Irony 101: Freelance Income

This may sound funny, but we had a really good year last year, income-wise. As a result, Steve and I are now brainstorming ideas to produce cash flow.

It isn’t that we’re not making some money — or at least that we have made money — but. . .royalty money comes in lumps we can’t predict and at times we can predict only in broad strokes. This is the freelancer’s problem — the Federal Government wants everyone to have predictable lives that fit into predictable boxes for income tax and healthcare purposes.

This means, among other things, that no lucky writing year goes unpunished.

For example, we got a really nice royalty check in late December that meant we had to (after we finished dancing around the kitchen, because wooHOO, look at that check!):  1) spend $ thousands to “repay” the ACA for health coverage that would have been subsidized if the check had arrived a mere eight days later;  2) we had to pay a substantial penalty to the IRS for having guessed wrong as to the amount and timing of our total annual income (and thus the amount of our quarterly tax payments); and 3) we had to cancel our planned, and greatly anticipated, attendance at this year’s worldcon.

This is the freelance reality: There’s just there’s no way for us to know the amount (if any) of royalties ahead of time.

A more even and more constant cash flow would help against these gotchas, especially at a time we’re looking to move and get things settled down. In fact, it would have been really good if we could have managed to move last year.  Since that didn’t work out, that evening of cash flow has become even more important since the $12,000 worth of repayments and penalties cuts down our available down payment options this year.

Now, we do have some Splinters that will be going up on Splinter Universe, as time permits (please watch for them!) but. . .I feel we’re going to have to do better than that in the long run, something more long term and predictable.

Some folks we talk to have suggested that we set up a Patreon account (for those who don’t know what Patreon is, here’s Elizabeth Bear’s page, and here’s Ursula Vernon’s and here’s C.E. Murphy’s — as examples).

I’d like to know what people think of the Patreon idea, since Steve and I are of mixed minds.

I will note that some kind folks have put Splinter Universe on a weekly or monthly payment schedule, via PayPal, and by personal check, which is very much the same sort of support — and which we appreciate very much.

So, really — what do y’all think of the Patreon idea? Does anyone have any other ideas regarding how we should approach this (going back to college, getting my medical degree and discovering a cure for brain cancer is, I think, not going to be a viable plan, this far out)?

Thanks for listening.

23 thoughts on “Irony 101: Freelance Income”

  1. I think Patreon is great and am supporting others there. I would love to add you to the list.

  2. I think this is a much saner approach for you folks; I like it! My only problem with it that I don’t see a way to give $ quarterly or in other not monthly increments.

  3. That might be something that we set up on the backside. If we decide to go forward with this, we’ll bear quarterly donations in mind.

  4. I like the Patreon idea – my support would have to be small, but I would do it, and I suspect others will as well.

  5. I’m in. Love cool swag like post cards or anything. I guess pay as you go books/stories are out due to commitments with Baen (which is a good thing! Yeah for 5 book arcs!!)

    Wish there was a way to invest (bet) on you so when the book sells well your stock rises.

  6. Committing to writing another collaborative book right now on the storyteller’s bowl model is. . .more than our brains can do. Especially since any such book would have to be in a Whole ‘Nother Universe (i.e. not Liaden) that we would, um, have to build from the ground up.

  7. Everything else I have thought of would require you and Steve to take time away from writing, which is NOT what any of us want to have happen. If I can support my local PBS station monthly I guess I can sign up to support two of my favorite authors. I think we should work on changing the ACA as well so that writers and other artists are not penalized. I can’t help all of them, unfortunately.
    On another note, has anyone talked about Skyping from WorldCon? You may not be able to be there in person but it would be fun to have a group meeting with your fans via Skype if possible. Just asking.

  8. Thank you.

    Re: Skype to WorldCon; we thought of it, but I think it got tabled for a lack of knowing whom to contact or how to go about setting up what would essentially be a panel. If there was gong to be a Liaden Lounge, or another fan group meeting, then we’d love to Skype in, as long as we’re not in the middle of shifting house.

  9. Re Patreon: you might think about contacting some of the webcomic artists who use it and finding out what works for them. I have a couple of suggestions based on what I see other people doing. They’re just my opinions, take them for what they’re worth…

    If you’re going to ask for a Patreon, you should probably commit to some kind of regular schedule for putting up new content. Doesn’t have to be daily like a webcomic, and it doesn’t have to be anything big like a complete story every time either. Some kind of little one or two thousand word vignette, character sketch, essay about some interesting topic in the Liaden universe (maybe a longer quotation from some of the works that get epigrams in your books?) once a week, a longer but still fairly short story once a month, and a chapbook-length story once every few months perhaps?

    A lot of people will commit just because they like you and your stories, but if you want to reach out beyond that, you should give those folks a reason to feel like they’re getting “something” for their money. Again, it doesn’t have to be something huge, and you don’t need to put a huge amount of effort into it, it just has to be something new.

    The other thing is that you ought to have some kind of “milestone” rewards for when you hit X amount of Patreon committments per month. You probably shouldn’t set any of these until a few months into your Patreon experiment, so you have time to establish a baseline of what people are willing to kick in without them. (Like how, when you started Fledgling, you expected people to pay for maybe a chapter or two in the first month, and you had the whole book paid for in a matter of days.) Then, once it’s settled, you can offer rewards for when you reach X hundred dollars per month, X + 1 hundred dollars, whatever.

    At least, those are my suggestions based on what I see other people doing.

  10. definitely do Patreon! Consider it a favor to those folks who would like to support their Liaden habit… It also makes it SOOPER easy for us.

    Don’t feel like you aren’t giving us something for the money… Just make it so you can live in comfort and keep on writing!!’

  11. The abolition of income averaging, which addressed just such situations as yours, was one of the many bad parts of the Reagan tax law “reforms”.

  12. If you use the long form underpaid tax form, tax on December income is due in January, not retroactively.

  13. I’m in!
    I would support you two in a heartbeat.
    As someone said earlier, I’d be in for small potatoes, but if enough of us throw in a couple of bucks a month it could add up. Anything I can do to keep the written words flowing is a good thing. 🙂

  14. Count me in for a (very) small amount monthly. Don’t worry about committing to writing anything for your patrons (or is that “patreons?). Just keep the blogs coming! And know that you & your work are loved.

  15. I wish I’d known about that site when I was writing full time. I think it’s a fabulous idea and you should go for it! I’ve paid more for magazine subscriptions!

  16. I think its a great idea as long as the hassles of maintaining don’t infringe on your writing time because, ya know, that’s important to us. The Amounts would have to be kinda small, some of us are on fixed budgets that are already stretched tight. I liked Ursula Vernon page and I would not expect any “rewards” for being a … patron(?) as I get those from Splinters.

  17. I would subscribe, without any incentives, so long as it contributed to your ability to keep producing Liaden novels.

    I have a question. It is my habit to buy the eRC of any new Liaden novel, and then when the final version us released, to buy that, too. The eARCs are not cheap, and I’ve been assuming that you receive a royalty on the eARC that reflect the not-ceap price. A friend of mine who publishes with a different publisher tells me that even though her publisher charges for some ARCs, she gets zero royalties on those sales. So I’m curious if you get any royalty on the eARCs. If not, I would make an additional Patreon donation when I buy one, because I appreciate sooooooo much getting the early version of a new Liaden novel.

  18. Boo! on your friend’s publisher; Baen is not so niggardly.

    I believe we receive 25% of cover on all Baen ebook sales, which includes the sales of eArcs. So, yes, we do receive a higher royalty on the sale of eArcs, which reflects the higher cover price.

    Thank you for asking.

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