Anyone who follows this blog, or any of my other blogs or social media sites, is well aware that I am an unusual example of a “writer.” Until thirteen months ago, I had only published a few technical articles in a few magazines, or self-published on a monthly on-disk magazine that I ran as managing editor or publisher. My actual “writing” resume was remarkably thin, for someone about to embark on a huge financial and personal risk.
But I did it. I left corporate America to become a “writer.” I was able to do so because of a fairly generous separation package when I was laid off because I didn’t want to move to our corporate headquarters, where “my job” was moving, with or without me. It was enough to decide to give this writing thing a solid year of effort.
So I did.
In the previous seven years I had written “a book.” But it was still in pretty horrible shape. That book was Warrior, as you can see by the link over there to the right. And I tried to get it published. That failed. Publishers told me it wasn’t genre-specific enough for them. I tried to get an agent. That failed. The one agent who actually even bothered to reply, did so with a polite email that basically said: “Um… no.”
So with all the enthusiasm and ego of a true writer, I decided to self-publish. On Amazon, which is apparently the “wear your sweatpants to Walmart” of book publishing. But even to self-publish, I had to try to whip the book into a publishable form. So I edited, re-edited, proofed, re-proofed and sweated it out until I thought it looked, tasted, smelled and read something like a “book.” Then I made my own cover.
Any actual writers in my reading audience are now desperately trying to wipe the coffee off their screens and keyboards. “Self-published.” “Self-edited.” “Made his own cover.” Oh. My. God. That’s pretty much the big three of “How to fuck up your book.”
And at first, it seemed I had. Warrior was published on January 19, 2015, one year ago today. In the first month or so, I sold maybe 20 copies to people other than family and friends who took pity on me. While I was desperately trying to get my second book written, I found myself also trying to figure out this whole “writing” thing from the inside. And I learned that selling books was work. I had to figure out how to get reviews. How to get exposure. How to create a website (like this one, for example). How to “do the social media thing.” All that stuff. Which meant stuff I did instead of writing Warlock.
But then something odd happened. Warrior began to sell. It didn’t take off like a rocket, but it built up an actual sales curve. I still vividly remember the first day I sold ten books in a day. Ten books. Then the next day it was twelve! Wow, for about six weeks I had quite a ride with Warrior. I ended up selling a couple thousand of them in a few months. That made me some actual money.
So I took that money and hired an editor and a cover artist. I returned to writing Warlock with a vengeance.
But I also had decided to move, and that move took huge chunks of my time. I had to find a lot on the lake I wanted to live on, which took months all by itself. Then I had to go through the purchasing process. That meant several trips back and forth from Colorado to Arkansas. And then, once the purchase was finished, I had to get the house building process itself started, which took more time. Like a fool, I initially decided to be my own general contractor, but that only lasted a month or so before I realized my folly and hired a real one. For more money.
Then I had to get a rent house to live in while the real house was being built. More time and money, less time on writing Warlock. My timeline kept slipping. June became July. July became August. August became…
August became cancer for my brother, Huey, who was my chief alpha reader and proto-editor. He was also my biggest fan, and he loved to see Warrior sell. His cancer got worse week after week all through September, and I lost a month of writing just because of that.
But then I dragged my sorry ass off the floor and got back to Warlock. By then Warrior sales had flatlined to about four or five per week. Nothing, really. Certainly not enough to pay any bills.
Then, an amazing thing happened. I got a contract offer for Warrior, and the entire War Chronicles series, to do an audio book. I thought that was awesome. I still do. Unfortunately, nothing has come of it yet. They did record Warrior, and were recording Warlock last month, but I haven’t heard anything from the audio company since before Christmas. I don’t know if they’ve buried the whole thing. But still, that was nice to have happen, and it was a factor in rekindling my writing muse.
I finally finished Warlock just a few days after Huey passed away. I dedicated it to him. Then I self-published it too, on October 8, 2015. And it didn’t flop. It didn’t go gang-busters either, but it didn’t flop. It also triggered renewed interest in Warrior, and between the two of them, I had my biggest sales months ever in November and December. How big is big? Not very big. I “made” about $4,500 between October 8 and December 31, 2015. Not bad, but, again, not going to pay the bills.
So it was time to go back to work. I was about two-thirds finished with the third book in the series “Warlord” when I started seriously looking for an actual job. And now I have one.
Warlord will be finished soon. I have other priorities though, starting with “put food on the table.” But in the last year, I also tried to develop a free-lance career as a hedge against the capriciousness of the fiction market. And that’s going all right. Again, not enough to quit my newly acquired day job, but I’m making a couple hundred bucks a week writing technical articles. And free-lance writing means deadlines. Right now I’m writing three free-lance articles a week, meaning three days that I spend writing for money, not for the joy of writing. Tonight, for example, I got nothing done on Warlord, because I had paying writing as a higher priority.
But that means four days per week, after work or on weekends, I can write what I like.
So I’m going to keep doing this writing thing. Here’s what I’ve learned in the last year:
- I can write. I mean both from a mechanical perspective (I can flat hammer out words on a keyboard), and from a talent perspective (some of those words are pretty good).
- This writing thing is much, much harder than I expected. And I don’t just mean the writing. I mean everything. Even if you aren’t editing and doing your art, you still have to FIND editors and artists and negotiate their services and then work with them on an end result that is satisfactory. None of it is free. Or easy.
- I like to write. I get a kick out of my own writing. Sometimes I’ll reread a scene four or five times just because I think it “works.” That’s what I live for, really, as a writer. I don’t even care so much if other people “get it,” although it’s been my experience so far that when I really like a scene, my alpha, beta and paying readers seem to like it too.
- Life gets in the way. I mean like really gets in the way. It is incredibly hard to drag yourself to the keyboard to write something meaningful when your head is full of the reality of watching a family member fight something like cancer. With a job you have the threat of losing the job to give you motivation. Writing can always “wait until I’m up to it.” Until you’re not up to it all the time. Then it really, really takes a shitload of raw willpower to hit that keyboard.
- I don’t much like the social media aspect of being a writer. I’m not a very social person. I don’t suffer fools gladly. I don’t deal well with certain personality types, especially large egos, which are common among writers, even bad ones. But I have to do it to some degree.
- I have not yet figured out the marketing side of writing. Part of that is that I refuse to take money from our regular accounts to fund my writing. That way lies bankruptcy and homelessness. So I can only spend on marketing money I make from writing. So far that has severely limited my advertising opportunities. You won’t see any ad for The War Chronicles in the Super Bowl, that’s for sure.
So, that’s it. That’s my year. It’s been a wonderful, horrible, exhilarating, terrifying, very good, very bad, year in every way possible. My current job pays about half what my old job did, without bonuses and incentive pay. So you could say that this whole thing has been an abject failure.
But I am making some money writing, not enough to make up the difference between my old job and my new one, but enough to offset the pain enough that I can keep on going, and who knows… my next book might be the one that hits the right spot and makes enough money for me to feel truly successful as a writer.
Don’t know really why I’m writing this. I’m a pretty private person and I’m revealing some very personal things here. Don’t expect it to happen again.
Warlord should be published in February. That’s been my target for publishing it for a while. I’m almost done with the first complete draft, and have about 2/3 of it at my editor now. So it’s really pretty close. And it’s going to wrap up The War Chronicles nicely, I think.
Next I’m going to write some space opera.
Thanks for reading.