A Decade of Freelance

Ten years ago today I quit my day job.

Money had been saved, a novel was in the drawer, and my tech job was winding down. So I said, “Hey, I wanna work at home in my pajamas.”

For the first month, however, I got up, put on real clothes, and worked from nine to five. I was afraid of turning into a Howard-Hughes-like guy wandering around with Kleenex boxes on my feet. But after a month I got an agent, and after five I had a two-book deal (paying a whopping $9,000), so I did relax a little.

I’ve been crunching the numbers for that ten years, and here are the results.

Novels published under my own name: 13
Powerpuff Girls choose-your-own adventures (also under my name): 3
Goosebumps ghost-written: 5
Legal thrillers ghost-written: 1
Short stories published: 6
Essays published: 3
Interviews published: 1
Years before I made enough to write only as me: 8

Total ghost-written words: 240,000
Total words published under my own name: 1,015,000

That last statistic just curls my hair. It comes out to 100,000 words a year, which even with the ghost writing is only about 300 words a day. Still, there’s rewriting too, you know. And page proofs. Research. Thinking. Sick days.

And here are some things I realized:

1. Writing part-time is like going out with somebody; writing full-time is like living with them. It’s not just that you write more . . . your whole relationship to writing changes. For example, when writing has moved in and doesn’t pick its socks up off the floor, it’s not cute anymore, just hateful. But on the other hand, you know writing in ways you couldn’t have otherwise.

2. Writing too many books in one year = shingles. And you do not want shingles.

3. I crossed the million-word mark when Specials came out, and that was my first book to make the NY Times bestseller list. So that’s the rule, I guess.

4. Living with another writer totally rocks, even if it means you can’t leave your socks on the floor.

5. It’s worth it to pay for your own author photos, so you can look as silly as you want:

Credit: Samantha Jones, who in all fairness said I should take off the sunglasses

Ah yes, there’s one other thing that happened in that ten years . . .

Yesterday and today I wrote the first 1,427 words of Leviathan, my next trilogy, set in alternative-history airship heaven!* It’s really fun, and I can’t wait to write another million words. (But no shingles, dammit!)

*Book 1 comes out September 2007, so don’t be holding your breath. In the meantime, The Last Days comes out September 2006, and will get me up to 1,090,000 words.

101 thoughts on “A Decade of Freelance

  1. WOW! Congrats! And I can’t WAIT for the Leviathan trilogy…
    Loving the new look, too.

  2. Hey about michelle-wa’s forum, its really nice, but she is having some problems decorating it, so if anyone knows where she could find codes for forums that would totally rock! thx a bunch

  3. “I have started a forum specifically for Scott and his books.”

    Sweet! I’ve been thinking something like that would be pretty awesome. πŸ˜€

    “i really need to read magic or madness”
    You should! It’s awesome. I just finished it about twenty seconds ago (no kidding) and it was awesome!! But I recommend buying both of them at once so as to save yourself the trouble. Bloody cliffhangers. πŸ˜›

  4. So i noticed that it went from 22 to 56 comments in less than a day and all i wanted to know is a rough average of how much you’ve made. Or if you didn’t know exactly.

    ALSO i’m dying to know this big news, and i’m so impatient!

  5. Omg hooked on Michelle-wa’s board thing. Congrats Scott! I’ll probably write a million words on your boards, considering my ridicusly long posts. Hehehehe. YAY NEW TRILOGY! Ver Ver happy-making.

  6. Keep the sunglasses! They make you look mysterious.

    Ack, I’ve only had about 100 words of mine publishedÒ€”a poem in a local newspaper’s article about my school’s poetry club. (And they printed the title wrong!) So for now, I’m just hanging around on deviantART.com, hoping that someday I can publish a book of my poetry.

    Ooh, I’m already anticipating that Leviathan series. Have you read Thomas Hobbes’s philosophical work of the same title by any chance? It’s about how humans are inherently immoral and when faced with a choice between doing the right thing and self-preservation, they will chose to live at the expense of others. I haven’t read it myself, but it made for interesting discussion in my Humanities class.

  7. New trilogy…awsomeness! The Last Days seems like it will be just as great as your other books. *Ties Scott to chair* Now write or else! hehehehe just kidding

  8. oooo just read the rest of your comments… so this wasn’t the big news???????? Then what is?????? Is it Midnighters on tv or So Yesterday the movie or something else? I’m dying to know.

  9. aw i love power puff girls
    i acctually own some of their books from when i was little.
    they’re in a box now,
    wonder if i have any of yours…
    i could have been your fan and not even have known it!

  10. mr westerfeld, i just want to say, i’m 22 years old and i am not a big sci-fi fan. my interest extends as far as Buffy and the X-Files. but i was in a walden books the other day with my friend and we saw the book “uglies”, picked it up, and read the back, and were both hooked. i finished it in three days and have already ordered pretties and specials off amazon, and am eagerly awaiting their arrival. somehow, your book has touched me very deeply and caught hold of me. i am a writer as well, although i haven’t had any books published yet, just a few poems overflowing with teenaged angst. i just wanted to say, from a struggling writer to someone who made it–thank you for your inspiration.
    – vans.sister at gmail dot com.

  11. i was looking at some of the old entries,
    its so crazy because some of them have like only 6 or 3 comments
    now there are MILLIONS!
    just thought that was interesting…
    yeah accutally thats it…-_-

  12. “you wrote power puff girl stuff???” okay, good, so I’m not the ONLY one that thinks that’s weird…
    “Hm – maybe the big news is that the Midnighters TV show is airing this fall! That would be so happy-making!” YES, VERY happy-making, verrrrrrrry happy making indeed… *evil laugh* heheheh

  13. omg i hope that that is the big news! that would be soooo awsome making! its june now tell us what the news is scott! come on!

  14. “Hm – maybe the big news is that the Midnighters TV show is airing this fall! That would be so happy-making!”
    Yes, that would, seeing as there is NOTHING GOOD ON TV anymore. Well, except Lost. But Lost to me is kind of a curiousity more than something I would weave through traffic to get home in time for. Not that I would ever weave through traffic. πŸ˜€

  15. wow i realized that both of my favourite authors have written stores for goosebumps. which is ood, because i reallt dont like them. i guess i just like that style of writing πŸ™‚

    and powerpuff girls? scott you never seemed like a powerpuff girl…i mean…powerpuff boy. i used to watch that show in…well a long time ago. (i liked the blue girl) it was good, except their voices were REALLY annoying.

  16. hmmm, i think it’s a little wierd, but tis k scott.
    i bet all writers are “eveolving” and stuff so maybe the power puff girl stuff was just a stage or something…
    and ,
    “its june now tell us what the news is scott!”
    i agree!!! tell you publisher or the person who won’t let u tell us that officially sevral ppl around the globe now hate him, lol
    can’t you just accidentaly let is slip and then say that you were sleew typing? (is sleeptyping possible??)n ]
    well, we’ll keep waiting

  17. i saw specials at waldenbooks yesterday…. i had ten dollars, and it was 15.95 πŸ™ πŸ™ if only it were in paperback…grrr. now i have to wait for my library to get a copy. humph. tis frusturating.

  18. scott! i posted something crucial in the midnighters section! i cant post it here cause it will be off topic!

    but anyway, to stay on topic, i never knew you wrote goosebumps. thats really surprising cause i read goosebumps all the time when i was little. did u work with RL stine??? cause that is so cool!


  19. Jane-la have you joined the forum yet? you totally should if you havent. In fact, anyone who hasnt signed up yet really should cause its alot of fun! ^.^

  20. Kell-wa: I did manage one tiny post on the forum, but as you guys know I’m working on Leviathan at the moment. So I’m not as posty, emaily, etc. But here’s a few answers:

    Alex: Yes, the new trilogy will be YA.

    Rob: Authors make about $1.50 per hardback, and about 60 cents per paperback. As far as how much I’ve made, it’s impossible to say. Because publishers pay you about a year after the books are sold (to make sure they’re not returned) and a majority of my books came out less than a year ago. But questions like this need a whole post.

    Anna: Yes! I wrote PowerPuff Girls! (They paid good money, by the way.)

    All: News. Soon.


    *GASP* I’m shaking. πŸ˜€ Oh my god, this made my day. My week. WILL JUSTINE BE THERE TOO?!?!?! AAHHHHH!!!!! MUCHO EXCITEMONDO!!!!
    Sorry for the freakout. But I’ve never gotten to meet another author before, not in my entire life, and now my favorite, possibly two of my favorites, right in my hometown!!!!! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!!!!

  22. Thanks for that little piece of info Scott. As to why i was asking i’m almost in my senior year in high school and still trying to decide what i like best. So far i have Engineering, Art, Writing, and Sports.
    I was thinking though that i could be an engineer and still do art and writing, but if i do engineering i’m not sure if i’ll ever get really serious about writing which i want to do. So i started with the payment schedule…hahaha. I don’t think i’m good enough to go professional in golf but close. By art i meant architecture, but i’m not sure if i like better than engineering. Ugh chosing careers is confusing and difficult.

  23. rob, i feel ya. i just graduated and torn between the following:

    international studies
    forensic studies

    aaahhh… thank god for general ed. give me some time to think it over. right now film is winning…but who knows.

    i’ve been neglecting the posts. my friends just flew out from california to visit me until the 17th, so i’ve been a little preoccupied, i’ve been missing them like crazy and its just so good to see them i dont get on the computer much. but i Will check out the forum, promise.

  24. When you get to college be an undecided major for a bit. That’s what I’m doing πŸ™‚
    Although I’m leaning towards Engish. Or Art History. Or maybe Psychology?

    Okay – you can see why I am currently undecided.

  25. scott–we absolutely and 100% forgive the infrequent postings and such. (*i* do, anyway.) just write leviathan!! i don’t know that i’ve ever been so excited for a book with a release date so far away. there are many other books/authors that i like quite a bit, but it really makes a difference that you take the time to answer a question if i have it, either here on the blog or by email, or to encourage/participate in the sometimes on sometimes *way* off topic conversations we have.

    so, in one word…



  26. “so, in one wordÒ€¦ thanks.”
    Yeah, ditto. Not a lot of people would spend so much time. πŸ™‚

    I think I am the only person in the universe who has not changed my major. I am still a writing and rhetoric major. πŸ™‚ I can’t decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing. And it’s only now, after a year of college, that I’ve even started having second thoughts. I love film and layout design, and I’ve just recently gotten into graphic design. Argh! So many choices. It just seems so hard to make it as a writer that sometimes I wonder if I ought to do something else professionally, at least for a while. But for now, at least, I’m sticking to writing.

  27. Scott you made my day wiht your single post.And it was on my page πŸ™‚ But don’t feel the need to post! GO WRITE! If don’t hear form you for a year but then get an amazing new trilogy (which it will be) no one iwll complain. Well we’d miss you. Ack all you poor people deciding careers/what ot study. Well actually I have 5 years till I graduate but I’m trying to decide anyway. Becuase I like to plan ahead.

  28. dear scott!!!

    well ur contact me thing wont work on my computer idk y! but i am a realllly huge fan!!!!!!! and i would like to mail some stuff? is there any other way to?

    well i am uglies trilog’s biggest fan!! at leat one of them!!!! πŸ™‚

    well c yea
    love u

  29. Hey, Steph: Just click CONTACT replace the “AT” in the email address with an @ sign. The reason it pops up that way is to fool spambots.

  30. Ooh! So much excitement! The Big News is soon?! YAY!
    And the appearances pasge said something about being in Seattle in October? Wow. I want to go to this school librarians thingie. But I’m guessing I wouldn’t be able to get in. Sad. It actually sounds sorta cool…

    “Just click CONTACT replace the Ò€œATÒ€ in the email address with an @ sign. The reason it pops up that way is to fool spambots.”
    – So THATS why the email thing looks like that. I always wondered…

  31. 100 comments πŸ™‚ I’m gonna join that forum thing. Scott: In all your days did you ever think you would have an entire forum dedicated to you?

  32. Congrats on the ten year mark! I only just started in this wacky world of YA writing five years ago and have done all right so far, but the idea of dropping everything and doing it full time fills me with fears of living in shacks and eating top ramen for the next decade. Good to see it can work out so well, albeit after a lot of time and effort and words.

    Incidentally, my editor and I both love your books, and we’ve both been praising them up and down to our writer and editor friends. I’m almost at the end of Midnighters 2 and expect to be up insanely late as I must know what happens. I’m glad I found your blog!

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