How I’m Spending My Book Advance

Motivation & Inspiration, Self Publishing

Twitter was on fire this week in response to an article about a YA author who mismanaged her advance money and ended up with basically nothing. This is not a critique on the author or the article.

What I will say in regards to my personal reaction to the piece is that like many people who read it, I was struck with a gut-punch of anxiety. See, I have a complicated relationship with money. It wasn’t something I was really aware of when I was a kid but when my father passed away during my teen years, money, or more specifically, the lack of money, was like this big scary monster that followed my mother and I everywhere.

I won’t get into the specifics but the compounding trauma of being broke while also grieving (and all of the scary stressful events that went along with that) solidified in my psyche that money = safety and security and that no money = danger and chaos.

When I found out how much my publisher was going to pay me for my book, one of my first thoughts was–this is more money than my parents ever had. I don’t actually know anyone who has this amount of money. And that’s scary.

As much of a blessing as this is, it’s also scary venturing into this great unknown where no one in my family has been before. It’s scary to think that with the right choices, I could elevate us all and it’s even scarier to think that with the wrong choices, I could destroy everything.

I don’t actually believe that I’m going to choose ignorance, that I’m going to make terrible decisions, or that I’m incapable of controlling this part of my life. I’m a teacher, which means I’m teaching myself new things constantly.

In fact, the first thing I did after getting my deal was begin working with a financial advisor. I also have an accountant who I’ve been working with for several years and who I’ll be meeting with next month to discuss how much I should set aside from this first check for taxes. I recently worked hard to pay off one of my student loans.

I’m doing the right things. And yet, there is still a part of me that worries something will happen, something horrible and catastrophic, and all of the money will suddenly disappear–just like it did when my father got sick–and my life will once again devolve into chaos.

This fear is unlikely to come to fruition but it is not entirely irrational. I suspect that other creatives who’ve had negative experiences involving money might feel the same anxiety upon receiving that first check. What has helped me though, is getting crystal clear about what I value in life so that I can see how my money does or does not honor those things.

In case you’re curious how I’m applying my first royalty check to those values, here’s a breakdown of how I plan to allocate these funds:

1. Financial Planning

Financial planning isn’t free. If someone tries to tell you that it is, making promises that they won’t charge you a cent until your investments with them turn a profit, be wary. Instead, you want to work with a fee-only fiduciary because they actually have ethical standards they must adhere to and instead of selling you investment products, they sell you professional education and advice.

Try to find a CFP who specializes in or is familiar with variable income (bonus points if they’re used to working with creatives like my financial advisors at The Art of Finance in Austin, TX). FYI, the Art of Finance works with clients via Skype as well, so if you’re not able to find someone in your area, feel free to check them out.

6-months of coaching: $1,525 ; 3.5% of 1st advance check

2. Taxes

It’s recommended that after securing your deal that you incorporate ASAP. Establishing an LLC through which to process your earnings can help protect you in the case that you’re ever sued, as well as open up your options when it comes to filing your taxes. This can be done by a lawyer (usually for a very expensive fee–I previously paid about $1,800 for this service) or there are online DIY options for much cheaper.

When you meet with your accountant, ask them if filing as an S-Corp may be right for you. This option softens the blow of that 30% self-employment tax by allowing you to designate some of your earnings as dividends, which are not taxed, as opposed to claiming it all as salary. If this isn’t a good option for you, make sure your accountant is at least familiar with all of the deductions available to writers.

Because I’ll be filing as an S-corp this year, my accountant has advised me to set aside $10,000 of my 1st advance check, which is about 24% of the total amount, with the caveat that not all of this will actually go to the IRS. But better safe than sorry, especially since I’m still earning royalties from my self-published books and don’t know how much that’ll total to by the end of the year.

Accounting Services: $1,000-$1,200 ; 3% of 1st advance check
2019 Taxes: $10,000 ; 24% of 1st advance check

3. Student Loans

You better believe I am getting rid of this thing with my very first advance check. If one of my values is financial freedom, being debt-free is a crucial part of that. It’s hard to be creative when you’re worried about paying off loans or credit card debt. Having debt delays so many important financial milestones: saving for retirement, investing in your business, buying a home (if that’s a goal of yours because it totally doesn’t have to be).

I worked hard to pay off one of my loans this past spring and I’m definitely going to celebrate once I finally knock out the other two because it means that money can now go towards reaching other, more important, goals.

Student Loans: $8,600 ; 20% of 1st advance check

4. Roth IRA

Putting some money towards retirement might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you get your first advance check. But it should be. Living paycheck to paycheck is stressful and scary and you don’t want to still be stuck in that cycle when you’re finally at retirement age.

Sometimes creative risks are only possible once you’ve mitigated your financial risks. In other words, you’ll be able to work longer in the creative industry of your choosing if you don’t have to choose between your art and a corporate 401k. Look out for you now by setting money aside for your future self.

I recommend stashing that money in a Roth IRA because it grows tax free (you pay taxes in the present to avoid paying them in the future), which means you’ll have more buying power later even after inflation. Also, if you’re an investment newbie, stick to index funds that are tried and true like the S&P 500 through Vanguard (they have super reasonable fees).

*If you’re not sure what I’m even talking about, ask your financial advisor.

Roth IRA: $6,000 (this is the maximum contribution you can make per year) ; 14% of 1st advance check

5. Emergency Fund

Having an Emergency Fund has saved me a few times in my life and I recommend starting one ASAP! In case you’re not sure what an Emergency Fund is, here’s what it is and here’s what it isn’t.

To summarize, an Emergency Fund is not for “true expenses” or the things we pay regularly but not frequently enough to show up on our monthly budget and therefore have a tendency to slip our minds (i.e. semi-annual vet bills, scheduled car maintenance, annual doctor’s visits, etc.). The Emergency Fund is for just that, emergencies (i.e. layoffs, trips to the emergency room, roof replacement after a hail storm).

Some people advise starting with a 1-month Emergency Fund. Others advise 3 to 6 months. I already have a 1-month Emergency Fund built up and my goal is 12 (my risk tolerance is low and since it takes me about 8 months to write a book, I want to have plenty of cushion built in to develop something and go on sub with it). With this first check, I’m contributing what I can while also leaving some room for writing-related expenses and a few *fun* things (see below).

3-Month Emergency Fund: $8,500 ; 20% of 1st advance check

6. Writing Expenses

I know some people actually warn against paying to attend conferences and writing retreats because the cost can be ridiculously high but next year AWP will be in San Antonio, which makes it much more accessible to me this time around than probably any other. I can drive instead of fly and split hotel or Airbnb accommodations with family. Being a debut, I’m pretty certain I’ll find value in so many of the sessions offered and I look forward to learning as much as I possibly can about the industry.

AWP Registration: $250
Lodging: $425

7. What’s Left

After all of the above expenses, I’ll have $6,000 left, which will be deposited into my checking account in $800 intervals over the course of nine months. Month to month, I’ll decide how much of this to put towards the following: my HSA account, a vacation fund, self-care activities, clothing, and household remodeling/repairs.

These are technically low priority items because they’re not necessities. Are they important to some degree? Yes and I’m grateful that I will have some extra money to prioritize them in a way I haven’t been able to pretty much…ever. I’m especially looking forward to how some of these things will help me stay healthy and balanced while writing under contract for the first time. But if I was in a pinch and that money needed to be used elsewhere, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Also, those four months will bring me pretty close to my second advance check (I hope) so if I need to make adjustments at that point, I can.

Miscellaneous: $6,000 ; 14% of 1st advance check

Please keep in mind that I am not a CFP and I don’t have a degree in finance. Everything I know about handling finances as a freelancer I learned through self-publishing, which is just as unpredictable as traditional publishing, if not more so. There were some months when I made close to $7,000 and some months when I barely made $20.

When I first started making consistent money, I absolutely made some rookie mistakes but I also did some smart things too. This time around, I’m grateful that those hard lessons are behind me and that I have an opportunity to make even more smart choices that will hopefully allow me to create a sustainable career in this industry.

The categories above are by no means an exact template for you to follow. You have to think about your values and what’s right for you and your family. But if you’re feeling any anxiety or apprehension about what to do with your advance, I hope my examples and explanations above are helpful in some way. Maybe they’ll help you realize that some of those things are your values too. Or maybe they’ll help you realize that you value something totally different and that’s okay.

The most important thing is that you take the time to really listen to yourself so that you can make the kinds of decisions that will safeguard your creative life rather than put it at risk.

*Stay tuned for what I’m prioritizing with advance check #2!

Your Heart’s Desire

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration, Self Publishing

adrian-161201-unsplash

About four years ago I was working in a public library, earning $12 an hour, all while cultivating this secret online identity as a self-published author. I was writing and creating constantly but something didn’t feel right.

Writing books was challenging but it had been a long time since I’d experienced a creative growth spurt and the itch to stretch myself, to learn, to grow became agonizing. So I did the only thing I knew how to do and I went back to school.

That’s the place where you learn new things, right?

I enrolled in a graduate program, stupidly took out student loans, and studied my ass off thinking that by graduation day I’d feel like a new me. A better me.

And it worked. At least for a little while. I completed my courses, survived student teaching, and got my first teaching job. That first year was a whirlwind. Every day, I showed up an hour early and stayed an hour late. I worked in the evenings and on weekends. I truly did stretch myself, learning so much about my content area, language learners, and the public education system.

Year two was also difficult. I was never short on challenges, on opportunities to grow.

Year three and the itch returned.

What am I doing here? I mean really doing? I’m not making an impact. I’m not even making a dent. The public education system is so broken. It’s so broken that no matter who you are–teacher, student, admin–no one enters this system and comes out unscathed. We are all hurt by it. Broken in ways we can’t even see.

I was starting to feel it. The weight of all of those systemic problems I would never be able to solve. The guilt and regret of allowing fear to choose this career for me. The work I do is meaningful and I’m grateful for this experience. But I’ve learned something about this feeling–this itch for something more. It doesn’t go away just because we want it to. Just because we’re living a life that is socially acceptable, adulting on a level comparable to our peers.

That feeling doesn’t go away until we ask in earnest: who am I and why am I here? And we open ourselves up to the reality, to the truth that the answers will be much bigger and much scarier than we want them to be.

But we don’t get to choose. The second we slipped into this skin we made an agreement to have the human experience.

This is the human experience–a million acts of bravery in the direction of our soul’s desire. And maybe we don’t get to decide that either–what our soul wants. But we can’t ignore that it wants. And it will continue to want, that desire beating, throbbing like a second pulse, until we give in and listen. Then follow.

And if we don’t, that spiritual nagging doesn’t just intensify. It hurts. In the places where we are supposed to be growing and changing we will begin to atrophy. We will begin to disappear.

I don’t want to disappear.

So I’m not just seeking out opportunities to be brave. I’m creating them. That means committing to a half-baked idea on a massive scale, telling people about my plans so they can hold me accountable, and creating my own curriculum for artistic growth. I’m acknowledging old fear-based patterns and disrupting them every chance I get. I’m speaking my mind more but also listening and I’m throwing money at opportunities I don’t yet feel good enough or worthy of taking advantage of.

I am following this ache like a siren song.

But even though I’m still not certain of where it leads, I must let it lead. Because the destination is my heart’s desire. It doesn’t matter if I don’t even know what that is yet. It doesn’t matter if I don’t think I deserve it yet. All I need to know is that it is mine.

Mine.

Am I Doing this Right?

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration, Self Publishing

jens-johnsson-415903-unsplash

A few times over the past nine years I have tried to make writing my full-time gig. Either because of a cross-country move or a change in employment I have waded into the waters of being a full-time Creative a few weeks and a few months at a time. But eventually the uncertainty of how I was going to make enough money to pay my bills became too much and I’d get a “normal” day job with a “normal” paycheck.

The fear and stress would subside. I’d create a routine that made me feel safe, yet unfulfilled. Then that feeling of being unfulfilled would become too much and I’d start the cycle all over again, deciding to give writing full-time another shot or changing jobs to try to free up more time to write.

When I made the commitment to create an 18-month escape plan from my current iteration of reality, as well as the commitment to blog every day of this journey, I had no idea that I was starting this cycle all over again. That is how short my memory is. When the excitement of this journey finally wore off this past week and all I was left with was the anxiety of and pressure to make it happen, I instantly felt trapped. Then I reflected on other times in my life when I’ve felt trapped. Then I reflected on the fact that it’s usually me who is setting these traps.

Shortly after we moved to Dallas I didn’t look for employment for a couple of months because I wanted to finish my third novel. Back then I was still invisible and no one was buying my books. I took on a full-time job working from home so I could still write but it only paid $9 an hour. That wasn’t enough to make ends meet (or so I thought; I’m starting to learn I have a problem thinking I’m living in scarcity when I’m really not) so I found a job working nights and weekends to make up the difference. I was writing about 5k-10k a day, working from 8AM-4PM, and then shelving books at a library from 4:30PM-9PM.

I got sick. Pain from my shingles flared up again. I started getting regular migraines and suffered from vertigo that made it impossible to drive some days. I gained weight, lost weight, and gained it back again. I suffered from terrible insomnia. I saw an Internist and after running a bunch of tests he said my stress levels were off the charts.

Eventually, I found a full-time job that paid enough to cover the sixty hours I’d been working previously. My quality of life improved drastically. But once I settled into this routine it didn’t take long for me to start longing for something else. This is when I decided to become a teacher and to pay for graduate school with the money I was miraculously making from my books.

I keep going back to that decision and thinking about what would have happened if I’d made a different one. If I’d chosen to leap, if I’d chosen writing, where would I be now? Would I have built up an even bigger backlist and made even more money? Enough money to quell my fears and anxiety? Or would I have found myself broke again and worrying myself sick?

Maybe the choice I made was the right decision. Maybe a person like me with terrible anxiety needs more safety nets in place before I leap. Let’s face it, anything in the direction of my fears is a leap.

It’s okay if I have to fight for every inch. As long as I’m fighting.

That’s the difference between who I was then and who I am now. I am still anxious and afraid of the unknown. But I am no longer trying to control every aspect of my life. I am no longer going to put all of that weight and pressure on myself. I have a deadline, a goal in mind. But I’m also giving myself the time to get there at my own pace.

I keep reading about all of these brave and desperate people taking these giant leaps of faith. Quitting their jobs, travelling the world, and making big bold decisions with no idea of the how. It sounds so romantic. Something worth fighting for.

I want to be a fighter. I want to be brave. But if it takes me longer to escape my comfort zone, I’m okay with that. Progress is progress. I’m fighting for forward motion not a free fall into nothing. If I leap now and it doesn’t work out, I will use every mistake and bout of bad luck as an excuse to turn and run. If I plan for this leap, if I give myself  a finite amount of time to mentally and financially prepare, I won’t be able to give up at the slightest derailment. Because the slightest derailment will not ruin me.

I don’t know if I’m doing this right or wrong. Maybe the bigger the leap into the unknown, the greater the reward. Or maybe thinking that my journey has to look like it does in movies or the latest self-help New York Time’s bestseller is its own pitfall. The pitfall of pursuing perfection rather than truth. But perfection does not exist and truth is whatever I say it is.

This is my truth: I am trying. I am learning. I am moving in the direction of my dreams. I will stumble but I will not stop. I may be moving slow but I will not stop. I will not stop.

Trust

Motivation & Inspiration, Self Publishing

Self publishing taught me so much about my ability to persevere and to solve problems. It taught me that I can trust my intuition and that no one but me gets to decide whether or not I share my art. Not gatekeepers at a publishing house, or current market trends, or white supremacy.

This sense of agency is exhilarating and something I have come to value deeply. But, as I often tend to do in an effort to protect myself from pain and rejection and failure, I have been clinging to this sense of agency, this solitude to my own detriment.

I keep forgetting that self-publishing didn’t just teach me that I can accomplish great things on my own but it also taught me that to be successful at something scary, something new, it’s important to reach out to those more experienced than you. To find teachers and mentors and people who can help you find your way.

Self publishing taught me that people are inherently generous. It’s intrinsic to our human nature to want to help one another. I’ve met so many people, strangers, online who were willing to give me advice without asking for anything in return. There’s this sense of community among indie authors bolstered by the reality that we’re all in this together. When one indie book succeeds and finds an audience, we all rise with the tide because it gives the entire industry more clout and more exposure.

But it’s easy to forget these things too. The good in people is a light so easily snuffed out by division and competition and distrust.

One of the reasons I was so proud to be an indie author was because of my distrust of traditional publishers. There weren’t very many books about POC and this made me suspicious, then angry. I dreamed of seeing my books in bookstores, of a little brown girl with crazy curly hair scanning the covers, her eyes widening over a character I created who looked just like her. But because I didn’t think these stories would align with a traditional publisher’s agenda, which at the time seemed to be to whitewash everything, I stopped querying agents. I stopped pursuing their acceptance. I stopped needing their permission.

I believed distancing myself from those dreams and the gatekeepers who held them was protecting me from something. But letting those fears and suspicions fester only meant that when publishers finally started to put out more diverse books I didn’t get to be a part of that positive change. I’d let myself believe that there was no one in traditional publishing taking on that fight. That wasn’t true.

I just wasn’t looking for them, which is why I didn’t find them, and why it was easier for me to maintain my self-righteous attitude about the whole thing.

What I’m beginning to figure out is that trusting the Universe means trusting the people in it. If we are all connected via universal intelligence then learning to strengthen your faith in the Universe really means learning to strengthen your faith in that connection. In people. People who are imperfect and unpredictable.

People who are inherently generous and helpful.

I want to believe this about people and I want to be able to open myself up to new relationships without being suspicious of someone else’s agenda.

This is one of the reasons I’ve started querying again. I want someone on my side who believes in my art as much as I do. There are amazing people working in publishing who are championing diverse books and making a way for so many other POC and people from marginalized communities to break into the industry. And these people have been tirelessly working and fighting this fight for equal representation for years. I want to join in that fight with them.

But that means letting down my guard and letting people in. It’s one thing to open yourself up to the Universe. It’s another to embrace the human beings who give it meaning. But that’s what we’re here to do for each other. To witness each other’s successes and pick each other up after our failures. To teach and learn. To make this crazy, chaotic, beautiful mess of an existence mean something.

To do that we have to trust in the fact that we can’t do it alone. No matter how much safer it might feel. We’re in this together and that is not a scary thing. It is a thing so full of hope. A realization that should make us feel strong and brave and completely invincible. When we trust one another, when we love one another, that is exactly what we are.

I’ve Made a Decision

Self Publishing, Writing Process

fre-sonneveld-259-unsplash

For the past few months I’ve had this ball of crisscrossed wires at the pit of my stomach–shocking me every time I tried to take a deep breath, pricking me with metal fingers every time I tried to relax. Like a nudge only much more aggressive. The kind of nudge that says, “I’m not going to let you sleep or think or be until you listen.”

So I started listening.

At first, I had no idea what was wrong. I was making progress on the companion novel to Pen & Xander but it was mostly in fits and bursts. No drafting process is ever smooth so I didn’t suspect that was the source of the tension. I have a Bookbub coming up next week so any stresses about money should have been somewhat alleviated. I can always depend on the longtail to help me make it to my next pub date. I’ve written two new children’s books and am working on two more so I’m not lacking in inspiration.

But this itch was still there, still nagging at me every time I tried to sit down to work and every time I tried to do something else.

Then I looked at my calendar, trying to see the big picture, to figure out what looming event was causing me so much anxiety. I scrolled through page after page of upcoming projects and self-imposed deadlines and I realized…I wasn’t feeling anxious because something was about to happen. I was feeling anxious because nothing was about to happen.

On my calendar, I’ve noted a date when I plan to query my fantasy WIP. That date is ten months from now. In the meantime, I’m working on the companion novel to Pen & Xander, which I had planned to publish sometime in February. That’s six months away.

Then it hit me. I don’t want to wait six months or ten months to take the next necessary step in my publishing journey. I’m not talking about self-publishing the companion novel sooner or moving up my query date for the fantasy WIP. I’m talking about taking a leap. A risk. A giant step into the BIG SCARY UNKNOWN. I’m talking about querying a novel I’ve already written. A novel I already love and believe in.

You may notice that Pen & Xander has been removed from all platforms, including my website. That’s because that nagging feeling that’s been driving me nuts for the past few months was actually my dream of seeing that book on shelves, of getting it into readers hands, of getting it into my students’ hands. That’s who I wrote it for. Nacho’s Tacos isn’t just a fictional restaurant, it’s my classroom. I want those voices out in the world. I want my students to be able to point to something on the shelves and say that’s there because I matter.

Self-publishing has brought me so many amazing blessings. Amazing readers who showed me that the voices of POC writers and characters do matter. Fellow authors who are as generous as they are fearless. And the financial freedom to go back to school and become a teacher.

But I think this book has a different destiny. I think this book needs to be out in the world in a way I can’t do on my own. It’s good enough. I know it is. And I’m no longer afraid to say that it’s important enough too.

So I’m going to query this novel. I’m going to shoot my shot. Because I fear what that nudge will become if I continue to ignore it. I fear what will happen to me if I keep putting off this dream. And it may not work out. It may not find a home with an agent or a traditional publishing house. Or it might change everything. That possibility is good enough to hang a hope on. It’s good enough to try.