I wasn’t going to mention money in last week’s blog. The bit about losing out on the cash for the cancelled game project? That was a last-minute addition. I put it in because to not do so seemed both dishonest and to ignore my immense good fortune. To some people, losing out on a substantial chunk of earnings would have a massive impact on their lives – indeed, one of my would-have-been colleagues has been hit that way. I personally never had the cash down on my mental balance-sheet because privilege.
My main job, financially, is 20 hours a week as a library assistant, a job I enjoy and which keeps me in the worlds of books and people. That’s my day job; that’s my main earner. I also work as a freelance editor. This work comes and goes and is hard to rely on as an income stream, but I’ve been averaging £4-5k for the last few years: a useful sideline. Those jobs together take up most of my time and (sort of; see below) keep my head above water.
What doesn’t earn me money is creative writing. My novel-writing – the thing I’m really here to talk about – has earned me a grand total of precisely £2k. That’s £1k as an advance for each of my professionally published novels. I’m not sure if I should say that that £2k is over four years (since I was first published in 2018), or over 14 years (since I started writing seriously) or over the course of my whole life. All are true, all are accurate. From that perspective you’re backing a loser here, folks.
New Gods, my self-published novel, still hasn’t earned out the cost of its cover.
I’m not saying this to complain. I am happy with life. I am still producing good stuff here, writing I believe in. But, financially, the hierarchy is clear: day-job, sideline, then writing last of all. It’s clear that, if money was my main motivation, I should try and either get more hours in the library, expand my editorial business, or get another side-hustle – like the writing for computer games biz.
Clearly, money is not my main motivation.
And this is where my good fortune comes in. Because I can afford to make that choice. I can afford to be not heartbroken when a gig falls flat. I can always rely on having a roof over my head. Why? Because I married well.
Now I hope it goes without saying that I married for love. My wife is, in all ways, best. It just so happens that she has a proper job. She earns decently. She pays the bills and I do more moderate things like cover the groceries.
I am a lucky man though, like all lucky people, I sometimes forget this and feel undeserving pride in my own achievements.
A lot of people aren’t as lucky as me, can’t roll off a paying gig with the sort of ‘easy come, easy go’ attitude I can. A lot of people can’t make time to write for themselves because they’re so busy trying to keep their financial heads above water. And that’s a tragedy.
I hope you’re fortunate enough to be able to put your heart and soul into something you really care about. Just be aware that, if you’re a writer, the odds are that you won’t be able to make a living from your words; certainly not at first and maybe not ever. Keep your day-jobs. Cultivate your side-hustles. Write because you love it, because of all those wonderful stories you have to share with the world.
As for me? Another edit has arrived on my desk, and I am both yearning to get my teeth into it and cursing because
of imposter syndrome it means that Breathing Fire gets delayed again.
Someday I will learn to say no to work, to prioritise my own writing; maybe when I start to earn from it, when I have deadlines for my own work. I will only be able to do that because I have financial security.
Without leaning even further on friends and family, the dream of being a professional author remains just that: a dream.