1980: The Writer’s Life

by wjw on August 7, 2010

Continuing my fiscal memoirs of my career, begun a few posts back.  Odd, isn’t it, that being forced to dig through a lot of old tax forms should produce fodder for nostalgia?  (At least for me.  The rest of you are probably watching Jane Austen’s Fight Club for the third time.)

My actual Form 1040 from 1980, my second year as a full-time writer, seems not to have survived, but the important bit has— that is to say Schedule C, profit and/or loss from a business.

According to Schedule C, during all of 1980 I made a grand total of $6708.10, rather a grand decline from the $20,000 I declared in 1979.

This was a result of my signing a three-book contract in 1979.  Allow me to explain:

When you sign a multibook contract, you are generally awarded half the total advance on signing, and the rest later— in the U.S., on acceptance of the completed manuscript.  Since I was being paid $10,000 per book, I got a $15,000 advance on signing in 1979, and another $5000 on completion of the first book.

In 1980, I got paid $5000 for the completion of Book II.  I almost certainly completed Book III, but the acceptance money hadn’t arrived by the end of the year.

This points out a problem with multibook contracts, which is that sometimes writers can’t afford to complete them.  The completion money, being such a small portion of the whole, turns out not to be enough to live on.  This happened to me with the Maijstral books— I didn’t finish Rock of Ages for years, because if I had, I would have starved.  I had to sell a bunch of other books in order to afford to finish the old contract.

This is worse in Britain, where the second part of the advance isn’t paid on acceptance, but on publication.  Publication happens anywhere from one or two years after delivery, during which time the author lives in a shoebox and eats coal for his supper.

American publishers are now adopting the British system in part, and splitting the advance between signing, acceptance, and publication.  Sometimes publishers can delay publication for years and years.   (This has happened to me— in fact my last two historicals were delayed so long that by the time they were finally in print, the publisher no longer had the legal right to publish them.   Since I wanted them in print, and since reselling Books IV and V of a canceled series to a new publisher was a non-starter, I carefully avoided informing Dell of this problem.)

I seemed to have planned pretty well, though, and avoided trouble.  Judging by the rather substantial amount of interest that I earned in 1980, I had purchased a number of certificates of deposit that matured in 1980, and was able to supplement my income with those.

I seem to have had some other, minor source of income that earned me a thousand bucks or thereabouts, but I have no idea what it was.

Schedule C shows that I paid a $500 commission to my agent, that I spent $201.01 on postage, $298.43 on phone service— must have made a lot of long-distance calls— along with $187.37 on Xeroxing, and $2764.08 on “Research.”  I believe this included some time on a schooner in the Windward Islands, where I absorbed a lot of useful information that brought much life and interest to my work.   On this trip I met the Baron and Francoise, and subsequently dedicated my second book to them.

I also spent $241.89 on “travel and entertainment,” so I must have had some fun in 1980.   I probably went somewhere to visit friends, though I no longer remember where or who.

Always diligent in matters of hardware, I took $350 depreciation on my Chev van and $102.96 depreciation on my typewriter.

The end result of 1980’s mad bout of spending was that my business suffered an operating loss of $305.67.   No taxes for me in 1980!

1980 showed me settling into the business of being a writer.  Despite the business loss, it wasn’t at all a bad year, and I was able to  coast on the advance I’d been paid the previous year.  I did the work, I made my deadlines, and I taught myself the business.  My writing was getting better.  I even managed to have a little fun.

But while I and my friends knew I was a real writer, the rest of the world had no such idea.  Though I’d completed three books, none were yet in print.  I labored in complete obscurity.

The next year, 1981, saw my first publications, in which the great American public saw my journeyman works and, in overwhelming numbers, yawned.

1981 would be fraught.

TJIC August 7, 2010 at 11:05 am

> 1981 would be fraught.

Noooo!! Not you too.


In other news, I recently came across an entertaining rant about how singer Katy Perry, who chose that moniker as a stage name just a few years back, was suing some Australian woman who was born with that name and who had been operating a clothing line under that name for a decade or more. The doing-business-as-Katy-Perry-since-2005 was upset that the doing-business-as-Katy-Perry-since-1990 was infringing on “her” name.

I immediately thought of Wired magazine and their Hardwired book imprint going after you and your novel of 10 years earlier!

Steve Stirling August 8, 2010 at 1:48 am

I get a 4-payment schedule — signing, acceptance, hardcover publication, softcover publication.

That spreads out the money nicely, and with an ongoing series I can count on at least 2 publication and 1 acceptance payments a year, possibly more depending on how fast I write.

I can’t remember how long I’ve been doing it that way, but it’s quite some time.

admin August 9, 2010 at 3:59 am

That works because you make so much more money than I do, Steve. If my advances got dragged out over four or five years, my condition would be pitiful indeed.

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