At the end of my last post, I touched on the fact that you won’t make money with your writing for some time after you start. Likely for at least a few years after publishing your first book. If you do, you have struck gold — but that’s no way to plan to make a living.
Embrace the long game. If you’re going to be a writer, you’re in this for the long haul. Many years of producing stories, honing your craft, learning to understand business enough to publish…and then it is likely your first books will flop, in terms of sales.
Is that depressing? Quit your worrying. A book does not have to sell today to make you loads of money in the future. It will be in your backlist forever.
Instead of worrying (I know that when I told you to quit it you got very worried), write another book.
Write another book, and another, and another. Because in five years, that’s where your success will be found. In the fact that you consistently produced, say, two books a year, and a couple of short stories to boot? That’s ten novels and ten short stories. If it’s two complete series at that point, you need to publish bundled series, for two more publications. And you’ll also group your short stories into collections, for two more. That’s twenty-four publications in five years.
Is this really possible, you ask? YES! It’s how writers have been making a living forever — by writing regularly and always producing. Two novels a year is, say 100k, or maybe 140k if you write long. Two short stories could be 10k or almost 20k. So…let’s do the math based on 160k of publishable fiction. I tend to rely on about 1,000 words in each hour of writing, which I hear from many authors is about what they are used to. Slow enough to consider where your story is going as you write and get it close to right the first time. (Getting your fiction to this point is a matter of practice, as it is for all artists, but if you’re consistently working at it, you WILL get there.) So, 160 hours per year, once you’re a practiced and dedicated artist, will achieve that rate of two novels and two short stories per year. That’s just over three hours a week.
Want to quit your worrying and get your butt back into the chair yet?
When people ask me how I write so much, I can’t understand it. I put out several books a year, but I still don’t feel like I’m writing as much as I could. (Kids. Day job. A house that seems downright mutinous.) I would love to be able to write more. And if I do, some will look at that and say I must be writing crap…but it’s really just a matter of honing your craft. It takes a lot of work — I’m a decade into regular fiction writing as a part of my weekly schedule — and it takes a lot of reading and learning from other writers.
And yes, there’s a lot more to writing a book and publishing it than just the time in the chair writing. There’s the idea, the research, the honing of theme and character and understanding of why you want to write this book, need to write this book… (I love this part best out of everything.)
On the other side of the writing process there’s the editing, the formatting, the cover and marketing materials, the schedule to release day… It goes on and on, and this part you can choose to make downright cumbersome for yourself, or you can do just as much marketing as you enjoy and get to work writing the next book. I’ve already shown you which side of that equation I’m on. Write the next book!!
Embrace it. It’s the nature of the game. Yeah, it’s your life, your time, your joy, your heart on the line. Some game, right?
Eventually, once your backlist is extensive enough (still getting there myself), promotion will become a thing. You’ll need to occasionally mention you have books out there. But when you have a lot of books, the opportunities to do so begin to expand. I’ve already seen that happen, with seven books on the market.
As you publish more books you can run inventive sales, you can structure series to be kind to existing fans who’ll snap up the whole thing at once… The variety of business options available to you just keeps growing as your library does. This, too, is a long game. Again, embrace it as such.
Get comfy. And push yourself out of that comfort zone creatively, because you’re here to grow. But know that you’re in for years of work before you see benefits anyone else will understand. Who cares? Quit worrying.
Embrace the long game.
For a full list of Own Your Writing Career posts in the order they were written, visit my Writers page. I’ll be back with another Own Your Writing Career post next Thursday. Until then, happy writing!!
“Own Your Writing Career: Embracing the Long Game” copyright © 2015 by J.R. Pearse Nelson