On Publishing: Five Things About the Business that Surprised Me


Eighteen years ago this month, I received a call from an editor at Tor Books asking me if I could please send his way all the completed chapters and outlines of what would become my first published novel, Children of Amarid.  It took a while to get the contract settled, another fourteen months passed before I turned in the completed first draft of the book, and it took two years after that (revisions, polishing, production issues) to get the book out in stores.  But still, this is the eighteenth anniversary of what I think of as the beginning of my writing career.

In the time since, I have published eleven more books and several short stories.  I have two more books in production and several others written and still looking for a home.  My career has seen high points, low points and everything in between, and I have learned a lot about the industry along the way.  A lot of what I’ve learned has surprised me, and I thought it might be illustrative to look at the five things that have surprised me most about being a published author.  Perhaps this will help you address some of your pre-conceived notions.  Or maybe you’ll just enjoy seeing how foolish and naive I was when I started out.  And so, in particular order:

1)  Let’s start with one lesson that was in many ways the most painful I learned along the way.  I had no idea that the production process for a novel was so involved and so lengthy.  I should probably point out that not every novel is in production for two years as my first one was.  That book needed a lot of work.  And because I was a newbie with no backlist, no previous books to promote with the new release, Tor felt comfortable pushing my book back in the schedule a couple of times.  But the fact remains that a book handed in to a traditional publisher on, say, March 5, 2012, might not be released until the spring of 2013.  Some publishers are faster than others; Tor can be fairly deliberate with their schedule.  It’s important to remember, though, that a lot has to happen in the production process.  The developmental edit, the copyedit, the proofing of the galleys.  Plus, promotion needs some lead time, as does the art department.  Lag times of a year or more are not at all uncommon.  Why was this painful for me?  Well, because my father was alive when I got the contract, and I kept on telling him that the book would be out soon.  But it was pushed back time and again, and he died a few months before the book was finally published.  He never saw any of my work in print.

2)  Promotion for books by midlist authors is limited, to say the least.  I figured before I sold my first novel that there would be a big publicity push when my book came out, because, you know, it was a book and I wrote it.  But publicity for most authors consists of a couple of advertisements in trade magazines and journals, a few advanced reader copies sent to reviewers, and maybe some help with getting the word out about signings, although not with arranging the signings themselves.  Also, kind of a corollary to this one, the better known an author is, the better the book is expected to do, the MORE publicity dollars that book gets.  It seems a bit counter intuitive, I know.  I mean, Stephen King’s new book doesn’t need publicity nearly as much as mine does.  But it’s a return-on-investment thing.  The big names get the big bucks; the small names, not so much.

3)  Like so many people, I thought writers made more money that we actually do.  When I imagined selling my first book, I had in mind what my first advance would be.  I won’t tell you what that amount was, because it really is embarrassing to admit.  What I will tell you is that I actually received $9,000.00 for my first book.  I now know that was a lot for a first novel.  At the time, though, it was way, way below what I expected.  But I was certain that I would get a bigger advance for my second book.  I didn’t.  If I had understood the business, I would have known not to expect more.  I signed that second contract before we had sales numbers on book I.  No way was Tor going to commit more money to me without any evidence to support such a move.  I didn’t understand that.  Nor did I understand “Reserves Against Returns” an accounting device publishers use as a hedge against paying out royalties on books that have shipped but might yet be returned by booksellers.  So I thought I would receive royalty money about a year and half before I actually did.  In short, I thought this was a far more lucrative business than it turned out to be.  Good thing I love to write as much as I do…

4)  The trajectory of even a successful writing career is not a straight line climbing ever upward.  Yeah, this one is probably pretty obvious, but I had believed — or maybe just hoped — that my career would climb and climb and climb, that every new series would do better than the last and that every new book would outperform its predecessor.  That’s not how it works, sadly.  My career has been a roller coaster, and so has that of nearly every writer I know.  Sure, some writers are fortunate enough to enjoy more and more success with every new project, but I can’t name any off the top of my head, and I am certain that they are the exceptions to the rule.

5)  This is sort of related to number 4, and I’m sure you’ve heard us talk about this one before:  A professional writer can never relax.  Okay maybe Rowling can.  And Grisham and King and maybe George R.R. Martin.  But again, the exceptions prove the rule.  For most of us, the fear of our careers tanking never, ever goes away.  A writer can only be as secure as his or her last sales figures.  These days, one unsuccessful book can put a career in jeopardy; two can kill it altogether.  I figured after I sold my second book and received an award for that first series that my career was secure forever.  I was wrong.  Today I know better, and I don’t take anything for granted.

As I say at the end of number 3, I love what I do.  And you’ve heard us say before that if you’re going to write professionally, you should love it, too.  Because, as all these surprises indicate, this is tough business.  Even with all that I’ve learned over the past 18 years, I love writing now every bit as much as I did then.  Maybe more.  Because after all that time, I’m still working at it, still struggling with disappointments, still reveling in the occasional successes.  It is a great career path.  Just as I expected it would be.

What about you?  What things do you expect?  What questions do you have about the business?

David B. Coe

50 comments to On Publishing: Five Things About the Business that Surprised Me

  • It’s information like this that makes MW such a helpful resource. I feel better prepared for what’s out there. Thanks, David.

  • Chris Branch

    Good info David, thanks. One thing jumped out at me…

    “…the better known an author is, the better the book is expected to do, the MORE publicity dollars that book gets. It seems a bit counter intuitive, I know. I mean, Stephen King’s new book doesn’t need publicity nearly as much as mine does. But it’s a return-on-investment thing. The big names get the big bucks; the small names, not so much.”

    Normally “counter-intuitive” means you wouldn’t think it makes sense, while in fact it does. But in this case, does it really make sense? I mean, you’re absolutely right, King’s new book doesn’t need publicity. So why DO they spend more to promote it? Aren’t they already guaranteed a return with minimal investment? Spending more on it would seem to be throwing money away. That’s not necessarily an argument for spending more on the “small names” instead, but for that matter, they could just save the money, or give their editors raises or something. So what am I missing?

  • It’s like you were sitting with us at StellarCon, recording the interview I did with Misty, AJ, and John G hartness! It was all about these surprises post-publishing.

    I have to admit, knowing you guys has given me a much better idea of what to expect out of a writing career. In other words…a career! I think a lot of people operate under the assumption that getting published is the first and last step to the profession (besides the writing itself, of course). Even those of us who aren’t often don’t really think about what kinds of work we’ll be expected to do. The marketing is something I’m looking at with a healthy measure of dread.

  • It’s because of things that I’ve been reading like this post today that I wrote this post of my own last week.

    The long story short: I don’t expect to succeed in publishing any time soon, or possibly ever. It’s been my dream since childhood to become a published author… it’s what I’ve always wanted to do with my life. But I can’t put my family through the risk of all that.

    So I keep on writing, but I don’t put any expectations on myself. And I won’t let myself get caught feeling beholden for the price of a pittance. And honestly… $9 grand for the amount of work that goes into a novel? That’s disgraceful compensation (and from what I’ve read, you’re right: that’s on the high side for first-time advances for writers of F&SF).

    So I tool away, enjoying what I do because I love it, and hoping at some point I’ll have sufficient free time and financial independence that I can enter the career properly, without feeling constrained by the miserly wages of a pro-writer. I figure I’m just on the cusp of being sufficiently skilled to make a go of it now – almost there but not quite – but I don’t intend to do so any time soon just the same. I love writing too much to subject myself to a situation like this.

  • Addendum to add: the short version of my blog post probably sounds more angry than it really is… I’m not intending to bash the current publishing reality (though I do think, quite strongly, that the compensation is not aligned properly with the workload and expectations place on a novelist). Really, the whole thing is more of a painful and slow coming to accept that reality for myself, and what it means for my dreams.

  • Thanks for being so candid and informative, David. I can safely say that I’ve been cheerfully disillusioned for a few years now. I’ve been following authors online (It started with Livejournal…) for a long time. So I’ve had some time to get used to the idea that there could be as much as two years between contract signing and book release. And I’m okay if the pay isn’t spectacular. That’s what my day job’s for. But people around me tend to have the illusions. They don’t understand all the steps.

    Total aside: speaking of promotion, how does one recommend an author as a guest here? There’s a Tor author I recently made acquaintance with, whose second book is coming out in April.

  • Thanks, E.K.!

    Chris, you raise a good point. Perhaps calling it “counter-intuitive” was too generous on my part. How about “ass-backwards”? The thinking is that all the advertising in the world isn’t going to make THAT much of a difference in sales numbers for a small-name writer. But saturating the publicity venues with information about King’s new book (or Martin’s or Rowling’s) will absolutely result in sales. A better use of the advertising dollar to the corporate mind. Yes, they’re guaranteed a return, but they can maximize that return; whereas with the unknown author, even with big bucks spent, it’s a real crap shoot as to whether the book will do well. Believe me when I tell you that I’m not defending this approach. But it is the model that’s been in place for as long as I’ve been writing and no doubt far longer.

    Lauren, sorry I missed that discussion. Sounds like it would have been fun. I used the dread the marketing stuff more than I do now. It has become just one of those things that I have to do because it’s part of my job. And as I’ve gotten better at it, I’ve found it more enjoyable. But yes, going in with one’s eyes wide open is the crucial thing. You don’t want to be blind-sided by this stuff.

    Stephen, thanks for the comments. I understood the tone of your first post and can’t really argue with it. Most writers should make more than they do. The gap between what the most successful writers earn, and what midlist writers earn is unconscionable and is no way indicative of a similar gap in talent. (That sounds self-serving, but I’m really not even talking about myself here.) Sadly, though, the gap in writing is mirrored by one in society at large. My wife is a college professor. She works herself weary, and she is brilliant, well-educated, and committed to educating the young people she encounters. She should be paid like royalty, as should her colleagues. Instead she earns decent money, but that’s all, while Kim Kardashian rakes in millions. I don’t get it.

  • Laura, I think it’s good that you’ve had the illusions beaten — er, worked — out of you. Seriously, that will give you a leg up when you finally sign that first big contract. As to your recommendation, if you go to my website (or the D.B. Jackson site) and use the email link, you can send me the name that way. Chances are I know who it is and am already working on this person.

  • David: Glad you understood it the way I meant it. But the thing is… in a lot of other fields, if you’re smart and educated and committed to your career, you typically can at least earn a decent, comfortable living, even if you’ll never get rich. I’m underpaid in my day-job career compared to my peers (a combination of career choices, bad/non-existant negotiating skills, and the bad fortune to have entered the job market before the job market had fully recovered from a recent recession… twice) but I still make a decent amount of money – not enough for a single-income household where we live, but enough to feel like I’m doing alright. But I could put in the same amount of effort into my writing career, and I’d see myself getting paid less than a quarter of my dayjob salary without benefits as a best-case scenario. And then stretching that out over some three years. That’s a painful reality to accept.

  • David> Thanks for the post. I think I lost my illusions about being a writer a while ago–thanks in part to the realism of this blog, and then my own experiences with the world of no that comes with submitting. That said, the perks–how much I enjoy writing, etc.–seem to make up for the downsides.

    The self-pitching is the part I hate the most. I love cons, I love chatting with other writers etc. But I HATE pitching my books to people. I hate wanting something from other people and putting them in a position to say no. I imagine being an editor or agent at cons is very stressful, especially since almost everyone they meet wants something out of them. I get a very tiny glimpse of it being a teacher (every time a student comes to talk to me, they want something, and it usually is my most valuable property: my time), but it doesn’t even compare. It’s got to be hard saying “wow, that’s your dream huh? Sorry, not interested.” Especially since some of the pitch-makers can be a bit scary

    Obviously you (David) think it is worth it, and, at this point, so do I. But I’d kind of like to know (depsressing question coming!) at what point do you throw in the towel? Have there been any projects you’ve just abandoned? When did you decide that was for the best?

  • Stephen, I think this is one of those moments when it behooves us to look at the other side of the coin. There are upsides to artistic careers that have nothing to do with money and that really do make up for the fact that we’re not paid all that well. I work from home, I have no boss other than myself (yes, I answer to an editor at times, but that is not the same thing), I get to be creative every day, I LOVE what I do, there is no retirement age for writers — I can continue to do this until I decide I’ve had enough (provided my work retains its quality and I can find a publisher). And while it is rare for writers to strike it rich, some do. My next release (July 3 — 120 days and counting) could catapult me into a whole new income bracket. So yes, it’s hard, the money sucks (right now) but there are advantages that mitigate the money thing at least somewhat. Worth considering.

    Emily, I agree with you. I think that being an editor or an agent much be incredibly tough for just the reasons you describe. As to your question. I have a couple of projects that might never see light of day. There is one in particular that I’ve just returned to, and I have promised myself that this is the last time. If I can’t get it right this time around, I’m done with it. Why? How did I reach the decision? I’ve run out of patience. It’s not that I’ve lost faith in the project; I haven’t. I still believe in it. But the market has told me that it might not be ready, and after enough rejections, that message has gotten through. That’s painful, yes, but as long as I have other projects on which to focus, it’s not devastating. (And, as I say, I’m still giving it one more go, so I think it still has a chance.) The larger question though is the more troubling one: When do we give up, not on a single project, but on the career? And that’s a much harder question. I have looked down into that particular abyss and faced the idea of no longer writing. It was scary and sad, but as I said in response to Misty’s post a couple of weeks ago, having looked at that possibility, I feel more comfortable with my career. Every one of us has to reach this point on his or her own terms. But I would say this (briefly — it might be worth exploring in a full post. Maybe in a couple of weeks): You don’t make it with rejection fresh on your mind. You don’t do it in response to any one disappointment. I think you reach that point when even the successes and accomplishments are no longer enough to sustain your love of the career. What about financial realities? What about feeding the family and keeping the roof up? Well, I assume that those considerations are already being met by going back to the day job, or marrying for money (little joke there). The decision you’re talking about is bigger and needs to be approached with a great deal of care.

  • David, Congratulations on making it almost two decades as a professional writer. I’ve been a fan since I discovered “The Rules of Ascension” in a Barnes and Noble about eight years ago. I’ve been working at a small press for a couple of months now, and just wanted to speak up for the publishing houses. From the perspective of a small press (a couple of titles a year) the authors who most need the promotion are the ones we can afford to promote the least. If we are talking about paying a royalty, print costs, and the marketing we have to do to get any sells the press is going to be out $20,000-30,000.

    On a new author we might not only fail to recoup our investment, we might loose money on top of it. If there are more returns than sales for a new author, we can land deep in the red once you account overhead, shipping (which we end up paying both ways) and warehousing costs. Two bad books can kill a small press as fast as they end an author’s career. We have a responsibility to our other authors not to risk their livelihoods by over investing in such a risky proposition. Maybe the big houses have the resources to take the risk, but we don’t. Please don’t get me wrong, we do everything we can for our authors, as long as the commitment is our time and not more money.

    A big part of the problem, that screws both authors and the publishers, is the asinine distribution system unique to the publishing industry. I’m not aware of any other manufacturing sector where retailers expect to receive free shipping, 40-60% discounts, net 90 pay terms, unlimited return periods, free shipping on returns, and 100% credit for returns. The system was set up during the depression, because bookstores were unwilling to risk their money in new stock and the publishing houses had to recoup some of their investment on the books sitting in their warehouses or go under. Then it got institutionalized and when the recession ended it just kept going.

    I’m not trying to blame the retailers. There simply isn’t that much profit in a print run and there are a whole lot of hands in the pot.

  • Wow- apropos response you posted while I was typing that.

  • David: All true, and those are things I’d loved to have.

    But weighed against being able to support my family, and pay my mortgage, and put food on the table… Well… those things are a baseline minimum of what I need to be able to do for my family. And compensation to writers is such that those things are basically unattainable: I can’t pay a mortgage on a $9K advance, much less do that and put food on a table and pay doctor’s bills, and keep the lights on… I really love writing, but loving my work doesn’t put food on the table. Getting paid for my work does.

    That’s why I don’t plan to make any real, concerted effort at publishing until I’m a little more financially independent. It’s unfortunate, and sad – and not really fair – but that’s how it is…

    Anyway, I’ll leave off, now, and let others chime in with their thoughts. I really do appreciate the realistic view of the industry that I’m able to get here. 🙂

  • Will, thanks so much for the kind words about Rules of Ascension, and thanks as well for your perspective on these issues. I was trying to get at the publishing side of publicity spending in my response to Chris, but you do so in a much for authoritative way. Thanks for that. The publishing business is absolutely nuts — the returns, the model that booksellers have gotten used to over the years. There was a time — a golden age, if you will — when publishing companies were run with a different ethos, when even the bigger publishers wanted to turn a profit, but didn’t measure their own success by the profit margin standards of, say, a car company or an oil company or any other large corporation. That began to change around the same time I was getting started. Publishing houses were bought up by larger companies, and suddenly had to meet the same bottom lines as other unrelated industries. I bring this up because I think that the factors you point to in your third graph made more sense when publishers were operating under that older set of rules. As the newer expectations have moved in, the practices have remained the same, the expectations have gone way up, and editors and writers have gotten squeezed. Anyway, again, thanks so much for your contribution to the discussion.

    Stephen, yes, I understand what you’re saying. But I think that you need to look at this (and I say this in the context of Pea Faerie/Emily’s comment and my response to it) in part at least, as a decision you’re making, rather than an outside force acting on you and your dreams. Writing has NEVER been a career that led to huge wealth, except for a lucky few. Many, many people struggle with the same concerns you describe, and they reach a different conclusion. Fairness is not the issue, really. This is how it is, fair or not. If you start thinking about it in terms of “fairness” you’ll drive yourself nuts. You write because you love to write. If you love it enough, you find a way to keep at it despite the hardships. If you don’t, you don’t. Is that fair? I have no idea. But it is reality.

  • Great blog David! Thank you so much, I’m in the “have books done/edited, need agent/editor” stage (and still writing more books, they don’t like one, I’ll fling another one at them ;)).

    I joined the RWA to get more craft and business info, and no, I don’t write romance (shhh, don’t tell them ;)). Sadly, since our genre doesn’t have a strong new writer support system like RWA- I had to crash their party.

    But I REALLY appreciate folks like you (and the rest of the fine folks on this blog) who are sharing your knowledge- it helps alot!


  • Ack! I’m commenting too much. But yes… I definitely don’t mean to imply that the conclusion I reached for myself had any kind of general applicability. It’s definitely a personal decision. Not everyone is in the same circumstance as I. (Not everyone is trying to raise a family, for instance, and not everyone is expected to be the primary bread-winner in a family, for another, just as two examples among many others.) I don’t think it’s quite true to say that this has nothing to do with “outside forces” – it very much does have to do with those outside forces, but it’s about how I have to react to those outside forces. (I’m also of the mind, in my personal thinking, that “unfair” is what happens when we abdicate the question of fairness and refuse to have a frank, public discussion about what is fair. There’s not much we can do, it sometimes seems, but say “that’s the way it is”, even if it is the way it is. But when that’s all we do, that’s the only way it will ever be.) Whatever, though… yes… this has been my personal realization about how I have to approach the idea of writing.

    Regardless… as I said… I love writing. Whether I pursue a career of it has nothing to do with that. I’ll write, regardless. I’d write books even if I knew nobody would ever read them. Doing it professionally is a very different question.

    Apologies once again for commenting too much…

  • Marie, I do think that SFWA offers some terrific resources for aspiring writers on their site, things you can access without a membership. But yes, the requirement of professional sales before one can become a member does mean that the organization isn’t as supportive of newer writers as it could be. Too bad, really. Still, I’m glad you’re enjoying Magical Words and hope you continue to get lots out of our discussions.

    Stephen, no need to apologize. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one.

  • We were talking about SFWA over lunch yesterday. When I was just starting to consider a career writing, I desperately wanted two things: to attend Clarion, and to join SFWA. I thought that if I could achieve those two goals, I’d have MADE IT.

    I never went to Clarion. It cost an impressive sum, assuming one made the cut at all, and I also had a small child at home who’d need to be cared for while my husband was at work, which added to the cost. And I haven’t joined SFWA. Once I became qualified, I never thought about it again. It wasn’t joining an organization that defined me having made it – it was getting the book sold in the first place. 😀

  • Oh, I pick through SFWA’s blogs when I can (although it would be much easier if they had a standard blog that I could follow on my blog ;)). Waaaay back in the day I even had a subscription to the Bulletin (a paper one!). But I do think there is a huge gap for our genre. There are things you really only learn through give and take on groups, blogs, newsletters, things that really would be helpful for new SF/F writers. I’ve been around for a while (so yes, already thoroughly disillusioned, but I can’t stop writing or my brain will rot ;)), but just took my writing seriously the last few years. It was disheartening to not be able to find a strong group within my genre.

    Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem crossing genre lines for good writing intel- ;). I just wish that I had a group to “hang” with (and gain knowledge from ) for whom I didn’t have to constantly say, “Ok, remember this is NOT a romance book…” ;).

    But until the wonderful day that such a group exists- I’ll just stalk folks like you—er follow…follow is good, stalking is bad (always forget that ;)).
    Thanks again David- I look forward to your posts :).

  • Susan

    Eighteen years ago?!?!? Yeesh. I’m old. 🙂

  • Misty, I hadn’t known anything about SFWA before I sold my first book (I know many people like you who had for years dreamed of joining), and for the first several years of my career, I wondered why folks were so excited about it. In recent years, though, under new guidance, it has become a very impressive organization. That said, yeah, it’s the sale that matters, not the membership.

    Marie, I think you’re very wise to get your information from any and all available sources. I do wish that SFWA could do more for those in your position. And maybe that’s something the organization needs to consider moving forward. I’ll mention it to my friends on the board. In the meantime, thanks for your kind words.

    Susan, relax. My first sale was eighteen years ago; the book only came out (and we only met) fifteen years ago. (!) Great to see you here. Hope you’re well.

  • David,
    I know you were. I just wanted to give the persepective from the other side of the desk. Its really easy to start feeling like the publishing houses are the enemy when you pour your heart and soul into a manual only to have it rejected or be given a pittance for it. We really aren’t the enemy, and we don’t generally get paid what we’re worth either. Like the writers, most of us are in the business because we are storytellers.

    Rejection doesn’t always mean that we don’t think the book is worth publication, it means we think we can’t find a market to justify the risk to the press. Publishers have to balance two sets of responsibilities. One to the readers to bring them new and amazing stories. One to our authors to maintain a business that is a viable partner in bringing their stories to readers.

    It’s why I actually love the “indie movement” (even if they’ve decided all publishing houses are the enemy) Firstly, it lets authors bring out stories that there simply isn’t the market share for a press to justify. Secondly,there are some problems in the industry with bad contracts. A totally do it yourself decreases the power of the big houses to abuse authors. I’m not saying anyone is out to get authors but I like that it is evening the field.
    The indie movement

  • sagablessed

    Why do I write? To tell a story. If it brings in some money, that’s all good. But it is the story that counts.

  • Will, thanks again. I think that the indie movement brings some fresh, healthy dynamics to the industry. I also think that it brings new problems, but that’s going to be the case with any developing business structure. An interesting topic for yet another post. But I am grateful to you for your thoughtful comments and your perspective on all of this.

    Saga, so true. Thanks!

  • henderson


    I think you make a very good argument for writers to consider self-publishing. I am sure that was not your intent, but I will book mark this for when I make decide which type of publishing I would be interested in pursuing. Thanks.

  • Sorry to be late to the party (post con catch up). Scribe’s right: it’s like you were with us (wish you had been, incidentally). For me the big one is #4: the fact that getting your foot in the door doesn’t mean you can take it off the gas. How’s that for a mixed metaphor?

  • David> Thanks for the response. I’m no where near considering giving up on my projects or on the idea of being a published writer, but I’ve thought about decisions to quit. We’re such a “don’t be a quitter!!” culture in some ways, but sometimes, the right thing to do is to stop. I quit my math major in college; I quit a writer’s group around here; I quit a committee I was on at school. Those were all the right choices. I don’t buy the “quitting isn’t an option!!” thing. Sure it is. It always is. Is it the right option? Eh, maybe, maybe not. But pretending it isn’t a possibility seems, well, shortsighted, I guess.

    I guess one of the things about the business I’ve learned is that, obviously, failure isn’t an option–it’s a certainty. Someone, somewhere is going to say no. But it is a perspective thing. I also don’t buy the “the only failure is quitting.” Um, no. The Patriots FAILED to win the superbowl. I’ve FAILED to sell stories. I move on, I edit the stories, I send them out, I write new stories, etc. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t failed at some points. The denial of failure I see is troubling. It’s totally okay to fail–it happens. And that’s what I see in the writing business. Just because I persist doesn’t mean I’ll get published. But if I don’t persist, I KNOW I won’t get published.

    Before it sounds like I’m crazy-cynical or gloomy, I’m actually an optimist. I believe in success. I believe I can be successful. I’m generally a happy person. But some of my happiness has come from accepting that I fail, and have failed a lot. And I have quit things. (For example, at eight, I asked to stop with the ballet lessons, because even then I knew I wasn’t a ballerina!)

    GAH. I’m babbling. Thank you for your response. It is sometimes good to quit things. It’s good to know when it is time to quit. And quitting doesn’t have to be the same thing as failure. And sometimes failure’s acceptable, too.

  • Henderson, that really is pretty funny, and no, not at all what I intended. And thinking about, I’m not really sure I agree with you. If you take my five points one at a time, you’ll see that most of the problems would actually be worse had I self-pubbed.

    1) This may be one exception, since I could have gotten my own book out faster, at least in theory. That is, if I had learned how to do all the things necessary to publish a book (and if e-pubbing had existed back then). But I would not want to sacrifice thoroughness for speed. The book needed a lot of developmental editing; I wouldn’t get that if I self-pubbed. It needed copyediting and proofing. I wouldn’t have gotten those either. My book benefited from amazing artwork. I know that it wouldn’t have looked nearly as good had I hired someone I could afford on my own. So yeah, maybe it would have come out faster, but the final product would have been far worse. It certainly wouldn’t have gotten me the Crawford Award. I’d call this one a wash at best.

    2) Had I self-pubbed I wouldn’t have gotten any publicity help at all. I would have had to do all of it on my own. I don’t see how this would be better if I self-pubbed, and it seems to me it would be far, far worse.

    3) I wouldn’t have gotten any advance at all, either, and I would have had to pay for my own editing, my own art, my own typesetting, etc. Figuring in the advance and the costs of those services if I had had to pay for them, I probably started out $11,000 or $12,000 ahead for having published traditionally. As for my sales, the book did pretty well — 5 or 6 printings. So I don’t see how this could have been better, either. Again, probably much, much worse.

    4) The trajectory of any career — traditional publishing or self-pubbing — is going to be uneven. I was naive about my prospects. This is not at all unique to traditionally published authors. No improvement here, either.

    5) I suppose one could argue that this is another exception. I would say that there is no more certainty or “job security” for a self-pubbed author than there is for a traditionally published author. Yes, if I’m self-pubbing I can put out my own books, but if the last one didn’t do well, the next one probably won’t either. But I’ll concede that this is one area where having a bit more control over my own publishing fate could mitigate the fears a bit.

    Overall, though, I think it’s pretty clear that most of the concerns I express in the post would be far greater concerns if I was on my own rather than publishing traditionally.

  • A.J., mixed metaphors not withstanding, I think #4 and #5 were the ones that were most shocking to me. And they continue to be the most disconcerting. Thanks for the comment.

    Emily, I agree with you that our society is too quick to regard any sort of “failure” as an unmitigated bad. That said, I don’t like to think of rejections as failures. They are, I believe, part of the process. If a story never sells, then maybe you can say that it failed, and as you point out, that’s okay. Some things just won’t sell, some things won’t find a place in the market. But a story that sells eventually is a success, even if that sale comes after a hundred rejections. It’s not that I’m saying failure is always bad, but rather that the word itself sounds too final. It sounds like a rendered judgement, when actually a rejected story is actually still in the process of finding a home. Does that make any sense? As for quitting, again, it’s the word I don’t like because it has been laden with meaning by a success-obsessed society. Sometimes moving on is the right move. As Woody Guthrie once said in a slightly different context, [paraphrasing] “Everyone can’t be a hero. Some of us have to stand on the roadside and cheer as they walk by.”

  • Razziecat

    This could be where my years-long dry spell, during which I wrote only occasionally because life got in the way, actually does me some good. Any illusions I had pretty much fell by the wayside. I realized years ago that writing wasn’t going to be my livelihood. So be it. I still want to be published, but not because I’m looking to get rich. I just want to be able to point to a book on the bookstore shelf and say, “That’s mine.”

  • I think the biggest surprise to me was (and this has been mentioned on MW before) how much time and energy would go into writing for a living that didn’t actually involve writing. I guess I always assumed I’d write, and once I made it, I’d just have to write. But there is so much ‘business’ that must be dealt with on a daily basis.

    Totally jumping into Stephen and David’s conversation: Stephen, you make it sound as if writing professionally/actively pursuing a writing career and working outside the home are mutually exclusive. I know very few writers who had the luxury of just staying home and writing, hoping to ‘make it’. I worked full time for years while getting my foot in the door. Lunch hours were sacred writing time. Vacation time? Yeah, more writing time. I had two books out and was under contract for seven more before I finally took the plunge and quit my day job. Some would say I was fortunate to be able to do so. Many writers continue to produce and publish books while holding down a full time job, so don’t think that you have to give up a dream of publication out of fear of financial insecurity. Is it hard to juggle two professional careers? Sure–but lots of people do it. Don’t let fear stop you.

  • henderson


    I hear what you are saying.

    I think if a traditional publisher is going to take at least a year, and maybe longer for a new author, to publish the book, I see that as possibly a negative impact on earning an income. I think an author gets paid on installments. The first payment upon completion of a first draft, completion of final manuscript, and then when the book is published.

    Promotion is another issue. From what I understand, it is common practice for traditional publishing companies to assume that the author would do some promotion such as maintaining a web-site, blogging, good reads, blog tours, and the like.

    It is also clear that only a very small percentage of traditionally published authors can write full-time. Most authors have day jobs, a working spouse, or some other source of income.

    For a self-publish author, we all know that any and all promotion will be done by the author. The author will probably have a web-site, blogging, good reads, blog tours, and the like.

    While the traditional publisher will edit the book, including developmental and copyedit, provide the cover art, a self publish author will have to pay for same services. I think most self-published authors who want to be successful understand and accept they have to pay for those services, and it could be expensive.

    On the other hand, the self-publish author can release his/her next book on his/her schedule. If a traditional published author release a book every 12 to 24 months, a self-published author can release more books in that same time period.

    The more books released increases the chance of earning a larger income.

    I also understand that there are people who being prolfic does not necessarily mean writing better. I, however, believe that if writing is important to the author, he or she is always going to be writing. The more the author writes, the more proficient the author becomes.

  • My 2 cents to Stephen. And forgive me if I’m blunt. It is a HUGE gamble to be a commercially published writer. Either you are willing to take that gamble or not. You are not. There is nothing to be ashamed about that. But either accept that about yourself or change your mind. Poop or get off the pot.

  • Frankly, I agree with Faith. Getting published isn’t easy in any sense. If you want it enough, you find the time even while working a day job and raising a family. If you can’t make the time, it’s not your dream’s fault.

  • Razz, that sounds like a terrific attitude. And yeah, the “That’s mine” moment is really pretty cool.

    Kalayna, thanks for that. I think the “don’t-let-fear-stop-you” advice may be the very best that we can offer here. Because there is always some fear lurking — fear of not finishing, fear of not making the career work out, fear of other people not liking our books/stories, etc. Either you face down the fear or you give up. Those really are the only two choices. Notice I didn’t say “either you stop fearing” because I don’t think that ever happens. But you have to be willing to face it and master it. Great comment. I also agree with the surprise you mention. That one caught me off-guard, too.

    Henderson, thanks very much for the thoughtful reply. You’re absolutely right that unnecessary delays in publication can hurt our careers and our earnings. The tough part is figuring out which delays are without purpose, and which ones are necessary to assure that the best possible book comes out of production. Promotion involves a lot of things, of which websites and rest are only a small part. The single biggest thing my publisher does to promote my books is send out Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) for reviews. They make sure that people are already talking about the book in journals, magazines, etc., before publication. That’s hard for us to do on our own. As you say, the scheduling thing is definitely a place where self-pubbing offers advantages. Anyway, as I say, I really appreciate your well-considered comments. You and I disagree on this, but I appreciate your willingness to discuss it with me and to agree to disagree. I look forward to the next installment in our exchange!

    Faith, succinct, to the point, and wise, as always.

  • Misty: also succinct, to the point, and wise. As always.

  • henderson


    Thank you for the kind words.

    I always enjoy reading your posts. Really looking forward to the first Thieftaker book.


  • That’s really good to know, David. Thank you!

    Now to get back to work, so I can get the ball rolling and actually eventually get a contract to sign … 🙂

  • TwilightHero

    I already had an vague idea of the realities of a writing career, but this does put them into focus.

    Does this make me want to give up on the idea of doing this for a living? I don’t know. I’m still not sure if I really want to do this for a living. I want to write a good book and get it published – the first in a series, of course :p – so people can (hopefully) enjoy it. Making that a career, though…Stephen and Kalayna both made valid points: you’re not going to make a lot writing, and you have to think about your family; of course you can write while holding down a day-job, but together they’ll really eat up your personal/family time. And yes, fear plays a major part – sure, I can tell a good story. But would I be able to tell good stories consistently? Could I do this for a living?

    Again…I don’t know. I do know it’ll be a while before I’d risk forgoing a day-job entirely to go pro. I know, and this I have learned, and am still learning, through long experience, not to worry about these things too much. If I can get my work published – and don’t think I won’t give it my best shot – great. If not, if, say, rejection letters pile up over the course of years and I finally get fed up and quit, that would suck. To put it bluntly. But I’d survive.

    And I know that I’m going to keep writing until that happens – if it ever does. I’ve got a story to tell 🙂 Great post, David, as always.

  • Wow. Quite the piling-on my comments have caused. Have to say, I don’t understand that. I comment about a personal realization about the likelihood of me being able to achieve the dream that I’ve had since childhood, the thing that has been the single, constant, self-defining aspect of my life… and the fact that the realities of the market make attaining that dream improbable at best… and folks take it like I’m attacking their livelihoods and feel like it’s okay criticizing me because of it.

    @Kaylana: Your point is well-taken. Quite a few authors I follow and respect do, indeed, hold full-time day jobs. I’m in awe of their ability to do so. In the blog post I linked above, however, I get into why that wouldn’t be feasible for me. Different people write at different rates. Not everyone is a super-speed-demon when it comes to writing. Me? At the speed I write, I can’t sustain a healthy productivity rate writing part-time. Not if I want to produce decent-quality work. I’ve crunched the numbers, and the best I can manage while working part-time is a single novel-length rough draft every two years. And I’d have to basically cut out all family time. I’m not so self-conceited to think that readers will gladly wait between 2 and 4 years per book from me as easily as they would for a super-star like George R. R. Martin or the late Robert Jordan or others. I’ve no illusions about the fan/loyalty my writing might inspire – though I like to think I’m good and getting better, I’ve yet to reach the level of the greats. So at my rate, judging for everything I’ve read, a writing career is basically a non-starter.

    @Faith… Frankly, I’m not sure where you’re going with your comment. It’s not like me spending my free time writing, trying to improve my skill and getting better, even if I eschew pursuing a professional novelist career until some undefined future point when I hope it might be more feasible for me somehow negatively impacts you or your present ability to make a living doing the same. So I’m not sure why you think it’s okay to insult me and disguise it as advice. Saying “There is nothing to be ashamed about that” and then following it up with “Poop or get off the pot” does little for the point you’re trying to make. It’s needlessly condescending, and pretentious. It seems to me it’s easy for you to say something “blunt” when you’re already a published author, and you’ve made the choices and sacrifices you need to make to get there… But your circumstances aren’t my circumstances. For me… this isn’t about an “acceptable gamble”. When it comes to my family, I will do what I need to do. My writing is important to me, too. But it comes in second after my family. And I take issue with the way you characterize that choice in your comments.

    @Misty: Where in my comments have I suggested my dream is at fault? I have merely expressed how circumstances for me – including the market realities – make attaining my dream a difficult if not impossible prospect. “Wanting it enough” has nothing whatever to do with it. Wanting it enough only works if there are areas where sacrifices can be made, things that can be done that make it feasible. In my circumstances, at my level of skill, with my family situation, and my productivity (which is not something I’m able easily to change; I’ve tried/am trying to little success)… there just aren’t many places I can look or many sacrifices left I can make before hurting my family. There are others whose circumstances are more favorable than mine, or who have fewer familial duties and obligations. For those, I hope they can make it, and I hope they can achieve their dreams. I don’t begrudge anyone their dreams, and least of all their dreams to become a professional author. I think it’s a fantastic thing to do, and I applaud and cheer them on. And if for some reason it is not to be for them, I’m sad for them, too.

    The general thrust of these comments seems to somehow be of the mind that the problem is me, and that somehow I’m just insufficiently dedicated to my writing. If I may be blunt in return: that’s a load of bollocks. It’s fine advice that sacrifices have to be made if you want a writing career. It’s presumptuous to assume that the sacrifices needed are the same for every aspiring writer, and to pretend that circumstances and exigencies of the market have nothing to do with a given writer’s potential to succeed, or to imply that a given writer is somehow deficient or insufficiently dedicated or insufficiently willing to make sacrifices to succeed. As the Magical Words team is fond of saying: there’s no one right way to do this. Well, there’s also no one set of universally applicable circumstances affecting any given writer, and there’s no gaurantee for any given writer that there is any right way, either. I still hope that, eventually, there’s a right way for me. But in my present circumstances, I can’t see there’s any way I can make it work.

    I respect the professional writers here, and I think it’s great that you (a) have achieved success in getting published and having careers as professional novelists and (b) have been gracious enough to give back to other aspiring authors by running a blog site like this. Maybe, then, considering what you’ve already accomplished, it’s too much to ask for a little respect in return?

    I suppose it’s clear that me sharing my thoughts on my own fortunes and misfortunes, vis-a-vis the question of whether I can attain a successful writing career for myself, has ruffled feathers. It’s not the first time I’ve ruffled feathers on this and related topics. Seeing as how I’m a guest here, I think I know where that leaves me. I like coming here for the writing advice, and for the career advice. But it appears the tone and tenor of the blog/comments would be better served if I kept my thoughts to myself. I’m not really sure I’m welcome here, or at least that my viewpoint isn’t welcome here, which saddens me. My apologies for causing a stir, then.

  • Thanks, Henderson.

    Laura, I hope that contract comes soon. The person you had in mind was not the same person I was thinking of, but is someone I know. Her editor at Tor is also mine. I’ve already been in touch with her. Thanks for the tip!

    TwiRo, as with so many of these posts, my point was to expose certain lesser-known realities. It was certainly not to dowse your hopes and dreams. I think that all of us would advise a new writer not to give up the day job anytime soon. It’s just too risky a business. But I would also say that different folks find different ways to pursue the dream. Getting up an hour early in the morning to write; giving up that hour in the evening spent watching TV or surfing sites online. I don’t mean to imply that you have time to burn or that you fritter away your hours. All I’m saying is that there are ways to make it work, and everyone has to figure out what works for him or her. And I hope that you’ll keep at it for as long as you find it rewarding.

    Stephen, I’m sorry that you feel that we’ve piled on, and that you feel unwelcome. I think that my point, and the one that my MW colleagues were trying to make as well, came back to your statements about the business not being fair and your feelings that market forces were holding you down. And the point I was trying to make (I won’t speak for anyone else) is simply this: We all face the same market forces. We all come face-to-face, at one time or another, with the unfairness of the business. We all have personal obligations that we have to deal with and think about. I have close friends who are writers who overcome on a daily basis all sorts of stuff — illness, injury, loved ones who are infirm or aged, children who need to be clothed and fed and sent to college. Many of them maintain day jobs while trying to write. Some have two jobs. No one begrudges you your dreams. The whole point of this site is and always has been to nurture those dreams, while also exposing them to periodic doses of reality. What I object to — and forgive me for being blunt, but blunt seems to be where we are in this exchange — is your whining. The market isn’t going to change anytime soon. Even if e-books take over the world tomorrow, becoming a successful writer will still demand lots of time, and will still lead to minimal remuneration. But you know this already. You’re a smart guy, and you understand how things work. My question to you is, will you let that stop you from attaining your dreams, or will you find a way to make them come true? You say that you can’t possibly work part time and write a novel in less than two years. I don’t believe that. You can make yourself a faster writer. It might take time. The first book might take two years. But the second could take eighteen months. The third 12 months, and by then maybe you’ll have some income from the first and will be able to cut back on the work hours a bit. I don’t know much about your family life, but I know about mine, and I can tell you that the demands put on our time and energy by our kids actually become more manageable as the kids get older.

    You feel that we’ve been disrespectful, that we have shown no concern for the circumstances you’re dealing with. I truly am sorry for that. But our point was not to make you feel badly, or to make you go away. We were not telling you that you need to do exactly what each of us has done or else you’ll be doing wrong. Rather, I was (and am) trying to say to you that rather than blaming the market and saying that your circumstances make it improbable that you’ll achieve your writing goals any time soon, you should be looking for ways to make it work. I have not intended any of this as anything more or less than a kick in the pants. Because — again, being frank — that seems to be what you need. This is HARD. We say it all the time. And yes, it demands sacrifice. But if this really is the single dream that has guided your life since childhood, then you should be willing to say, “Screw the market, screw circumstances — I am going to Make. This. Happen.” Easy for me to say? Maybe. But you come to our site every day looking for advice, or for lively discussions about writing. That takes effort on your part. That tells me that you are absolutely sincere in your desire to do this. And so I’m not going to just sit here and say, “You’re right, Stephen. You’re screwed. Never going to happen. Might as well give up now.” I don’t think that’s my role here. You don’t like what I’m saying? Okay, that’s fine. But think about it anyway. At some point you might find some value in it.

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright


    When I got out of school, I read The Awful Truth About Publishing. It prepared me for a great deal. Since then, I’ve read the Career Novelist by Donald Maass, it covers a lot of the same territory. It really helps to know what you are getting into.

    Even with all that, though, there are always bits that take you by surprised.

  • Stephen, I am very surprised at your reaction. *You* brought this up and seemed to want honesty, enough to have made 4 lengthy comments. I honestly had no intention of upsetting you. And no one piled on you. Honestly, everyone here at MW is trying to be really nice to you. Even me, believe it or not.

  • David: Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

    I’ll disagree with your assessment of my comments as “whining”. Obviously I don’t think I was doing that. For the most part, I was pointing out how present circumstances had affected me. The blog post I alluded/linked to was about how I’m coming to accept those circumstances, and how I’m deferring my goals until some uncertain future point. (Your mention of the changing demands of kids as they grow older is something that I refer to obliquely in that post. I’ve heard the same thing from others, and though I’ve been skeptical of those claims, hearing from multiple sources, consistently, does lend the idea some credence. That’s why my blog post talks about revisiting the whole writing dream in the future, when presumably this circumstance will work more toward my favor.)

    From my point of view, that’s not whining, but coming to a place of acceptance. Citing some of the specific exigencies that influence this, likewise, isn’t whining. It’s just calling a spade a spade. I think you get the “whining”, though, from my use of the word “fair”. I think it’s sad that society at large has turned the phrase “that’s not fair” into “whining”. That’s what my parenthetical about fairness was addressing. If we refuse to address questions of fairness because we’re afraid of being perceived as whining, then we’ve already conceded the question of fairness and taken it off the table. People (in general) often don’t like talking about fairness, because it makes them uncomfortable. They don’t like to have to critically analyze a situation, and they fear that to do so will upset some delicate balance that benefits them, or that they will have to face the reality of their own complicity in the perpetration of an unfairness. Talking about fairness is emotionally and cognitively difficult. And so we, as a society, find it easier to say “stop whining”.

    But there it is. The compensation for writers is not fair. It’s not whining to point this out. It is simply the state of things. Maybe, in fact, there’s nothing we can do to change it. But taking the issue off the table by calling it whining, or because we’re uncomfortable addressing it is one sure-fire way to ensure that the compensation for writers will always be unfair. There are a lot of reasons why writer compensation is unfair and remuneratively unsatisfactory. I’m sure I don’t know the half of them. From my present circumstance, I can’t really change this directly, except to point it out as problematic, and to suggest that perhaps there ought to be a discussion about what is fair, and maybe about how something fair could possibly be achieved. I tried to be a little more concise in my parenthetical… but that’s what I was remarking on.

    It is perhaps a little gauche to compare something like writer compensation to a genuine social struggle… but frankly speaking a lot of people put down minorities/people-of-color and women when those groups were agitating to get the right to vote or get equal rights. A lot of people might have said that when they complained about the unfairness of society, it was whining. But guess what? It was grossly and horrifically unfair, and they didn’t just shut up about it because it was whining. They kept the conversation going, and they took action in whatever ways they could, in the face of sometimes violent opposition, and society began to change because of it. I don’t mean to make light of the plight and challenges they faced – the compensation of writers is a small thing compared to that – but I use the metaphor because it is a powerful example of the principle. We can choose to say “stop whining” when these issues are discussed. Or we can say “You know what, you’re right. It’s not fair. And I don’t know how we can change it. But let’s have a conversation about that.”

    At this point, though, I don’t expect I’ll have convinced you that talking about fairness is not whining, and that pointing out contributing factors outside my control is not whining – the conversation has gone on quite long enough about all this that different points-of-view are pretty entrenched. Fair enough. On this question, then, we do indeed disagree.

    But I think it a disservice to the mission of this blog, vis-a-vis the nurturing of aspiring writers, to dodge these questions or to denigrate those who bring them up. Howbeit, I say that as someone near the bottom looking up. I don’t have the benefit of looking back, from a position of some success, and to see those challenges with a perspective of triumph. Admittedly, this is a position without a perfect view of the road to publication. I have to have some foresight, and sometimes foresight is wrong. But I’m the only one with a perfect view of my current surroundings.

    As to the advice that I should be looking for ways to make it work, if this is what I want – in a general sense the advice is fine, but in this specific case, this far into the conversation, offering the advice presupposes that I haven’t already been looking for those ways. It presumes that I haven’t thought about this a lot. It presumes that I haven’t struggled. When I say I’m forgoing looking to get my work published for the immediate future… that is my way forward. That’s the way I’ve found. The task right now: write. Write, and keep writing. Then maybe, someday in the future, my circumstances will change, or I’ll be better able to affect some change in those circumstances in a way that makes trying to get published more feasible. I can’t know for certain what that will look like for me. So it’s write, and wait, and keep writing while waiting. That’s how I’m keeping the dream alive while accepting the present reality of my circumstances and protecting my family relationships.

    I was trying to avoid a lot of that detail in my original blog post because I didn’t want to replicate a roughly 2,000-word post in a blog comment – that’s pretty poor comment ettiquette. But by now I’ve blown that out of the water. I tried to capture the feel of my post, and point out one of my conclusions, and somehow it got taken completely the wrong way.

    Like I said, I appreciate these doses of reality. And my comment was supposed to be all about how, for some aspiring writers (such as I), these doses of reality are going to mean “Wow. That’s a pretty tough row to hoe. There’s no way I’m going to be able to do this unless/until (a) my personal circumstances (skill level, productivity, family situation, full-time-job situation, obligations, expectations, student debt, mortgages, illness, chronic illness, family disasters, natural disasters, etc.) change or (b) the market changes.” Individually, none of us has control over (b). Most of us have some control over some aspects of (a), but not total control over all aspects of (a). Some of us will be able to make changes/sacrifices in terms of (a) that are needed to be successful in the short term. Some will not be able to in the short term, but perhaps can manage it in the long term (the same period over which (b) might possibly change, either for better or for worse). Some will never be able to make all the adjustments in (a) that they need to be successful writers. That is… well… that is the way it is. For myself, I recognize and accept that I’m not in circumstance 1 – there’s not much I can do in the short term to change my fortunes. I hope I’m in circumstance 2, that over the long haul things will change, and I will be better positioned to make changes. But I don’t really know one way or another how things will ultimately play out… And thus again… I write, and I keep writing.

  • @Faith: I found the use of the final phrase in your first reply to me to be condescending. As I said in my above comment… I found the comment presupposed a lot about my current circumstances. That phrase, in particular, is typically understood to mean “Do [whatever it is you’re trying to do] or get out of the way so someone else can do it”, and typically comes with the bonus meaning of “And I don’t think you’re going to succeed at what you’re trying, so maybe you should just go with the second option and get out of the way.” Or, in few words: You’re losing. Quit.

    You’re right: I did bring it up. But I wasn’t asking for an honest assessment of what I should do. In my original comment, I was just trying to express my appreciation for the honesty shown here, and demonstrate how honesty like this has influenced me. The later comments were me trying to clarify (unsuccessfully, it seems) where my thinking was and what I meant by my earlier comments as it relates to the topics of David’s original post. I wasn’t expecting to be made the poster child and strawman of a whining wannabe writer who doesn’t have the chops to succeed.

  • Jagi, I probably should have read The Awful Truth before starting this career, but instead I just dove in. I’m lucky that there was at least SOME water in the pool…

    Stephen, thanks for the reply. I’m not going to comment because I think we’ve taken the discussion as far as we can without starting to rehash things we’ve already said. But I do want to point out that NO ONE has said or implied that you don’t have the chops to succeed. Your last comment is the first to bring up anything remotely like that. You didn’t like being accused of whining. I can accept that. I apologize for saying it. But that last comes entirely from you.

  • Stephen, It seems this contretemps came from my saying poop or get off the pot. It has been a tough week and I only now have time to offer you a lengthy explanation. It comes in this:

    The Hebrew word for worry has its roots in the same word as gnaw. When we worry, we gnaw things to the bone and crack it and turn it to painful slivers.

    I agree it is a weird segue, but hang on.

    Writers write. It *is* the self-descriptor we use when describe our deepest selves. We *write*. All the other worries are secondary. Of course we *think* about the market and our time constraints and our families and our obligations. But at the heart of it all we put blinders on to all that critical stuff, and we *write*. You are afraid of that. You fear that if you stopped all the exterior stuff you do in life (blogging and commenting and time consuming *stuff*) and just wrote, you would not be good enough. So you worry it to death. I think you have potential so I want you to stop that. I want you to poop or get of the pot. Stop all the other stuff (commenting and blogging and worrying) and *Write*. If you spent all the time you do with other things and just *wrote* you would be able to finish a book every year. That is what I mean when I say poop or get off the pot. WRITE! Finish a book. And then start another one. That is what writers do.

  • Stephen, just by way of inspiration. Jim Hines writes his books during his lunch hour and a few hours beyond that. So it can be done. I do the same. I’m the primary breadwinner, 2 kids, full time day job. Words add up.

  • @Faith: You’re correct about the specific phrase. I’m not familiar with any positive or supportive uses (typically of the somewhat more vulgar version) of the phrase. I’ve found the phrase is commonly used with derogatory intent and almost always carries the meaning that the person implicated of inaction is, by their inaction, preventing others from taking action. I read that negativity into the comment, as well as the comments that followed which voiced assent.

    So, I appreciate you clarifying your meaning and intent.

    That said… I’m not letting a fear of failure prevent me from writing. I still write, as much as I can (which, admittedly, is not very much). Where I feel I am instead at fault is in letting my fear of an inability to capitalize on the possibility of success prevent me from doing anything professionally with what I have written (at least with regard to novel-length work, which is where I spend the bulk of my writing time; I have in fact submitted a handful of short stories in a small number of places so far without success). The concern I’ve developed, the more I learn about how the market has changed in the past few years, is that even if what I write is of admirable quality, my ability to capitalize on that has been diminished by negative changes in the market. Since I don’t yet believe I’m at a sufficiently admirable quality level of work (I feel that I’m improving, but that’s not the same as being really good), I’d reached the conclusion that I lose nothing by focusing on writing for the foreseeable future and downplaying any chances of actually doing anything with it.

    @Diana: Yes, I’m familiar with Mr. Hines. Besides him, I’m also familiar with Jay Lake, who also holds down a day job (and copes with a debilitating illness). I’m not sure what Jim Hines’ productivity looks like, but I’ve seen Jay share his… and from my perspective he is like unto a Writing Productivity God with the volume of prose he is able to generate within a given frame of time, chemo notwithstanding. As David suggested above, in time my productivity may increase, but be that as it may, at this point in time my productivity and writing rate is very meager.

    As an example… I’ve been actively working on my current WIP for the past 9-10 months, roughly. In that time, working and writing when and as often as I’m able, I’ve been able to produce about 60,000 words worth of work. All of that has been backstory, worldbuilding notes, character profiles, and outline (obviously, I’m an outliner). I’ve only just finished wrapping up the preliminary work, and am switching gears for the actual first draft. If I hit my draft target of 125,000 words, at the rate I’ve been working I should finish the rough draft in another 18-19 months. I hope to get faster, but I don’t realistically expect to finish the whole thing in much less than two years. And then there’s beta reading, revising, editing, etc… That’s a long way left to go… Thus it seems to me that I’d need to make a substantial increase in my writing speed in order to reliably produce a book a year, which it seems is sort of a baseline capability needed to maintain a viable career as a novelist in all but a few exceptions (thus my reference above to George R. R. Martin, whose books are popular enough that they can sustain a multi-year gap between offerings).

    I think I can improve my speed. I don’t know how quickly I can improve my speed by that much. In time, perhaps, but for now I have to work with what I’ve got.