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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How are those free ebooks doing?

Well, this has been quite an experiment. It’s been years since I’ve done anything with self-publishing, so my adventure creating and distributing ebook versions of a couple short stories has been most illuminating. And because I have an unhealthy fixation on numbers, I thought I’d share some details with you.

Thus far, the ebooks have been downloaded more than 1400 times across all the available sites, which is far better than I’d hoped for. Several folks have reached out to tell me they enjoyed them, which is immensely gratifying.

Unsurprisingly, the top place for people to download the books was Amazon with about 43% share; that’s one big reason I went to so much work creating ebooks—frustrating as dealing with Amazon can be sometimes, the sheer ease of downloading a book onto your Kindle is hard to beat. In second place was Apple, at 27%—disproportionately large, I suspect, because many of my readers probably follow my work in the Apple sphere—but, close behind that was this very website at 26% (though my stats there are bifurcated because I definitely did not plan ahead to track the downloads, so had to patch together some stats retroactively, whoops!). I’m glad about that, because I know sideloading files onto the Kindle takes some extra steps; fortunately, doing so on an iOS device has gotten much easier now, thanks to Safari’s download support.

Distantly below, we have our three bottom place finishers: Barnes & Noble with 3% (though its sales reports are apparently delayed by a few days), Kobo with 1%, and…uh Google Play with absolutely zero. Maybe that’s because I had to wait to add the link, since my account was still being approved on Monday, or because—weirdly for Google—its analytics tools are terrible, or maybe nobody in my audience gets their ebooks on Google. Probably that.

Also interesting for me, and way more inexplicable: “Pilot Error” was downloaded significantly more than “Showdown” from almost every single site.1 I don’t know why. Maybe because it was listed first? Did people read “Pilot Error”, not care for it, and then skip the second one? Could be. Very interesting. Maybe one of you mysterious readers will let me know!

I also want to thank whoever added them to the Galactic Cold War series page on Goodreads 2, and all the people who’ve rated them. Warms the old cockles of the heart.

All in all, I’d say this experiment was a success! So who knows, maybe I’ll put out some more titles at some point. Right now, though, I’m buckling down for the launch of The Aleph Extraction. Hoping to do some guest posts, podcast interviews, and more, so if you’ve got a suggestion or an opportunity for me, please don’t hesitate to reach out via the site or on Twitter.

Most importantly: Stay home and read a book.

  1. The exception? Kobo, where it looks like every reader downloaded both. Kobo readers: there aren’t a lot of them, but they are serious, friends.

  2. I suspect it was reader Tobi. 🤔

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One month to ALEPH, have some free short stories!

There’s just over four weeks—a mere 29 days—until my latest book, The Aleph Extraction—perhaps you’ve heard me ramble on about it—is…well, once I would have said “in stores.” But stores are so February 2020. So let’s say instead that it’s virtually floating towards your island, born by a cheerful balloon, or brought to your door by wonderful, hardworking delivery people.1 Either way, it’s going to be out in the world for you all to enjoy. And you will enjoy, won’t you. WON’T YOU.

In order to celebrate the run-up to Aleph‘s arrival, I concocted a little project. One of the silver linings of this whole “stay in your house and never talk to anybody” age that we live in is that it gives you time to try your hand at new things. In my case, the “new thing” in question was producing ebook versions of two Galactic Cold War short stories, which I’m making available today for everybody, in exchange for absolutely, positively, nothing at all. Totally free. Free like the wind!

All I ask is that if you read and enjoy these stories, consider pre-ordering yourself a copy of The Aleph Extraction, if you haven’t already. And, if you have, might I suggest a modest donation to a local food bank?

Here’s a little more about the short stories to whet your appetite. (Please do not eat short stories; they contain little nutritional value.)

Pilot Error cover

Pilot Error is set right before The Bayern Agenda, and provides a bridge from The Caledonian Gambit, explaining in part what our old friend Eli Brody has been up to in the interim. Space action and feelings, oh my.

Showdown cover

Showdown, meanwhile, takes place a little while before The Aleph Extraction, and follows Simon Kovalic and the rest of the Special Projects Team on what seems like a run-of-the-mill job—but they never are for this elite team of covert operatives, are they?

These short stories were previously sent exclusively to subscribers of my newsletter, but now they’ve got fancy formatting, beautiful covers, and newly-penned afterwords from yours truly, explaining their provenance, which is a highfalutin way of saying “where the hell did these come from?” In addition to downloading them directly from this very website, you can also grab them (still for free) on all popular ebook platforms; check out the Short Stories page for links, or search for them on whichever site you use to get your fancy electronic books.

Newsletter subscribers, however, get a special bonus perk. Tomorrow, I’ll be sending them a brand new, never-before-read deleted scene from a Galactic Cold War novel. Maybe it’ll make its way into an ebook too, eventually, but who knows? If you want to read it, there’s still time to subscribe.

I know it’s a weird time for all of us out there, and maybe books aren’t at the top of your priority list. I get it! But it means a lot to me that people have still been excited about the book, and express that they’re looking forward to reading it.

Things are just as uncertain for me these days—I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the next Galactic Cold War novel that I’d like to write, plotting out the twists and turns, the dramatic reveals and action sequences, the banter and relationships. But that book hasn’t been sold yet, and the chances of it being picked up are directly related to how well The Aleph Extraction does.

The good news is you can help! Tell your friends, family, and fellow cooped-up neighbors. Send them a link! Perhaps even point them towards these short stories to get them hooked. Spread the word! (Safely, of course, please.)

Stay well, everybody.

  1. There have been some reports that paper copies are making their way out early, so keep your eyes open for that.

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Alternatives for delayed Aleph Extraction copies

Strange days, to be sure. Hope you’re all doing well, or at least as well as can be expected when you’re probably bouncing off the walls in your own home.

So, here’s the deal. This weekend, several folks on Twitter alerted me that they’d received emails from Amazon telling them that pre-orders of the paperback version of The Aleph Extraction, which are supposed to be released on May 12, have been delayed, with no new ship date offered. As a result, customers who ordered the book have been given the option to cancel or keep their orders.

I have it on good authority that I’m not alone in this situation; unsurprisingly, the coronavirus outbreak has had wide-reaching effects, and Amazon has responded in part by delaying shipments of non-essential goods, including books. Let’s be clear: authors—and, in many cases, publishers—have had no hand in these decisions whatsoever.

Obviously, this isn’t great for writers. Pre-orders, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, are very important to authors, as they contribute to first-week sales numbers, which are also generally the biggest week of sales for a book and can often make or break a title. And those sales are even more important for a book like Aleph, where I can tell you that the possibility of future installments in the Galactic Cold War series very much hinges on how well this book does. Plus, since Amazon is still the biggest game in Booktown1, it’s in a position to make unilateral decisions that no author or publisher has a say in—so my career is, quite literally, at the company’s whims.

That said, I know this is fairly small potatoes with everything else going on right now. Financially, I’m going to be fine; fiction writing is still only a small chunk of my income. If you’re content to just sit and wait until Amazon delivers your pre-order in its own sweet time, or, hey, if you feel you need to cancel your pre-order entirely, I don’t begrudge that in the slightest. I always advocate borrowing an ebook copy from your local library, via tools like Libby, Overdrive, and Hoopla—and, if the book isn’t available in your local library system, I bet they’ll probably even order a copy if you request it.

If, after all of that, you are still determined to get a copy of The Aleph Extraction as soon as humanly possible—for which I thank you and bestow upon you many blessings!—you have a few options:

  • The ebook version is still on track and will be delivered on May 12. You can order it from a number of places, including direct from my publisher, Angry Robot, which gets you DRM-free copies in both of the most popular ebook formats: ePub (compatible with iPad, Kobo, and other readers) and MOBI (the Kindle format).2 Moreover, Angry Robot is currently running a sale through April 11: you can get 50 percent off all ebooks using the code SHELFISOLATION. If you prefer a different platform, you can also pick up an ebook copy from Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.3

  • If it’s a print copy you have your heart set on, I obviously can’t guarantee when it will arrive, but you may have better luck with a non-Amazon vendor. Barnes & Noble is, again, always an option—given that their business is much more book-centric than Amazon, they may still be prioritizing those shipments—but I always recommend you contact your local independent bookstore, because a) local bookstores are the so-called knees of the bees and b) they are probably full of lovely people who will do their best to help you out. The good news is that there are a couple great resources to help you with that: Indiebound will help you find independent bookstores near you, and the new Bookshop will let you order directly from many of those establishments online. And hey, even if the book doesn’t arrive any faster that way, you’ll at least get a warm and fuzzy feeling from supporting a local business!

  • I can’t speak to the current status of the audiobook for The Aleph Extraction. I know it was being produced as of about a month ago, but as Mary Robinette Kowal points out on Twitter, there are reasons the current world situation may result in delays to audiobooks as well. I’m hopeful it will still be available on May 12, alongside with the ebook, but I don’t have any guarantees as of this writing.

Again, I know the problems of one little author don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, but I do appreciate the support you’ve all shown me over the last many years. It’s a weird time to be releasing a book, for sure, but we have to play the hand we’re dealt. It’s just over one month until Aleph‘s release, and the good news is that we’ve got a few more things up our sleeves, so keep an eye out.

  1. Population: Me

  2. You can also convert ePub files to Kindle format, if you’re so inclined.

  3. And, of course, Amazon, if you must, though, for obvious reasons, I’m reluctant to send it more business ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

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My writing finances, 2019

So, I guess this is a tradition now!

As 2019 draws to a close, it’s once again time to take a peek at my—dare I say, “burgeoning”?—writing career and see how it’s fared over the last year. As I’ve written before, I’m fascinated by the daily realities of writing, especially when it comes to money.1 Finances aren’t something that everybody feels comfortable talking about, but I’m a firm believer that sharing information helps writers—whom big companies often have a vested interest in keeping in the dark—understand the weird business of publishing even better.

Before we dive in, let me stress one important point: this is my career and my career only. Talk to another writer and their experience will be totally different. Such are the vagaries of publishing. Don’t try to extrapolate too much about someone else’s career—or, frankly, your own—from mine.

So, it’s been a little more than five years since I was laid off from my last full-time job, and my freelance career has continued more or less stably since then, divided between tech writing, podcasting, and fiction writing. Here’s a look at the breakdown in my income for 2019.

Income Breakdown 2019

As in past years, I’m not going to share exact dollar amounts, but I will say that my gross income this year was within 2 percent of my gross income from last year, which, as I said then, was well under six figures.

A few things to take away from this. Last year was the first year I made more money from podcasts than from tech writing. While some of that is because I have a couple shows with very strong ad support—in particular, Clockwise—and several shows that have some degree of member support, a large part of it is reflective of where I put my energy in 2019. Other than my recurring gigs writing my weekly column for Macworld and blogging for Six Colors, I took on very few additional freelance tech assignments.2

But the big news here is fiction writing, which continues its upward trend. Last year, it made up 5 percent of my income—this year that more than doubled. Put another way: my income from fiction in 2019 exceeded all my previous income from fiction (2016-2018) put together.

I’m not going to lie: it’s hella gratifying. I’d love for that trend line to continue upward, but this was in large part bolstered by the fact that we retained the audio rights for both the books I wrote for Angry Robot and the deal with Audible for the audiobook adaptations closed in January of last year. That’s in addition to advances for both The Bayern Agenda and The Aleph Extraction, which are paid out in parts when certain milestones are hit (i.e. manuscript delivery, book publication, etc.). There is also some royalty income in there for The Caledonian Gambit, which is a nice little bonus, though it’s not exactly “hang it all up and live on residuals” kind of money.3 So, while it’s great that 11 percent of my income came from fiction, it necessarily follow that 89 percent didn’t.

As I’ve said in the past, my goal is to continue increasing the chunk of my income that comes from fiction writing, and I’m glad that I’ve been able to sustain that this year. But can I keep that trajectory going in 2020?

Well, here’s the thing about this line of work: stable it ain’t. The only certainty is, in fact, instability.4 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.

Let me illustrate this point. With five years of freelancing under my belt, I have a little bit of data to work with, and what that data can tell me is, again, volatility. Here, for example, are the changes in my gross income for the last four years.

Year Change from Previous
2015 N/A
2016 -10%
2017 50%
2018 -19%
2019 2%

All. Over. The. Place. Frankly, Mr. Toad might think this ride too wild.

From the viewpoint of January 2020, figuring out whether this is going to be an up-50% or a down-20% kind of year is impossible. And, again, I’m privileged to be in a position where I can weather the down years, thanks to diverse sources of income, savings I’ve socked away, a stable living situation, and a partner with a steady job.5

Anyway, thanks for reading along: I hope at least some of you found this perspective of one working writer illuminating. Again, let me disclaim that I’m an N of 1 and every writer is in a different situation. Check out posts from folks like Jim C. Hines, Kameron Hurley, and John Scalzi for different perspectives6. And hey, if you’ve got any broad questions, drop me a line or hit me up on Twitter. I’m always happy to talk about these things, because as I said before: the more information that’s out there, the more empowered all writers are. I appreciate all of your support over the past five years, and let’s all stick together in 2020, huh?

  1. And, I realize, I’m very lucky to be in a position where I can afford to be fascinated, instead of worrying where my next rent payment is going to come from.

  2. Looking at my records, it was literally two pieces I wrote for Tom’s Guide.

  3. I’ve only had one royalty statement for *Bayern* so far, and it takes a least a couple before you get an idea of just how well the book is doing.

  4. And taxes.

  5. Then again, if the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania has his maniacal way, who knows what kind of fuckery we might all be in for.

  6. If you see other posts along these lines, let me know!

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