Fourth Anniversary

Today is the fourth anniversary of my becoming a full-time freelance writer. That’s right, on 1 April 2003 I stopped getting a regular salary and set about trying to earn dosh with the words I write. What more appropriate day than April Fool’s day?

It was Scott who convinced me to do it.

For the previous eighteen months my regular salary as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Sydney had been the bulk of our income, but Scott’s earnings as a freelancer were on the rise. It would be more than enough, he asserted, to support both of us while I found my legs as a writer. There were several academic jobs I could have applied for, but Scott convinced me not to. It wasn’t hard, while I preferred being an academic to any other job I’d had, I liked writing way more. “It’s the only thing you’ve ever wanted to do,” he told me over and over again. “Now’s the time to do it.”

I thought he was mad.

I was right.

The next three years and a half years were filled with financial anxiety: loans were taken out, credit cards were juggled, and tonnes of panic was panicked. Two freelancers living together is not for the faint of heart. It’s not even a good idea for nerves of steel, lion-hearted types.

I received my first freelance money—the advance on signing for the Magic or Madness trilogy—in December of 2003, which was eight months after I’d gone freelance. It was my first professional sale. The offer came in September so by publishing standards I was paid very quickly. But it was an awfully long time to be bringing in no money. In the meantime Scott signed up for two separate three-book deals (the Uglies trilogy and the three Razorbill books—So Yesterday, Peeps, and The Last Days) to keep us from going under. Problem was those books were on top of the Midnighters trilogy he’d already sold.

Suddenly he was writing three books a year and experiencing the joys of shingles. All because I’d gone freelance prematurely.

Do I regret it? (The real question is: Does Scott regret it?)

No. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. In my first four years of freelancing I’ve written four books, edited another one, and published four: the Magic or Madness trilogy and Daughters of Earth. I sold my first novel only five months after going freelance. Not bad, eh?

Of course, I’d been trying to sell a novel since 1999, so it was four (almost five) years from first finished novel to first sold novel. And I’d been trying to sell short stories for much, much, much, much longer than that (way back into the eighties). I still haven’t had a pro sale for any of my short stories.1 And since I’ve pretty much stopped writing them, or sending them out, that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

Although the trilogy hasn’t earned out (bloody joint accounting!) it’s close and with the foreign sales of the trilogy (thank you, Whitney Lee) I’m now earning enough to support myself.2

But if someone who’d never sold a novel asked me whether they should go freelance I would tell them no.

No matter how talented or promising you are, going freelance without a single professional sale is madness. Perhaps you have a partner or a parent or a patron who’s willing to support you—it’s still dangerous and scary to try to make a living at something you’ve not proved yourself at. And there’s no guarantee that your partner or parent or patron will continue to support you. They might one day get jack of the whole thing. You might never make a single sale. Lots of extraordinarily talented people have failed to make a living as writers.

I have no idea what the future will bring. I’ve seen too many writers with stalled careers after even the most brilliant of starts to be sanguine about my own. The young adult market is thriving right now and advances seem to be going up all the time, but who knows how long that will last?

Yet despite the financial insecurity, the never knowing if my next book will sell or not, and the destruction of Scott’s health, these have been the best four years of my life. All the books I’ve published are the very best that I could make them at the time. There’s no book out there with my name on it that I’m ashamed of.

Turns out that I love being a writer. It’s what I’ve always wanted, and now I have it, it’s better than I imagined. Fingers crossed that it lasts.

Happy anniversary to me! And thank you, Scott, for everything.

NOTE: I apologise for the complete absence of April First Foolery. Fortunately others in the blogosphere are more than making up for my seriousness.

  1. When I sold to Strange Horizons in 2001 it wasn’t classified as a pro market. []
  2. Or to support the alternative me what doesn’t have expensive tastes and lives in Dubbo. []


  1. maureen on #

    It sounds to me like you need to celebrate! Maybe with a little jacket that goes with a dress! This is JUST AN IDEA and is NOT BASED ON REALITY.

  2. marrije on #

    Hey! What’s going on here? Has the intrepid Maureen found the secret CODE and switched on the capitals???

    Also, many congratulations on your anniversary. May it be one in a long row of happy occasions.

  3. potato on #

    one of your books came out on my B-day justine.(i haven’t read any of your books but i’ve read the midnighters series by your husband)!!

  4. Ally on #

    Hey its the potato person!haha

    Crongratulations Justine!! Happy 4th Freelance Writing Anniversary! haha

  5. cherie priest on #

    Well, that certainly explains your staunch anti-short-story stance. I remember being a little surprised once (while we were talking) when you commanded me to quit writing them. But these days, I stick to your edict! For the most part. Almost for the entire part.

    You’re right … definitely, for some of us, anyway. Books are working better.

  6. Rebecca on #

    happy anniversary! 😛 may you have many more years of freelance writing to come.

  7. jenny davidson on #

    very nice post. many congratulations!

    tell scott also that his shingles are serving as a very useful cautionary tale in the larger writerly community, i am finding myself in the thick of 2 immediate book deadlines and one medium-term (how did i get myself in a position where i was committed to delivering three full-length book manuscripts in the space of a year?!?) and i will try and avoid devastating overwork syndrome by splitting my obsessiveness between work and exercise!

  8. potato on #

    well ally i’m glad you noticed me.
    i write books to but they aren’t very long and i’m on my 24th page on long hand writing!

  9. holly on #

    Happy writing anniversary, justine! We’re all so glad that you decided to go freelance!

  10. potato on #


  11. potato on #

    what do you mean nice site Roman Alberto????

  12. Ally on #

    Where does it say that?

  13. hipwritermama on #

    happy anniversary! i so appreciate this honest post. you are so lucky to have a husband who encouraged you to go for it. may both of you continue to have much success with your writing.

  14. lili on #

    hurrah and congratulations for you!

    (i need a supportive husband…)

  15. potato on #

    ally it was a post that was there and then it disapeared witch i think is really weird!!!!

  16. Justine on #

    Thanks everyone for the congrats. It means a lot to me. I can’t actually believe it.

    Maureen: I have no idea what vile temptation you’re trying to lead me into. None at all.

    Marrije: She was all cappy and I took pity on her and set the caps free.

    Cherie: Well, that certainly explains your staunch anti-short-story stance. I remember being a little surprised once when you commanded me to quit writing them.

    My suckatude at short stories is not why I recommend against them to people who are trying to make a living writing. My advice against short story writing is financial not aesthetic and is for three reasons:

    1. You get more money up front for a novel than a short story.

    2. A novel earns royalties; most of the time short stories do not, and when they do it’s a very very very very tiny royalty.

    3. Novels can generate foreign sales income. Short stories rarely sell in other markets and when they do it’s for the teeniest of tiny amounts of money.

    Jenny: Wow. Good luck with those deadlines. I’m glad it’s serving as a warning. Shingles are the very very very worst! Also whenever anyone accuses me of being lazy I simply say, “I’m not lazy, I’m avoiding shingles.”

    Potato: Good luck with your book!

    Ally & Potato: “Roman Alberto” was a spammer. I nuked him.

    Hipwritermama & Lili: Indeed, without Scott I doubt I’d be freelance yet. He’s my rock.

  17. cherie priest on #

    Oh, you were 100% right — I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. You were right with regards to me, that’s for sure. The only stories I’ve done since we had that chat were one for a friend and one for Subterranean, both of which paid pretty well. But otherwise, I wave ’em all off. 🙂

  18. Justine on #

    Cherie: The short-story lover in me is sad. But when you’re rich from all them there novels you can write as many short stories as you like!

  19. cherie priest on #

    Your lips to God’s ears. One of these days, I might even finish The Ado Ward … (I’ll be doing a Flocked LJ post today, probably, explaining a few things about leaving my own day job. Meh.)

  20. Justine on #

    My lips, god’s ears and anyone who happens to read the comments here! 😉

    Can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to a finished draft of The Ado Ward.

  21. cherie priest on #

    In case I haven’t said so lately, you’re the awesomest awesome person who ever awesomed down the pike. I’m just sayin’.

  22. Justine on #

    Right back atcha!

    (Though we might have to provide chunder bags for anyone else reading this . . . )

  23. marrije on #

    Cherie Priest, congratulations on leaving your day job! I look forward to reading your boy-so-happy-i-did-that post four years from now :-).

  24. potato on #

    thanx justine!!!
    that makes more sence about that person i wasn’t sure what the heck happened to them at frist it was kinda scary!!!

  25. potato on #

    justine:i’m typing my book now it will probubly be longer than it was when i hand wrote it because i have added things and got rid of some things and added detale i think you know the drill.;)
    i’ll send it to you when i finish(if i ever finish) 😉

  26. potato on #

    justine:i have never heard any one use the word chunder in a sentance befor( but in know what it means)!!!

  27. Ally on #

    hey potato! your American right? well if you are, are some of these words very confusing or is it just me?..

    Justine I was wondering who buys short stories? The only time I’ve seen short stories is in our textbooks at school and I’ve never really seen them at stores or anything..except for old historic people that is.

  28. Penni on #

    Happy anniversary!

  29. potato on #

    ally: yes i am amarican i live in washington seatle to be exact!
    no the words aren’t that weird i actually don’t read all the post just the one’s that are ment for me or the last person who was on or something along those it’s just you ally!!! 😉 🙂

  30. Ally on #

    Great..haha I feel smart

  31. potato on #

    you bet you feel smart now ally!!!!where do you live by the way since i told you????

  32. Ally on #

    Conway, Arknansas..I’m not a hilbilly baha

  33. potato on #

    nice so are you on spring break???i am!! 🙂

  34. Ally on #

    no..i was last week. I’m sad its over!! 🙁

  35. potato on #

    ha i love spring break lots of time to read!!! 🙂

  36. Ally on #

    haha yeah over mine I reread the whole Uglies was great:D

  37. Ally on #

    opps the smiley didn’t work 🙂

  38. potato on #

    oh i haven’t read those yet maybe latter in life i will! 😉

  39. potato on #

    why has no one come on does it like not fit in you scheduel or something? am i the only one on spring break????
    or do i smell that bad to you guys and galls???

  40. Ally on #

    baha well, I’ve been at church and at school..alot of people are grown ups on here

  41. potato on #

    that weird if you ask me!
    but seriously do i really smell that bad to you people???

  42. Ally on #

    whats weird?? baha?

  43. potato on #

    no whats weird is that no one is here and talking but you and me!

  44. Ally on #

    ohhhh got cha 😉

  45. potato on #


  46. Justine on #

    You two seem to be having such fun by yourselves it would feel rude to interrupt. Plus, most people only comment on the recent posts.

  47. Ally on #

    haha feel free to inerupt anytime people!

  48. potato on #

    Justine: sorry i didn’t know that they thought they couldn’t join.
    yeah peolpe come on in we’re board here!!!

  49. Justine on #

    Sadly, potato, everyone has moved on to more recent posts, so they can not hear your shouts.

  50. potato on #

    well i think thats stupied!

  51. Ally on #

    haha we have put justine in our conversation!! no just kidding..but go ally and potato!!!

  52. potato on #

    why are you talking about me and your self??

  53. Ally on #

    because we got her in our conversation but nevermind..

  54. potato on #

    oh well coll then!

  55. Ally on #

    so how have your spring break been going? it’s almost over!

  56. potato on #

    i fell off my scooter and am pretty banged up and i was almost attached by a pecock!

  57. Ally on #

    aw that sucks, im sorry. beleive it or not i have almost been attacked by a peacock too! it was quite scary was dark outside and all i heard was it scwaking..they are eeevil!!!

  58. Ally on #

    hmmm why does it say “Ally Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation”???
    does it always do that??

  59. Ally on #

    oh nevermimd now its gone..

  60. potato on #

    58 nice
    59 no thats weird
    60 o.k thats good!

  61. capt.cockatiel on #

    All comments go through moderation. You know, to make sure no unicorns are being glorified and whatnot.
    Peacocks are cool. I love them. Especially Curtis, the one at the zoo that runs around wild-like. And scares little children.

  62. Ally on #

    haha unicorns eh?

    idk the name of the one that almost attacked me but this guy down the road from my grandmas house owns 2 of them..they are cool but not when they are chasing you!

    how was your first day back to school haha. Im sure you loved it!!

  63. potato on #

    ally: you don’t want to know how my first day back was!
    cool i might own a peakok when i’m old anuff to live in my own house!!!

  64. potato on #

    where is every one???i feel so alone here!!! 🙁

  65. capt. cockatiel on #

    Potato, it is called ‘new posts.’ They are where all the.. erm.. newly posting people hang out. You may want to go there.

  66. Ally on #

    sorry potato..Happy Friday the 13th!! Justine should make a post called “Potato and Ally Talk” for us to talk on haha that would be funny and really pointless b/c we are already talking on here but idk whatever..

  67. potato on #

    ally:i love friday the 13ths they are the coolest!!!!!!and justine should!!!

  68. Ally on #

    Yeah, mine wasn’t that bad actually (knock on wood) except that i woke up an hour late and it stormed all day and hailed once but ohter than that it was pretty normal

  69. potato on #

    wow myn was pretty good to!

  70. calliope on #

    hola allie and potato! hope u don’t mind that i come in. im so happy its the weekend, i need it really bad. my friday the 13 actually was fun because in social studies, we just goofed off.

  71. Ally on #

    haha I love it when we just goof off in class..theres going to be alot of that next week because we have benchmark testings all week!

  72. potato on #

    calliope and Ally: i love fooling around in class it’s so much fun!!! 😀

  73. Ally on #

    haha we have this one class thats a studyhall and our teacher is the football coach and all the boys are scared of him but when he yells at us we just laugh haha he’s a softy! oh and we get to listin to ipods and talk all class (if we are not arguing with the coach about something stupid that is) haha its hilarious

  74. potato on #

    Ally :un fair i can’t bring my ipod to school and if we get really loud my teacher will get mad!

  75. Ally on #

    haha..we arn’t really soposed to have them haha hes says we have to act like we are hiding them but nobody does..I was watching one of John Greens video and it was when he went to seatle and it is so big! I couldn’t ever imagine living there of course its probaly normal to you.

  76. calliope on #

    nyc is way bigger than seattle, but i could see what you mean. one time in school i forgot to mput my ipod on hold and it turned on right as i was standing next to my teacher. hehe. but he was cool and et me just go and turn it off.

  77. Ally on #

    AHHH! you live in new york!?! yall are so lucky! I live in conway arkansas population 51,999! It is so boring here and its tiny compared to where yall live!

  78. cherie priest on #

    Hey Ally, Potato, et. al. — Not to be a party pooper or anything, but some of the other comments have checked the “email responses to this thread” box, and we can’t very well uncheck it at this point. This means that every single person who checked that box (probably most of the previous commenters) receive these back-and-forth conversational emails in our inbox.

    As long as your conversation has been going on here — over 2 weeks — perhaps you might want to exchange personal email addresses and chat that way? Or perhaps move to a more recent post? It’s just a thought. I don’t know about anyone else over here, but I (for one) would really appreciate it.

    Thanks so much, guys.

  79. Ally on #

    we should get an award for longest conversation on Justine’s blog haha that would be funny

  80. Ally on #

    ohhh sorry i should have figured it would do that! um we can post on the most recent post now okay guys?

    r.i.p. fourth anniversary!

  81. potato on #

    sorry people!!

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