Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Justifying Myself

One of the things about going back to school is that you meet a lot of new people. A lot. Like around a hundred or so of them.

I'm not going to lie. I knew that the fact that I'm already a published author would set me apart from the other students a little bit. I didn't want to flaunt it in anyone's face or make a super big deal about it. On the other hand, I felt it would be just as condescending to hide it. So when I was asked what my deal was, I answered. I didn't make a big deal about it, but I didn't lie about it either. I didn't bring it up unless asked either what my publishing history was or what I did.

So then comes the really awkward part. People wanted to know why the hell I was enrolled in an MFA Creative Writing program if I was already a published author. I explained how I wanted to work on my craft and then I got down to brass tacks and explained that I don't make enough money to support my family on my writing and that I needed a degree so I could teach.

It's embarrassing. I've been at this for a while. I have 10 published books. I don't live all that outrageously. It's still not anywhere near enough. It makes me feel like a failure.

I remember when I realized I was going to have to get a day job. I was embarrassed then, too. I also thought there was a good chance my writing career was over. Thank goodness that didn't happen. Still the idea that a person with multiple books published by one of the Big Six (I guess that's Big Five and I think it might have been Big Seven then) wasn't pulling in enough money to support two kids was mortifying. In the end, I decided it would be more embarrassing to have my house go into foreclosure and gutted it out.

I feel a little like I'm reliving all that again. Like I have to justify myself and my lack of success. And again I think it would be even more embarrassing to say that I had an opportunity to get the degree I needed to have a day job that centered on writing and didn't take it.

Tell me that I'll get through this ouchie part and it'll be okay, okay?

16 comments:

Maureen McGowan said...

I'm feeling that ouch right now too, Eileen.

It's such a rough reality how few authors, even very successful authors, actually earn a living.
Don't feel like a failure around your classmates, feel like the bringer of truth. You already have what they all aspire to. Books on shelves that people read and love.

One of my YA author friends recently told me that her biggest slap-in-the-face-wake-up moment came when she saw a very well-renowned and bestselling YA author speak somewhere and that author admitted she did not earn a living with her writing. (I think it was Laurie Halse Anderson) The thought is, if she can't, who can? (Although I think she had a *terrible* paperback deal for Speak, her most popular title, that expired finally and she might be earning a tiny bit more... (they put out a special anniversary edition of Speak that I think the author gets decent royalties on...) but that book first came out in 1999. And is highly acclaimed. Still sells well. And the author can't earn a living.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Do not get me started on this!... Oh too late I'm already started.

Right now, in it's current form I don't think traditional publishing can support a full time writing career. Unless you've already been established as a breakout star/big name or you hit the 50 Shades lottery. Between print runs and the leveling off of digital growth everybody is taking a pay cut.

However, I do think now with the onset of self-publishing professional writers can achieve that. But it's that catch 22.

You have to be writing 24/7 to get the content out there, to build your base of fans, to earn steady money. But it's hard to be working full time, to find the time to fit in 24 hours of writing to get to that point.

So you can't be sad you can't support yourself. I've published 16 books and could produce 3 a year for HQ. Back in the 80s/90s that could support me. Not even CLOSE now.

But if that's your goal, I think doing both - traditional/self publishing can get you there. But you have to be a writer who can produce... maybe 5 6 books a year? Which not everyone can do. And let's face it we all know the quality of those books can't be as high if we were doing 2.

Eileen said...

Two a year nearly killed me, although I was also working at the time. I have thought about the fact that it would help if I could do both indie and traditional at the same time, but I barely seem to have time to keep the traditional publishing part going.

Maureen McGowan said...

What kills me is both a lack of time and a limited amount of creative energy. (And a desire for quality... which is partially pride, I guess.)

I know I can write fast if I want to/have to. (Hell, I wrote SB:VS in less than 6 weeks.) But I also know how draining it is (and how much that killed me) and how much better my work is if I let it simmer and go back to fix it. Or let it simmer midway, depending on the book. So, I have trouble imagining being one of those authors who'se putting out new work every 2-3 months. But perhaps that is what it takes to earn a living.

I was looking at the amazon rankings of a few self-pubbed authors whom I know are making a lot of money (based on their self-reporting) and their individual book ranks aren't that high... So, their pay cheques must be across multiple books... I guess that's the key.

Need to write faster.... Getting off the internet now. :)

Stephanie Doyle said...

Absolutely. Kristen Ashley in an DBSA podcast said that she works morning to night and can write 40-50K a day. Let me repeat that 40-50 THOUSAND. Now she used to be a stenographer -so she's moving really really fast.

But look how well it served her. TONs of content, a building of fans, traditional publishing then picks her up and bam. Between your current list, your back list you're making serious money.

Now keep in mind people have to love the work, but it also has to be combined with feeding the beast.

You find 4000-5000 people (in all the world of readerdom) who like your work and will consistently buy you. You put out 5 books a year at 3.99 you're now making between 55,000 - 70,000K a year. And that number only goes up as you continue to find readers, who then find your back list.

Getting to that 4000-5000 number is no easy trick though. I think that's where traditional publishing still helps.

But of course you have to do 2 for them. So now you're talking 7 books a year! And you think that's impossible. But let's do the math.

5 90K books, (450,000) 2 30K (60,000) novellas. - That's 510,000 words a year. But you divide that over a normal 40 hour work week - which is about 250 days? (Let's give ourselves a vacation) 240 days... that's only 2125 words a day.

I can do 2125 words in 2-3 hours. Which conceivably leaves me time for editing, marketing, tweeting and promotion.

It's all completely doable. Then why does it seem so impossible?

Eileen said...

You've left out copyediting, page proofs, revisions, covers, formatting. So 2,000 words a day for me is boffo. I'm more like a 1,000 word a day girl. That would, however, still get me 3 books or so by your calculations. Also I'm not sure the number would be without the day job.

Maureen McGowan said...

Yeah, you're only counting first drafts in your math?

And I'm someone who spends more time revising than I do on first drafts. That said, I'm pretty certain I could write 3 books a year if I knew what they were about in advance. (not easy)

And like Eileen said... there's all the other stuff that one has to do regardless of how the books are published-- unless you're willing to put out work littered with errors. Which I don't think any of us are..

Stephanie Doyle said...

I never said the books would be perfect. I'm just pointing out that to build the type of readership you need to hit the numbers you need to make a successful living of your work... that's what you need to get to.

2-3 hours writing that gives 5-6 hours of editing, cover art, promotion etc.

What I really haven't left you time for is thinking... but that's on your own time. :)

Stephanie Doyle said...


I should have said... that's what you need to get to unless - you've written the coolest book ever that everyone will want to read.

My approach is more of the journeyman approach.

Sinead M said...

It is crazy how little writers make, even after they've published multiple books and are considered very successful.
It does indicate the system is sort of broken, and that it needs to be fixed

Jennifer the Chaos Queen said...

From what I hear everywhere, almost everyone has the same problem as you do. EVERYONE short of the huge sellers is having to get a day job. So at the very least, you're not alone.

I do have a little something to cheer you up, though. I'm assuming this wasn't you since you were out of town, but otherwise I'd wonder....

http://fullmoon.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8341c3d8153ef01901e1504bd970b-pi

(Not mine either!)

Eileen said...

Steph, you're starting to make this sound do-able. Now my problem is how to support everyone after quitting my job and before the money train starts pulling into the Eileen station.

Eileen said...

OMG! Jennifer! That's my plarn poncho! Pieces of the original had started disappearing after the first day. I had no idea where they'd gone, but now I know where the poncho went at least.

That is freaking awesome!!!!!! Thanks for showing me!

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Anonymous said...

Molly. It's not about the money, it's about doing what you love and if your audience appreciates your work, which I do, your a success!

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