My writing finances, 2021

New year, same old post.

To recap: every year since 2018, I’ve put up a post talking about my finances as self-employed writer and podcaster, with a particular eye towards my work as a novelist.

Having been my own boss for more than seven(!) years now, I’ve grown accustomed to keeping diligent track of my finances1, mainly because I need to. But I also think there’s a utility in sharing this information with others—especially for my colleagues who are working writers, or for those who might be interested in embarking upon it as a career and wonder what it’s really like.

We—especially in the U.S.—often consider money a taboo topic, one that can easily fall into boasting or self-aggrandizement. But I think that making the topic off-limits does a disservice to most people, and to folks in my line of work especially. I’ve greatly appreciated transparency from authors like Jim Hines, Kameron Hurley, and John Scalzi, which has helped to demystify the business for me.

As usual, I’ll preface this with a note: this is my experience and my experience only. If there’s one thing to take away from the self-employed, it’s that we’re all a little bit different, so don’t take this as gospel; it’s merely one data point among many.

So, let’s do this.

As in previous year, I don’t break out the actual dollar figures for my work.2 But to provide a bit of color, my income was up nicely in 2021, making it my second-highest grossing year since I’ve been self-employed. (And probably more than even a few of my years as a fully-employed editor.) However, even that gross figure is still well under six figures.3

I should also note, though I’m not sure I’ve done so in the past, that this is only income from employment, not from any investments or other income-accruing sources.4

2021 income breakdown

Big picture: I’m a little surprised that 2021 ended up being such a banner year, but interest in podcasts, tech writing, and even fiction definitely seems to have stayed stable, if not ticked up, during the pandemic. Advertising for podcasts has seemed to thin a bit; in 2018 and 2019, podcasting was my biggest source of income, but in 2020 and 2021, it’s fallen behind tech writing again.

This did mark the first full year of our membership program for The Rebound, which has been a nice little bonus. My back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that direct membership payments from all of my shows account for a little less than half of my total podcasting income, with ads making up the remainder—that’ll definitely be something I continue to keep a closer eye on in the next year or two.

Tech writing was up a little bit, thanks to some additional projects that I took on, and a readjusted fee structure for one of my biggest clients, which went into effect in early 2020. It’s provided a stable base for the rest of my income, but it’s not a sector that I’m particularly trying to grow at this point.

Fiction writing jumped back up again after a lackluster 2020, in which it accounted for 4 percent of my income. 2021 doubled that to 8 percent, though still shy of my high-point of 11 percent in 2019. The big driver this past year was selling another book (The Nova Incident, which comes out this July!), but The Aleph Extraction also earned out its advance, joining The Bayern Agenda and The Caledonian Gambit. That means I now get a little bit of royalty income for them each six months.5 However, all three of my books are earning money, which is a nice place to be, even if it’s not live-on-it income.

I’ve also had a surprisingly good year for weird miscellaneous income, which doubled since last year, mainly from merchandising and some affiliate fees. But it’s still a tiny piece of the whole pie.

Yearly income and expenses
My gross income broken down into expenses and net income over the past seven years.

While I’ve been talking about gross income above, one other big factor helped net income this year: expenses were down. And I mean way down. As a percentage of my income, they were half of last year.6 I did go to my first conference since the pandemic started back in December, but in part it was to use up airline credit that I had from canceled trips in 2020. I also didn’t have any big work purchases in 2021, which I expect to change next year as I probably replace my iMac and my iPad.

As I mentioned in my 2020 write-up, my partner and I bought a house last year, and most of 2021 was spent doing renovations. While those costs don’t directly factor into my business, the fact that our mortgage is significantly higher than our rent does adjust my home office costs. This was also the first full year where I was not paying for my own health insurance out of pocket, which made a huge difference in business expenses. I feel extremely fortunate to have a partner who gets health insurance as part of their job, and it’s another reminder of the deep inequality in our society that not everybody can afford the care they may need.

As always, the life of a freelancer is more inconsistent than anything else. My income’s varied a lot over seven years, and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But after doing this for the better part of a decade, I have a better idea of what to expect, how to handle expenses and weather low periods, and generally just how to manage my finances. In general, I’m in a position where I’m not too worried about making it through a given year, though that’s always just a hair’s breadth away: for example, if I were to lose any of my key clients, I would find myself scrambling to make up the difference. But I think I’ve diversified my income enough that it’s not as though it’ll all dry up at once.

income yearly change
Gross income change, by percentage, over the last seven years.

As always, I’d still like to continue to expand my fiction income, though there are limitations beyond me in that area. One experiment I’m planning on is self-publishing another Galactic Cold War short (à la my two previous) sometime before Nova comes out in July, and this time charging a small amount for it, just to see how it plays out. I’m also setting myself the goal of finishing and revising a new book by halfway through the year.

And that’s all I’ve got for my finances in 2021. I hope this was an interesting read for you, and if you’ve got any questions about it, feel free to drop me a line or hit me up on Twitter.

  1. It helps that I am a bit of a data nerd. For a writer, I like spreadsheets an awful lot.

  2. It’s something I’m thinking about detailing in the future, but that taboo is still tough for me to overcome.

  3. You want to do some math, you can probably figure a lot of it out.

  4. I do have some investments, but mostly they’re set aside for things like retirement or savings.

  5. And when I say little, we’re talking on average a few hundred dollars.

  6. Of course, for tax purposes, lower expenses isn’t always great.

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Preorders for The Nova Incident are live! Plus, get a signed copy

Buckle in, friends. If you’ve been waiting for your chance to preorder the latest installment of the Galactic Cold War series, the time is at hand! Preorders are now live from all your favorite bookstores, online and off. Get ready for the newest adventures of Eli Brody, Simon Kovalic, Addy Sayers, and the rest of the team as the ongoing conflict between Commonwealth and Imperium hits home—in more ways than one.

And, for the first time, you can get yourself a signed copy of the paperback when it arrives, thanks to the good people at my local bookstore, Porter Square Books. Just head over there to place your preorder—you can even specify a personalized message from yours truly. I will literally write whatever you ask. Almost. Within reason.1

As a reminder, preorders are very important to authors. They help register interest in a title, which is one of the key things when it comes to that author being able to publish more books. So if you want more stories in the Galactic Cold War series (or, heck, more books of any kind by me!), then please consider preordering. It helps count towards first-week sales, which can be make or break for a lot of books.

Also, I can say that while it’s not yet available for preorder, there will be an audiobook version of Nova coming. I’ll share more details about that when I have them, but if you’re holding out for that, rest assured that it’s on its way.

Finally, people often ask when buying a copy of my books what’s the most beneficial place/format for me, to which I say, pick whatever’s best for you. I talk about this a bit over in my FAQ2, but the end result is that, for me, it all comes out in the wash. But you should definitely buy it from the place where you’ll get the most enjoyment out of it.

Thanks again for all your support. I’m looking forward to all of you getting your hands on The Nova Incident and I can’t wait to hear what you think.

  1. Don’t try it, Yankees fans.

  2. Yes, I have a FAQ, where I A all your most F Qs.

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Shirts are back for a very limited time

The holiday season is upon us once again, and that means it’s time for shirts! I’m pleased to announce the return of my Commonwealth of Independent Systems and Illyrican Empire shirts from the good folks at Cotton Bureau.

I buy a lot of shirts from Cotton Bureau and they are super comfy. My Commonwealth shirt is in regular rotation, and my wife really enjoys her Illyrican shirt. What better recommendation can you have?

As of this writing, the Commonwealth shirt will definitely be shipping and the Imperium shirt needs six more sales to go to print. The campaign is running until November 15, so if you want one, don’t hesitate.1

  1. Commonwealth of Independent Systems insignia pins are also in stock there!

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Going Nova

The Galactic Cold War hits close to home, in more ways than one…

The Nova Incident

If you thought you’d seen the last of Simon Kovalic and his trusty band of misfit spies, think again. I’m delighted to announce that The Nova Incident, the third book in the Galactic Cold War saga1 will be in stores and on shelves on July 26, 2022. What’s it about? So glad you asked:

When a bomb explodes in the bustling Commonwealth capital city of Salaam, responsibility is quickly claimed by an extremist independence movement. But after a former comrade, an ex-spy with his own agenda, is implicated in the attack, Simon Kovalic and his team of covert operatives are tasked with untangling the threads of a dangerous plot that could have implications on a galactic scale. And the deeper Kovalic digs, the more he’ll uncover a maze of secrets, lies, and deception that may force even the most seasoned spy to question his own loyalties.

There’s a lot more I want to share with you about The Nova Incident, but if you want to take a look at the gorgeous new cover designed by Tom Shone and an extensive Q&A with yours truly, the good folks at SciFiNow have graciously given me an opportunity to talk a bit more about it.

Of course, I’d like to entreat you to get your pre-orders in; it remains the best way to tell publishers and stores that you like these books, which in turn helps ensure that the story continues. You can find more about the book, including pre-order links, over here. Spread the word!

  1. Well, depending on how you count, I guess

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My award eligibility, 2021

I briefly typed “2929” in the title of this post and whew, that was a brief, if exciting trip. But alas, I’ve been informed that I must return to this year, 2021, for at least a little while longer.

Hugo nominations opened this week which means, yes, we’ve rolled around to awards season once again. So, here’s my rundown of what I did in the year that was which is now eligible to be nominated for any of your favorite awards, whether they be Hugos, Nebulas, Dragons, Locus…es? Loci? And so on.

Novel: My latest book, The Aleph Extraction, came out in May 2020, and it’s eligible for all your favorite “best novel” awards. I’m really proud of this book, and I know that sequels can be tricky when it comes to awards, but heck, I’m putting it out there, because what have I got to lose? (I will note that Aleph did come runner up in the 2020 Upgradies, an honor I will continue to treasure.)

Short Stories: I put out two short stories last year: “Pilot Error” and “Showdown”. They may not be eligible for every award since I published them myself, but they are eligible for the Best Short Story Hugo, since they are both under 7500 words and…that’s all that really matters? So there you go.

Best Series: For the first time, the Galactic Cold War series is eligible for the Best Series Hugo, since Aleph came out this past year and marks the third installment (despite the different publishers). This is somewhat contentious category, I realize, but if you really enjoy the series, have at!

That’s it for my award-eligible works from the year 2020. Guess I’d better get to work on something for 202…2? Math is hard.

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My writing finances, 2020

It’s become a tradition around these parts, when the new year rolls around, to talk a little bit about my writing finances. And guess what? As wild and bizarre as 2020 was, I—like most everybody out there—still had work to do, and a job to get done. For me, that predominantly meant writing and podcasting, and since I know there are people out there curious about what the life of someone in those industries is like, I’m here to share a few details of what my business looked like. (And remember, it is a business, not a passion or calling that’s somehow magically above the need to generate money in order to eat and live.)

Allow me to offer my annual caveat: this is a picture of my career and my career only, and these lines of work are especially variable—and that’s in a normal year. Attempts to extrapolate what someone else’s career looks like from this single data point are unwise and highly inaccurate. Your mileage will vary. As always, I’ll point you towards the excellent annual post by author Jim C. Hines, who has been doing this for quite some time, and whose posts were an inspiration for this.1

With that out of the way, let’s dive in to my traditional breakdown of income in 2020.

As in previous years, I won’t be sharing exact dollar amounts, but I will say that my gross income this year was down a bit from last year, and that number remains under six figures.2

Takeaways! Well, 2020 was…a year. Here’s how it shook out for me. After a meager decline in the percentage of my revenue that came from tech writing, that number went up somewhat surprisingly in 2020, due to a few factors. First, eagle-eyed readers might have noticed that the number of Macworld columns I write every month decreased this past year3; that was slightly offset by a very small raise I managed to secure way back in January, though it still meant a significant drop. Fortunately, one thing that did compensate for that was that I negotiated a rearrangement of my pay structure with another of my regular tech writing gigs, which resulted in a nice bump.

Podcasting dipped a bit in the overall revenue mix this year: notably, for the first time since 2017, it wasn’t the biggest chunk of my revenue. That’s in large part because one of my regular podcasts saw a significant tail-off in advertising back at the beginning of 2020; another show, meanwhile, experienced a dip in the summer/early fall, though it had already bounced back a bit by the last quarter of 2020. Membership has become a more significant revenue generator in my tech podcasts, with Clockwise Unwound now providing weekly bootleg episodes to paying subscribers and the modestly successful Rebound Prime. Those both helped soften the ups and downs of podcast ads, though they don’t entirely compensate.

And then there’s fiction writing. Last year, I was very pleased in the upward trend I saw, which went from 5 percent in 2018 to 11 percent in 2019. That made me—ah, foolish early 2020 me!—bullish on the future, though I did inject a caveat:

Going into this year, I have The Aleph Extraction coming out in May, and…that’s it. Currently, I’ve got no other books under contract, though I’m hoping one or two other projects might hit maturity in the not too distant future. But barring a substantial increase in the value of my deals, I’m not confident that it will bolster the bottom line that much.

Aleph did indeed come out in May, and that was great, though it ended up looking kind of different to my previous releases: no launch events, no book signings, and no cons to attend made it a mostly solitary affair. I did, however, dip a toe into self-publishing by putting out ebooks of two Galactic Cold War short stories, which was a fascinating experiment, though not particularly a profitable one.4

In better news, I did manage to pull in some royalty payments from The Caledonian Gambit and The Bayern Agenda, which have both earned out their advances, and I’m hopeful that Aleph will follow suit. But I didn’t realize any revenue from new deals in 2020, which is the big reason that the fiction percentage went down this year, to pre-2019 numbers.

As ever, the most important takeaway from being a freelancer is that your income is generally not predictable. Here’s what that looks like for me over the last several years.

Change in income

What I said last year largely holds true: I’m very privileged to be in a position where I can deal with the ups and downs of freelancing. My income remains diversified, I still have savings, and my partner’s job remains stable—or at least, as stable as anything can be in the time of COVID. One silver lining to the pandemic: my business expenses were way down, thanks to a lack of any travel whatsoever, which will likely continue to be a theme for the first two-thirds of 2021, at least.5

Heck, in the middle of this, we were able to actually buy a house, which was an exciting and terrifying adult-like decision.6

But 2021 is a big question mark right now. We’re still deep in this pandemic for the better part of the year, probably, and even after that, some of the effects are likely to linger. Book sales have tended to be up, but as my own agency pointed out on Twitter, the impact is not necessarily evenly distributed.

I’m choosing to remain hopeful for 2021. I’ve got a few projects that I’m hoping might finally get off the ground, and I’m looking for new opportunities as well. We’ll see how the year goes! Just remember: be good to one another.

  1. I’ve also in the past linked to similar posts from writers Kameron Hurley and John Scalzi, though I haven’t seen any from them this year; if I do, I’ll update this post with links. If you see similar posts from others, please let me know, I’ll add them too!

  2. Exact figures left as an exercise for the reader.

  3. I’m now writing one fewer a month, at their behest, with a commensurate drop in income, but I’m happy to still have the income.

  4. The long and short of it was that though they were mostly free, Amazon doesn’t let you make ebooks free by default. Instead, you have to request a price-match once you’ve listed books as free on other stores. And you have to do it for each region you’re selling in. As a result, some of those places fell through the gaps and the stories were listed on those local Amazon stores as 99 cents, which pays out a royalty of roughly 35 cents a sale, and I don’t mind telling you that I made just under $40. So lesson learned: next time, maybe I charge a dollar.

  5. Healthcare costs were down too, thanks to finally getting on my partner’s insurance after being on an individual plan for many, many years.

  6. Of course, we don’t yet live in said house, thanks to the pandemic spurring a glut of home improvement, meaning we’re going to be waiting a while to do our renovations. But we are very fortunate to be able to continue living in our apartment while that happens.

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Giveaway for a good cause

The Aleph Extraction

Friends, it’s rough out there right now. You all know this. But even as the darkness is encroaching, we can fight back by bringing light to the world. I’m always in awe of my pals over at Relay FM for the work they do every fall to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. This year is no exception: as of this writing, they’ve already raised more than $170,000, and that’s even before they kick off what’s sure to be a legendary livestream for this year’s Podcastathon.

If you’re not familiar with St. Jude, its mission is to provide treatment and care for children with cancer. Most importantly, it doesn’t send bills to the families of those kids it treats, which is why donations are so important.

As a host of Clockwise over at Relay FM, I wanted to lend my support, so in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, I’m giving away five signed paperback copies of my latest book, The Aleph Extraction, to people who have donated. Here’s how it’s going to work.

To enter, all you need to do is send a receipt (screenshot or photo) of your donation to St. Jude for the Relay FM fundraiser to contest [at] with the subject “Contest Entry”. Make sure you send it from, or supply, an email address at which you can be reached.

On September 18th, at 9 a.m. Eastern, I’ll do a random drawing from those who have entered. Each winner will get a signed and—if desired—personalized copy of The Aleph Extraction paperback.

Official Rules

  • Entrants must be over 18 and live in the US. (Sorry, international folks, but that’s the way it is. You can always request a free signed bookplate though!)
  • If you’re a family member or personal friend of the author, you’re ineligible for this giveaway.
  • This giveaway is not directly affiliated with or supported by St. Jude or Relay FM.
  • Enter by sending a copy of the receipt for your donation to contest [at] with the subject “Contest Entry”. One entry per person! Your email will be used only for notification purposes related to the giveaway and will be discarded after the giveaway has concluded, unless you have opted to subscribe to my newsletter.
  • Giveaway begins at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, Friday September 11 and runs until 8:59 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, Friday September 18th.
  • At the close of the giveaway, random numbers will be generated by for each prize to be given away. The corresponding number in the spreadsheet of entries will be declared the winner. Only one prize per person, so if the same number comes up again, a new number will be generated.
  • Odds of winning depends on the number of entries.
  • Once contacted, winners have 48 hours to claim their prizes or a replacement winner will be picked. And so on, until winners are found for all the prizes.
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You’ve got questions, I’ve got a FAQ

There are a few questions that seem to come up repeatedly, so instead of trying to cram answers into a 280-character tweet time after time, I’ve decided to create a brief Frequently Asked Questions page where you can find them all in one place!

I’m sure this isn’t an exhaustive list, so if you have questions for me, you can always shoot me an email and if a question comes up enough, I’ll add it to the FAQ.

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Cover story: The Aleph Extraction

I’ve had the fortune to know a lot of talented artists in my day: my aunt was an accomplished painter, my mom majored in art for a time and produced some beautiful work, and even one of my childhood friends is now a celebrated cartoonist and illustrator.

Me, I’m lucky if I can draw a stick figure with the right proportions.

And yet, I somehow keep ending up trying. Back when my first novel came out, I made a terrible sketch that a truly amazing artist used as a jumping off point, yielding the gorgeous cover of The Caledonian Gambit.

When it came time to discuss The Aleph Extraction‘s cover, my publisher liaison Gemma asked me to help fill out a brief about goal for the cover: what it might convey, what imagery or scenes from the book might lend themselves to depiction, and so on.

Luckily, by this point I’d already seen the final cover for The Bayern Agenda1, and I knew that, to me, one of the key things was to keep a consistent visual look and feel with the sequel.

In terms of subject matter, given that the majority of Aleph takes place on a luxury starliner, with one of the key dramatic moments a heist inside a wormhole, I figured that would be something fun to highlight on the cover. And since I’d established in previous books that wormholes are blue/purple on the inside, bringing out those colors in a similar fashion to Bayern‘s red/yellow palette would hopefully produce a similarly eye-catching effect.

So I picked up my iPad and my Apple Pencil and set out to craft another masterful sketch of what the cover might look like. After consultation with my agent, he somehow let me send the publisher this wondrous work of art:

To Gemma’s credit, she did not immediately dissolve into paroxysms of laughter—well, okay, I wasn’t there when she read the email, and I certainly wouldn’t have blamed her. When I showed this sketch to my then-fiancé, she looked at it, then looked at me, then back at the drawing and asked “Is that a…space whale?”2 Other friends to whom I hesitantly showed my sketch offered other, perhaps more untoward comparisons. And that was before they got to the astronaut’s, er, questionable anatomy.3

But no, in her response, Gemma jumped on it, saying “That cover is winner. It’s happening. That’s gonna be it.” And, sure enough, when I got a look at cover designer Georgina Hewitt’s initial pass a couple weeks later, all the basic elements—the wormhole, the spaceship, and the floating astronaut—were there. We made some subsequent tweaks of those elements, including color and image choice, but the composition stayed largely the same throughout the process.4

Authors often don’t get a big say in their covers, and I appreciate having had the chance to give even a tiny bit of input. I’m delighted with the way Aleph looks, and happy to continue my run of having three excellent cover designs for my books.

But I’m probably still not going to learn how to draw anytime soon.

  1. Which, I should note, I provided very little input on. The first I saw of the cover was a handful of mockups, at which point I made some noises about colors, and that was about it.

  2. Don’t worry: we still got married.

  3. It’s a broken tether cable, people. Get your mind out of the gutter!

  4. One disappointment: I loved the pop of the magenta lettering that you can still see on early images, and I think is still the cover of the ebook version, but it turned out that color didn’t translate well to print, which is why the physical copy has more muted lettering.

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One week of ALEPH, and what I’ve been up to

I would say “what a week” if I had any idea what week it actually was. Launching a book in the middle of a pandemic is on the one hand, weird, but on another, surprisingly not unlike launching a book not in the middle of a pandemic. And if you can follow that sentence, then I am exactly as amazing a writer as I purport to be.

As is traditional, I’ve spent the week of my book’s release traveling around the Internet like an itinerant performer, doing podcasts and writing guest posts on blogs and partaking in interviews. Friday seems like a good opportunity to round up some of these week-one appearances, just in case you are either a) trying to catch them all or b) need to know where you can avoid me.

Guest Posts
* Wondering what theme really drives the story of The Aleph Extraction? Over at John Scalzi’s blog, I wrote a Big Idea post about truth, our perception of it, and why that matters so much to all the characters in the book.
* As I’ve said elsewhere, I. Love. Heists. So naturally, my favorite bit of Aleph is the adrenaline-fueled heist that takes place in the middle, and Mary Robinette Kowal gave me the opportunity to discuss the challenges of planning, executing, and writing it on her site.
* They say you learn something every day, but it definitely took me more than five days to write The Aleph Extraction, so I probably should have learned more than the five things I talk about on Chuck Wendig’s blog.

* In what’s become one of my favorite traditions, Jason Snell and I sat down on an episode of The Incomparable to not only chat about The Aleph Extraction, but also to answer questions from listeners!1
* I also made my second appearance on Rocket, where Brianna Wu and Simone de Rochefort peppered me with questions about the writing process and how my career has progressed.
* Scott McNulty had me back on Random Trek, in which the luck of the draw presented us with the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-part premiere, “Encounter at Farpoint.”
* And I had a delightful conversation with Scott Ullery on the Narrated podcast, where he also got a chance to turn the tables and ask me some Inconceivable-style quiz questions.

* In an interview with Paul Semel, I recall some of the inspirations for Aleph, including an episode of Star Trek: TNG and a trailer for a TV series that never got made.

That’s it for the first week of Aleph‘s release. I really appreciate all the support, the pictures from readers, and the tweets about the book, and I hope you’re all enjoying the read. If I may entreat one more thing from you, it would be to share the love, whether that means posting on social media or writing a review on Amazon or Goodreads or your blog, or wherever. It’s a small thing that can have a big impact, and it would mean a lot to me. Stay well, have a good weekend, and remember to watch out for the space bees.

  1. We’ve done similar episodes about The Bayern Agenda and The Caledonian Gambit.

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