t immediately a huge success? And, what about people who have to juggle being a parent or a full time carer as well? People with a chronic illness? How do they cope?

Because this is a personal issue, we often keep it to ourselves. Worse, sometimes we don’t talk about it because we think everyone else is living the rockstar writer lifestyle and we are the only ones struggling to find that balance–and we don’t want to look like a failure. I thought this was a subject worth exploring, and hopefully seeing how others deal with these challenges might a) help new writers realise they aren’t alone b) give us all ideas that might help.

So, I asked  a range of writers and editors if they would be willing to share their experiences, and open up about how they balance writing with more mundane but essential things like paying the bills, or making sure they are spending time with their family. I hope that it helps other authors and editors out there see that they aren’t alone, and helps them set realistic expectations. This is where the title comes from–how do we pay for our passion for writing, whether in money, time or the things we have to give up?

If you want to contribute a piece to this please feel free to contact me – I am after a range of experiences so you don’t need to have been around for years (though more experienced writers are definitely welcome, too).

I am really looking forward to reading these posts, and hearing your thoughts.

Profiled so far:

Alan Baxter
Tehani Wessely
Laura E. Goodin
Amanda J Spedding
Andrew J McKiernan
Zena Shapter
Amanda Bridgeman
Maureen Flynn
Deborah Kalin
Joanne Anderton
Greg Chapman
Jane Routley
Jason Franks
Debbie Cowens
Gillian Polack
George Ivanoff
Darian Smith
Leife Shallcross
Jean Gilbert
Nicole Murphy
Fergus Hume via Lucy Sussex
Narrelle M. Harris
Grant Stone
Cat Sparks
T.B. McKenzie
Emilie Collyer
Craig Cormick
Felicity Banks
Sean Williams
Ian McHugh
T.R. Napper
Donna Maree Hanson

Wednesday Writers: Peter M. Ball

Peter is one of those guys I find it really hard to write an intro for. After all, everyone knows who he is already! He has produced some of the stand out stories of the last few years (including Australia’s most notorious unicorn story) in the local scene, but is also making a name for himself in international markets. He was also one of the main movers behind the mouth wateringly tempting GenreCon, a convention that I almost put myself into seriously debt to try and get to!

His achievements in writing aside, Peter is also someone you need to follow on Twitter – his movie tweeting in particular is worth the price of admission. And, like most of the people on the Aussie scene, Peter is a genuinely nice guy who is always happy to help other writers, and make new faces welcome.

As one of our best writers, and someone who understands the nuts and bolts of writing as career, I can’t think of anyone more qualified than Peter to write on the business of writing.

Going into Business

This is my third attempt to write this guest-post. It’s one of the curses of working in a writers centre – you get so used to answering specific questions, or delivering writing 101 advice, that the freedom to write about a topic of your own choosing frequently induces crippling uncertainty and a tendency to long-windedness.

And really, my advice boils down to the same advice I give every writer: treat your business like a business.

Forget the mystery of writing, or waiting for the muse. Forget all the people who start telling you how great it must be to make your living off something creative. These are cultural myths, right up there with the folks who tell you writers don’t earn money.

Forget the notion that art is made because you love it, and it’s therefore tainted by anything so crass as payment.

Embrace the fact that you want to earn money from your work and start treating writing like any other smart person does when they launch a new business enterprise. Do research into the ways people have traditionally made money in the industry. Learn how to handle your finances and run your business the right way. Learn about copyright and make sure you read every damn contract that comes your way.

Be willing to negotiate your contracts if your not happy with the terms. I’ve done it a few times over the years, mainly in regards to electronic rights for short-fiction, and I’ve never had a publisher tell me the contract was non-negotiable.

If you want to get really hardcore, do up a business plan for the next couple of years. An actual business plan, backed up by research and reasonable expectations of what you’re capable of, with a long-term view of where you’re going as a writer. I promise you, it’s easier than you think to get the information you need, especially once you start talking to other writers (or spending some quality time on the internet looking for the right resources).

At the very least, grab a few books on running a small business and familiarize yourself with the sort of thing that might be coming.

Pay attention to smart writers who are willing to talk about the business of writing as often as they talk about craft. I’m not talking about myself here – I bought into the idea that writers didn’t make money early and wasted a whole bunch of time as a result. If you want a good starting point, go check out Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife, which distils a lot of the things I wish I’d known at the start of my writing career into three-hundred odd pages.

Don’t have the cash to drop on a book? There’s other options out there. Go spend some quality time hanging out on the blogs of guys like Chuck Wendig, who pumps more great writing advice out into the ether every week than I deliver in a year. Be really sure you go check out John Scalzi’s blog post about writing and money, which similarly goes on the list of recommended reading I hand to every new writer I can.

And if you don’t want to do all that, you don’t have too. It’s perfectly okay to write because you love writing, to chase down publication from time to time because you like to see people reading your work. Doing all this can’t hurt, of course, but I’m speaking specifically to the writers who have day-dreamed about quitting their day-job in order to write full-time. If you’re dreaming big and ignoring the business side of the writing gig, you’re in for an awful lot of surprises.

You can make a living out of writing. If you can’t do it solely on the income generated by your work, you can certainly make a living out of being a writer – I did it, and I wasn’t even a terribly successful writer when I started (there are some who would argue – quite rightly – that I’m not even a terribly successful writer now). Not all of it came from writing – there was plenty of years I taught writing, took contracts to produce documents or web-contact, but I was thirty before I took a full-time job (it lasted less than a year) and thirty-four before I took a gig that meant I had to go to an office.

And given that my office is the Queensland Writers Centre, where I get to run an annual events like GenreCon, I’m not entirely sure that counts. I mean, my non-writing days are largely spent talking about writing, or bringing together writers to discuss the business and craft of making a living out of words.

Some days it scares me to think of what I could have done if I’d taken it all just a bit more seriously.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for writing well. I’m all for treating writing like an art and experimenting with each project. I even understand turning down jobs that make more money ’cause I’d rather focus on the projects I love. Go create with the same freedom you’ve always created with. Do exactly what you’ve always done.

But when you’re done with the creative side of the job, it’s time to put on your business hat and manage your career. It won’t always be easy, and it’ll be hardest at the start ’cause writing is generally a long-term investment, but it can be done.

PS: So, like, thirty seconds before I sent this post, I came across (yet another) writer who says this way better than I do. Kristen Rusch’s thoughts about the Book as Event is probably going to feed its way into the list of recommended reading I suggest.

Peter M. Ball is an SF writer and the manager of the Australian Writer’s Marketplace, where he convenes the annual genre-writing conference, GenreCon. His publications include the novellas Horn and Bleed from Twelfth Planet Press, and his short stories have appeared in publications such as Apex MagazineEclipse Four, and Daily Science Fiction. He can be found online at petermball.com and on twitter @petermball.