A new year and nothing to burn

Normally, I ‘burn’ a book on the new year. This year, I have nothing to burn. I simply haven’t been able to write.

It hardly needs to be said, but it’s been a difficult year. Writing has been pretty far from my mind for most of it. I even have to remind myself I published The Dark Queen of Darkness in February. I’m absurdly proud of that book and I had high hopes for the launch. Instead, the whole world shut down, hundreds of thousands of people (millions?) lost their lives, and folks who rely on in-person events for their livelihood found themselves without a source of income. My hopes for Hexe hardly even seem relevant looking back on it.

On launching Hexe this year, I had planned a whole PILE of new and interesting things to try and amplify my platform. I was going to start doing regular blog posts on my experiences. I had planned YouTube videos (not the airplane ones, those are a fun 1-off) that talk about my experiences. However, after everything shut down, and my author event was cancelled, effectively killing my book launch, the day job pretty much took over my life.

I’ve spend my last 10 months at the epicenter of contingencies to adapt our processes and tools to work in a remote environment. And for anyone who thinks that after the pandemic is ‘over’, that we’ll just get to go back to old and comfortable ways, that’s a fantasy. The pressure to continue remote work to ‘reduce costs’ and ‘improve efficiency’ will absolutely remain and are likely to increase. My division (or section? I don’t know anymore), spent more than 40 years honing and perfecting data collection practices and tools that make us a world-class organization. What we can tell you about subsistence in Alaska is quite literally unparalleled in the subject area. In March, I found myself repeating: “Yes, we can adapt, we can because we have to.” Now that I’m mid-way through that process, I’ve got two observations. The first is that you can change long-standing business practices nearly overnight. The second is that it’s crushingly difficult, but not for the reasons you might think. It’s emotionally exhausting, creatively exhausting, and takes a significant mental health toll. There’s no time to take a break and not think about it. This is all on top of the routine work we do.

I think this is a long way of saying. I’m exhausted and by the end of any given day, I can’t face it. I open my iPad to pluck away at Apple Pie and Comfortable Shoes (the sequel to Wine Bottles and Broomsticks), and immediately feel overwhelmed. What’s more, those books are intended to be a satirical take on how we treat each other and how people manipulate each other and how in the end we’re all just bloody human and make bad decisions. The “witch hunt” is meant to refer to the colloquial expression and also literal expression. Doom-scrolling through Facebook after an emotionally exhausting day has me fully unable to cope with it.

So, that’s it, I’ve got no writing goals for the year, no goals to keep up with my blog, no goals to get my YouTube stuff in order. It’s not because I’m lazy or giving up, as much as I just can’t cope with another thing right now, especially when that thing, though I love it, doesn’t pay the bills or ensure future employment. I do hope your year is a good one and maybe next New Year’s I’ll have a more upbeat post.

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.

New year & writing – last years success and next year’s goals

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In January of 2019, I announced that I’d be publishing The Dark Queen of Darkness in September of 2019. That didn’t happen, and that’s part of the learning process. I’m still aiming for a Feb 14, 2020 release. What I realized sometime in April or May of last year was that I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what went into self-publishing. Lots of people do it and it looks easy, but until I’ve had my hands on something, it might as well be magic. To prepare myself, I decided to self-publish what I’d come to consider a terrible throw-away book: Wine Bottles and Broomsticks (I did a series of author interviews and a series on what I learned and I recommend you have a look if you’re prepping yourself for indie publishing your first book). Wine Bottles was a book I first shopped to 40+ agents and got a lot of help from author friends on that with no luck. Then, I tried to crowd-source, still no luck. I reckoned that my failure here meant this book had no real appeal. Wine Bottles and Broomsticks surprised me by doing spectacularly well for a debut indie-published book. At least by my reckoning. So far, here’s where I am with it:

  • 100 copies sold over 6 months, 80% were paperbacks,
  • Picked up by a book-club, I’ve been invited to attend this month and discuss the book,
  • More than one reader, who I have never met, has reached out to me to tell me how much they liked it – if you’re one of these readers, you’ve got no idea how much it means for me to hear that. You are the reason I do this and I thank you,
  • I was standing in Black Birch Books, the only place Wine Bottles and Broomsticks is available locally and the woman behind me had actually purchased and read the book!
  • I was hosted for a meet the author event at Black Birch Books for Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, and it went great.

All of this came with a totally botched launch and poor planning on my part. My take-away is that no I’m not Richard Castle, and I’m not a viral success, and that’s totally fine. I understood this going in. The win for me, as an author, is a foundation to build on and the knowledge that the series I’d planned for Rick Basket does, in fact, have an audience. The bullets I’ve put up there exceed my expectations and I call that a success. I suppose that 2019 was a good year for me, and I just need to remain focused as we go into this year. My goal for 2020? Repeat 2019 and take it one step further. Can we do 2 books? Who knows, but I’m going to try.