The Big Yellow Book

Seeing the World from Both Oculars-- a Bananaslug's Journal


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Is leaving science fiction the key to wealth and riches as a writer?
bigbananaslug
bigbananaslug
Today's USA Today has a large article about a new book, Casanegra, in the mystery genre ghosted (very publicly)
by "married writer duo Tanarive Due and Steve Barnes." Nowhere in the article is mentioned the fact that both writers have spent most of their published careers (outside of screenwriting) producing genre science fiction. The Hollywood star who's the supposed author of the book, Blair Underwood, met Due, "after optioning her 1977 supernatural suspense novel."

With the Pulitzer Prize going to The Road, which is a well worn science fiction trope if ever there was one, yet nowhere in the book, or its accompanying flackery, is the genre mentioned...one wonders if being "labeled" sci-fi is the kiss of working-two-jobs-starving-writer-death.

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No, not a kiss of death, but definitely not "respectable."

Well, the hell with them I say. Do you wanna be famous, "respectable", or rich? SF sells.

You say it sells? Look through the SFWA membership list and tell me how many full time SF&F writers there are. Maybe twenty, twenty-five. How many of them are getting rich? Maybe ten or fifteen. At absolute most.

If you're David Weber, or somebody like that, maybe.

But look at the opportunities in other kinds of writing. Genre fiction, whether mystery, or sf&f or western...pays very poorly.

How poorly, you ask? Well I've been writing for years, and have concentrated on nonfiction and freelancing even though my absolute love is sf&f. Why? Because I can easily and I mean easily get all the writing I can do at $1.25 a word writing nonfiction.

I can also get all the writing I can do writing sf&f...and I am not having any great difficulty getting published when I do write sf&f...at $0.065 a word.

I can write around 30,000 words a month that people might pay to read.

Do the math.

I did. That's why I have three stories and one novel making very very slow progress, and one magazine (not JBU, the day-job), white papers, and a non-fiction textbook that I have to get done by the end of the year.

Why not the novel? I got a five figure advance for the textbook. I would only have gotten a four figure advance for the novel, assuming I could get somebody to take a relatively unknown sf&f writer on spec...

See?

Remember, I used to do software books. In the late 802/early 90s, you could get a decent ($6-10K advance), and live on that while you knocked the thing out. Royalties were gravy.

Now, you're lucky to get $2K as an advance. Why? Because people write the damn things for ego, or for resume fodder.

A mid-4 figure advance isn't anything to sneer at.

Full-time SF writers? Want me to start running a list? There's a lot more than your 25, I'll tell ya that much. But you have to look outside Baen to get 'em. No, FT writing is not for everyone. And no, not everyone's going to get rich doing it.

But SF, _if_ you can sell it, sells better than some other genres of writing. I think you might be rather depressed to find out what the dot-bust, and the entry of low-cost Indian technical "writers" (and I use the word loosely) have done to that market. You $1950/month looks pretty good by comparison to the rates that are left on the table for most writers these days. It's arguable between writing, and working Starbucks.

Maybe I'm just in a sweet spot for freelancers...but I pay between $0.80 and $1.25 to MY freelancers...and expect to get paid the same when I work....and I have all the work I can do.

To the best of my knowledge, there are only four full time writers in the Baen stable (Flint, Weber, Bujold and Ringo). Everybody else has a day job, that I know of. There may be five, if you count Wen Spenser.

Even people like Sharon Lee have day jobs.

Some are full time writers because they have retired...like Lee Modessit was before he hit, and like Shari Tepper is.

Most genre writers are NOT full time. Most genre writers who ARE 'full time' have a significant other that pays the basic bills (like Sarah Hoyt) and I really don't count them. They could not live on what they make as writers.

Well, hell Walt. Let's look at Baen's catalog, and see who's there that makes FT unsupported living as a writer. Aside from your 4, I get...
Robert Asprin, CJ Cherryh, John Dalmas, Dave Drake, Andrew Dennis, Dave Freer, Leo Frankowsi, Jim Hogan, Dean Ing, Misty Lackey, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Joel Rosenberg, Spider Robinson, Steve Stirling, Harry Turtledove,... you get the idea.

So that, plus your 4... we're half way to your 40 FT writers in SFWA.

And, honestly, I _wish_ that I got those kinds of rates for my writing. I usually got paid on an hourly basis... but, like I said, the rates are going to hell in a handbasket. And if you're getting around $1/word, why the hell write for $.065/word?

So, what kinda articles are you looking for? ;>

That's the point. I wanted my SFWA card, and I got it...and now I have to pay the mortgage and then I can write some more sf. Probably around September or October I can get back to writing fiction.

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