My writing finances, 2023

With apologies to one of my favorite public radio hosts, it’s time to do the numbers.

Yes, every year around this time I compile a bunch of information about my writing (and podcasting) finances from the past twelve months and post them online for all to see. Why? Self-indulgence? Morbid curiosity? Some deep-rooted issue with numbers that goes back to my kindergarten class when a teacher told me I was bad at math? Maybe all of the above!

Anyway, tradition means continuing to do a thing that I’ve been doing for the better part of a decade and not really questioning it, so here we are again.

This originally started out as inspired by a number of other writers; I think Jim C. Hines remains the most consistent among them, but it’s possible others are still posting them these days.

My usual disclaimer applies: this is my specific career and isn’t broadly applicable to any other freelancers in any of my industries, so don’t try to extrapolate, you’ll just drive yourself up the wall.

Also as in the past, I don’t disclose my overall dollar figures, but I will say that once again my total gross income for the past year was well under six figures. The below numbers apply only to income generated by my business, not any investments or retirement accounts, nor does it include my partner’s income.

With that said, here we go—and buckle in, because this is a bit of a long one. It was a year.

Big picture

Income vs. expenses over years

On the broad side, 2023 was another down year for me, which was a bit of a disappointment, though it wasn’t as down as 2022 was from 2021: my overall income declined 5 percent from 2022, almost all of which is attributable to a specific factor (more on which below), which may not seem great, but given that 2022 was down 16 percent from 2021, hey, not too shabby.

Percentage change of income chart

Percentage of income by business

As I concluded last year, freelance life is full of big swings, and rarely seems to grow in a linear fashion (at least for me). So it’s useful, now that I’m closing in on a decade’s worth of data, to consider the big picture by establishing a baseline. 2022’s performance was only 1 percent less than my median income from the past nine years; this year was thus 6 percent below that baseline. Not great, but not terrible. Since striking out on my own in 2015, I’ve been as far as 13 percent below median and as high as 23 percent above.

The mix of income also changed a bit this year: in 2022, my podcast and freelance tech writing businesses were about even, each accounting for a little less than half my income. Not so in 2023, where tech writing jumped to 53 percent, and podcast income fell below 40 percent—more on which in a bit.

Honestly, from a qualitative standpoint, looking back at this year tells me that things could have been considerably worse than the way they ended up.


Podcast income breakdown

There was one big factor that contributed most to this year’s overall decline: the podcast ad market was bad. I have two shows that partially rely on advertising, Clockwise and The Rebound, and both had many episodes without ads for big chunks of the year. But this wasn’t unique to my shows; the podcast market overall was down this past year, and they certainly aren’t what they were four or five years ago. I have started to hear optimism about the year ahead, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Ads have always been a variable business, though, which is one reason that a lot of podcasts—mine included—have moved to direct member support. The good news is average monthly income from members was up, especially for Rebound Prime, which has proved to be very popular—the bad news is that it’s not up enough to compensate for the loss of advertising. But membership has become an increasingly important source of income, and if ads don’t come back, it will be even more so. So, thank you to everybody who directly supports the podcasts you listen to and love: it does make a difference. More importantly, if you’ve been waffling on whether or not to support that podcast you love, do it!


The interesting nature of the year doesn’t stop at podcasting! My freelance tech journalism career also underwent a little tumult this year, as one of my biggest clients cut back my regular column to bimonthly (it had previously been cut back from weekly to all-but-one-week-per-month1).

That was a bit of a hit to be sure, but it didn’t happen until halfway through the year, and thanks to a late-in-the-year freelance project for another site, and a better average monthly rate for my other major client, my tech writing income went down less than 1 percent overall.

That certainly leaves a lot of questions for next year, but I’m hoping a combination of more freelance client work and lots of interesting stuff to write about in the Apple sphere will keep that chugging along.


Finally, on to the reason most people tune in: fiction writing. (Well, I think? I don’t really know, but it is the idea this whole thing is predicated upon.)

It was a really interesting year in my fiction writing career, for a few reasons. As I’ve mentioned in the past, fiction writing income varies widely from year to year, depending on things like new contracts signed, sub-rights sold, or advance installments paid.

Fiction accounted for a solid 8 percent of this year’s income, compared to just 3 percent in 2022—though keep in mind, as detailed above, overall income being down doesn’t make that an apples-to-apples comparison. Still, it was a good year, my third highest in the time I’ve been writing, and well above both my mean and median yearly fiction income.

Percentage of income by business over years
That income was driven by three predominant factors: first, I signed a new contract with my publisher for two books, including the next Galactic Cold War installment, which comes out later this year. My agent also sold the audio rights for that book, which accounted for some decent income.

Second, royalty income for my existing published books was actually pretty solid.2There’s a bit of a lag between sales and payouts and I think last year’s debut of The Nova Incident bolstered sales of previous volumes in the series. Here’s hoping this year’s sales of The Armageddon Protocol impart a similar boost! (I will note that Nova is the only of my books not to earn out its advance yet, though it’s pretty close, so if you haven’t already bought it, *bats eyelashes*…)

But wait, you might be saying, didn’t you publish another book this year? Why yes, I did! All Souls Lost is the third factor, but it’s a bit more of a mixed bag financially because it was put out under a different model than my previous work.

Since my agency published the book, it meant some upfront outlay for me: I essentially fronted money for the cover art, copyedit, and some additional costs (technically, my agency paid them then recouped said costs from my earnings). But, on the upside of this structure, I stand to make a bigger percentage of sales on the back end: around 60 percent on ebook sales, as opposed to the standard 25 percent that most traditional publishers offer.3

I also only got one payout for sales from All Souls Lost before the end of the year, and that did not include the store from which the bulk of purchases were made, Amazon. (Why? Because Amazon pays people roughly two months after sales, rather than 30 days, like most of the other ebook stores. Thanks, Jeff!) Had that payment been made, I think it would have materially bumped up my overall fiction revenue.

Interestingly, 2023 could have been an even bigger year: due to the paperwork shenanigans and the usual slowness of the business, two other substantial payments I was expecting didn’t materialize before the end of the year, but will probably show up in January.

Now, I’m sure there are those among you who wonder: Wait, if you stand to make more from this book published by your agency, why not publish all your books that way?

Well, there are a few reasons: for one, though I sell way more in ebook than in print, I admit to still having some nostalgic ties to print books. And if you want to get a print book that’s not from a traditional publisher into bookstores, it’s more complicated (but not impossible) this way.

It also certainly seems to make other things dicier: for example, All Souls Lost got zero reviews in trade publications like Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, and so on (even despite the fact that PW gave my previous two Galactic Cold War books starred reviews).

And if making your traditionally published book stand out is hard—and I think I can say confidently that it is!—it’s even harder without a full marketing department at your back. For a little while, social media seemed poised to help authors spread the word about their work, but in the wake of Twitter’s self-destruction and subsequent fragmentation, it’s gotten that much more difficult to find your audience—not to mention the now built-in expectation that authors will flog their works on social media, which some publishers seem to feel abrogates them of any responsibility for marketing. In short: it’s tough out there for authors.

But the larger financial issue is that, as I said above, we’re talking upfront costs and then waiting to make them back on royalties. Yes, you have to earn out an advance from a traditional publisher, but at least there money is coming in before (probably) you write the book. If my agency publishes a book and it doesn’t sell (or doesn’t sell to expectations), I could easily end up losing money. In a traditional publishing model, I might not make additional money, but at least I’ve got that advance in the bank: lower potential rewards, but lower risk.4

For now, I think I’m most likely to continue with a hybrid model of doing some traditionally published books and some agency-published books. It lets me continue to diversify my income and allows me to work on different schedules.

Wrap up

So that’s 2023 in a nutshell. On to 2024! I’ve said in the past that my goal has been to steadily increase my fiction writing income, but as I wrote last year:

I think I’ve realized after six years of detailing my finances that this isn’t going to be a linear sort of affair. Some years are up, some years are down, just as with my overall freelancer income, and while I’d like to see that fiction trendline move more consistently upward over time, I have to resign myself to realizing that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

I’m excited about what 2024 has in store on several professional fronts, and I’m hoping that I can devote more time to things that I enjoy doing, and not just the things that bring in the most income.

I also continue to value the flexibility my career provides: It’s worth noting that pretty much all of last year I was working effectively a 3-4 day week and watching my kid the other days, occasionally squeezing some work in during naptime (his, not mine). As of this month, the kiddo is now in daycare five days a week, so I’m basically back to full time. 5

As ever, I do want to thank everybody out there who has made this career possible, most especially those of you who support me directly as members of my various podcasts or via my work at Six Colors, as well as every single person who has bought one of my books. This fall will mark 10 years of me being out on my own, an idea that is kind of unfathomable: it’s by far the job I’ve had the longest, and I’m gratified that I can keep doing it—that’s all down to the support of people like you.

With all that said, I hope you and yours are having a good start to 2024 and what do you say we do this again sometime, maybe January 2025? Great, it’s a date.

  1. There’s really no good word for that, is there?

  2. Let’s be clear, though: “pretty solid” means I earned a few hundred bucks per quarter.

  3. I’m discounting print and audio here for a couple reasons: a) All Souls Lost print copies weren’t available until the ebook came out, and they’re only for sale via Amazon, which has its own arcane structure for print-on-demand (I’ve been informed the print books are actually available elsewhere!). Plus, ebook sales vastly outweigh print sales. A lot. And b) the audiobook still isn’t out (though it should arrive in just a few weeks), and royalty rates on audio generally have their own weird structures, thanks to things like Audible credits and Spotify’s new Premium streaming service.

  4. And, sappy as it may sound, money isn’t everything. If I wanted the biggest return on my books, I could do the publishing myself, as I did for my Galactic Cold War short stories. But then you get into calculations of how much your time is worth; for me, it’s more than worth the commission to have my agency take on some of the work.

  5. Which means my revenue automatically goes up 20-40 percent, right? Right? 😅

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One week until ALL SOULS LOST

All Souls Lost

The leaves are changing, the pumpkin spice is flowing, and hard as it is to believe, there’s just a week left until All Souls Lost is out. It’s always a little bittersweet when, after years of working on a project, you reach the moment when it’s no longer just a story that lives in your head, but one that’s out there in the world, subject to all the slings and arrows1 that might get thrown its way. Fly, little story! Be free! Watch out for that hawk!

Anyway, as we count down the days, I had a couple of tidbits I wanted to throw your way. (Readers of my newsletter will know most of this already, which is a good reason that you should subscribe right now.)

Paper, please

Electronic books aren’t everybody’s thing, I get it. There’s something about wood pulp that’s just more aromatic than, uh, electrons. Well, good news: All Souls Lost will be available in print! However, the print copy won’t be on sale until release day (next Tuesday), and it will be available exclusively from Amazon. I know that may disappoint some folks who were interested in getting a signed copy, but or now you’ll have to track me down at a public event if you want your copy autographed. (I’ll also have to see about getting some more appropriate bookplates.)

Now hear this

Audiobook fans can also rest easy: there will be a version of All Souls Lost piped directly into your ears. It’s narrated by the excellent Mirron Willis and you can currently preorder it in a few places, including Apple Books and Barnes & Noble. And yes, it should be available on other services, including Audible, hopefully in the near future—I’ve still got my fingers crossed that will be the same time as the print and ebook versions, but I unfortunately can’t guarantee it as some details are still being worked out.

All Souls Lost: The Soundtrack

Weirdly, I’ve been writing more in silence lately, but in the past I’ve usually put on movie scores for some background music: much of the Galactic Cold War series owes its inspiration to the likes of Daft Punk’s TRON: Legacy album, the many and varied Mission: Impossible scores, and of course the voluminous oeuvre of John Williams.

But something about the feel and tone of All Souls Lost called out for something a little different. So allow me to present, for your enjoyment, a (slightly whittled down) version of the playlist I built while working on this novel. It’s a bit eclectic2, like much of my musical taste, but if you want to whet your appetite for the book, you could do worse than putting this on. I’ve embedded the Spotify version below, but it’s also on Apple Music if you’re so inclined.

I do wish these services would let me annotate the tracks with my own notes about which scenes they go with, but perhaps that’s a project for a little later this fall, once the book is out.

Anyway, just keep it on repeat until next week, and you’ll be fine. And don’t forget to tell your friends, relatives, and local bus driver to preorder All Souls Lost—it’s the perfect read for spooky season.

  1. Or one-star reviews.

  2. A polite of saying “what is wrong with you?”

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All Souls Lost, a brand new novel, coming this October

All Souls Lost cover cropI’m going to give myself a finally on this one.

Back in the summer of 2014, I was still working full-time as an editor at Macworld and I hadn’t yet sold my first novel, but having written the first two Galactic Cold War books, I felt like I needed to take a break, cleanse my palate with something totally different. So inspired by my love of classic hardboiled detectives and the supernatural mysteries of Mike Carey and Ben Aaronovitch, I set out to write a quick little story about a spiritual consultant who works out of an office in the city of Somerville, Massachusetts (where I happen to live). I figured I could dash it off and sock it away to sell after my sci-fi series took off.

Not unlike my debut novel, it ended up taking way longer than I expected. I actually teased the book in a blog post seven years ago called “Finishing Things”1 and I think I mentioned it in my newsletter once or twice.

Still, persistence is the better part of valor, or something like that, and now, after nine years, I’m delighted to announce that All Souls Lost is coming out at last, thanks to the tireless effort of the team at JABberwocky Literary Agency. You can check out the full cover and an excerpt over at FanFiAddict for a taste of the book, but here’s a quick description for you:

Say hello to Mike Lucifer, Spiritual Consultant. He’s back in town to take care of business. Unfortunately, when business is good, things must be very, very bad.
After two years trying to run away from his past, Mike Lucifer’s back in his office less than ten minutes when a persistent young woman shows up asking for help: her boyfriend’s been possessed by a demon.
That’s exactly the kind of mess that drove him from his hometown of Boston to a sunny beach—and the bottom of a bottle—in the first place. But there are some problems that even booze can’t drown, and while Lucifer may be no hero, his dwindling bank account provides a thousand reasons to take the case.
No sooner is he back in the game then the complications and corpses start to add up. The boyfriend’s not possessed—he’s dead. The tech company where he worked is looking shadier by the second. And Lucifer’s client definitely knows more than she should…about everything. The deeper Lucifer digs, the more he wonders if whatever sinister entity lurks behind this case wants him to be the last to die…

I know authors are supposed to love all their books equally, but I admit to this novel having a special place in my heart. It’s spooky, funny, and even has a little bit of heart baked into it—plus it’s literally close to home. I’m so glad that I finally have a chance to share it with all of you, so I hope you’ll check out Mike Lucifer’s first(?) adventure.

All Souls Lost will be available on October 17 as an ebook and (fingers crossed) the audiobook should arrive at the same time. You can preorder the ebook today from all the usual suspects; audiobook preorders will be at a later date.

  1. Ha ha. Good one, past me.

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My writing finances, 2022

It’s that time of the year once again: the time when we talk about numbers.

Wooo! Numbers! Nothing gets the crowd riled up like good old math, especially when it comes from someone whose specialty is nominally words. But what, I ask you, are words but equations with letters?

Don’t answer that.

Anyway, every January I post details about my finances for the past year. I’ve been doing this since 2018; it originally started out as a way to talk about the business of writing fiction, but since that has historically been a small chunk of my income, it’s more about how I earn my living as a freelance writer and podcaster.

As per usual, I’ve been inspired by several other writers, most notably Jim C. Hines, who’s been documenting his writing income for much longer than I’ve been in this game. And, as is also custom, I want to make it clear that this is just my personal experience, and all self-employed individuals (by nature) differ wildly. So don’t bother using this to extrapolate what your favorite writer or podcasting personality makes, because I guarantee you, it won’t hold water.

On to the math!

I don’t disclose dollar figures but, as in the past, I will say that my total gross income was well under six figures, and that this doesn’t include income from any investments1, just the freelance work I do. Nor does this include my partner’s income.

Income and expenses, 2016-2022

Broadly speaking, 2022 ended up being kind of a down year for me financially, which comes down to one key (and very positive) reason: in July, my partner and I welcomed our first kid and I took roughly six weeks off from everything. That primarily affected my tech writing income, since my podcasts continued airing in the meantime, thanks to my co-hosts and some excellent guest hosts.2 Ad income from those shows also lags behind a couple months, so I continued earning some money from earlier shows even while I was off.

But, largely as a result of taking that time off, my overall income was down 18 percent from last year.3 This was my second lowest amount of yearly income since I’ve been self-employed, and my lowest since 2016. But again, all of that comes with an asterisk since I voluntarily took a month and a half off from work. Had I worked during those six weeks at my usual pace, I probably would have been almost exactly where I was in 2020.4

Percentage of income from various sources, 2022.

Two other major factors influenced my overall income drop in 2022. First, podcast advertising definitely took a hit in the last quarter of the year. My two shows with significant ad support had several months with very few ads at all. The good news is that membership support of my shows accounted for about 40 percent of podcast income, which helped me ride out the low ad sales.

Second, I signed no new contracts for fiction work in 2022, which also explains why the chunk of my income from fiction (just 3 percent) was the lowest its been since 2016, when I only had one published book under my belt.

Indeed, the bulk of my fiction income in 2022 came from royalties, both from my traditionally published books, as well as the short stories I’ve self-published. In fact, I made more from my self-published sales than from any individual novel’s royalty payments, and only a hair less than all my traditionally published novel royalties combined. That’s not exactly a high water mark, as, to be clear, neither brought in a lot: we’re talking a few hundred bucks.

It is, however, a reminder that for all but the most successful traditionally published authors, advance payments are what primarily drives income.5 I had just one last advance payment in 2022, for The Nova Incident, which accounted for the largest single payment I got from fiction writing this year.

It’s also worth noting another factor: I got hit by foreign exchange headwinds. The publisher of the Galactic Cold War books, Angry Robot, is based in the UK, which means I get paid in British sterling, and the pound dropped considerably against the dollar this year, as you may have heard. So all of my income from those books was less than it might have been in more favorable macroeconomic conditions.6

My foray into self-publishing hasn’t exactly filled me with enthusiasm: there’s money to be made there, for sure, but it seems to be a case of spending upfront with a return on investment—and that’s a tough sell, as returns are never guaranteed. To be fair, I didn’t do a lot of marketing for my self-published work, mainly trusting to my existing channels, including my mailing list and social media7. As of this writing, the story I published in 2022, “Homecoming”, sold just over 700 copies, netting me a few hundred bucks. Less than I probably would have been paid if I had sold the story to a publication outright.8 But them’s the breaks.

Miscellaneous income contributed a tiny portion to my overall bottom line—just 2 percent—from merchandise sales and a small amount of affiliate income.

Expenses were also back up to 2020 levels, primarily driven by once again traveling for work and buying some new equipment, though they remain largely lower than my pre-pandemic levels (changes in my home office and healthcare situations, as detailed last year, account for some of that as well).

Income and expenses, 2016-2022

Looking forward, I’m hopeful that 2023 will be an upswing for fiction work—I’ve got some stuff in the works that I’m excited about (more about which when I can share information) and I’m hoping to get back to doing some of the podcasts that I’ve let lie fallow while adapting to my life changes.9 But there’s a lot of uncertainty nonetheless.

Percentage of income from various sources, 2016-2022

As always, my goal has been to grow the percentage of my income from fiction writing, but I think I’ve realized after six years of detailing my finances that this isn’t going to be a linear sort of affair. Some years are up, some years are down, just as with my overall freelancer income, and while I’d like to see that fiction trendline move more consistently upward over time, I have to resign myself to realizing that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

But a big thanks to everybody out there who’s supported my work, whether it’s by becoming a member of one of my podcasts (The Rebound, Clockwise, or The Incomparable), subscribing to Six Colors, or buying my books. It all helps me continue cobbling together this weird existence I’ve made for myself, and I’m immensely grateful that I get to keep doing it for another year. We’ll see you back here in twelve months to see what’s what.

  1. Which, in my case, are pretty much just retirement accounts and some savings.

  2. Amazingly, thanks to a fairly recent law in my home state of Massachusetts, self-employed individuals are eligible for paid family and medical leave, meaning I got a small amount of income to compensate for my time off work. Very cool, and something all states (and the federal government) should be doing.

  3. Ironically, 2021’s income was up 18 percent from 2020, so I made…about a little less than I made in 2020, despite taking six weeks of leave.

  4. Just to be clear: I’m very glad I didn’t work during that time and even more grateful that I didn’t *have* to. Not only because being able to spend all of those weeks together as a family was wonderful, but also because my brain was pretty much mush.

  5. In some cases there’s also good money to be made from secondary rights sales, like audio, film/TV, or translation deals, but carve outs for the first are getting much harder to find in contracts, the second aren’t worth what they once were, and the last is extremely hit or miss.

  6. Years of listening to Apple earnings calls is finally paying off! I’ve got the jargon down cold. Just don’t ask me for any more color.

  7. Speaking of things that are going to be dicey this year.

  8. Or, more to the point, if a publication paying that rate would have bought it.

  9. I’ve already got one on the books for a few weeks hence!

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“Homecoming”: A new Galactic Cold War short story coming next week!

Homecoming cover

A couple years ago, I decided to dip my toe into the world of self-publishing by making ebooks of a few deleted scenes from my books that seemed like they’d work as standalone short stories. The response to those was pretty positive and I learned a lot from the experience, so in August 2020, as I was finishing up work on The Nova Incident, I decided I’d take a stab at writing a totally original Galactic Cold War short story to lead into that novel.

The result: “Homecoming”, a roughly six thousand word short story that will come out next week, three months to the day before Nova‘s release (and, perhaps more importantly, two days before my birthday). You can—and, naturally, shouldpre-order it now, from your preferred ebook store. I’d much appreciate it if you would. (You’ve already pre-ordered your copy of the Publishers-Weekly-starred-review phenomenon that is The Nova Incident, right?)

So, what’s “Homecoming” about? Glad you asked:

Visiting your family can be stressful. For Commander Natalie Taylor of the Commonwealth Navy, it’s doubly so, since it means traveling across enemy lines to her homeworld of Centauri, occupied by the Illyrican Empire for the last twenty years.


And when you’re a spy with a job to do, well, it can be downright deadly.

I’ve had more than a few readers clamor for more time with Nat, who first appeared in The Bayern Agenda1; it’d always been my intention for her to take a more prominent role, but sometimes there’s only so much room in a story.2 I also wanted to visit Centauri, a planet that’s been referred to a number of times, starting in The Caledonian Gambit, but has yet to take center stage. This seemed like a good opportunity to do both!

But I also harbor a few ulterior real-world motives for publishing this story. First up, as I discussed in a recent Twitter thread, I currently have no other books under contract, though I have proposed a couple more Galactic Cold War installments to my publisher with the hopes of concluding the story3. (If you’re looking for the best way to help ensure those books happen, you probably already know: pre-order your copy of The Nova Incident, and make sure that all your friends do the same. Chances of a follow-up book greatly increase with the success of this one!)

Secondly, in the past I’ve talked on this blog about the business of writing, and how I manage my various sources of income. The previous ebooks I put out did very well in terms of downloads, but they were also free (in the majority of regions), so the money I make from them is negligible4. But I’d hoped that even a fraction of those people who downloaded free ebooks might be willing to pay a small amount for brand new content, thus potentially turning it into yet another of the diversified income streams I cobble together to make my living.

As a follow-on to which, I’ll say that traditional publishing is a tough field at times—and lately, it seems even more so than ever. Even when you pour your heart and soul into a project, there’s no guarantee it’ll find a home. And while I don’t want to give up on it entirely, because I appreciate much of what it has to offer, I would be remiss in not exploring other ways to tell stories that might otherwise languish in a drawer. Metaphorically. It’s not like I’m printing these things out. Trees are our friends, people!

Anyway, I’m glad to find a way to share this story with readers. I hope you’ll consider checking out “Homecoming”; I love this little story and I think you will too. And who knows: maybe it means more Galactic Cold War stories in the future.

  1. Eagle-eyed readers will notice, however, that she’s first mentioned in what seems like a throwaway line in The Caledonian Gambit, but was actually me planting the seeds of her eventual appearance. *evil laugh*

  2. That said, I do have plans for her in a future book, assuming it comes to pass…more on which below.

  3. Or, at least, this chapter of it.

  4. I won’t beat around the bush: I’ve made $50 on them. In two years.

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Cover Story: The Nova Incident

We’re six months out from the debut of my next novel, the latest installment in the Galactic Cold War series. The Nova Incident is a departure from the previous books: without getting too much into the details, it’s the first book in the series to lean more heavily on what’s come in the preceding volumes, and the action takes place entirely on one planet.1

One thing that isn’t different from its predecessors is the excellent cover art, this time courtesy Tom Shone.

However, long-time readers know that I often do my own sketches2 when discussing cover art with my publisher. This time was no different there, either.

When I started thinking about what I wanted on the cover of Nova, my mind was drawn immediately the book’s opening scene, where a bomb explodes in the Commonwealth capital city of Salaam. It’s a big, jarring action scene that sets the plot in motion, and I felt like it really emphasized what Kovalic and crew will be dealing with as the story unfolds.

So, emboldened by Angry Robot Managing Editor Gemma Creffield, who made the dubious decision of telling me that she loved my drawings, I took my usual crack at it, picking up my iPad and Apple Pencil and attempting to represent the idea that was so vivid in my head: a futuristic city on fire, a space station hanging far overhead, and our hero caught unaware.

The Nova Incident cover sketch

I don’t know, I think I’m getting better?

Anyway, I got a very kind response from both Gemma and AR’s associate publisher, Eleanor Teasdale, who declared “I love this sketch with all of my heart.” The way, I can only assume, one loves a misshapen cake in which one has accidentally swapped the amounts of baking soda and baking powder.3

Naturally, the final result puts mine to shame and I’m delighted with how it turned out. But I’ll reserve a small amount of pleasure that most of the elements from my sketch made their way into the actual cover (albeit with the acceptable loss of our little stick-figure pal down there for scale). And, of course, the very perceptive amongst you might notice that the book had a different title at this point, the result of some input from my agent, Joshua Bilmes.4

As ever, I appreciate the willingness of the Angry Robot team to indulge my burgeoning artistic habit. Here’s hoping that I haven’t ruined my chances of sketching ideas for any future installments in the series, should they happen. (Not that I expect it to make up any percentage of my writing income, ever.)

Just a reminder: The Nova Incident debuts six months from today, July 26! You can pre-order it now, which you should absolutely do, especially if you want another book.5 Pre-orders remain the best way to show your support for an author, as I’m sure I’ll be reminding everybody out there for the next, oh, half a year or so.

Update: And, as of the day this was posted, Barnes & Noble is offering 25% of all preorders, both ebook and paperback, so there’s never been a better time to get yours in!

  1. See if you can guess from the title which one it is 🤔.

  2. Terrible, terrible sketches.

  3. Don’t ask me how I know.

  4. I’ve yet to have one of my working titles survive to publication, but there’s always next time.

  5. I haven’t hit the end of the story yet…but it’s rapidly approaching is all I’ll say.

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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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