Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Freelancing Pitfalls

Being a freelance author, or "freelancer" as the cool kids say, is a wonderful gig. You get to be an author, your words forever recorded in the public record so that when aliens one day dig up the ruins of our civilization they will say, "This man's name was Jason Richards, and he didn't know what the hell he was talking about." It's nice to be remembered.

You also get to be freelance, which curiously shares the same Latin root as the word, "sucker." Unattached and unhindered by long-term contract or single master, you are free to be unappreciated and underpaid, or perhaps unpaid, by many different employers. It's a fine feeling.

I've been a freelance author of some stripe or other since I was 17, but for most of that time it was just a hobby and I never really pushed to make it an actual profession on any level. I had a good relationship with my publisher, he loved what I wrote, and would publish pretty much anything I sent him. That's still the case, and I really enjoy doing work for Palladium, but now at 30 years old, I find myself wanting more than that fine company can offer on its own. Time are tough over there, without a doubt, and they only have so much work to dole out. So, to fill my time, I've started taking on other pursuits. This blog is one of them, plus self-publishing, picking up my short story writing, entering writing contests, and generally looking for a variety of gigs. In doing so, and first sampling some of the trials of this line of work have begun to present themselves to me, so I thought I would vent a little here. It's cheaper than actual therapy.

Always Be Sellin'

As I start to lay the groundwork to self-publish some material that you're all really going to love and want to buy in massive quantities, I have become increasingly aware of how I spend my time. At my lowly day job as a Structural Engineer, there is always more work to be done. I can never spend enough time double-checking calculations, improving the look and layout of our contract documents, or fine-tuning one design or another. I could literally spend every waking moment and there would still always be something to do. However, while I certainly spend my fair share of time in the office long after everyone else has gone home for the day, I don't see a direct impact of that extra time in my check every two weeks, so there is that part of me that knows I've conducted my work with due diligence and that I've gone above and beyond, so I head home to boot up the 360, catch a ballgame, hang out with the wife, organize my football card collection, or work in the yard. Sometimes I even get to bed a little early, or sleep in on Saturday.

Now, however, as I head down the road of self-publication, every minute that I don't spend at the computer beaming ideas from my brain and onto the screen is a minute that nags at me. After all, the more time I spend generating content for my own publication, the greater my catalog of crunchy RPG goodness, and the greater my theoretical profit. I need to build up a backlog of work so that I can produce steady streams of it once the products launch. I need to get work done far enough in advance that I can assign art to my contracted employees. Time spent desperately trying to defeat that damn Iceman simulator disk on Marvel Ultimate Alliance is cash out of my pocket and thrown into the void.

I'm new at this, and I'm trying to find the balance. The wife doesn't see me enough as it is, so I certainly don't want to stay locked in my office. I also need some relaxation or I'll go crazy and my work in both jobs will suffer, and when you're responsible for making sure buildings remain upright, that's a big deal. Plus, often my days turn my brain to mush and I need the time at home to recuperate. At some point I hope to learn the tipping point on just how much work is too much, and when I need to ease off the gas a little, but so far it has been a big challenge.

Damn the Tax Man

Somehow, 2009 was the first year that I've made enough money through my writing and we've had enough deductions to itemize on our taxes, that all of these things have resulted in a much more complicated tax return. This is something I don't really think about most days of the year, but going through this while in the midst of trying to get deeper into the freelance business is something to consider as I move forward.

Freelance writing means self-employment, which means a whole other set of receipts that need to be kept, expenses that need to be itemized, and new, fun types of taxes that have to be paid to Uncle Sam. Last year I traveled to a convention, bought a new computer, and purchased a ton of reference materials. I need to get my web hosting and any marketing costs in order, plus I need to figure out how I handle paying artists and potentially other writers. Right now the money from gigging and the day job all comes and goes from one pile, essentially, but I've started to wonder if I need to get a separate account for all of this. As I type this, I think I just went crosseyed.  What a beating.

Anybody know a good gamer-friendly CPA in Dallas?

Antisocial Networking

I'm a gamer. I'm a geek. I'm a nerd. All the way. However, while I'm certainly the biggest such gamer/geek/nerd in my office or in my family, I don't generally run in a gamer/geek/nerd crowd. This is Dallas, friends, and it's not exactly gamer Mecca. I have leads on games and know people here and there, but if I'm going to be a legit hobby writer, I need to get out there and meet people and do some handshaking, followed of course by handsterilizing; we all know where gamers' hands have been.

The Internet affords a world of opportunities for networking. I should never be caught unawares when the convention runs through town or there is an open house at a local gaming shop. I have also been terrible at making myself part of the online gaming community, link-swapping and cross-commenting and whatever other tools are out there. This blog is certainly a step in the right direction, but hey, look around. It could use some work, too.

It's not just gaming, either. As much as I love writing up characters and throwing dice, I have wider aspirations as an author. Range, I has it, and I need to show it. It's high time for me to join a writing club, attend some workshops, and have peers and professionals evaluate my work so that I can grow and improve. It's just the time and effort involved in such things come into sharp relief with my already-limited time and my generally packed schedule

 How's that for whining and excuse making? Impressive, isn't it? I'm the champ.

In Conclusion

So hey, it's not all roses. As shocked as I have found myself by the amount of actual work I am required to do in pursuit of high literature and RPGs, I confess that I'm also a bit encouraged. After all, at the end of the day it's about achieving something, right? And where would we be without those hills to climb?

That's it for now. Lots to do!


Citizen Lazlo said...

Freelancing has been both the best and the worst experience of my life ... but it beats a punch in the face brother!


Jason Richards said...

You just have to learn to manage everything, which can be a pain when juggling other responsibilities. But yes, I'll pass on the punch in the face. :)

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