Time to get back to the books

Happy (belated) new year! For the past several years, I’ve written some type of new-year blog post about my writing goals. The posts usually involve burning something I’ve been struggling with or that I need to move away from and what I’m looking forward to. This year, I didn’t really spend a lot of time writing. I did put in a bit of time on the sequel to Wine Bottles and Broomsticks but hit some snags that I didn’t feel I could solve easily. I suppose I could’ve burned that, but I also haven’t given myself any goals for writing. Instead, I’m focusing on getting my master’s degree finished. The past almost 12 months have been focused on work, prepping for school, doing school, and trying to unwind where I could. Come January 1, I felt I had nothing I could burn and I certainly didn’t set any writing goals for the year. To be clear, none of this means I’ve given up on writing. I just have a different focus for a little while.

I think I’ve said this before on this blog, but I realized a few years ago that writing wasn’t ever going to pay my bills. For most writers, it doesn’t. That’s why I have to go to grad school. Not because I need a better job, but because I’m not at all confident that the education and skills I bring to the table will continue to sustain my career without significant augmentation. (I’ve got a whole rant here about companies bitching about not being able to hire and not bothering to call qualified candidates – or pay wages that make any kind of sense at all, but I won’t treat you to that) So, here I am, readying myself to start a second semester tomorrow. Even as I write this, I’m starting to get the introductory e-mails to the two courses I’ve signed up for. It’s going to be 20-40 hours a week on top of a full-time job and parenting. This is nothing I ever expected I’d be doing, but here I am.

What I really wanted to say with this post though is that yes, school starts tomorrow and I’m going to be thinking about little else besides that and work, but I’m not done writing. What’s more, I think the break from writing to focus on other aspects of life has been good. Over the past few days, the last of my winter break, I’ve started to seriously get my writing motivation back. By the time I’m done with this degree, I suspect I’ll be ready to tackle several projects, and having gone through the rigor of grad school is certain to help me develop the discipline required to allocate time to writing, and the focus to deal with problems effectively. In the end, no matter what I do still won’t result in my turning my writing into anything profitable, but I’ll be more confident about my ‘day job’ and so it’ll be easier to remain focused when I do have time to write.

Anyhow, those are my thoughts, I expect it’ll be a minute before I’m able to get back out here to blog again, but I will be back.

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.