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Current time:0:00Total duration:12:17

Author: What I do and how much I make

Video transcript

I'm Max Gladstone, I'm a novelist, I make about $48,000 a year. So I write fantasy novels, I write games, I write short fiction and a little bit of non-fiction and blogging and things like that. The fantasy novels are set in the world of The Craft which is sort of a modern fantasy universe. So in Game of Thrones you have these kind of very medieval fantasy universe in which there are kings and dukes and things that are marching around with armies on horseback. In The Craft sequence you have developed modern cities you have gods that have shareholders committees and you have wizards that operate kind of like lawyers signing arcane contracts with eldritch entities and that sort of thing. And I've written a couple of games that are also set in that universe, I've also written a couple of unrelated serial pieces of short fiction so that's in collaboration with a bunch of other writers we all get in the same room and figure out characters and situations and then we plot out a series of short pieces that'll follow through a sort of season of television. So there are really two different sections of your job when you are a professional writer. One of them is some friends of mine called writing and the other one they'll refer to as authoring pretty often. Writing is just everything that's involved in creating a piece of art. You sit down at a table with a cup of coffee or whatever caffeinated beverage strikes your fancy, and you create a story. You plan it, you do the line by line writing, you do the coding if you're writing game. You put a script together if you're making a television series or a play or you just write the sentences one after the other if you're writing a book or a piece of short fiction and that takes about half of my time. Generally I'll get to a coffee shop at about 8:30, nine in the morning, after walking my wife to the subway and sit down and open my computer and start work and I'll go until lunch and it's generally 12:30 or one. Most writers I know, not everyone but most writers I know have about four hours and change of peak creative productivity in them in the course of a day. And that's time you're just sitting down and grinding on the thing. Some people take that all at once, that's the way that I do it I'll go for the deep dive and then come back up. Some people spread them out over the course of a day it's really a question of whatever fits your lifestyle and whatever fits your work. After that's done, there's all of the other stuff that you have to do as a professional writer. In my case, that means staying on top of correspondence with my publisher, with my agent, with other partners if I'm working on a collaborative project or if I'm working on a work for hire thing, or for a piece of video where I'm only one piece of a larger creative puzzle. So staying on top of all of that, behind the scenes collaboration and then there's public facing work. These days writers are expected to be responsible for a lot more of their marketing, publicity efforts, obviously publishers do a good amount of that work but then you're working with the publisher to make sure your efforts aren't going across purposes which adds another layer of coordination and then you have to be a little bit public facing. Some people do this in different ways. Some of that's social media, I spend probably too much time on Twitter and some of that's directly promotionally useful or interacting with fans useful and some of it's for my own personal entertainment. You stay on top of email that's coming in from fans and try to plan larger scale business things. What you want to do next with your career, where you want to go. And then there's the level of authoring that's just figuring out how you're going to get to the place you need to be. There's a convention six weeks from now that I've agreed to go to, do I have the plane tickets, do I have the hotel reservation, am I splitting a room with somebody or not, have I actually told this person that I'm going to do that, so all the logistics. And some writers at various stages in their career will hire a personal assistant to help with the logistics that's not the place that I'm at right now, but some of that stuff you really never can offload. You're always going to be fielding questions about your business, trying to run and build it and that will always be something that's in tension with the actual creative part of the job. So money is a touchy question in the publishing world, especially money for writers specifically. There's this vision of the starving artist as somebody who's like, tuberculotic in a garret somewhere, can't afford heat, coughing into a rag and desperately scrawling out words of genius. And this is a dangerous and problematic way to think about doing art. I mean even if you look at some of the great writers of the last two, three hundred years, these are people who did their peak artistic work even if they had some period of living a van or a garret or something a lot of their peak artistic work was done after reaching a level of security. Writers don't write well when they're hungry. So it is really important to be thinking about where the money's coming from and where's it going. Writing's also starting a small business and that's the thing that I think trips a lot of people up. You're going into business as a sole proprietor, of you LLC you are not going to get any loans to start the business, you're not going to get any venture money. And probably if you're into a writer, you have spent a lot of time making stuff up, making cool stories, and that sort of technical skill is something that you have an enormous amount of expertise at, but the business side is maybe a place where you'll lag behind a little bit and publishing is it's own separate universe of business even from working in tech or working in law, working in a lot of different professional fields. So all of that said, money as a writer can come from a lot of different sources. Novels are generally, novels that are published with traditional publishing, through traditional publishing pay you in advance, which is basically a down payment on the royalties that you will eventually earn from the book having been published. And that advance is against some percentage of the cover price or the publisher's take home price of the book that gets published as a unit either as an electronic unit or as a physical unit. The advance is if you're publisher is reputable, the advance is non-refundable. So at the very least, even if no books sell, you get to keep however many thousand dollars the publisher gave you for the advance, provided that you deliver to them a book that they can then sell. So the advance money when you're starting out is what most authors are taking home. This means that the early stages of your writing career are going to be, unless you're sort of a sport, unless you've had a really excellent first deal, or unless things go surprisingly for you, you're going to be at you're leanest in your first year or two after publication. If the book does reasonably well, I'm not saying explodes into bestseller stardom status, but if it does well enough to keep you working, at some point you're going to earn out your advance on that book and what that means is the royalties that you've sold which will generally be you can think about it as like a dollar or a couple dollars per copy of book sold, will close out the however many thousand dollar advance that you earned initially. After that, you have a passive income stream, and that's where publishing starts to get kind of interesting as an author. Even if your books aren't in New York Times Bestseller categories, if you have enough books that have earned out and they stay in print and they keep selling, you start adding up these checks that are going to come in with no further work on your part. Also you have as an author, your subsidiary rights to sell. The big ticket ones of those are movie and television rights and some people get their series made or get their big movie made and then that's what they're eating on for the rest of their lives. But a lot of people make a little bit of money selling options to works that they publish. Hollywood is generally pretty hungry for content and it's really excited to talk to people about cool new stories that they've written. So you can make a certain number of thousands of dollars selling options for a year or two years to a studio, to a screenwriter who might then try to adapt and sell that story. But there are also translations into foreign languages, a lot of people make a lot of their money off of that. And then if you've sold a translation into a foreign language you'll also eventually maybe get royalties off of that so you have all of these different ways that money's coming in just off of a traditionally published book. Last year about a third of my income was passive, and two thirds of my income were active. And that shifts around from year to year depending on what projects I'm doing, or depending on when major deals come down the pike so sometimes you'll sign a contract for many books at once and there will be a large on-signing percentage of that contract, so frequently advances are broken off into three chunks, at least in my experience. There will be a chunk that you get paid on the signing of the deal, there's a chunk you get paid on the submission of the manuscript, and then the chunk you get paid on the publication of the manuscript. So if you sign a decently sized deal, then in that year you'll get paid the on-signing chunk of the contract for whatever books you're working on, plus whatever books you delivered that year plus whatever books you published and then you have your royalty income which is always growing. You're getting a sense maybe as I'm talking about this that writing income is often in flux, and this is absolutely true. One of the real dangers of this job is the income is very spiky, you get royalty payments twice a year. You get your advances for new contracts whenever those come up, and there may be a lag between agreeing on the general shape of a deal and having a final hammered out contract. So it's not uncommon for deals to take weeks to negotiate and if you're the kind of person who really needs that paycheck to come in every two weeks in order to make your budgeting and your process work, then this can be a very dicey business to be involved in. Once the passive income reaches a certain dependable level then you start being able to ease up on that. That's kind of the way it works and then there's a lot of growth potential both as passive income increases and as you sell more books and become more of a recognized face and can argue for larger advances.
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