Today we will be talking about how I, as Captain, gets the booty! No, I don’t mean how I sweet talk Mrs. Captain into dropping her pantaloons. That’ll have to wait for Episode Twenty, at least.
Nope, today I will chat about what it means to be a working writer. And getting paid to do it.
Do I need to define working writer? Yeah, probably.
By my definition, a working writer is someone that solely makes their living from their writing. In previous posts I have explained that a professional writer is someone that gets paid for their writing, whether $1 or $1 million. But the majority of professional writers do not earn enough to live off of. It’s a sad fact, but very true. However, a working writer can live off of what they make with their words. Writing is the income and vocation. Bam!
Why talk about this? Because there are a lot of attacks and nose-snobbery aimed at being a working writer. “Write for money? Not for art’s sake? How very droll.” That kinda crap.
I am specifically going to talk about fiction writing, since that is what I know. Write what you know, eh, eh?
I started making money as a writer back on 2009. Slowly, but surely. Then I was lucky enough to be part of that Wild West frontier known as the eBook Gold Rush that happened a few years ago. For about eight months I was making more money than I could imagine. It was great!
I was this close (I’m holding my fingers really close together) to quitting my day job and diving into full-time writing. Good thing I didn’t. Because then the rules were changed by Amazon and other ebook retailers and that shit-volcano that Chuck Wendig speaks of started to erupt. Kindle Select meant every nimrod on the planet could put there work out there for free. Only for about five days, sure, but multiply that by a million self-published authors, and add in the fact that self-publishing blogs were talking about how “selling for free” gets your novel up the charts and you can’t lose and there’s exponential room for growth and blah blah blah. No one wanted to buy ebooks when they could get ebooks for free.
The pyramid scheme crumbled. Well, it wasn’t exactly like a pyramid scheme, but it felt like it. My sales plummeted. Dropped to 10% almost overnight. Good thing I didn’t quit my job, right?
Fast forward a few years and I’m still getting royalties off those ebooks, but at a fraction of what I was before. There was no end game in sight and I honestly expected to keep working full-time and writing part-time for a good long while.
But I was laid off. Fired. Sent packing. Given the boot. Handed a pink slip. Shown the door. I was unemployed.
What could I do? Get another customer service job? Nope, they don’t pay what I was making. Go back into sales and spend weeks away from the family? That’s not the husband and father I am. Return to food service and cook again? Makes even less than customer service.
In short, I was fucked.
Except I have an amazing wife that has faith in me and she decided I should make a go of writing full-time. She asked, and I quote, “If you write full-time can you get our income back to where it was?” I said, “Yes.”
Except I didn’t have the time to write (or finish) a manuscript, submit to my agent, and sit and wait months for responses from publishers. I needed income right away! So I emailed my publisher, Severed Press, to see if they had any work for hire jobs or anthologies that might pay. The answer, while being “no”, was better than I could expect.
No work for hire, but they were looking for someone to write a zombie series that was Romero-esque. They would pay an advance and I would have some money coming in. I didn’t come up with the idea, it was given to me. But, being a collaborative type of personality, I brainstormed and came up with a a novel that would be true to the Romero style zombies (no gimmicks or fast ones or viruses) while also still being all Jake Bible.
I look on that email as a writing prompt. As if someone said, “You have to use classic slow zombies, but also have a military element, scavenging, and survivors trying to deal with the apocalypse.” I looked back at Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead movies and remembered the social satire and commentary those possess.What if I applied that to my novel? What could I comment on?
Oh, right, the suburban silliness I deal with every single day.
Z-Burbia was born.
And the rest is history!
But not quite. Why? Because small press advances do not an income make. I needed more. MORE!
So I asked Severed if they needed anything else. They did. I looked over their ideas, sent them some of mine, and we went with what they thought they could sell. Let me say that again, because this is important, they went with what they thought they could sell.
This is how publishing works, folks. If you think it is about “art” you are way the fuck off. It’s about commerce. I don’t care what publisher it is, they do not buy properties they don’t think they can sell. It’s that simple. Your novel may be genius, but if a publisher doesn’t know how to market or sell it then it will never see the light of day.
Makes you wonder why there are five million self-published books that no one has even heard of, huh? Oh, right, because there is no market for them! Publishing is not a “write it and they will come” business. It’s a “they want to read it, so we better find it, or have someone write it, so they will come” type of business. If you can’t handle that reality then do not try to hack it as a working writer. Do not even try.
Which brings me to my next step.
I also noticed that Permuted Press was picking up a ton of authors, many self-published, and that they were looking for YA and Teen horror. I had my YA zombie novel, Little Dead Man, just languishing in self-pub hell, hidden with all the other fifty million self-published works that Amazon’s algorithms made sure weren’t the first on their search results. (Don’t think they do that? Puh-leeeze.) I also had a finished Teen horror novel manuscript that needed a home. I sent an email, got a response, and we went from there.
Oh, but let me backtrack a bit.
During the talks with Severed, I came up with a pitch for a middle grade horror series called ScareScapes. It’s Goosebumps in space, basically, but with the Jake Bible twist. There’re cyborgs and shit. Severed passed since it wasn’t something they thought they could market well. See what I’m talking about? A successful publisher knows what works for them and what doesn’t. Severed Press doesn’t really do YA or Teen horror, Not because they don’t like it, or want to, but because it doesn’t sell for them.
Are you catching on yet?
The reason I wanted to do a middle grade horror series in the first place was for two reasons: the first being we have a lot of friends with younger children that asked if Z-Burbia was appropriate for elementary or middle school kids. It is not. Also, my daughter is eleven and she wanted to read my novels. But that wasn’t happening. Not yet.
I came to the conclusion, after some market research, that the middle grade horror market was ripe for the picking! I knew one fellow author that was diving into it and I figured I could too. [side note: R.L. Stine has announced that he will be bringing his series, Fear Street, back. This is good for middle grade horror.] I reworked the pitch and sent it to Permuted and they said yes. Suh-weet!
This meant I had contracts with Severed Press and Permuted Press. But, both being small presses, the advances weren’t going to get me a house in the Bahamas. So still had that good ol’ financial uncertainty looming in just a couple of months.
My novels for Severed were doing well and I was building a relationship with Permuted. These were things I could capitalize on. Because you strike while the iron is hot in publishing!
Negotiations (and love songs?) ensued, numbers were thrown back and forth,and after it is all said and done, I will be writing novels from now through June 2015. One a month, to be exact. While being financially secure enough not to freak out every time I fill up my Jeep at the gas station.
Why say all of this? Because I read and hear a lot of writers talk about the “art” of writing and how “real” writing can’t include “compromise”. I have also read where writers slam others for being prolific. “You can’t write a good novel in a month!” I have also had writers say certain POVs (first person) are shit writing. “It’s the lazy way to write!”
Well, fuck and you, thank you very much.
That’s just justification bullshit. That’s what writers say when they don’t have any self-confidence. That’s what writers say when they look for excuses as to why they aren’t doing what others are or don’t have what others have. It’s jealousy and it’s lame.
I have confidence. Did I come up with some brilliant inspiration out of the blue? Was there a eureka moment? No. I had to have financial motivation. I had to be handed ideas that my publishers thought would fill the market and could sell. Then I took those ideas, those 100% market driven ideas, and made those bitches mine!
Okay, okay, I’m done with the bamming. I want you to know I’m not trying to rub anyone’s face in success, simply because until I can take a breather and slow down to writing a novel a quarter, instead of every month, I don’t consider myself a success. What I’m trying to say is that writing is writing and if you want to make a living at it, a full-time living, then you have to be willing to play the game. You have to be willing to listen to those that watch the charts, study the numbers, talk to distributors, interact with readers, etc. You have to be willing, more than ever, to look at writing as a job.
It’s a pretty fucking cool job, but it is still a job. You sit your ass down and you get the writing done. You don’t phone it in. You don’t sit on the couch watching Netflix for “inspiration”. You plop in front of your PC and/or Mac and you put in your time. Then you hand in your manuscript and do it all again.
You never wait, you just do.
So, in closing, my mateys, if you want to be a working writer and make a living at it then you have to not only look at the word “writing” you must also look at the word “working”. And if work was all fun and art and inspiration and glorious champagne parties and book releases and all that shit then it wouldn’t be called work, would it? To be a working writer you must be willing to go where the work is. Like I said before, and will say a billion times more, you have to look atwriting as a job. It’s that simple.
Get your head out of the clouds, stop making excuses, reach out to people, talk to your connections, do the time, and get to work!
That’s how you make it as a working writer.
Disclaimer: Views From The Captain’s Chair are just that: views. These are not laws. These are not set in stone. I could be totally wrong. I could be off my rocker (shut up). I could be full of S-H-I-T. I could change my mind next week. All of that is possible. Who knows? But if even just a little of this helps you then I’m happy with that. If it just makes you stop and think then I’ve done my job. Which I really need to get back to. Blogging don’t pay for the bourbon! Oh, and the whole Captain’s Chair thing? Yeah, I write in a captain’s chair. It’s true, Mateys! Got a question? Need some one on one? Shoot me an email, a DM, a PM (no BMs) or comment below.
Jake Bible lives in Asheville, NC with his wife and two kids.
A professional writer since 2009, Jake has a proven record of innovation, invention and creativity. Novelist, short story writer, independent screenwriter, podcaster, and inventor of the Drabble Novel, Jake is able to switch between or mash-up genres with ease to create new and exciting storyscapes that have captivated and built an audience of thousands.
Friday. Night. Drabble. Party.
Read those words, think upon them, embrace their meaning and learn from them. FOR THEY SHALL RULE THE WORLD!
Or not. Whatever. It’s Friday and I’ve got a drabble for you.
The bony finger beckoned, curling in on itself again and again, as the hand withdrew into the tall weeds and high grass. Little Teal’s pig-tailed head was barely level with the top of that grass; even on tip-toes she couldn’t see who the finger belonged to.
She watched as the finger receded, her eyes wary and careful. Mama had said to go outside and play in the backyard. But she also said not to go with strangers. Was this a stranger? Was it a neighbor?
She didn’t know. The only way to find out was to follow.
Which she did.
Disclaimer: Teach your children well.