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.

You just published a book, but you’ve been kinda quiet, what the heck?

anxiety

It’s been about a month since I’ve released Wine Bottles and Broomsticks. In that time, I’ve posted a single blog post about this, done a hand-full of tweets, paid for a bit of advertising on Amazon, and shared it on Facebook. Really, it’s not much, and I should be posting a lot more and working double-time on writing the next two or three books I intend to publish. I should also, at very least, be blogging about my experience launching a book impulsively and what I’ve learned. There isn’t any good excuse for why I haven’t. I mean, there is an excuse, but as with any excuse, it’s an excuse not really a good reason. To put it in a word – Anxiety. I can’t seem to get over it.

I am at the tail end of two weeks of vacation as I write this and just made the mistake of rechecking my work e-mail. I’ve been keeping half an eye on it just to make sure if something came up I had to deal with, I could. I went from a wee bit more relaxed to full-on stress-ball in the span of three heartbeats. It’s completely incapacitating. These past two weeks were intended to be time spent with the kids, write, blog, advertise, unwind, and generally catch-up on personal life stuff. None of that happened, really. I’ve been avoiding literally everything to the point where all I can do is play video games – which is usually a reinvigorating escape for me. Not this time. I have what I can only describe as a video-game hangover, and I don’t feel anything like rested up and ready to tackle work tomorrow (Tomorrow was supposed to be another day off, but things being what they are, I’ve got to go back a day early.)

There are what you could call extenuating circumstances here, making things worse than they might otherwise be. Right now, in the state of Alaska, my home, the governor has just vetoed hundreds of millions of dollars in funding. I believe it is the largest set of budget cuts ever for this state. Ostensibly, these cuts were made because the state can’t afford it. However, any state that can pay out thousands of dollars every year to its residents can’t possibly be so broke it can’t fund essential services – just one example is the emergency broadcast system – this for a state frequently beset by natural disasters and hazardous conditions.

I did keep my job after the cuts, and it’s looking pretty okay for the foreseeable future, but it’s not clear for my wife. Part of the cuts involved the elimination of all funding for the appellate courts. This is the state supreme court and all courts you might bring a non-criminal case to. I want that to sink in for a minute – he eliminated funding for the most critical aspects of the Alaska court system – if this part of the courts isn’t funded, Alaskan residents won’t have any legal recourse when something goes wrong. For any libertarians reading this-this is what happens when you don’t have a government, you don’t have a voice. It’s not a good thing. Reports are that the budget has the goal of reducing the state’s population. Read: Make it an unsuitable place to live for people with families, unless you’re already wealthy.

The bottom line is that this governor and the people who voted for him are working toward a place that is wholly impractical for my children to settle when they reach adulthood – no education, no services, no safety. I grew up here. This is home. In spite of the fact I make noises about moving to New Zealand or some other state, this isn’t realistic. I did leave for a year when I couldn’t find work, but I couldn’t make it elsewhere. I came back fully understanding that I might very well end up living in a shitty apartment, working two minimum wage jobs. As it was just the two of us at the time, we felt we could make that work. Now, with kids, the calculation is different. It’s not about me anymore. Regardless, this is home, and it will be, even if I’m holed up in a homeless camp at the edge of town with thousands of others in the same boat. The same can’t be said for the people making the cuts. They aren’t, actually, from here and will likely leave in the future anyhow. One of them came here specifically to implement these cuts and then leave immediately.

Even then, for me, it still gets deeper and harder to cope with. I do work for the state. Yes, I still have a job after the cuts, something conservatives say I should be grateful for, but for the first time ever, the cuts have been so dramatic that I’m unsure that I’ll be able to fulfill my obligations to the state, which are written in state law. The hard part about this is that it’s not my fault, but I get to be blamed for the failure. The politicians have taken away resources necessary to be successful and will then point their greasy fingers at people like me and say, “look at that lazy bastard.” So, when I look at my e-mail and realize that I’ve got six weeks of work due in something like the next 10 days. I’m feeling super extra fucked, a failure, and someone else made it so. I don’t like letting people down or just walking away from things, but I’m in a position to do just that.

Alright, so that’s the core of the anxiety, climate change is the other aspect, but I already went semi-viral on a particular rant there and don’t care to repeat the experience. The rest boils down to being impulsive and releasing Wine Bottles and Broomsticks when I did. I don’t actually think I was personally ready for this. I have had a lot of support and positive feedback, but I’m still learning, and it’s committed me to things that I’m not sure I can muster the energy to cope with. I mean, I will with a smile and as much gusto as needed, that’s how I am –recall that I build most of a house with just the help of friends in two years because I was too stupid to know I couldn’t. That house withstood a 7.1 earthquake. However, as it comes to writing, publishing, and marketing, I don’t know if I can pull it off. I’ve goofed around with advertisements and things, but it’s pretty clear that the only books being sold are to those folks I routinely interact with or know IRL. Which is fantastic, but it’s not getting reach beyond that. It’s a lot of effort to go through, and I don’t know if I’m doing it right.

As a result of all of this, I’ve been effectively immobilized. Every time I start thinking about something, the weight of everything else breaks in, and I just can’t properly concentrate. So that’s it. There’s my excuse and what’s going on with me. Now I’ve gotten it off my chest, I will (hopefully) be producing more content and really getting to work on more books.