If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:8:52

Author: How I got my job and where I'm going

Video transcript

I always loved writing and telling stories, but specifically having a pen or a crayon in my hand and a piece of paper in front of me, it was always something I really enjoyed. My parents have stories about finding me when I was two or three marking up notebooks that they had, but not like drawing on them, marking in the lines. I couldn't write yet, but it was like okay yeah I just wanna get these things, these squiggles after the other squiggles in the lines. And when I started going to grade school, writing stories was always a very, felt very natural when it came to creative projects. So large scale research project of course I'm going to write like a 90 page story at the end of it. And I just kept building on that. And high school, middle school I started doing a decent amount of online play by post sort of foreign role playing and fan fiction and those kinds of things. There was an alt Star Fleet RPG usenet group that I posted on pretty aggressively from age 13 to 15. Those were excellent because they gave me a sense of readership, that there were people out there who were interested in the things I was going to write. They also gave me some structure in that if I didn't write anything for a long time people would be like where the heck is Max? In that process I wrote a first, my first long form book, like 240,000 words of basically fan fiction for this thing. It was great and people loved it and I thought oh god, I've just done this I can't sell it, I can't do anything with it. But I could do this again. And again and again and again. I went off to college with that in mind. While I was in college I wrote my first sort of unconnected to any sort of fan faction project novel, which was a big mystery novel. And that was fine and interesting in a lot of ways. And I didn't take any creative writing classes at college until senior year. I was very fortunate in senior year to decide hey, on a lark I want to do this and let's see what classes can offer. I took a class with an excellent, really prominent fantasy writer in the field that helped me get a lot more serious about what I could do with writing and what kind of stories I could tell. There were a couple of other classes that pushed me out of the fantasy bubble, the sort of speculative fiction bubble, to the wider literary world that really helped me gain technique. Then I went to China for a couple of years teaching. While I was teaching I had a little bit of down time and wrote a couple more books. And with every book I wrote I felt more excited to be writing the next one and I'd come up with three or four ideas for another one. So I wrote three books while I was over there and came back to the States in 2008. 2008 the financial crisis happened. I was looking for work at the time. That didn't go super well and as I was piecing together kind of odd jobs to stay afloat and trying to figure out what the heck had just happened, there was this enormous cataclysm that hadn't actually affected the physical world that much like nobody had knocked over any buildings and yet everyone, people were out of work, companies had disappeared. Trying to figure that out I reached for the language of fantasy and science fiction that I had grown up in and I started thinking about bankruptcy and global financial collapse as magical apocalypses, magical incidents. And that was a really cool key that turned a lot of things I had been thinking about and I sat down and I started writing Three Parts Dead. And that book I wrote in about nine months. I spent a much longer time editing it. Went out on submission with it to agents. Took about a year to land an agent. After I landed an agent I got a publisher in a couple of months. We sold the book to Tor Books. I had a two book deal on offer for that as I was selling Three Parts Dead as I was querying it and editing it. Before I had gotten an agent I had started writing a second book in the same world but with different characters. And so when Tor offered me that two book deal for Three Parts Dead, I said oh well, here's the second book. So I'd fulfilled that contract before the first book even came out. And then I sent them another novel from my trunk basically and they said oh well here's another two book contract. And so pretty soon I found myself with four books under contract, zero books out, and deadlines for them that made it a little bit nuts to keep my, um, the job in sort of white paper research and marketing that I had at the time. Very conveniently my wife Steph was just graduating from law school and was starting a job at a big firm. So I had been working while she was in graduate school and I decided well this is kind of my graduate school, I'm going to dive in and see if I can build this thing. And she was providing an enormous amount of financial stability at the time. And I've been running with it ever since. I've been building the business. Every year I've made more than I made the year before. And more people find the books every day and it's really exciting. My goals and ambitions for a decade from now are continuing to publish more books. I have a kind of end game for The Craft Sequence, my main fantasy series that I've been writing for the last five years, in mind and that's going to take a few years to play out. And then I'm excited to try new things. I'm excited to try to reach more readers. I'd love to and I'm working to get some adaptions made of my projects. I'd love to write more in comics a little bit. And yeah trying to start new series, do new things, and expand both the number of people that I'm working with and the number of readers that I'm finding, and also the kinds of media that I'm involved in. The artistic advice is really simple. You need to finish the things that you start. You don't need to finish everything but you do need to finish stuff. And then submit the things that you finish. That is, make sure that the work is going out there in the world and trying to find a home. And then maybe there's a third thing which is always try to get better. But what better is will change from writer to writer. Some people have some enormous natural gifts that other people will spend weeks or years trying to develop. Some people will start from nothing and just progress by grinding and careful skill development and mastery. But yeah, finish what you start, send it out there so that people will have a chance to buy it, and then just keep getting better and write the next thing. Business advice is a little trickier. A truism that I've heard in the field is if you keep publishing in mid-list fantasy and science fiction at least, it takes about 10 years to build a stable, strong platform. That's the point at which many people have kind of figured out how they're able to persist in this business without feeling constantly like they're struggling to keep their head above water. That isn't everyone. Some people get out and go and do something else and that's fine, but that's for people who are trying to continue publishing for perpetuity. So, know that if you have a day job that you like, it is perfectly okay to stay there as you are developing your professional writing career. I would say personally under no circumstances should you be quitting the day job before you have a deal in hand unless you have a particular vision of a sabbatical. And in most cases you shouldn't be doing that in your first deal or first two deals. Make really certain before you step away from a source of stable potential income that you have enough savings to carry you through the lean times especially since writing is very pique-y. And make certain that you're not counting on being paid exactly when the contract indicates that you will be paid or within a certain window after things get signed. Sometimes stuff just can take a while. The other reason that I'd suggest holding on to whatever stable source you may have as you are developing your career is this will give you a much better sense of what foundation you're building from and how quickly you're building. If you're growing at 10% a year, if you're bringing in 10% more money every year than you've brought the year before then you can reasonably project at what point you'll be able to step back and at what point you'll be able to fall onto a stable budget.
Careers brought to you with support from Better Money Habits® Powered by Bank of America® Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender. Investment Products: Are Not FDIC Insured, Are Not Bank Guaranteed, May Lose Value