Sunday, 30 November 2008

Flat Broke

On top of the bad cold and bronchitis (me), the man-flu (The Toyboy Trucker) and the snuffles and sneezes (the cats), the last week has been pretty crappy for various reasons. Particularly writing ones. So, this is yet another cautionary writing post because I think it's only fair that you should know I have the brain of a retarded amoeba. And that may be a little unfair to the amoeba...



I was considering not blogging about this horrendous mess at all. I thought about keeping it all to myself and simmering and panicking and weeping alone - and then appearing with another bright and breezy post when I felt better. But that wouldn't be right. I started blogging to be honest about my life - real and writerly - and that's how it's got to be. So - here we go...



This year has been a particularly badly-paid one on the writing front for all sorts of reasons. I've sold quite a few short stories, but no serials and very few features. Several acceptances have been payment on publication - and publication won't be until next year. My sales figures for the novels are frankly pretty disappointing. And the advance on my last two book deal was very, very small indeed. The smallest I've ever had in 10 years of being a novelist - and something I accepted because it was better than not being published at all (been there, didn't want to go there again). My (then) agent was ill and away from work at the time my contract came up for renewal and the negotiations were done more or less without any input from her. This was my choice. I didn't have to do it. I knew it would make things difficult financially, I knew I'd have to keep working in the pub, and I thought I'd be able to make up the difference with magazine work. My choice.



So, as with all my novel contracts, I assumed (note the dreaded "a" word there) that payments would be divided into four for each book as they always have been in the past: one on signature of the contract, one on delivery of the manuscript, one on publication of the hardback, and one on publication of the paperback. So far so good... Memo to self: read your contract! Read every bloody word. DO NOT rely on someone from your (then) agency (not my agent I hasten to add) emailing you to tell you "the terms are exactly the same as the last two contracts" and accepting this as a good enough reason NOT to plough through the small print yourself...



Yes, I've been happily sitting here, merely weeks before Christmas, thinking that all my festive spending (and it's not massive - but we do like to eat) and those bills that always come in with the Christmas cards (especially the last enormous vets bill), and possibly the purchase of a nice new little laptop from PC World (to replace the current crashing-and-freezing model) so that I can actually do some writing and earn some money, will be covered by the small but much-needed and very-welcome Happy Birthday paperback advance.

When it hadn't arrived earlier this week, I breezily emailed my lovely editor to ask when it would be paid. Bless her - she had to tell me that it already had been. In August. On publication of the hardback. That there was only ONE publication payment on this particular contract...

Eeeeech!!!!

No money to come!!!! Not a bloody penny!!!!



And yes, it's my fault. I should have read my contract. I should have done my maths and realised that the money I was paid in August was actually a third of the contract deal - and therefore I'd had all I was going to get for Happy Birthday. I should have - but I didn't...



If I'd known/realised then I'd have budgeted. I'd not have spent it and the unexpectedly lovely German royalty money on silly things like bills and getting the decorating finished and a holiday for next year and a bit off the mortgage. If I'd known/realised that was the last money I was going to be paid this year then I'd have saved it - but I didn't...

So, after a few days of complete panic, a lot of stomping around declaring Christmas cancelled, several bouts of histrionic weeping and screaming, and even more bouts of deep, deep gloom, doom and despondency I've at last accepted the awful truth. This Christmas will be done on a shoestring. It will be a return to the Good Old Days.

It'll be a challenge but one we'll cope with, I'm sure. We've been through worse - and we're lucky, at least we've still got jobs and a home - and we're warm and safe and well-fed.


So - there you have it. I can have books in the charts, can win awards, can be published in umpteen countries - but I still can't afford Christmas. It's just one of the many unpredictable joys of being a writer... but oooh, how I wish I'd read that bloody contract....

22 comments:

Gonna be a writer said...

Hi Christina, good to see that you haven't lost your sense of humour.
What a bummer. But like you say you've come through worse. If it's any consolation we're also doing Christmas on a shoestring.
I'm glad that you did share this with us because I think a lot of people see the life of a writer as being sumptuous and well paid and only full of good things. If only that were true. Thanks for being honest. Live and learn as they say. I'm not sure who they are but if I ever meet them I might succumb to the temptation to wipe the smug look off their faces.

Caroline said...

Ouch :o( Pitch it to one of the national newspapers as 'Diary of a credit crunch Christmas' to run over a week??

Hello, by the way :o) Been reading your blog for a couple of months, so I thought it was probably time to introduce myself rather than continuing to lurk voyeuristically in the shadows! Loved Walking on Air :o)

Jan Jones said...

Oh, Chris. What a horrible revelation. As you say, it's a cautionary tale for the rest of us.

Hmm. "Christmas on a Shoestring" - Idea for a magazine feature to bring in some dosh for next year, maybe?

The Write Woman said...

Chris, I was so sorry to read about your predicament. It's a bummer, isn't it, finding out that the money you'd counted on isn't actually going to materialise at all. As you say, it's all part of being a writer, and makes you wonder why we actually do it when we could be out there earning something!! I really hope you and the family still manage to have a lovely Christmas. We're doing it 'on a shoestring' too, this year, and I'm determined it can be done and enjoyed. Something Will Turn Up ... xx

Nell said...

Huge hugs.

Debs said...

What a ghastly thing to have happened. Who would have thought the contracts for two books could be so different?

Mummy said...

Chris xxx - I'm so sorry things are tough at the mo...it's a cautionary tale to be sure, if I ever get such a contract I will indeed remember you and read it thoroughly....(((HUGS))) I know it's a cliche but it's worth remembering that Xmas is all about those you spend it with....not what you spend on them......

KAREN said...

I'm glad you posted this, because it does away with the myth once and for all that writers earn a bloody fortune!

You poor thing though. I'm hopeless at reading small print so I can easily imagine this situation arising. Hopefully a 'getting back to basics' Christmas will remind everyone what it's really about! I hope so, as that's what we're having :o))

I'm going to buy my friend a copy of Happy Birthday if that's any consolation (She's a fan, so it's no stretch!)

Here's to a fantastically, financially productive 2009 x

Christina Jones said...

Gonna be a writer - Thanks for the thanks for being honest - and well if I didn't laugh about it I'd cry... And that's another cliche - but it's true. And yes I think everyone thinks writers earn JKR-money so maybe it's down to me to show the other side of the coin (sorry - cliche again!)

Caroline - hi - and it's lovely to *meet* you. Thanks for liking WOA - it *might* be reissued one day soon... And, great idea - pitching my gloom/mistake/panic and the solution to the papers - I certainly can't be the only one with no/less money over Christnmas this year - and I might even be paid something for it!!!

Jan - oh yes, think skint features for next year a great idea - mind you, our Christmas is usually on a shoestring but not quite as skinny as this one will be...

The Write Woman - thank you for understanding/knowing! Something *might* turn up - but I'm rapidly becoming very jaded... Still, the festivities will be done, albeit cheaply, and we'll have a great time... You too????

Nell - thanks a million

Debs - I should have read the contract and NOT relied on my old agency - I'd love to blame them but I can't...

Mummy - thanks so much for the support - and we never spend a lot on "Christmas things", but I was relying on the money to pay other stuff - ah well - once bitten (yet another cliche!)and all that...

Karen - thanks so much - especially for buying Happy Birthday! - and the money myth-busting is a pleasure (I think)... I think a lot of people are having a back-to-basics Christmas (although not because they're stupid like me!) - so do hope you have a great one!

Lori x said...

Oh Christina you poor thing! Small print, horrible stuff should be banned..
I hope you manage to have a good Christmas anyway, I remember one year (BC - before children) when we were all trying to be sensible, you know it was the start of mortgages, thinking of starting a family, that kind of time and we all agreed to buy presents for £1. Nearly impossible to do but quite good fun anyway. And your books are on my wish list from Amazon, I'll just remind DH about it...

Lori x

barb said...

Not fun. Linda Jones has written a piece on making money (or not :)) as an author.

http://www.freelancewritingtips.com/2008/11/ten-blindingly-obvious-things-i-have-learned-in-my-first-year-as-an-author.html

Pat Posner said...

Oh, sympathies, Chris, on the bronchitis (I've got it, too) and on the one only publication advance.
You'll still have a great Christmas, though, I just know it.

Hope the coughing stops soon and hope the cats and boytoy are better.

womagwriter said...

Sending hugs. Hoping for a few story sales to see you through as well.

Helen P said...

Hello Christina
I was fascinated by your blog re income/contracts/making do. I know we all write for the love of it but a bit of money makes the love stretch a bit further doesn't it? I too completed a Writers Bureau course but only took the plunge and left my desk job at the local paper two years ago and it's so scary. But keep on writing won't you - nothing beats being your own boss. Sometimes, if we're honest, seeing our name in print IS just as good as getting paid for it...well almost!

Margaret McDonagh said...

That is such a bummer about the contract, Chris, I am so sorry, and can only imagine the shock when they told you and you had to face the reality of no check arriving after all. Sending big [[[hugs]]] and all good vibes that something wonderfully unexpected will happen to make up for it.

Fingers crossed the computer holds on long enough for you to get Moonshine finished. Good luck.

Lots of love,
Mags xxx

Debs said...

There's an award for you over at mine. x

LBA said...

Hi Christina

I've just found your blog & am rather taken by it, and your honesty. As you say everyone thinks that once you've had a novel published, then you've cracked the X-factor. So seeing a writer's life from the inside is really good.

Hope that you're feeling better now, the Man and the cats as well.

Beatirce

Phillipa said...

Christina. You are a BLOODY MARVELLOUS writer and you deserve to be up there in the Sunday Times Bestsellers. I firmly believe that 2009 will be your mega year and just remeber, you have a fabulous backlist that 99.999999999999999999% of us can only dream of. I have had to radically downgrade my own expectations but OTOH, writing novels has taught me how much I also love havign anormal job. That's why and how you can still keep tapping into normal life. Have a lovely Christmas and I promise you, 2009 will also be a more lucrative one. I just know it.

rayannelutenerblog said...

What a total bummer.
Hugs, and more hugs.
And what Karen said.
I shall take this as a warning for my next contract! I went over that first Harlequin contract word by word with my copy of Carol Blake's book 'From Pitch to Publication'.
Hope things perk up and all the best :-)

rayannelutenerblog said...

As a newbie writer with her very own first contract, this is timely advice.
Hugs on the horror. All the best - Ray-Anne

katiebird said...

Christina,

♥♥♥♥

I hope you are having a wonderful and merry Christmas.

You've given me so many hours of pure joy.... I wish I could send some of it to you.

katiebird said...

I've been thinking of you. I hope your New Year is starting well.