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June 05, 2006

A Decade of Freelance

My pal Scott Westerfeld is celebrating ten years of being a full-time freelance writer today, and comes to the party loaded down with stats that will be of use for people in the "should I keep my day job or write full-time?" thing. In those stats, what I think is the salient bit of information:

Years before I made enough to write only as me: 8

Before that date, he was doing the ghostwriting and all the other things he was doing. This is something for all y'all to keep in mind as you're plugging away, wondering if there's a light at the end of the freelance tunnel and how far away it might be.

The eight years notation is interesting to me because as it happens I am at my eighth year of the freelancing life, and this is the first year where I could ditch all the other writing I do that's not related to my own books and still make what I consider to be an acceptable amount of money (I haven't quite done that because I like doing the stuff I'm doing. And I'm greedy. Bwa ha ha hah ha!). The details of my and Scott's writing lives are different enough, and other fulltime writers' lives more different still, that I'm hestitant to declare a general "eight year" rule here. But I do wonder if this is also consonant with other writers' experiences.

I am delighted that Scott is able to make a living writing books, for the purely selfish reason that it means there are likely to be more Scott Westerfeld books for me to read -- and this likely to be even more the case now that he is a New York Times Bestselling Author via his latest book. You can't buy that sort of accolade, you know. Other people have to buy it for you, several thousand units at a time.

So congratulations, Scott. Here's to many more years of the freelance, and book-writing, life.

Posted by john at June 5, 2006 12:01 PM

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John H | June 5, 2006 12:46 PM

Hear, hear!

Way to go, Scott!

Gabe | June 5, 2006 01:07 PM

I gotta question that you might be able to answer John: what kind of tax hit do you incur, typically, from advances and royalty sales? Also, does Tor just 1099 you or how in the heck does all that work?

Gabe | June 5, 2006 01:11 PM

Hmm... I guess gotta and got a are interchangeable for me today. Damn my vernacular!

CoolBlue | June 5, 2006 01:31 PM

Eight years.

Good thing I got a day job.

On the other hand, having a day job prevents me from writing so much.

On the other hand, I probably couldn't make any money writing books.

On the other hand (which hand is that now) I'd be happy just having been able to put 70,000 words together with a single theme.

I have said in the past that I will write my book when I retire.

Now I'm saying I'm gonna write my book so I can retire. After all, I got 20 years in the program.

Eight years...

Rachel | June 5, 2006 03:14 PM

I saw that post. I am greatly amused that there is such a thing as a powder-puff girl choose your own adventure novel. I'm halfway torn between "That's the most awesome thing I've ever heard!" and "May the God I don't believe in help the universe."

(If you think I should ponder option A, turn to page 36. If you think I should ponder option B, turn to the scorched half page at the back of the book...)

Anyway, how does one go about getting ghostwriting gigs? I know I've read articles on the subject, but never ones that seemed very helpful. Or is this a question I should direct to the Westerfeld?

Bill the Splut | June 5, 2006 03:49 PM

Have you ever posted an example of your corporate freelance work? I'm curious as to how it contrasts with your "regular" style. I can't imagine you writing in dry corporatese. And given the amount of work you've done, you probably don't.

Kristiana | June 5, 2006 03:55 PM

Thanks for posting this, it was cool to read Scott's story. I hope one day I'll be that far down the road.

John Scalzi | June 5, 2006 04:01 PM

Bill the Splut:

"I can't imagine you writing in dry corporatese."

Heh. Believe it. Although it really depends on the client. The whole point of corporate writing is to perform to specification. An adventurous client will get adventurous writing; a conservative one will get conservative writing.

Kiji | June 5, 2006 04:05 PM

Eight years? Eight years? But I'll be old then!

I'm glad I got a day job, but I often fantasize about being some sort of glamorous bohemian writer, tapping or scribbling away at a table I commandeered at the local coffee shop. A beautiful image, yes, but I don't think the student loan people would take that as a legitimate excuse to default on my payments...

Well, at least I know that I'm not as far behind as I thought I was. I've been freelancing for about a year for the local alternative weekly, all while desperately looking for a way to break into music journalism. I suppose if I have seven years left, I can't be doing that badly...

Love the blog, by the way. Thanks for taking the time!

scott westerfeld | June 5, 2006 07:06 PM

Hmm, I probably should have added all the other work I did in that first eight years, besides the Powerpuff Girls and ghost-writing. It included educational software design, dozens of four-hundred word high-interest pieces for reluctant readers (whose style I borrowed for the even-numbered PEEPS chapters), some textbook editing, and even a spate of indexing.

But all of it was freelance, and ninety percent of it was done in pajamas. And that's the only real thing, really: pajamas.

Bill the Splut | June 5, 2006 08:57 PM

That was actually a question I've wondered since I began reading your site, and was waiting for the appropriate time to ask: how do you write for corporations?

I'm no aspiring writer, but there could be others here who would like to break into any kind of professional writing, and who might want to know. Maybe copyright or nondisclosure agreements keep you from reproducing something you were paid for, even with the company's name redacted. Could you just quickly fake up a few sentences that you might compose for ConGlomCorp? If you want to totally remove it from the real world, how about a brief bit from a pamphlet from, say, the company that injects the clorophyll into Colonial soldiers' bodies in OMW?

Soni | June 6, 2006 02:41 AM

I'm with Bill the Splut on wanting to know how you broke into corporate writing and how others of us can follow in your footsteps.

Magenta Griffith | June 6, 2006 03:56 PM

If the 8 year rule was absolutely true, I'd be ready to become a full-time writer.

But I write for Llewellyn annuals. I don't make enough in a year to support myself for a month. And there is that problem that I don't have time to write more because I need to have a day job. It's a vicious cycle.

I was given the advice when I was young that I should get a day job so I could keep my writing "pure" and not have to write crap. I think, on many years reflection, that this was not advice I should have followed. Anything you write improves your ability to write, and sharpens your skills.

My $.02

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