Scalzi on writing and money

Science-fiction writer John Scalzi delivers some “unasked-for advice to new writers about money” on his blog Whatever.

You gotta give Scalzi some credit, few people talk about money, especially writers who often work a lot to make very little. Although, I suspect, it’s easier to talk about money when you make as much as Scalzi. But Scalzi has paid his dues. Here’s a list of his Science Fiction earnings. In 1999 he earned $400 in 2007 $67,000. (Note: he supplements this income with a fair amount of corporate writing, blogging, non fiction writing, so he was able to feed his family in 1999.)

Anyhow, here’s my favorite point of his unasked-for advice:

8. Unless you have a truly compelling reason to be there, get the hell out of New York/LA/San Francisco.

Because they’re friggin’ expensive, that’s why. Let me explain: Just for giggles, I went to and looked for apartments in Manhattan that were renting for what I pay monthly on my mortgage for my four bedroom, 2800 square foot house on a plot of land that is, quite literally, the size of a New York City block ($1750, if you must know, so I looked at the $1700 – $1800 range). I found two, and one was a studio. From $0 to $1800, there are thirteen apartments available. On the entire island of Manhattan. Where there are a million people. I love that, man.

The other day someone in the publishing industry told me that I sound like the type of guy that should move to New York to be in the mix. He even drew a picture something like this: I would arrive from Indiana, stand on the street corner all wide-eyed with my weathered suitcase, a bag of apples my mom packed, full of naïve optimism, and marvel at the big city.

I told him that although I’m sure if would be nice to have connections, if I moved to NYC, Annie would leave me, which would not be a good thing and would completely go against Scalzi’s tip #3. Also, like Scalzi points out, the big city is expensive. In Indiana my writing career affords a pretty nice life (supplemented by my day job and Annie’s) in a 2400 sq foot home. But In NYC, it would afford a pretty nice cardboard box. And I like not having to worry about my walls getting soggy when it rains.

If I lived in a big expensive city, the pressure to earn money would have probably put a stop to my writing career long ago.

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Kent says:

His advice is practical for everyone. And I like the way he puts it. “insolvent jackass” haha.

Eva says:

Thanks, Kelsey (and Scalzi), that was a good list. I’d say I already follow all but three points pretty rigorously, and I’m keeping my eyes peeled for an opportunity to follow #3, too! I’m halfway plotting to flagrantly disobey #2 and #8, though – in that order: quit day job, move to New York City. Where, incidentally, I can’t even legally pick up a new day job.

I dunno, I guess I figure an exception can be made for travel writers, where you can actually SAVE a lot of money by living someplace people are interested in reading travel articles about – because then you don’t have to pay for travel on top of everything else. I could probably make a half-decent living just writing “NYC Hotels under $100” articles, no? (And when was the last time you read a travel story about Ottawa?)

Kelsey says:

Eva, you saw right through me. My endorsing of Scalzi’s #8 is just me trying to justify that I live in Indiana. Really, Indiana is great. Seriously. I’m not lying. Why would I lie? You calling me a liar. Because I don’t see anyone else here. help me!

Life is cheap here. But as much as I would recommend poor writer’s living somewhere where they can stretch a buck, I would more fervently recommend that they don’t live in Indiana. When was the last time you read a travel story about Indiana?

But I’m happy here and I guess that’s what works for me. Besides, big cities freak me out.

Let your voice be heard!