Yesterday I tweeted about something that happened at work and someone commented about how it was frustrating that so little value is place on the arts that writers/artists have to work day jobs in order to support themselves. Their “passion” has to be a hobby, basically. This is true for most writers and probably true for other kinds of artists (musicians, painters, etc.) and we’ve kind of just accepted it as the way shit is. I have anyway. You know what, though? It is shitty. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard something along the lines of, “I’d love to buy your book, but…” and after the “but” comes some kind of monetary reason that implies said book is too expensive.
Getting anyone to pay more than $5 for an e-book is difficult, if not impossible. Hell, charging more than $3 is sometimes a gamble. I’ve lost count of the number of readers/friends who want a copy of my books but don’t want to pay for them. I don’t mind giving freebies at all. I love that people are interested in reading. However, I do like to get paid, and many of the freebies I’ve given don’t end in a review, so if I’m not being compensated in some way for the work that went into said freebie, what’s the point? I ask myself that question a lot. Get ready for another rambling discussion where I tell you it’s your own damn fault. No, don’t go. I promise, it’ll be good.
Lately, as my writing time has shrunk to less than half what it used to be, the idea of giving up has reared its ugly head more and more often than it used to, but I don’t. I won’t. Probably. I mean, if I’m not making money, I might as well pack it in, but I’ve devote more than a decade to this, so if I do, then I’ve wasted all those years, and I hate wasting things, so here I am. How do I turn it around for good, though?
Get an agent. Get a big fat contract.
Sure, that’s one option, if you’re lucky enough to find the right agent at the right time for the right book. And I admire anyone who is able to take this route. It’s grueling, thankless, and often full of rejection. Wait a minute, that’s pretty much the entire industry, indie, traditional and otherwise, so never mind. We’re all in this and we’re all dealing with similar shit. Personally, I love indie publishers and this community. True, I’ll never be famous or rich without an agent and a fat contract, but that doesn’t mean that staying with small publishers can’t be profitable. Right?
I’ve talked about this before, and I’ve struggled to answer the many questions I’ve asked myself and other writers. How do you make money writing fiction? How do you make others see your worth?
Well, I know for sure that you’ve gotta hustle. Hustle until you sell a book. Hustle after you sell it. Keep hustling all the time, no matter what, because the second you stop, it all stops. So, there’s one step. After that?
You know, the other day I realized that when my daughters (both pretty darn good writers and that’s not just Mama Bear talking) mentioned pursuing writing as a career, I advised them to get a day job, because it won’t pay the bills for a long time even if they’re the best fucking writer that ever was. How sad is that? It’s true, though.
So why do we do it? If we can’t quit our day jobs or buy that cabin in the woods we dream about, then why bother? If people don’t value the thing we’ve poured our very souls into, then how will we ever be successful at it?
Here’s the thing, kids; we’re to blame for a lot of this undervaluing of books and writers. I know, we don’t want to be, but we are. First, we write for free all the time. We give away books like crazy and we write content for whoever will publish it. Yes, DO give free copies to book bloggers and established reviewers. Those people are the reason your name is on anyone’s lips and most of them do it for nothing except a copy of the book. They spend a ridiculous amount of their personal time reading and writing reviews, because they love books and want to share the stuff they love with others. So, I want to be clear, the freebies I’m talking about are the ones we give random people because we think we have to in order to get the word out, and they offer nothing in return. Stop. If you’re offering a freebie to every Twitter follower (stop with the DM’s by the way. Annoying.), you won’t make money. Stop that. If you’re subbing to publications that won’t even pay a token payment (five or ten bucks isn’t asking a lot, guys), you won’t make money. Stop that too. Put a monetary value on your work and don’t let anyone tell you it’s too much. Be strong, buddy. Treat freebies like kidneys. You only have so many of those, so be picky about who gets one.
Another issue we’ve helped create is the public perception of writers in general. We’re seen as lazy, mentally unstable types who prefer to be locked away somewhere away from society where we can waste hours contemplating the meaning of life or whatever. We’ve encouraged this. Some of us embrace it. It’s romantic and a little glamorous, right? Gives us a little mystique and what not. In reality, we should be showing people that we’re serious, intelligent, perfectly sane people who would love to go out with friends or talk about a pretty impressive range of topics, but we’re too busy juggling work, family and writing to make time for that. We’re too busy querying, getting rejected, marketing, getting rejected, editing, getting rejected, and so on. We’re passionate, hard working and determined and that has more value, in my opinion, than being mysterious.
We’ve let people believe it’s not hard to write. Anyone can string some words together and make sentences and paragraphs and tell a story. Don’t be afraid to tell everyone that the process of writing is hard work. It takes focus and dedication and discipline to churn out something WORTH paying for. Don’t let anyone sweep you under the stereotypical mat that so many of us have been stuck under for years. Show them you’re more than a caricature drawn for their amusement, and you’re definitely not lazy.
I see the idea of stepping up and speaking out has some of you like,
I think we’re too afraid to offend others or defend our work, because god forbid we alienate potential readers. How many times has someone said something like, “Oh, you published a book? I was going to do that, but I don’t have the time” when they realize you’re an author. Or they’ve said something equally annoying that basically says writing isn’t that hard and anyone can do it. Yes, anyone can write a book, as I said. Anyone can publish a book. However, to write well is hard. Very hard. So, stop worrying about offending them and speak up. Chances are, if they don’t value you before you say your piece, they’re not going to do so no matter what you do or say, so fuck it. Tell them you don’t have the time to write a book either, but you make it, because it’s something you’re serious about and it’s something that’s important to you. Tell them to go ahead and try to write a damn book themselves. See how far they get, because it’s not easy. Most of these people will get a chapter or so in and be all “Damn, this is hard. I don’t want to do it.” And they’ll quit. Tell them that writing is about more than just telling a story. It’s about more than vomiting words on a page and slapping a cover on it. It’s about characterization, dialogue, setting, atmosphere and tension. It’s about choosing the right words, and the right amount of words, and arranging them in a way that draws the reader so far into what you’ve written, they forget that they’re reading for a while. It’s a craft that takes a long time to perfect. Actually, it’s never perfect, but only truly skilled and dedicated people, only WRITERS can do it well.
In this industry we’re trained to believe we’re not good enough as well, and we willingly go into the brain washing process. Hell, we ask to be part of it. We bathe in the negativity. We beg for the abuse. Why? It’s part of earning our stripes? What?
The process of getting published traditionally involves a shit ton of rejection. I don’t know if there’s another industry that requires people to eat so much humble pie. Maybe acting? I bet auditions suck ass too. Back to writing, though. From the first time we reveal ourselves as writers, we’re told we probably won’t do well. We probably won’t get published. We probably won’t make money. We should write for free to prove we’re good. We should write for free to establish an audience. We should beg to be read by agents. Beg to be read by publishers. Beg to be read by readers. Jump through this hoop and that, and then sacrifice a virgin on the second Saturday after the last full moon of summer, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a request for a full manuscript. Then wait six months to be rejected. Thank you very much. If we make it to published author land, we should be grateful for even the most negative review. At least they cared enough to write it, right? I mean, they could’ve just ignored us. Please, for the love of Christ, don’t ignore us.
We willingly enter into that insanity, because this process has a purpose. It makes sense at first and I think every writer should experience it to some degree, because it’s meant to encourage you to learn and improve. It makes us say, okay, so this isn’t working, what can I change? You improve because if you don’t, the awful rejection continues. So, what happens when you realize that no matter how good you get, no matter how perfect you manage to be, you’ll STILL be rejected? You start to believe you’re not and never will be good enough, so when someone implies writing is easy or your work is overpriced, you think maybe they’re right. Maybe you just suck.
Stop all of that.
A lot of my longer fiction has taken YEARS to get to the point of publication. Some of it still isn’t ready and might never be. I’m sure many of you can say the same. How are years of your life not worth five bucks? How is it not worth ten bucks? I mean, really guys. Sure, what you’ve written isn’t right for that agent or that publisher. It doesn’t mean you’re worthless or your work is crap. Maybe you haven’t put enough time and energy into learning your craft, and you should work on that before querying said project again. Maybe it is good enough, though, and you just haven’t found the right home for it. Start something new, keep plugging away and don’t let the industry gremlins get under your skin or inside your head.
How do we get people to see that books are valuable and what we do is more than just a hobby? Well, I’ve thought about it a lot and I only seem to come up with one answer in the end:
Believe in yourself, kids. It’s the only way other people will do the same.