Maybe it’s all the quarantine donuts and Oreos I’ve ingested, or a reaction to the profoundly screwed up world we’re living in, but lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the future of my writing career. Everything has been on pause for a while now as I’ve been dealing with a lot of life crap (and that was before we added a pandemic to the proceedings). But now I’m trying to envision the future I want for myself and I’m having second thoughts about my stance on freebies. Really big, scary thoughts that may change my entire approach to this business.
I’ve written before about the dangers of “free” for writers. (Here and here. It’s a fun topic.) And those dangers are very real, particularly for freelance writers seeking to make a living in the corporate world. My stance hasn’t changed on those matters. I still believe that free is a huge danger for freelancers as it leads companies to believe that they can get quality work for low (or no) wages. And that’s clearly a problem because corporate writing is a real job and deserves payment.
(All writing is a job and deserves payment. Fiction, non-fiction… Doesn’t matter. It’s work and should be compensated as such. Whether or not chasing the money is always worth it is where my stance is beginning to waver.)
So here’s where my thoughts are going: I love to write. Always have, always will. I’ve been writing since my parents gave me a child’s typewriter and agreed to pay me a penny per page for my stories. Actually, I was writing before that, writing everything longhand in a series of notebooks. That’s what led to the typewriter. Anyway, suffice it to say that writing is important to me.
And I thought that publication was important to me. It seemed like the next logical step. Write, get published, sell books. That progression represents the pinnacle of “success” for a writer. When Broken Fate hit bookshelves, I felt like I’d achieved something. And, in truth, I had. Traditional publication is a big deal and isn’t something to sniff at.
There’s a lot about traditional publishing that I don’t love. It probably seems sacrilegious to mention it, or perhaps like I’m not grateful for the opportunity. Let’s set that straight, first. I am grateful for publication and for the opportunities it has created. As with anything in life, though, you can love certain things about a situation while simultaneously disliking other things. Two things can be true at the same time and it’s okay to hold conflicting opinions about things. The process of reconciling and living with those differing opinions is how we grow and learn.
That’s where I am now. I’m in the process of reconciling two beliefs: That paid, traditional publication is the end-all-be-all, and that parts of it also suck. The good is that publication confers a certain “legitimacy” to my work. (Like it or not, the bias against self-publishing prevails in many circles.) The bad is that publication becomes far less about the writing and far more about the marketing and keeping your name in front of your audience. If you want another book contract, marketing is a never-ending effort, especially if you’re published with a small house that cannot afford to help you much on that front.
Worse, that marketing inevitably leads to social media which is a cesspool at the best of times. Now? In an election year with a pandemic and social unrest going on? It’s a cesspool in the lowest level of hell with a slimy ogre bathing and farting in it. I’d prefer to avoid it.
There’s also the fact that the money is very, very little. A lot of authors don’t talk about it because money is seen as dirty, but most of us don’t make much more than beer money. Sure, there are the millionaires among us, but the vast majority are busting our butts for peanuts. And if there’s really not much money in it, why bother with all the ugly parts of traditional publication? Or even self-publishing on Amazon, which becomes more of a toxic showcase of crab mentality than part of a healthy writing career?
I think the writing is on the wall that all of this is likely to get worse. With the pandemic hitting bookstores and consumer’s wallets, traditional publishing opportunities may be drying up. Articles come out in the trade media every week about how agents and editors will be cutting their acquisitions and only banking on the blockbusters and brand-name authors. Small publishers will probably flounder and some will close. If it seemed hard before, it’s about to get even harder to achieve and maintain a traditional publishing career.
And all I can see is that pain sapping the joy out of the thing I love.
The truth is, in many ways I was happier with my writing before publication. I was freer to take my time, to explore things that aren’t “commercial.” I didn’t have to deal with the marketing stress, or the disappointment every month when the statements came in showing just how little my hard work was paying off. There was no worry about “the next book” or where my writing “career” was heading. I wrote, enjoyed it, and that was enough.
So that leaves me thinking that traditional publication may not be for me. At least not for now. And since I’m not much on gaming the Amazon system and whoring my work on social media, a self-publishing career may not be on the horizon, either. At least not one characterized by selling books on Amazon and worrying about their rankings and other foolishness.
But where do I go if both of those options are unappealing?
And here’s the ah-ha moment. It’s time to get off the train and forge my own path. I rethink the freebie thing and just put my work out there for readers to enjoy as they will. I’m fortunate to earn an income from freelancing, so while money from publishing would be nice, it’s not strictly necessary. If I were earning a large income from my books, then by all means I’d probably think that the marketing, etc. was worth the trade off. And if I could quit my “day job” I’d be all over that. I’d have time to write and market. But given the current situation, it does not feel that the money I’m earning is worth the time (and money) that marketing/publishing/career management requires. Quite frankly, I’m much happier spending that time writing.
Like everyone, I have a finite amount of time. I work, eat, sleep, engage in basic hygiene practices, and care for my pets and loved ones. The time that remains is my writing time, and there’s precious little of it. Even less if I’m spending it all on creating advertising campaigns and cute Instagram graphics, writing newsletters, chasing reviews, signing up at every blog and promo site, and popping up on social media every five minutes to remind people that I exist.
I’m at an age (not that old, but old enough) where I’m beginning to weigh actions against the time I have left. (And there’s nothing like a pandemic to remind you that that time may not be as long as you think.) Money and fame are not the driving factors any longer. (They never really were, but I think every author harbors certain dreams of bestsellerdom and it’s crazy not to just admit that, of course, I hoped for those things. That they don’t seem to be in my future is something I’ve had to learn to accept and even appreciate.) The driving factors now are: “Do I enjoy this?” “Am I having fun?” “Does this align with my values?” and/or “Is this in some way beneficial to others?”
In other words, when I get out of bed in the morning, I try to spend my time as if it’s my last day. Sure, I don’t get to quit all the ugly stuff. There are still bills to pay, groceries to buy, cleaning, grass mowing, and other fun parts of adult life to attend to. But I can cut some of the crap from my life in the service of creating more time to enjoy certain things. And I want to get back to enjoying my writing, not constantly questioning every decision in the name of “commercial/career success.”
All of this is a long way to say that for the time being, my future work will be free. I’ll publish it here on my personal website in a few different formats to accommodate the major e-reader platforms. I’m not going to bother with Wattpad or any other publishing platform. I might make work available on Amazon at some point, should that process ever stop turning my stomach. There will probably be a learning curve as I go along, so please bear with me as I learn to format and publish things here. Mistakes will be made!
I’ll make some short posts on Twitter to announce when something new is about to hit, but that’s it for the marketing. Just check back from time to time to see what’s new. And I hope you enjoy reading some of my work as much as I enjoy writing it. Because I know I’m going back to a place of pure enjoyment. Fear, disappointment, stress, and anxiety will no longer shadow my work. It should be all the better for it.
(Image by kalhh)