Poets & Writers

How to Get Paid

IMAGINE you finally sell that first book. For years you’ve been piecing together low-paying teaching gigs or toiling away at a dull office job, and then—miracle of miracles—an editor at a major New York house offers you a six-figure deal to publish your book. A short time later a cable network comes along and offers you even more money for the right to adapt it as a TV show.

Easy street, right? You can quit the day job and settle in for a long and productive life as a full-time writer.

Not so fast. For starters, your agent will take 15 percent off the top of your book-related income. Then there are taxes. Advance payments and royalties are freelance income, and if you aren’t regularly setting aside large portions of your earnings for taxes, you can run into serious trouble with the IRS. And what about health insurance? And what if, God forbid, the TV show doesn’t get made and your next book doesn’t sell? Are you prepared for that, or will an artistic setback send you right back to where you were before you sold that first book?

Writers tend to avoid seeking financial and tax advice until after they hit a crisis or receive a windfall, by which time it can be too late, say finance professionals who work with artists. “The best time to learn about this stuff is before you’re sitting on a gigantic pile of cash, because when you’re sitting on a gigantic

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