I’m back! I've been out of commission a few weeks but that doesn't mean the old brain has stopped thinking about writing or blogging. Spending days alone in a hospital room—by some miracle, I lucked out and was given a private room—I had PLENTY of time to think. And to think some more. So, what conclusions did I come to during this time?
Well, I decided it was time to close the book on my ponderings about the writing life for the moment, and that this last post should do it. Like anything new, understanding the writing business and my place in it took time but I think I finally came to grips with something important.
I concluded that it’s entirely possible that this dream of making it as a successful writer could end up being little more than an expensive hobby.
Somewhere in the backs of our minds we already know this but hope, passion, and drive shoves the possibility aside. Only, once you get your feet wet, once you start putting in the real elbow grease to sell your books, that’s when reality really hits. This is really hard!
It’s aggravating. When I think back over these last few years and what they involved, it was the hope of success that pushed me through each challenge—I climbed those mountains because of the carrot dangling at the end of a rope. And that’s not to say that I have failed, nor is this sour grapes. I achieved my life-long dream of writing and self-publishing a book (The Purple Morrow) and I am proud of it. I've gone ahead and written the sequel and started the last book of the series. I plan to write and publish those and the other books I've got brewing in my head. I’m blessed that Morrow is selling, and, thanks to you all, my blog is doing well, and people like my stories. It’s just that the business part of this writing gig involves so much time and effort (and money!) and it doesn't always pay us back in kind—in other words, we don’t always receive according to what we've put in. Or worse, more is required before we begin to see any form of meaningful return.
Do you see where I’m headed? I don’t know about you but I've got a full-time job and a family to support. Luckily, I've made back the investment to produce my book but therein lies the truth we keep hearing all over the web: writing is also a business. In order to make money, you have to spend money. Which involves risk. Realizing that any further investment in time and money might not bring in a decent return gave me pause. How far do I want to go? How far can I go? These are some of the questions that every serious writer should be asking themselves.
I’m not at all saying that we should only write to make money. But there is a difference between writing as a hobby because we love it and writing because we want to publish so we can reach larger numbers of readers and earn something for our efforts. Most of us write because we love it. So much so that we lock ourselves away from our own families and the rest of the world to ‘live’ in another, made-up world. And that’s the way it should be, at its heart. We do what we love because we love to do it. I just think it’s important to know why we write so that we can know what to expect before jumping in with both feet.
So… is this post all about discouraging people from wanting to publish their books? Not at all. As usual, my goal is to share of my own experience for the benefit of someone else. If even one person comes away from this with a clearer and more realistic picture of what awaits them, then I’m good.
If you are thinking about writing seriously, here are some things to consider:
Writing is competitive: There is a ton of competition out there. Anyone can publish a book these days, and for reasons unknown, even poorly written books suddenly strike it rich. Does that mean quality doesn't matter? No, it definitely does. Putting your name on a book will associate you with it until the end of time. Write your book but write it well; your reputation is at stake. Also, success or failure aside, it’s important to do your best to produce something you can be proud of. Just know that no matter how well-written your book is it might not sell as well as you’d hoped. Reality check number 1.
Writing is time consuming: It takes time to produce something of quality. This is true whether you write part-time or full-time. You will write, rewrite, edit and re-edit until you can’t stand you story anymore, but these processes are essential. I think readers can tell when a story has been thrown together versus one where the author took time to nurture and develop the world and its characters. I think any reader who lays down money for a book expects to be treated to a well-told story, so be certain you put in the time needed to properly craft your tale.
Writing is expensive: There are many ways to publish books. There’s doing it for free on a site like CreateSpace, there’s hiring a company to help with editing, book covers and formatting, or the traditional way of going through an agent to maybe one day get a deal. In any of those cases, a quality edit is needed—again, regardless of the format chosen, it’s important to have a manuscript that is as clean and free of plot holes and content errors as possible. IMO, this means paying a qualified person to do the work. Friends and family might be okay for a beta read and to build the morale, but if you are asking readers to lay down their hard-earned money to buy your book, do them a favor and get a good edit. Again, your rep is on the line, and after all the hard work you put into the story, you deserve to have your manuscript shine in the best light possible.
Writing is full of disappointments: As high as we can feel after creating a piece we love, there are some intense lows that come hand in hand with writing. Rejection after rejection letter from agents, publishers, magazines, are some examples. A story that didn't get the attention or reaction you wanted, or a book that didn't sell as well as expected, are others. There are no guarantees in any venture we undertake, but knowing that the road ahead is not all sunshine and rainbows can help us better prepare mentally and emotionally for the ups and downs.
Writing is taxing: We all know this. Not only do we have to write well, we have to market well, we have to find and connect with the new markets, we have to connect with our readers, we have to… the list goes on. And on. And on. There is never ANY end to the number of things we have to do. And those who have more time to dedicate to it all naturally have a leg up on those who don’t. They say that writing should be considered as a second job, and in a lot of ways, it is. If you add up the hours spent writing, platform building, and in social media I’m sure you’d be surprised at how much it added up to. And we wonder why we are always tired!
So what is a writer to do?
That’s what I have been struggling to figure out these last few months through my posts. I have been slowly coming to the conclusion that perhaps writing just might become an expensive hobby. Or, that it might take a lot longer than expected before there are important returns on the investments I have made and will continue to make. It’s sobering, but as far as I can tell, it’s the truth. I haven’t yet decided on what to do next, or how to handle this possibility, but I am taking the time to re-evaluate my priorities and expectations. I think, for the moment, that’s the best I can do.
How about you? What do you think? Where are you on your publishing or self-publishing road?