Before you publish, Part 14 —The elephant in the room: Money

Before you Publish - 14

I had this whole other blog post prepared for today covering working with contractors. I even spent my few breakfast minutes before work cleaning it up. But as the day wore on and my anxiety level ratcheted up, for no apparent reason, I felt like that post wasn’t what I need to be talking about right now. What I want to talk about is money. I invested a substantial amount of money in The Dark Queen of Darkness. I’d hazard a guess as to say the amount of dollars I put into this project this far exceeds what most indie authors could afford by a wide margin, and I’m not done yet. I saw it as something of an investment, but looking back on that investment, I’m questioning it. Granted, I’m only a few weeks in, but the mountain I’ve got to climb just to recoup costs may not be surmountable.

This topic kicked off in my head last night during an exchange with a fellow author. I’ll leave their name out of it for the moment because it wasn’t the most upbeat discussion. To be clear: This person is helpful, present, and someone I look to for guidance. It really hurts me to see them in the place they are in as a writer. What it all boils down to, however, is dollars. More specifically, the dollars we spend, without seeing any sort of Return on Investment (ROI).

We all want to live the dream: be a writer full-time. I realized a few years ago, that it wasn’t practical for me, even going traditional. It might be for a lucky and persistent few, but not for most of us. My revised plan revolves around having a substantial catalog by the time I retire in some 15 or so years. I think most writers don’t think this way, and rightly so. We want to do this professionally, are willing to put in the hours and legwork, but can’t scratch up enough of an audience to make it happen —Even really quite talented writers fall into this category.

So. Is it worth it?

Some context first. I have two books currently in the universe two more in the pipeline for the next 12-24 months. More money will need to be spent to launch these and I want to know if it’s even worth thinking about. After all, I have a job, and it’s a rare good one. I don’t really need to jump into something else. The only thing I can say to this is that I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA. None at all. I often repeat the phrase “luck favors the prepared.” I say this because you can’t win the lottery if you don’t play, you don’t win the football game if you don’t show up, and you sure as hell can’t become a professional writer if you don’t write.

What I’m getting at is that it’s my belief, right or wrong, that not doing something you’re passionate about leaves you with 0 chance to succeed at that thing. Giving it your all, whatever that looks like, gives you the best opportunity to capitalize on a lucky break. You might never see a lucky break. Loads of people never do, but how awful would it be to get one and not be able to run with it?

So, to swing back around to dollars (or Pounds or Euros or whatever the hell spends in your part of the world.) Put in what you think you can, or what’s necessary. If you have $3000 to drop into a book and have a reason to —do that. Do it to make your work professional, findable, and something you’re proud of. If you have $0, it turns out that you too can publish. Your returns will stink, but know this: You’re $3000 up on some other ding-dong selling precisely the same number of books.

So, should we keep on throwing our work into the universe with no expectation you’ll attract enough readers to pay the bills? The answer, if you’re an indie, is YES. Do this. Don’t give it away, of course, get paid for your work when you can, but don’t not do it if you love it. In the end, you may be upside-down dollar-wise and will have proven to yourself that it was not, in fact, worth it,  but you tried.

To put one last analogy on this, and be perfectly frank with folks, I am the ding-dong who spent about $3K on The Dark Queen of Darkness, and I think the production value shows. But I will never make back that investment on this book. It simply can’t happen without a VERY lucky break. I’ll work my ass off to sell copies to try to at least break-even and get it into the hands of readers, but it’s not really in the cards here. However, if I had decided to open a home-brew supply store, one of my hair-brained ideas from years ago, I would have to invest TEN TIMES that much and might wind up in exactly the same boat. So, yes, you’ve put in the time and didn’t make any money, but literally every other investment you can think of is no different.

Best of luck, writer friends. If you’re thinking about publishing and you’re on the fence about spending money, spend if you have it, if not, don’t. Either way, please don’t give up, the odds are tall and you may never get to do this professionally, but tell your stories. The world needs them.

To see the other blog posts in this series, check here.

Dear writers, why do we write? – My reason

This question came at me out of the blue this evening after a particularly long day that started with a 2 1/2 hour commute to the body shop and rental car agency before work (almost triple the usual with an odd detour). The off the cuff response to ‘WHY?!’ is: because maybe writing is a sort of really cheap drug that doesn’t actually get you high. I mean, I could quit if I wanted to, right?

Probably not – and that’s the crux of dependency, isn’t it?

Everyone who knows me, knows that I started programming back in high school and went to college for the same. What fewer folk know is that I started out with little games and I wanted to turn that into programming games for a living. It turns out, I’m not really smart enough for that sort of thing and don’t have the temperament to live in the sort of city where that’s a possible job option and I certainly haven’t got the steady hand nor sharp eye you have with most artists. My creative world lives in making things where I can measure twice and cut once. it’s one of the reasons I like wood-working. There’s a precision your tools give you that a paint-brush, for example, won’t. In any case, my education and various career options led me to where I am today. Not game programming.

I don’t want to sound as though I don’t enjoy my job. In fact, I think that after having left a year and returned, I feel much more fortunate and committed than ever before. You sometimes get lucky and it’s not always obvious when you do.

So, here I am today, a writer who’s chief success is publication in a small-town newspaper as the author of a sometimes entertaining recipe box. My lesser known successes are more of the personal variety and simply involve having actually drafted more than one novel (I’m up to 3 and have two more well on their way to full draft status). On more than one occasion, I’ve attempted to just give it up completely and walk away, because well crap, I’m not very good at this and in spite of tremendous support and help from the writing community haven’t managed to achieve the fundamental author task of just getting something published.

Repeated failure is demoralizing, and incredibly painful to the ego yet, I keep doing it, and I’m not alone. So many of us are in the same boat, constantly chipping away at a story that we desperately want to share and not quite getting there. Or better, finding that one lucky break that puts us in the enviable position of getting to write for a living! Oh my. Wouldn’t that be something.

To circle back around the the metaphor with the drug & dependency. I can’t speak for my colleagues out there, but for me, I cling to the tangible creative outlet that writing provides. It’s a way to express myself and create things that didn’t exist before. When I was a kid, I was absolutely intoxicated by the writings of those who created new worlds for me to explore and be a part of, and ever since, I’ve remained drunk on the idea and am continually looking for a bigger fix, and in comes writing, the only drug that might get me that next big high with the occasional collapsed ego hang-over.

Can a brick wall kill an author?

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This week I hit a brick wall. I’m not going to call it writer’s block. I suppose that label is just fine, but I hate it because it suggests a block in creativity. That’s not what I’m experiencing, exactly. I wrote and re-wrote a particular section of my WIP about six times this week and got no closer to improving it. On the contrary, I found that the work was actually getting WORSE! The characters started to lose their voice, the plot increasingly twisted toward a series of wrong turns in a forest. The result is a book hard in the ditch (if you happen to be reading this and don’t live in a place that can get 36″ of snow, I’m basically thinking of a car up to it’s windows in snow on the side of the highway). I sat back and evaluated the plot plan and came to the conclusion that while I have a few fun scenes and a few silly characters and even a few very undeveloped themes orbiting around a notion that, in theory, could be whipped into a book. Upon careful examination, I’m not at all convinced my original plan, or even any adjustment of it, is actually going to work.

This wouldn’t be nearly so bad, except that this is my THIRD manuscript for the year, which sounds fairly manic, but it’s 30K, 65K, and 45K each before stopping to assess. The first was ditched because it was a floundering sequel to a book that failed to launch, the second started strong and went side-ways for exactly the same problems I had to kill the Dark Queen. I thought, tonight, before sitting down to write this, that perhaps I’d go one more time through Wine Bottles and Broomsticks and see about shopping it around to a few more folks who might be interested in taking the project on. I started with the main character. He’s not as strong as Betas would like him to be and so I though that’d be a great place to start. Well, I stared at a blank screen for fifteen minutes before realizing that repair just isn’t going to happen. Rick’s a loser, and it’s beyond my skill to fix him. He needs to have a purpose, which he doesn’t. That was the plan originally, but it makes for a story nobody really wants (keep in mind here that I have had a tremendous cheering section and I think about that EVERY DAY). Needless to say, giving him a purpose and re-writing the book around it would not only be a tremendous amount of work, I’m not sure I’m able to pull it off.

So why is this a brick wall? It’s a brick wall because I’ve got half a dozen projects in the air and don’t posses the skills necessary to take these manuscripts apart and put them back together again in the form of a coherent, compelling, and (most importantly) professional work. Anyhow, the whole thing has absolutely killed my confidence and my creativity. I can’t see myself writing out of this hole and every time I look at another book, I feel that I could totally do that, but the reality is I can’t. It’s sort of like being the guy watching some sports thingy on TV and knowing I could do it better, but also knowing full well that the minute I hit the field, I’d die.

Really, this blow to the old ego is hard enough that I very nearly deleted everything I have and deleted almost all of my author platform to walk away clean. I haven’t done that yet, but I’m on the very edge of doing just that. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy on all of it and see myself simply failing. It’s not a good feeling, but that’s where I am. In any case, it may be that I won’t post for quite some time. However, I will still be active on my other blog (bakedgoodsandbourbon.com), because I still cook and even if my family hates me for it, the mostly eat it.


 

Photo credit: Curtis Gregory Perry Brick Wall via photopin (license)