What is the goal?
I thought I knew the answer to this question. What I thought the goal was: Make a living writing books. Of course. I thought I was on the path to achieving that goal when something momentous got in the way: real life.
A little over two years has passed since Josh and I published our first novel in the Warpworld series. Two years since diving headlong into the swirling mass of indie hopefuls. Two years of writing, reading, researching, marketing, and crossing fingers. Two years of fretting (on my part), over whether we’re doing it right, whatever “right” is.
Two years and where are we now?
The Good: Though a small group, Warpworld readers seem to love our story and, best of all, they seem to “get it”. Our new editor jokingly praised our “depthyness” and that’s exactly what we aimed for—a full story that is at once easy to fall into and yet layered enough that readers can reread each book and find something new every time. We’ve won a couple of small awards and received a glowing five star review from the San Francisco Book Review. Our third book will come out by the end of January and we’re already at work on number four. I can’t speak for Josh but I’m proud of what we’ve created.
The Not-So-Good: Like so many new and/or indie authors out there, we remain largely invisible to the wider reading world. Indie or not, it is damn hard to get noticed in an ocean of books. Neither of us are making a profit from our work. All money that comes in goes right back out to finance more books.
In short, no matter how good our work is, it ain’t payin’ the bills and probably won’t be for a while.
Which brings me to my Real Life Dilemma.
Watching the indie publishing revolution from the front row, I’ve figured out that there are a few paths to financial success.
- Write a LOT of material. I’m talking four to six novels a year. Pump out product like a Korean factory worker on amphetamines.
- Be a rock star at marketing and promotion.
- Give away a lot of books and hopefully build a loyal audience.
- Play the long game. Keep putting out quality books, slowly build your library and attract more readers.
- Be super lucky.
- Start out as a traditionally published author and have your audience follow you when you shift to indie.
- Write the most consumable books possible in the most commercially viable genre(s), i.e. write what sells.
I’m sure there are other sub-paths to indie success but these are the ones I see most frequently. Josh and I have chosen number four—play the long game—but it is not without its risks (what if five years down the road we still aren’t making enough money to pay the rent?) and it means that we have to accept not making a livable income in the here and now.
What was my goal again? Make a living writing books.
I’m not a rock star at marketing. I can’t crank out more than one Warpworld title per year, and it’s unlikely I can put out more than two books per year, total, without sacrificing quality. I don’t want to write to the lowest common denominator—penning teen vampire romances or similar stories just because they sell. That leaves being super lucky as my only viable option. Or…
Maybe I have the wrong goal.
No. I know I have the wrong goal.
This is the epiphany I had, two years into my publishing journey: What I want is to make good art.
Simple as that. I want to write stories I would love to read. I want to write the stories that burst from my brain and demand an audience. To hell with what the rules say, or what the market demands, or what one-thousand-and-one indie writing blogs tell me is “right”, I want to do this MY way.
If doing it my way means I have to get a “real” job and write in my off hours, so be it. There is zero shame in that choice. Hell, almost every single published author I know—even the ones who have won fancy awards and have audiences significantly larger than mine—cannot make a living from their writing alone. A sad fact but a true one.
What I want to remember, what I want burned into my flesh, is that being indie means you can do whatever the fuck you want. That’s the beauty of being indie and that’s the part I think too many writers forget. If your goal is to make money, go for it. I like money. Money is awesome. But if your goal is to make art, then you may need to find something else to make the money while you make art.
How did it take me so long to see this? How many hours/days/weeks have I wasted trying to find the magic success bullet?
I don’t care what everyone else is doing and I don’t care if I don’t measure up to their standards of success. I used to believe that going back to some kind of regular job for my income would be an admission of defeat. Now, I see that choice as freedom. If I can sell my writing skills to businesses who need blog posts, or articles, or website content, that’s bankable cash that allows me to write fiction without any stress. I can play the long game without waking up at 3am in a cold sweat, wondering if I’m going to end up living on the street someday.
Writing good stories is what I love. When my fingers are tapping keys and creating illusions, I am content with the world. It is the happiest of happy places. There’s no validation required in the process. I write therefore I am. As one of my favourite Canadian authors, Angie Abdou, so eloquently put it, “I like myself better when I write.”
I do not know what the future of publishing will bring. I do know that choosing art over money feels like thousands of pounds of weight floating off my shoulders. If financial success comes, it will be the icing on an already damn tasty cake.
The goal is achievable.
Welcome to 2015, everyone. It is truly a new year.