Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Writers and Money

I'll wait for you to stop laughing and saying "What money?" Even if you haven't gotten to the point of earning an advance, or even better, royalty checks, many writers earn some money through freelancing, self-publishing, editing services, short story sales, etc. But money earned as a writer will always be different than that earned by those who get a steady paycheck each week. Even in the scenario of royalty checks, it's never a guaranteed amount. So how do you budget or calculate living expenses on uneven income?

Though I've recently made some money through freelance work and by offering query services through the blog, I know a lot about this topic because I've been self-employed for a decade. I run my own private practice as a psychologist, and my income has always varied from month to month. I'm used to the uncertainty principle, and thought I'd pass along several tips that might help with budgeting. NOTE: This is my own personal experience and should not be construed as financial advice. That's what CPA's are for. :)

1. Keep good records. If you're earning money from various sources, such as selling several articles or short stories a year, keep careful track of all your income (and expenses.) Money spent on websites, marketing, editing, etc. will help offset the cost of your total income. You can track this through a program like Quicken or Excel, or you can use an old-school ledger and pencil. Just make it thorough. This will make step 2 easier.

2. Pay Estimated Taxes if needed. I've paid estimated taxes for years, but look at it as a positive thing, because it means my business is profitable. A good accountant, or a reliable tax program like the Business Edition of TurboTax, can help you figure out what you should pay. A good rule of thumb is to set aside at least a third of what you earn for taxes. 

3. Make your budget based on the lowest expected amount of income. After a few months of receiving writing related income, you can probably get away with taking an average of those months to determine your budget, but I use the lowest amount I make in a given month to set my budget. That way, I make sure I'm covering basic expenses, and if I make more than that, it can be added to an emergency fund for unforeseen crises. If no crisis occurs, the money can be used for other things, as mentioned in the next step. 

4. Use the bucket method for your income. I'm a huge fan of the bucket method, because it allows you to put a little money towards fun things, along with boring stuff like the aforementioned estimated taxes. I have a savings account labeled for each "bucket," so you could have designated accounts for things like taxes, mortgage, etc,. but make sure to include at least one bucket for something fun. Even if you can only put a few dollars in your fun bucket at a time, it will eventually add up. Then you can get that new laptop or go on a weekend getaway--and what writer doesn't need those things (BONUS: that new laptop may even qualify as a tax deduction depending on your situation!)

These are some basic tips, but I'm sure there are plenty more. Has anyone tried any of these, or have any other money tips to share?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How to Be An Olympic Writer

The Olympics are long gone, which is a very good thing for my writing. The nights of endless gymnastics, swimming, beach volleyball, diving, and track may or may not have affected my daily word count (okay, it totally did), but at least a few sports failed to suck me in (I'm looking at you, fencing and water polo). However, there was an upshot to the abnormal amount of time I spent in front of my television--I found tremendous inspiration in every athlete out there. I also noticed similarities between what it takes to be an Olympian and an Olympic writer:

1) Train. Those athletes didn't make it to the Olympics by saying, "I know I have it in me to be an Olympian," and then find excuses about how they didn't have enough time, money, etc. to put in the hours. Using Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours rule (if you haven't read Outliers, you should), these athletes have logged well over 10K hours in training. Michael Phelps should have gills from how much time he's spent underwater. How does an Olympic writer train? Certainly not by saying they know they "have a book in them...someday." They write. Then they write some more. Then what do they do? You get the idea.

2) Be persistent. Not every athlete qualifies for the Olympics on their first try. Those that make it to the Olympics don't always get gold--or medal at all--their first time there. I don't think that's a bad thing, as it can be a powerful motivator. Track star, Allyson Felix, took the silver in the 200m in Beijing. From 2008 until the 2012 Games in London, she trained her ass off and focused on being the very best she could be...and got her gold. Most athletes don't medal, but at least they knew they did the best they could do and were good enough to get to the Olympics. The lesson for writers? Never give up. Keep trying and get better. If your first book doesn't land you an agent or a book deal, keep trying. If you self-publish and the book doesn't sell well, keep trying. Go back to step 1) and push yourself to be the best writer you can be.

3) Hope for a little luck. Yep, even in the Olympic, sometimes winning a medal involves a bit of luck and good timing. I watched a noted BMX racer (yes, I watched BMX too--I told you I watched a lot o' Olympics) go down because of a crash in front of him. One swimmer might hit the touch pad a bit harder than another and get the faster time. Everyone has times when they feel they are "in the groove" and other times when things don't go their way. With the Olympics, athletes have only that one moment, and they better hope they are in the groove. Though not as intense, there is timing and luck involved with publishing too. Even publishers can't always predict which books will be a hit. Sometimes it takes hitting the right publisher, or the right audience, with the right idea at the right time. You don't have control over this, but you do have control over steps 1), 2), and 4), which makes this step more likely to fall into place.

4) Be a good sport. Whether an athlete won gold, bronze, or even nothing at all, most of them carried themselves with grace, poise and humility. Oscar Pitorius, the double amputee track star from South Africa, didn't medal but stood out as an Olympic hero. McKayla Maroney demonstrated great humor over the attention she's received regarding her obvious disappointment at winning silver in the vault. If you haven't checked out the McKayla is Not Impressed page, it's cute (my fave pic is the one of her in the scene at the art museum in Ferris Bueller's Day Off). The lesson for writers? Whether you're a New York Times bestseller, or an aspiring writer trying to get out of the slushpile, treat others with respect and kindness. It doesn't cost anything to be a decent human being, plus I'm a big believer in karma, kismet, and various other k words.

Those are the things that jumped out at me, so I hope you can use those to go forth and become Olympic writers. Did you notice other similarities? Anyone else watch as much Olympics as I did? More importantly, did anyone out there watch water polo?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Book Recommendation--Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

I haven't done a book recommendation in awhile, so here you go. My rec for this week is Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride. It was a William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist, but I didn't even know that until after I read it. I'm an unashamed title and cover whore, so I knew nothing about this book except that the cover grabbed me (and made me sing along in my head to the Elton John tune). I'll wait a minute while you sing it too. Done? Okay, so here's the great cover:


And the description from Goodreads:

Sam leads a pretty normal life. He may not have the most exciting job in the world, but he’s doing all right—until a fast food prank brings him to the attention of Douglas, a creepy guy with an intense violent streak.

Turns out Douglas is a necromancer who raises the dead for cash and sees potential in Sam. Then Sam discovers he’s a necromancer too, but with strangely latent powers. And his worst nightmare wants to join forces . . . or else.

With only a week to figure things out, Sam needs all the help he can get. Luckily he lives in Seattle, which has nearly as many paranormal types as it does coffee places. But even with newfound friends, will Sam be able to save his skin?

Why I liked it: This was such a fast and fun read--seriously, the chapter titles alone are worth it. I loved Sam and thought his character was well-developed and real (plus a lot of the genre YA I read tends to have female MC's, so Sam was a refreshing change of pace). Also, I love me some snark which is found aplenty in this book. There were a few plot issues I had to overlook, but I'm really nitpicky. Overall, if you're looking for fun genre fiction, this book is a definite win. I don't often get around to sequels but I would read a sequel to this in a heartbeat.Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

MSFV Blog Hop--Interview and Book Giveaway with Leah Petersen

Welcome to what will hopefully be the first of the Annual Authoress’ Success Story blog tours! Those of us who have owed our publishing successes, at least in part, to the Miss Snark’s First Victim contests and blog have decided to come together and help cross promote each other’s work.  Every day in the first two weeks of August, a different author will be posting an interview of one of our fellow Success Stories, so make sure to tune in to everyone’s blogs (there’s a list below). Also, if you haven't checked out my interview on Amanda Sun's blog from yesterday, you still have time to enter to win a first chapter critique from moi.

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing the awesome Leah Petersen. Leah is giving away an ebook copy of her book Fighting Gravity to one lucky commenter! Just comment here for a chance to win this:

"When Jacob Dawes is selected for the Imperial Intellectual Complex as a child, he's catapulted from the poverty-stricken slums of his birth into a world where his status as an unclass is something no one can forget, or forgive. His growing scientific renown draws the attention of the emperor, a young man Jacob's own age, and they find themselves drawn to each other in an unlikely and ill-advised relationship. Jacob may have won the emperor's heart, but it's no protection when he's accused of treason. And fighting his own execution would mean betraying the man he loves."
Leah Petersen lives in North Carolina. She does the day-job, wife, and mother thing, much like everyone else. She prides herself on being able to hold a book with her feet so she can knit while reading. She’s still working on knitting while writing. Make sure to check out Leah's blog and follow her on Twitter.
Her first novel, Fighting Gravity, is available now from Dragon Moon Press.

Welcome Leah--I'm from North Carolina too! I think you need to post a pic of the knitting while reading thing, because that is amazing. So can you tell us how participating on the MSFV blog helped get you where you are now?
Leah: The short(ish) version is that I got into one of the monthly Secret Agent contests (back when it was simply the first 25 or 50 that got into the mailbox, purely a trigger finger rather than a merit thing.) The agent had some pointed criticism of my opening, and little about it that she thought worked. Ouch. Well, I took her critique and worked on making it better. The next month, Authoress announced the open submission period for Dragon Moon Press. They looked like a good fit for me so I queried with my revised draft and they asked for the full. The next day I got an email asking if we could have a phone conversation. And the rest is history.

I think the nice thing about my story is that it shows how many ways authors can benefit from Authoress's site and the community there. It's not just about winning the contests or auctions. There's value in what you can learn there, and the connections and network and community Authoress has built there.
That's a great story, and highlights how every path to publication is different. One of the things that struck me about your book was the LGBT aspect. As a writer who has a gay character in my current novel, I'm wondering if this was an obstacle for you in terms of publishing.

Leah: You know, I expected it to, but the opposite was true. In fact, my editor told me that someone she mentioned it to remarked that it was the LGBT angle that made it such a unique and interesting concept.

That's awesome. So can you tell us what you're working on right now, and why are you excited about it?
Right now I'm working on the sequel to Fighting Gravity, currently called Cascade Effect. I was actually less than excited about it a few weeks ago because the summer is such a busy time for me and it was just another thing that required my time. But a couple of weeks ago my dad read Fighting Gravity for the first time and he liked it so much that my aunt decided to read it and she raved about it so her assistant is now reading it and my coworker... (this is a family business, so we're all working in the same office.) 

Anyway, watching real people in my life get excited about my characters and want to know what happens next has helped my find my excitement again.
I can relate to summer being super busy, but how cool to have family that is so supportive of you!  What advice do you have for those who are still in the query trenches?

Learn from it. Don't just flog the query process with an exclusive focus on landing an agent. I learned A LOT about writing and the publishing industry from querying at a slow, measured pace and reading as much as I could about how to go about it in the meantime. 
That is so true--I felt like I had gained so much knowledge about writing and the publishing industry by the time I got an agent. What is your writing process like (e.g. are you a morning/evening writer?)

I'm a catch-it-when-you-can writer. I tend to devote chunks of time to writing one or two days a week rather than smaller, regular periods. Even I don't think it's ideal, but it's what works for me. My muse resents being told what to do. If I dictate time and place to her, she tends to get huffy and uncooperative.  
Your writing style sounds a lot like mine--your muse and my muse must be related. Can you tell us something about yourself we'd be surprised to know?

I celebrated the sale of Fighting Gravity by getting a new tattoo. It's a solar eclipse.   
That is very cool, and very brave. My tattoos are applied by my 5-yo and wash off easily. Last bonus question for you: What are you reading right now? Which authors inspire you?

I've been on a huge reading kick lately and I've probably read three books this week already. (It's Wednesday as I write this.) Today I'm on Kushiel's Avatar, by Jacqueline Carey.

If the characters are compelling enough that I hurt and bleed and jump for joy with them, then that's a good book. I'm inspired by any author who can do that. 

Oh, the Kushiel series have been read by several women in my book club (myself included), and are such a great guilty-pleasure read! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog today, Leah.  

Don't forget to leave a comment on my personal blog to be entered in Leah's book giveaway, and check out Leah's blog tomorrow when she interviews Monica Bustamante Wagner.   
Visit the whole crew:
Blog Twitter Posting   Date
David   Kazzie @davidkazzie 1-Aug
Leigh   Talbert Moore @leightmoore 2-Aug
J.Anderson   Coats @jandersoncoats 3-Aug
J.M.   Frey @scifrey 4-Aug
Elissa   Cruz @elissacruz 5-Aug
Amanda   Sun @Amanda_Sun 6-Aug
Kristi Helvig @KristiHelvig 7-Aug
Leah   Petersen @Leahpetersen 8-Aug
Monica   Bustamante Wagner @Monica_BW 9-Aug
Emily   Kokie @emkokie 10-Aug
Monica   Goulet @MonicaGoulet 11-Aug
Peter   Salomon @petersalomon 12-Aug
Sarah   Brand @sarahbbrand 13-Aug
Angela Ackerman @angelaackerman   & @writerthesaurus 14-Aug
Tara   Dairman @TaraDairman 15-Aug

Monday, August 6, 2012

First Chapter Critique and Interview

Today is my day to be hosted on the Miss Snark's First Victim Blog Hop! Check out my interview over at the fabulous Amanda Sun's blog where I'm giving away a first chapter critique to one lucky winner. Stop back tomorrow when I interview the awesome Leah Peterson.

Contest Monday - Get Published by HarperTeen!

You may remember way back in January when I announced that I would have a short story appearing in the upcoming HarperTeen anthology DEFY THE DARK, that I said there'd be more exciting news about how YOU could be in the anthology too. Well, that day has finally arrived!

HarperTeen and Figment have opened up the DEFY THE DARK Short Story Contest.

This cover is NOT FINAL, but isn't it pretty?

The contest is open to any unpublished writer, or published writer who has earned less than $2000 from their writing. All you need to do is write a 2000-4000 word story of any genre that mostly takes place at night, or in the dark.

You can be creative with this. It doesn't have to be dark and scary. A girl sneaking out at night to meet her secret crush fits just as well as those creepy things that go bump in the night.

You have until September 1st to write an upload your story to Figment. The winner gets:

  • The winner will get paid and have their story published in DEFY THE DARK!
  • Two second place winners will also win cash prizes from HarperCollins and have their stories published on the Defy The Dark website.

So what are you waiting for? Get all the contest details at the Figment.com DEFY THE DARK contest page!

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