CWS 2016: Diversify your writing income


And . . . I’m back from WorldCon and my blogging vacay 🙂

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you see anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll fix it, post hasty.

Presenter: Robert J. Sawyer

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One of the easiest ways to diversify is to use your expertise and become a public speaker. If your expertise is in writing, you could receive a nominal fee, funded by a professional writing organization or granting agency.

A science fiction writer, however, can use their scientific research as the basis to become a futurist. A futurist demands a more substantial fee, potentially between five and ten thousand dollars. The more established the writer is as an expert, the higher the fee offered for their presentation.

Public speaking ability, is, of course, a benefit. Join your local Toastmasters to develop that. Sign up for an improvisation class.

Short fiction can earn a small amount, but even small amounts can add up over time and the publication credit becomes part of your platform. Hugo Gernsback, for whom the Hugo award is named, founded Amazing Stories and paid .06 cents a word. It’s still a payment standard used today.

A more lucrative form of writing is screenwriting. The Screenwriters Guild has standardized rates of pay for screenwriters. A one hour script for a television series, such as ABC’s Flashforward, based on my novel of the same name, earns the writer about $3600. That’s approximately 6000 words. Compare that to a short story of 6000 words paid at .06 cents a word.

If you do get a novel published, pursue film and screen rights. It doesn’t happen without effort, though.

I’ll never win a Giller Award, but I earn the equivalent of that prize amount every year.

Whatever you write, become an expert in that subject.

Authority comes from the same etymological root as author. Market your authority.

Record your presentations. A video is a great promotional tool. It will convince people to hire you. Embed it on your web site.

Too often, the author is the only person not being paid.

If you present in schools, don’t be shy about asking for a fee. The only classes I don’t charge are the ones studying my book. If they’ve bought a class set of my book, it’s not fair to charge further, in my opinion. Some professional writing organisations will provide you with a reading fee. Some will cover travel or accommodation expenses as well.

In general, non-fiction sells better and pays better that fiction. I might avoid book reviews, though. The Globe and Mail will pay $175 for book reviews, but you have to either be prepared to hold your punches, or have someone want to punch you. You can’t like everything you’re given to read.

Write what you want to find out about. Maureen Jennings writes the Murdoch Mysteries. She also writes articles on historical Toronto.

Q: What are the tax implications?

I happen to be a dual citizen so that makes some of it easier. The IRS is assiduous about getting its money, but you can work around it to some extent. I live and do most of my work in Canada. It makes a difference. For a presentation I gave in the US, I wrote it in Canada. If the work is completed in Canada, the income is declared in Canada.

For publishing income in the US, you need to have a ITIN or EIN.

Q: Do you enjoy public speaking?

Yes, I do. The more speaking engagements you get, the more comfortable you get on the stage.

Q: How did you get started?

Back in 2000, I was invited to speak at an AI conference based on my research from a recent novel. Previous to that, I was making $250 per speaking engagement as a science fiction author. I asked for $2500 and the organizers said yes. I could have asked for more.

I used to be on panels with Jay Ingram and Bob McDonald, but now I can earn more than they do for a speaking engagement.

Q: How does the unpublished or minimally published author make a living?

The number one thing is to get on television or radio as soon as you can. An agent or publicist can be helpful with this.

I used to teach for Ryerson, but it was actually the least lucrative channel of income I had when you factor in the hours spent on prep and marking.

Q: Do you have to seek out engagements?

Initially, yes. Not so much anymore. Once you’re an established expert, people will come to you.

If you have an author newsletter, let your readers know that you’re available for talks. Fans will convince their businesses to hire you just so they can meet you.

Q: Can diversification compromise your author identity?

It can.

There are some writers who end up making more public appearances and presentations than writing novels.

In 1988, I was 28. I wanted to be a novelist, but I was writing financial columns. That was how I paid the bills. I decided to start turning down these opportunities to make more time for writing novels. I was terrified. In 1996, eight years later, I won the Nebula award. It took that long to make the transition.

And that was time.


You’ll be happy to know I’m returning to Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday curations starting this week.

Next week: I’ll be offering up my next chapter update for August and then I’ll have only one more session from the Canadian Writers’ Summit to share before I move on to WorldCon panel notes 🙂 I have enough of those to keep the weekend blogging going into 2017 (considering the time I’ll be taking off for NaNoWriMo).

Be well until next week, writerly peoples 🙂

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4 thoughts on “CWS 2016: Diversify your writing income

  1. Hmm… that was interesting to hear from Mr. Sawyer that some writers can get additional income from speaking fees and so on. Of course, I don’t even make any money from my writing, so I guess I’ve got a long way to go. 🙂

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