Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008 Round Up, Part 2--the business side of the writing life

Okay, so I had a pretty good year of actually writing stuff. It's worth looking at the business side of the writing life, too.

This past year was about what I expected, in terms of how much I submitted. I was busy with extensive writing projects, so I didn't set any submission records for myself.

This year I sent 17 queries for scripts and 75 actual scripts out, so I guess you could call it 92 submissions.

In terms of productions, it was a slow year, but not too bad. I had 6 productions of short plays in various theatres in New York, Boston, and North Carolina, and 2 readings. Plus I got quite a few productions of short plays via my publishers and about 1,000 students bought my published scripts this year, for use in competitions and elsewhere.

Two of my short plays were accepted for inclusion in Smith & Kraus anthologies, and Playscripts published my short play, Pumpkin Patch. I won one competition, the UMBC competition, which was very exciting. I came up completely blank in my efforts to find productions for my full-length plays this year--they're awfully tough to place right now. I did help produce a new play festival, Six Views, with my Rhombus playwrights group, which was quite successful in many ways and very gratifying.

I sold a handful of books, but Tornado Siren has been out for a while (two years), and like any novel, if it doesn't make a big splash out of the gate, its lifetime on the bookshelves is pretty short.

So in terms of audience, all this added up to a decent year (meaning I met my goals). As far as I can tell, counting theatre and books, I think my worked reached at least 5,282 people this year. (My goal was 4,800.) This was generated by 75 performances (my goal was 52).

So what about the money side of the writing life? What does all this add up to? We tend not to talk about the actual finances of writing, much to the detriment of young writers, I think. They don't really know what writers earn for their work when they get into this.

My goal at the start of 2008 was to make at least $6,000 from my writing work (including freelance stuff). Sounds like a pathetically small number, I know, but my time is limited (I'm the stay-at-home dad for two kids, too, and I do a bunch of other stuff).

This year I made just over $10,000, which is the first time I've beat my goal. However, only about $1,500 of this came from productions and publications of plays and books. The rest was generated by my freelance work doing web work and business writing and editing. Most of the creative writing money comes from my many published short plays (about 34)--these brought in about $1,100. The nice thing about this money is that it's pretty consistent, year-to-year, so I can count on it to help cover my basic writing expenses (paper, envelopes, web costs).

2009 should be better, in terms of playwriting income, because I know I have a $1,000 prize on its way, plus some extra short play publication money (from a production licensed in December 2008).

It really is helpful for our family if I can keep bringing in $6,000 - $10,000 a year (and I have a daughter approaching college age at an alarming rate). Luckily my freelance work is helping make that happen right now, though I'd love for my income from plays and books to cover that full amount. Who knows, maybe the new play or new novel will do the trick for a while (though even if they get published and/or produced, it's likely they wouldn't show income until 2010). The best I can do is keep writing and keep submitting (and try to be smart about it).


Malachy Walsh said...

Man, $10,000?

Is that your total income for the year?

I'm interested in knowing more - since I'm in a boat that's similar, though not exactly the same.

Do tell.

Patrick Gabridge said...

Yep, that's my total for the year. And that's more than I've made for a long time. Before, I was just making money from playwriting and novel writing, a couple thousand bucks at the most, and most of that got spent on writing and research. But this year, I needed to add freelance work (business editing and web site writing and design) to supplement the family income.

I've been able to stay at home with the kids full-time since they were born--now they're 9 and 14. So basically, I've had little kids at home with me for a very long time. Tracy has always had a real job (except when she quit the corporate world to go to graduate school to become an academic librarian--we lived on our savings for almost 2 years), and I've taken care of the house and done theatre and writing.

Like any family with artists in it, we've made a lot compromises financially, and we try to be especially frugal. We own our home (a condo, actually), but we have no other outstanding debt.

What doesn't show up on the income tally for past years is that I put sweat equity into some of our houses (we've moved a lot), which we later sold, and we owned a three-family house for a while, during which I served as landlord, and later did all the work to convert that house into three condos, which we sold right before the market tanked. (Lucky timing.)

It's challenging, but it's worked pretty well for us. Now that the kids are older, some of the associated expenses have risen, so I'm trying to make more money, but I very much do not want to give up writing projects that are important to me.

Malachy Walsh said...

I'm impressed.

I work in advertising (though in this economy, who knows how much longer that'll be) and do very well financially by comparison.

We do, however, have a boatload of debt. So while we saved something like 20k last year as part of our financial planning, we are very very strapped for real money today.

And my wife enforces frugality like I've never experienced before (hours will be spent on the Internet trolling for better prices and free shipping).

You make me feel like a unrepentant spendthrift. Which I guess I am.


Patrick Gabridge said...

It makes a big difference if at least one of you is hitting frugal mode. For me, it's the only way I can keep writing. Back in the 90s, we read a book called "Your Money or Your Life" by Joe Dominguez and Vicky Robin, and that ended up really getting us on the right track, in a way that ended up giving us a lot more flexibility in life.