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[Comments] (1) Well Now I'm Pushing Thirty: The title is a line from a song I wrote when I was seventeen, and now it's coming true. I've got less than a week of my twenties left. When I wrote that line of that song, I was worried about selling out (I learned the term, but not the concept, from a Reel Big Fish song). The lesson of my twenties is that the creative things a teenager thinks of selling, when he thinks of selling out, are not worth that much money. Nobody's buying. You might as well give it away.

What you can sell is your time. I get good money for my time, and for the money I worked at CollabNet two, three years after I'd stopped having fun. Ten years ago today I ported robotfindskitten to Linux. I very rarely write software for fun anymore. The time for that is no longer in stock. Sold out.

Apart from that, which I wouldn't have predicted as recently as five years ago, my twenties exceeded every goal I might have set. I got married, I wrote a piece of software that became very popular, I wrote two O'Reilly books, and I sold a science fiction story to a pro market. My current secret project is something I've wanted to do my whole life. There's a lot of sadness but not much to regret.

In reality I didn't set any goals. The day I turned twenty I didn't imagine myself today, about to turn thirty. But today, I can't conceive of myself as other than a transitional Leonard between the one who wrote that weblog entry and the one who will link to this weblog entry in 2019.

When I turn forty I know I'm going to be seriously worried about the time I have left. I'm worried now, but right now I have ten years more than I will then. I need to use it and not sell more than I need to.

: Andrew Appel posted about Thoughtcrime Experiments to the prestigious Freedom to Tinker weblog (alas, still not called Freedom To Tinkle). Andrew is one of the authors of "Using Memory Errors to Attack a Virtual Machine", the paper that partially inspired Ken Liu's Single-Bit Error. Andrew writes of the anthology:

It's not all honey and roses, of course. The authors got paid, but the editors didn't! The Appendix presents data on how many hours they spent "for free". In addition, if you look closely, you'll see that the way the authors got paid is that the editors spent their own money.

It certainly wasn't my intention to hide this fact! But more generally, this is my impression of how things work in the antilucrative world of SF/F short fiction publishing. When I sell a story to a magazine, I get a check signed by the editor. In almost all cases, that money is in some sense the editor's money. The only thing different with TE is that we're not trying to make our money back.

Here's what I mean. Unless you're Gordon Van Gelder or Sheila Williams or Stanley Schmidt, you don't draw a salary. A small-time editor/publisher spends their own money, in quantities that are obscene to them and laughably insufficient to the writers, and then tries to make that money back. There are different strategies for this. Strange Horizons solicits donations and runs public radio-style fundraising drives. Futurismic runs ads. Small print mags sell hard copies and/or subscriptions.

It's your money being spent because you're the publisher: if you make a profit, the profit is yours. The flip side of Stanley Schmidt drawing a salary is that if Analog should sell a million copies one month, he doesn't get to keep the money. It belongs to Dell Publications.

The thing is, you'll never make a profit. Even in the good old days the SF magazines scraped by, and these days are bad and new. Find an online magazine with Project Wonderful ads, look at their PW graphs versus their payment rates, and do the math.

Here's a ridiculously optimistic assumption: let's say ten percent of the people who downloaded our PDF would have paid us ten dollars for it, and that everyone who bought a five-dollar hard copy would have paid ten. We'd still have lost money, to the tune of a few hundred dollars. And that's just the loss on the money we paid out! I'm not even thinking about the money value of our time. The unprofitability of this whole realm of publishing is no secret; it's a running joke. Even people who try to make some money back aren't doing this for money, but because they like the non-monetary returns they get on their investment.

Sometime in the past decade I learned a valuable lesson from Jake Berendes: know when to say "screw it". Do the thing you've been waiting for someone else to do. Removing the commercial angle altogether will save you disappointment and headaches. Spending money to create something interesting for everybody feels much better than losing slightly less money in a commercial venture.


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