Self-pub vs. Traditional: A Decision

Before I go anywhere with my decision (I’m sure you’re guessing where I landed here), I’d like to pose a quick question:

How do most writers earn their living?

If you didn’t say “Day job,” You’re in a minority. Yes, there are loads of professional writers maybe even one of them will read this blog, but if Twitter is any indication, writers with day jobs outnumber the full-time paid writers by something like six billion to 1. I’m absolutely no exception.

Last winter, the question of ‘making a living’ manifested itself under my bed and set-up shop, taunting me for nights on end. It all started with the comment: “I’d slit my wrists if I had to read much more of this.” As far as professional critical feedback goes, this is pretty much the pinnacle. The comment wasn’t the whole of it though, just the start. The other key part involved the addition of a new project at my day job which meant weekends being basically spoken for. With all of this on my mind, I concluded that not only is the quality of my writing improving much more slowly than I’d imagined, but also that my day job does, in fact, pay pretty well and is important to my family. This led me to the realization that I am absolutely not going to be able to replace a real paycheck with writing anytime in the near future. While I recognize it’s possible to work hard and shift careers like this, I’ve got way too many other responsibilities at this stage in my life for that to be truly practical. All of this led me to the understanding that not only is traditional publishing well outside the realm of possibility for me, I don’t really want to pursue it anyhow.

My logic is this: If I got an agent and a book deal (big fucking if here, I know), but if that’s what I worked to, the best case scenario* is that I’d be subject to deadlines I didn’t set, egos that don’t belong to me, and pressure to produce more or less the same thing I already did that everyone liked so much AND AND AND I get to continue working my day job to feed my family & put a roof over our heads….

Why would I pursue this again? To remove all of the enjoyment from something I like doing without even getting a real pay-check? No, just no. If I’m going to work a second job, it’s going to be on my terms.

This leaves self-publishing. I get the freedom to work with an editor of my choosing, have full oversight and final decision making on cover design, AND I get to choose to publish whatever the hell I like on my own terms. Yes, this is an expensive road and I’m conceding that the financial results are going to be underwhelming, but I think once I start getting my stuff out there and picking up readers, I might make enough to cover my costs and maybe make a bit more to cover the next project. PLUS, if I have to put writing aside for a stretch to deal with life, I can do that on my own terms.

Anyhow, with all that in mind, I’m going to start working with an editor in November to bring The Dark Queen of Darkness into shape. My target release is September 2019. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about that as I being the process of working with an editor and getting set-up for self-publishing.

 


*Yes, there is another best-case scenario, which runs something like “…but J.K. Rowling… and now she’s got more money than the queen!” Okay, yes, that sometimes happens, but I’m not a J.K. Rowling and won’t ever be. I’m going to be Dave S. Koster (and sometimes another pen name), and that guy is pretty sure ‘viral success’ is always something that happens to someone else.

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Another year, another book to burn.

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Last year, I burned one of my own unpublished books to close out the year. It was meant as a way to put the book behind me and move forward. A way to force myself not mope or wallow in self-pity at an accomplishment that revealed itself to be a failure. This year, I’ve decided to do the same, and for much the same reasons. What I didn’t expect was that it was a bit more painful the second time around. No, I didn’t burn myself, and it’s not that it’s exactly hard to burn a bit of paper, after all, it’s just wood-pulp and people have been burning shit like that for a million years or something. Hell, people are so good at burning stuff, we do it accidentally all the time. In any case, as difficult as it was to close out this year’s writing efforts, I expect closing out 2018 will be worse yet, but I’ve got an entire year to fret over it.

The good news for 2017 was that I managed to finish full drafts of two books and write about half of a third. It’s a pretty good showing, considering my first book took over ten years to finish. What I learned with my first book and second books, however, was that once done you have two options, revise/edit/publish or don’t. And to call them options is a little more than generous. In general, most of us get stuck in the revise/edit stage and never make it beyond. A writer could revise a book for their entire whole life and never get it to the point where a publisher will never take it and self-publishing just seems silly. Hell, a ton of authors do just that – churn away to no end. And this is why I’ve started to burn them.

This fall, at the writer’s conference, an author was asked for some general advice for writers, without a breath of hesitation she said, in a South African drawl, “Write the damn book.”  (Yes, it’s a direct quote, she even put that shit on SWAG pens.) Then she elaborated, saying something to the effect that if you’ve been working on a book for longer than a year, put it in a box and shove it under your bed or just burn the damn thing. This is hard advice to swallow when you look at people like JK Rowling who reportedly took 6 years to write Harry Potter, and don’t even get me started on the long awaited books from Rothfuss and Martin, but those folks are a sort of magic writing unicorn the rest of us aren’t. The rest of us have to keep moving and improving and trying new things, if we don’t then we remain stuck in a rut retreading the same old ground for years, burning countless hours of creativity and time on a project that is clearly struggling.

Even though I hadn’t yet heard this advice, that was what I was thinking when I burned Wine Bottles last year. It was very much on my mind this year, as I burned Deep Space Helpdesk … And yes, that was the one I got very positive feedback from an agent on. However, I’ve spent the past month and a half revising the first quarter of the book and I’m still not satisfied. Honestly, I think I’ve lost the thread of the story. The soul went out of it some time ago. I could have burned Dark Queen of Darkness too, it was the other book I finished this year and after the trashing I got from an agent, I probably should have done. Fear not, Hexe will get her chance on the flames next year, no doubt, and if I work very hard I might get to burn two next year.

If you’ve even read this far, you may be thinking: “Dave, you’re giving up, don’t give up, I thought you were more stubborn than that?”

It does feel like giving up. We make these things and want them to go on, be re-told and enjoyed. And I’d be lying if I said that this whole thing didn’t make me upset. The reality is that it doesn’t necessarily work that way. Either the concept works and you go with it or it doesn’t and you move on.

In this case, all I can say is that I’m not giving up as much as I’m moving on. There are other stories that will not be written or seen if I continue spending my few precious writing hours banging away on a book that simply fails to pull together a coherent theme and compelling plot. Perhaps, someday, I’ll return to the concept and give it another go, time will have passed and maybe I can re-imagine the concept into something that does work, but I know that the time is not now.

So, going into 2018, without Deep Space Helpdesk around my neck, I’ve got just the one book to revise and that leaves me mental and creative freedom to move forward with new projects. Maybe I’ll even get that break out novel, whatever it is, finished this year. Who knows? But I’m going to find out.

Happy new year, and happy writing, friends.

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One Year Later

Look at me! Two blog posts in a week, must be some sort of record. According to Facebook, today was the 1-year anniversary of my return to Fish & Game. I wasn’t gone terribly long, and I had been with the department for years before that, yet this feels like a big personal milestone to me. I’ve been thinking about it for days, and with that milestone under my belt, there are a lot of things I want to say about the job, but I don’t really know where to start. I didn’t realize until last year sometime just how damn important this job is to me. Part of it is the people, yes, and part is the work, but any place you go can be like that, can’t it? I don’t know, maybe not.

I started at Fish and Game back in early July of 2004 as an Analyst/Programmer. It was something of a lucky break at the time, but not because it was Fish and Game. In my time, I’ve interviewed a lot of people to work for the department who want to work for the agency because of what it is and not because they have any of the knowledge, skills, or abilities to do the job. I, however, wanted to work for the department because it meant a promotion and it wasn’t the DMV.

Within the first few weeks of starting, I’d struck up a pretty friendly relationship with most of the folks I worked closely with, especially the other Dave at the time. One day he brought in his guitar to go pick with some of the other IT folks in the back parking lot at lunch. Somehow, we came around to the fact that I was trying to learn and he invited me along, so I went. That whole summer I’d join some of the other guys out back and pick bluegrass tunes. I loved coming to work, and not just because of that, it was also because I understood the work. It made sense to me. Sure, some parts were totally foreign and my training in SPSS was 100% on the job, but it made sense. There is a lot more to it than that, especially in the fact that there’s room to expand professionally if you’ve a mind to do it.

Fast forward to last September, at least I think it was September may have been October. I was still at the last job and even fairly recently gotten a promotion, but undeniably unhappy, though I was trying. In any case, I’d gone out to attend a going away get-together for a former fish and game colleague. It was a great event. The place was packed with so many people I’d worked with, including more than a few who had already moved on themselves. As I stood up to head out of the event with a friend (former coworker/team member), I looked around, shook a few more hands and thought: “Why the hell did I ever leave this place? These people are my family.”

I went home that night feeling profoundly nostalgic. The feeling kept up for days, maybe weeks. Every day, I’d go into work, feel sick to my stomach about how things were going, fail to be as successful as I wanted to, then go home. Then, I got a sign. Most people, when making difficult life decisions, look to the sky and ask for a sign, as if lightening is going to write the answer across the clouds. Well. I didn’t get struck by lightening, but I did get a text. It was short and basically said that my job was opening back up. But it wasn’t just the text, it was the timing. It came in the middle of a meeting that had been called to update the CTO on project progress. I was also attempting to lay out a case for more resources, I just didn’t see how I was going to be successful without more bodies. My case not only failed, but the CTO explained how my project management game was in bad shape and I needed to focus more on change management. All things that were, in fact, true but could not be achieved without more bodies. In retrospect, if I’d had to stay, I probably could have made a partial save, but I wouldn’t be satisfied with my lot just now.

I know, deep down, that while this place has been good for me, it could become something else as fast as anything. But that doesn’t change the fact that I walked back in those doors, and even to a lot of new faces, and thought: “I’m home.”