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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 nonfiction and blogging and things like that that fantasy novels are set in the world of the craft which is a sort of modern fantasy universe so in Game of Thrones you have these you have a kind of very medieval fantasy universe in which there are kings and and it's Dukes and things that are marching around with armies on horseback in the crafts sequence you have developed modern cities and you have God's 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 serials 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 referred 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 a caffeinated beverage strikes your fancy and you create a story and you plan it you do the line by line writing you do the coding if you're writing a 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 right in the book or piece of short fiction and that takes about half of my time generally I'll get to a coffee shop at about 8:30 9:00 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 it's generally 12:30 or 1:00 most writers I know not everyone but most writers I know have about 4 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 agents 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 and so you stay 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 and 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 at cross-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 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 from 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 is 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 and my splitting room with somebody or not have actually told this person that I'm going to do that so all the logistics and some writers at various stages in there we'll hire a personal assistant to help with the logistics that's not the place that I am at right now but there some of that stuff you really never can offload you're always going to be fielding questions about your business and 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 tuberculoid akin 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 some of the great writers of the last two or three hundred years these are people who did their peak artistic work even if they had some period of living in a van or in a garret or something while 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 is coming from and where is it going writing is 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 gonna get any venture money and probably if you're into if you're a writer you have spent a lot of time making stuff but making stuff up making cool stories and that's 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 lag behind a little bit and publishing is its own separate universe of business even from from working in tech or working and working in the law working in a lot of different professional fields so all of that set book 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 publishers take home price of the book that gets published as a unit either as an electronic unit or as a physical unit the events is if your 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 eventually this means that the early stages of your writing career are going to be unless you're really 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 your leanest in the 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 is like a dollar a couple dollars per copy of book sold will close out the however many thousand dollar advance that you earns initially after that you have a passive income stream and that's where publishing starts to get kind of interesting as an author if you even if your books aren't in New York Times bestseller II categories if you have an 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 or 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 is coming in just off of a traditionally published book last year about a third of my income was passive and a third as my income was active at two-thirds my income were active and that shifts around from year to year depending on what projects I'm doing if 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 that you get paid on the submission of the manuscript and 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 and 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 you may 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 but 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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