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Cash Flow…or Cash Trickle? September 14, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, VIPub, writing.

Filthy lucre. It’s what keeps us going. Oh, sure, there are always writers who talk about artistic integrity and other highfalutin things taught to English majors, but it comes down to a simple equation. If you work as a writer and don’t make enough to get by, to pay the bills and survive, then you won’t work as a writer. You’ll be something else with writing as a sideline.

Nothing wrong with that, of course. I suspect most books are published by people with day jobs who also write. The number of full-time writers has been argued over for years. It might be as few as 500 or as many as thousands. Doesn’t matter. What does is dealing with the peculiarities of payment as a writer.

I joke about working for free for a year until the dump truck comes and unloads a mountain of money on my doorstep. That’s not so far wrong, especially dealing with legacy publishers. The money comes in huge lumps with a lot of skinny stretches between payments. VIPub makes it easier getting paid a little each month, but the situation is still there. Making your money stretch to fit your “got to pay’em” bills.

Everyone’s circumstance is different but budgeting is a necessity. Bottom line necessity. When that lump of money comes in, don’t spend it all at once. Parcel it up, dribble it out knowing you have to pay the mortgage three months down the road or that special Christmas present although it is only April. Plan ahead. Know what your minimum, bottom line survival cost is, apportion for as long as you can, then if there is anything left over consider something fun. (I am not one of those “reward yourself with something special” types to celebrate the publication of a book or the sale of one or that it’s Wednesday or whatever. If you are, budget for it.)

A long time back I did an article for SFWA Bltn on retirement plans. The only response I got was a very nice letter from Robert Silverberg. We swapped a few more letters where I wondered why it hadn’t gotten more response. He said the reason was simple: most members of SFWA then (and probably now) are not full-time writers and such planning was beyond the scope of their lives. Money from writing was surplus, not something to live or die on because most had full-time jobs that weren’t writing. But even back then I knew I had to be a writer and that I had to take care of my retirement since no company 401(k) or 403(b) for me. I took this as just another item on the budget.

This is a weird business for cash flow and you need to be as inventive spending your money as you are earning it.



1. suehealy - September 18, 2011

Great article. The practicalities of living as a writer are rarely thought through and financial insecurity remains more of an obstacle than the pram in the hall. One of the best tips given to be was to be business-like and professional about my product and my accounts. This may sound obvious, but isn’t for the majority of Eng.Lit graduates with literary ambitions.

bobv451 - September 18, 2011

Even before I got into writing, money fascinated me. At the time (I was a junior in college) one of my profs (PhD Harvard) said if he hadn’t gone into physics he would have become a stock broker. I thought it was weird at the time but the permutations and the uncertainty of making and keeping money are myriad. Over the years money has continued to fascinate me, maybe because I see so little of it most of the time, but if you write professionally (ie, make a living at it) you have to realize you are running a small business. This is a significant part of VIPub — and not like you so eloquently put it, “more of an obstacle than the pram int he hall.”

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