Thursday, May 18, 2017

Reality of a writing life

I have a friend who is struggling with the distance between where he'd hoped he'd be in his career and where his career stands.

We've had a lengthy email conversation and I thought I'd pick up on some of the points and show them here.

This is my experience and I have some sense from other personal stories that it's not atypical.

2004-2005 Wings of Winter 150K mess. Trunked.
2005-2006 MindBlind Urban fantasy/thriller. Trunked.
2006-2007 House of Many Doors
YA ghost story. The book that landed me an agent from queries. Agent unable to sell.

I still believe it’s a salable project, on hold for the present time.
2007-2008 Heal Thyself Alternate world fantasy.

Agent uninterested.

Revised in 2012. Got a revise & resubmit from Angry Robot, but was dealing with personal/family matters and focused on writing Derelict by then.

Was revised and resubmitted in 2016, rejected by Angry Robot in 2016.

May be unsalvageable.Trunked.
2008-2009 The Between
YA Fantasy

Agent came close with several really encouraging rejections with major publishers.

Chose to self-publish in 2012 while still agented to see if I could gain some traction/audience to entice a publisher with a different project.

Sold approx 500 copies, 1500 free downloads.
2009-2010 Future Tense
YA Urban Fantasy.

Agent declined to shop.

Self published in 2014.

Sold approx 350 copies, 600 free downloads.
2011-2012 Ghost Story
YA horror/thriller.

First draft only, never revised.
2012 Derelict (Halcyone Space series)
SF/Space Opera

Agent submitted, but unenthusiastically. We parted ways in 2013.

Self published in 2014.

Sold approx 13,000 copies to date.
2013-2014 Time and Tithe
YA Fantasy

Sequel to The Between.

Self published in 2015

Sold under 100 copies, under 300 free downloads

2014-2105 Ithaka Rising (Halcyone Space series)
SF/Space Opera

Self published in 2015

Sold over 2,000 copies.
2015-2016 Dreadnought and Shuttle (Halcyone Space series)
SF/ Space Opera

Self-published in 2016

Sold approx 1,500 copies.
2016-2017 Parallax (Halcyone Space series)
SF/Space Opera

To be published in June of 2017
2017 Vito Nonce Project
Cyberpunk thriller

In process

The novels listed here represent well over a million words of fiction, written over the course of 13 years.

I have still yet to earn in a year of writing and publishing what I earned working as a physical therapist, even in the years in which I worked part time around the needs of parenting.

By many metrics, I am a success. (One of the first indie members of SFWA, strong reviews in Publisher's Weekly, invitations to SF&F cons.) But I am unable to support myself on my creative earnings, much less pay for health care or support a family.

My gross cumulative earnings since 2012 from my writing are $45,000, unevenly distributed across the years, with my most successful year being 2014. That's 5 1/2 years of income. Do the math: it's not a very lucrative business.

I am able to focus on writing because I needed to leave my physical therapy practice for reasons relating to family and care-giving, not because I had any illusions of quitting my day job to make it big in publishing. It has continued to be possible for me to write because our family can be comfortable on one income - my husband's.

If I didn't have his income to rely on, I would likely be working as a physical therapist and writing around the demands of my working and family lives. It continues to surprise me that I don't produce significantly more now than I did when I was working 30 hours a week and had school age children. In fact my first five novels were written while I was still in PT practice.

I don't think enough writers share enough real data about writing and publishing. Feel free to ask me any clarifying questions you might have.



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  1. Good stuff - again. Your numbers look pretty good compared to mine. I have made just under $4,000 in the two years I have self-published. Once in a while things/sales look great for a few days then tank for a week or more. I have nine books and one short story all on Amazon. My goal, double my take over the next two years. Thanks for posting, I hope others will comment.

    1. Good luck. So much is a matter of luck and timing - as I say often, talent and hard work are the floor, not the ceiling. Anyone who says they have a magic formula is lying, either to themselves or everyone else.

    2. Lisa, Compared to many writers, including myself, you've done well. I know it's not where you want to be, but I think the truth is you may be on the journey to get there. While it is true that reading is down, all those television, movie and video games need stories. And more companies are making movies and television programs and series than ever before. You have stories (books), you have established yourself as a writer of stories. These movie, television, and game producers need story "tellers". No, there are not as many "tellers" as consumers and producers. We are living in a time that success or progress towards success can't be measured like it used to be--except with money--and you've made some. I think it's reasonable to assume you'll make more. And somewhere down the path of time you'll share this "time" as a time you learned "fill in the blank" and everything turned around. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. I have five books that I published since 2014 and I've made less than $100. You are right that earning a living in this field is very difficult. I'm not even sure that being published by a traditional publishing company would make it any better. The problem is also that people are just reading much less and when there are so many movies to watch on netflix, hulu, amazon, youtube, etc etc, and I am talking really good stuff, then people are even less motivated to read. I do think social media is a potential marketing tool, but I don't think I have exploited that as much as I could. Thanks for laying out the situation so straightforward and honestly.

    1. The marketing piece is the piece I really struggle with.

  3. I had been writing for long and tried to approach agents since when the medium of communication was postal department. There were appreciations but no takers for my non fiction and fiction writings. Then since 2013 I tried self publishing. I had simple satisfaction of being published, but I had earned less than $ 100 for my nonfiction and fiction books on Amazon since then. I am a trial lawyer and had also written about half a dozen law text books, which were published locally and of course they paid me handsomely.

    1. Non-fiction, if you have a platform, can be far more lucrative than fiction.

  4. That is really interesting. As a novice, wannabee, author I really haven't given much thought about the sales and marketing end of my writing career. Frankly, because I don't have a writing career (yet). Being that I am only halfway through my first Novel I do not expect to 'trunk' it when done. I will find me a nice left-hand turn lane under the overpass and hand out copies for Big Macs if I have too.

    In my few years on the planet, I have come to find for the majority of us that sticking to something is the best course to success (whatever you deem that to be). Flitting about from thing to thing does indeed make a jack of all trades and master of none. I think you are on the right track. Your writing will out strip your PT skills, if not already, and you will find yourself a household name in the world of entertainment.

    See, it is working already... I know who you are. :-)

  5. Thank you for sharing this Lisa. It can get depressing if we determine our success by the money earned. You have done well compared to many, myself included. I also have a wonderful benefactor, my husband. I'm lucky he supports my efforts. It was difficult to write while working full time, and now that I stay home, I've been concentrating more on learning and writing much more. I've always liked reading and believe that's the best teacher of all. You're insight is much appreciated.

    1. I feel very strongly that transparency in talking about publishing is crucial for all of us to be able to make the best business decisions we can. Thank you.