Friday, March 11, 2016

But Can You Make a Living at It (Continued)

Writing has always been a tough gig. It's full of rejection and disappointment and, even when you're successful, most writers don't earn enough to live on. That said, plenty of people do still earn a living at writing. I earn my living writing--and have for a number of years now. And even if most writers will not be able to support themselves, a lot of them will be able to successfully supplement their existing income--which is no small thing.

So I thought it might be refreshing to talk to four such authors--to read some success stories, to hear some good news. The interview began over on my blog and it continues here.

Click here to meet our authors and read the first part of the interview.




What’s the toughest part about writing in this current publishing climate? Do you think things have gotten worse or better since you began?


S.C.: The hardest thing is you have to pump books out quickly. There is no way to do that and not have the quality of writing suffer. Sorry. It’s not possible. Writing takes time. You need to set the book aside and let it simmer while you work on other things. If you have to have a book coming out every month there’s no way to give the stories the fermenting period they deserve and need.

I think things have gotten worse. Even long established authors have to push books out faster.

 Also, KU is the devil. It is one of the scariest things to ever happen to publishing. Amazon is going to keep dropping the payments to authors, mark my words. KU authors are already essentially giving away their books for free. You have to have over 1200 people READ your KU book to make $500. That’s horrifying.

 Also some readers are being trained by desperate authors to think all books should be free or only 99 cents. Authors only get a percentage of that 99 cents, by the way. Writing is hard and it’s a job like any other job. Try walking up to your Starbucks barista and announcing you will only pay 99 cents for the double shot, soy, half-caff, iced latte today. She’ll laugh you out of the shop. That’s because good things cost money.


C.S: I believe there are a lot of valid concerns to be raised, but we’d be reading my response to this
question all day. Ultimately, I think a major point would be the amount of work authors are expected to produce in a single year. Its changed dramatically, because now to not have a new release for several months can bury your name. You can be lost, because there is simply so much being published every day. So authors have to work harder and harder to break the surface. I worry for those who get burned out or grow to dislike what they are great at and once passionate about.


Felice: Honestly I think it’s KU and what its done to publishing standards. Amazon has wrestled control of the market and now they set the standards. And I won’t lie and say that I didn’t take advantage of it at first. But when I sat down and took a long hard look I didn’t’ like what I saw. And why would you sign up for exclusivity without knowing what you’re going to be paid? We wouldn’t do that for anything else, I don’t know why we allow it.

 But because it’s so much easier to publish today, almost anyone thinks they can. So they put up books that are poorly edited, or not edited at all, or where it’s obvious that the author has never taken a class on craft. To me that is so important—the craft of writing itself. An author friend of mine once said to me, “Writing is easy. Good writing is damn hard.” And she was so right.


David: Good question.  In my opinion the climate has gotten worse in the last 10 years.  What I find to be most disconcerting is that it is too focused on what’s hot at any given moment—the subgenre du jour.  Someone writes a highly successful book with a particularly unique slant or focus, and suddenly the market is flooded with similarly-themed books—and, unfortunately, many of the books that get published on the coattails of a best seller can be so poorly executed that they’re painful to read.  This is no less true of M/M or LGBT publishing than it is about mainstream publishing.  I’ve been reviewing books for over a decade—mostly mainstream and only recently with M/M and LGBT publishers—but the story is the same. 
 
I understand intellectually that publishing is a business, but I think there needs to be more of a balance between the artistic aspect of writing and the business need for profit, especially at a time when making money in the industry is more difficult than ever before for all parties involved.  When the stories writers create exist only as commodities churned out in droves to make a fast buck, and value is no longer placed on quality, the truly magnificent books that are still being written often get lost in all the noise.  On a positive note, I know from recent personal experience that at least some of the M/M publishers out there are working hard to improve the quality of their releases.

 
Everybody always wants to know about money. So let’s leave it at this: are you making money? Are your numbers going up or going down? What’s more important to you than the money?


C.S: I’m still quite new to having my work published, so I have less than a year of royalties and numbers to study. Am I making money? Yes. But I will have a better understanding of how I am doing by 2017. While money is very nice, because hey, we all have bills (and cat food) to buy, I always remember with every single project I sign a contract for: People are going to read this. They will pay me for this product. It is extremely important to me that every single story I write is the best I could have produced in that moment. It’s only fair.

Felice: I am, but it takes money to make it as well. I pay for editing, formatting and cover art. My sales have slowly gone up. It isn’t the money, though it’s having people read my books and send me messages that they loved my characters and my stories. I had a teacher email me from China telling me she used one of my books to talk about inclusion and relationships. That’s what makes it worthwhile.

David: I’ve made a little bit of money but, truth told, my out-of-pocket expenses—mostly for research and copyright fees—have offset most, if not all, of what I’ve made in royalties. Most of my “profit” has come from the fees I earn reviewing books rather than writing them.  My writing numbers are going up because I have more stuff out there, but that’s to be expected when you’re starting from zero.  At this stage in my life, it’s more about building a body of work, improving my skills, and the pure, esoteric joy of creating something original.  I don’t ever envision a future where I will be able to finance my life exclusively from writing income.  Perhaps one day it’ll help me to finance some nice vacations—because who doesn’t like nice vacations after all?  What’s most important to me is that soon I will have the time and the freedom to write the kinds of stories that appeal to me, and no longer have to punch a clock at some office or worry about whether or not the genres or subgenres in which I produce are in or out of favor at any given moment.

S.C.: Yes, I’m making money, but I can’t live on what I earn. However, I’ve only been publishing since 2013 and my sales have more than tripled.  I call that a win.

The thing I find more important than money is that I succeed at entertaining the readers. I’m always amazed at how personal my stories can be for people. The stories were always personal for me, but I love that the readers can connect so deeply. They worry about my characters long after they finish the book. My made up stories impact peoples actual lives and I find that extremely gratifying. When a reader reaches out to me to tell me how much one of my books touched them, I walk on clouds the rest of the day.


How important do you think it is to network and forge author alliances?


Felice: My author friends are the single most important thing in the world to me. Finding a circle of
author friends to talk to (okay whine and complain to) has helped me more than I could say. I have zero time for pettiness or jealousy. I am always about helping others; why wouldn’t you want to do that?

David: I think it’s absolutely essential.  I learn a great deal reading what other authors have written, but reading alone isn’t enough.  Every writer has her or his own, idiosyncratic processes and rituals when they sit down to write, and I’m no different.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t learn something valuable by heeding another author’s advice and trying new approaches that work well for others.  Personally, I’ve learned a great deal from the personal connections that I’ve made with authors whose work I admire (present company included)—and it’s improved my own work.  I’ve learned about structure and pacing, creating believable characters, writing natural dialogue, etc., etc., from other authors—when I’m able to set my ego aside and stop focusing on the fact that I’m so intimidated by their genius.  Then there’s all that practical stuff about the business end of publishing that they’ve taught me.  I freely admit that I can be stubborn in a lot of ways too, but when experience speaks, I’d be an absolute fool not to listen. 
 
Plus, I truly enjoy the company of my author friends—both online and in person—as authors tend to be a bit more entertaining than your average Joe or Jane.

S.C.: I think it’s essential. My reader friends keep me sane behind the scenes. Wink, wink. You know who you are.

However, I think it’s important for the authors to be careful not to simply talk to each other. We need to engage the readers. Yes, authors are readers too, but we need to be careful we don’t leave the people who read but don’t write, out. I’ve seen so many readers post on Facebook saying “I’m only a reader.” As if that’s somehow not good enough. Only readers are my favorite kind of readers! They experience the story so differently from another author. Only readers are like gold.

C.S.: Very important. Not only do you learn and grow from those who are more seasoned or others who think outside of the box, but networking leads to lasting friendships. Some of my dearest friends started as ‘fellow author.’


How important do you think it is to keep up with all that’s happening in the publishing industry as well as in this genre? Would you say you were well-informed?


David: For me, it’s important to keep up on trends both in the industry and in the genre so that I keep my expectations grounded in reality, and gain a better sense of what is—and what is not—possible in this rapidly changing atmosphere.  I surely don’t know everything there is to know, but I think I’m reasonably well-informed.  I have a lot of good friends now in the business—writers, publishers, editors, reviewers, and bloggers—who have been an invaluable source of advice and guidance.  I also try to attend at least one writers’ conference or retreat each year and, hopefully, I’ll have more time in the near future to devote to these kinds of events and activities.


S.C.: I’m fairly well informed. You should know your genre. We’re a community of artistic types and there will always be drama. It’s good to know what’s going on, but you can’t let it suck your entire day from you.  I make sure that my day is mostly focused on writing.


C.S.: I would say I am reasonably well-informed, and that in part is due to the networking mentioned above. Sometimes I don’t see something that later turns out to be relevant and with author friends, they usually let me know about it! I believe it is important to understand I can’t know and learn it all, and maybe don’t want to. It’s good to have solid ground to stand on, but if all I did was read about the genre and industry, when would I write? A healthy middle ground must be met.


 Felice: I am a news junkie so yes, I read many, many blogs, publications and keep my ears open to what’s happening. It’s not only about the writing. It’s a business and you have to keep your eye on the horizon.

Given the challenges in this current publishing climate, what keeps your passion for the work alive?


S.C.: The work itself keeps me passionate. I love writing M/M. I get lost in these character’s lives and I think about them all the time. I find myself laughing when I write certain scenes, and getting teary at others. It’s cathartic to share the stories bottled up inside.

C.S.: I’ve been writing for a really long time (long time for me, I know, I’m the baby in this group!) and that passion was born from the first smile I saw someone make while reading something I had written. It means everything to me to tell my best story, and for those few hours a reader gives me, to leave them with a smile. It’s remembering that first pleased look that kept me writing for fifteen years, every day, trying to better myself until I reached a point that I could be both proud and humbled to have someone purchase my work. When it’s difficult, I like to remember that. Did I mention I always look at the bright side of life?

Felice: The stories in my head. I love writing them. Even if no one buys them, I’ll keep writing them because it’s what I love to do.

David: For me, writing has never been focused exclusively on getting published.  Publishing is great but if it’s your only goal, I think you lose something along the way.  For me, what keeps my passion alive is that when I finish an original story, it’s a very satisfying feeling.  I’ve created something that didn’t exist before I sat down and wrote it—something from nothing, order out of chaos (which is a pretty apt description of my thought processes even on a good day).  And hopefully—for better or for worse—what I write will be something that will be here after I’m gone.  That’s one of the reasons why, even though obtaining a formal copyright is no longer essential to protecting your legal rights to your work, I continue to do it.  It’s costly and takes forever, but a copyright is a guarantee that what you’ve created will live on after you’re gone—or after your publisher goes out of business—even if it’s hidden away like some alien relic from an X-Files episode in a vast, government warehouse and no one ever reads it again.

 
What do you love most about what you’re working on now?


C.S.: Oh, well I’m writing the second book in my Snow & Winter series, so just piecing together the mystery is always so thrilling for me. But I think I am especially fond of the MC’s voice. Sebastian Snow is a very difficult and fun, crotchety guy to write, and I think he’ll make a lot of people laugh.

Felice: I’m working on a story about a chef and a rabbi. I love food, so that’s fun and I’m looking forward to sharing a little cultural diversity. I may even put some recipes in the back of the book for my traditional Jewish holiday food.

David: One of my current projects is a bit of a departure for me as it’s more of a thriller than a horror story.  With any luck, it will soon become my first full-blown novel.  There will be romance as well as horror which is also somewhat of a departure.  The reason I’m more passionate about this project is because I’ve been working on this idea for several years and, until recently, it never felt like what I was writing was hitting the mark.  I was about to give up on it entirely but decided a few months ago to give it one more go before I shelved the idea for good.  In the process, I threw out a ton of what I’d already written (more than half, in fact) and stripped the story back to its most basic elements.  Once all the clutter was gone, including a couple of secondary characters that were serving no real purpose, the plot finally started to gel.  I also love the fact that it’s set in locations I know like the back of my hand—Palm Springs, CA and Washington, DC—so I haven’t had to do a lot of research on location to have confidence that I’ve gotten the geography, the history, and logistics right, though I’m always happy to have an excuse for more pool time in Palm Springs.


S.C: I like throwing different types of people together. Right now I have a nerdy pencil pusher type butting heads with a cowboy. I also have a rich kid who hits a bike messenger with his car, and then decides to nurse him back to health. When you get to make up the stories, the possibilities are endless.

What do you wish you had known before you began publishing professionally?


Felice: How time-consuming everything is. How much non-writing work there is to getting your
name out there. And how necessary it is to have a trusted group of friends you can rely on. David: I came into the publishing world with a rather naïve vision of what it would be like and I was ill-prepared for the “office politics” (with a small “p”) that I quickly discovered lurking in the background on social media, at retreats, and at conferences.  I had this adolescent idea that when we all came together in one genre or another we’d be a big, happy family with the same goals and aspirations.  Everyone would get along handsomely and have each other’s backs.  But like any industry, I suppose, you invariably run afoul of sensitive egos, players, and professional rivalries that complicate relationships and make the whole experience something less enjoyable than my ideal.  Cliques form and gossip is rampant, and even the pettiest of squabbles can turn quickly into ugly, public spectacles as people line up to take sides and throw verbal punches at each other.  I will always be a staunch supporter of, and advocate for, my dear friends where necessary but I’m not naturally inclined toward confrontation or conflict.  I find it distasteful, stressful, and hard to get over emotionally.  Truth told, it’s caused me to back away from certain events and people, and I’m unsure of the wisest course to follow going forward.  If anything in this world could ever drive me away from publishing it would be this, but frankly, this kind of thing happens in all walks of life, so I’m not going to allow that to happen.  As I stated earlier, I think making and keeping connections is essential.
 
David: I came into the publishing world with a rather naïve vision of what it would be like and I was ill-prepared for the “office politics” (with a small “p”) that I quickly discovered lurking in the background on social media, at retreats, and at conferences.  I had this adolescent idea that when we all came together in one genre or another we’d be a big, happy family with the same goals and aspirations.  Everyone would get along handsomely and have each other’s backs.  But like any industry, I suppose, you invariably run afoul of sensitive egos, players, and professional rivalries that complicate relationships and make the whole experience something less enjoyable than my ideal.  Cliques form and gossip is rampant, and even the pettiest of squabbles can turn quickly into ugly, public spectacles as people line up to take sides and throw verbal punches at each other.  I will always be a staunch supporter of, and advocate for, my dear friends where necessary but I’m not naturally inclined toward confrontation or conflict.  I find it distasteful, stressful, and hard to get over emotionally.  Truth told, it’s caused me to back away from certain events and people, and I’m unsure of the wisest course to follow going forward.  If anything in this world could ever drive me away from publishing it would be this, but frankly, this kind of thing happens in all walks of life, so I’m not going to allow that to happen.  As I stated earlier, I think making and keeping connections is essential.

 
S.C.: How painful professional edits can be. The first few times you’re edited it feels like you hold out this delicate little treasure, and the editor takes a hatchet and whacks away violently. That isn’t actually what happens. But to newbs it feels that way. I’m way less sensitive now days. I value each editor’s input so much. They are there to protect me and help me tell the best story possible. I now realize it was never a hatchet, it was always a scalpel.


C.S.: Hm…. I’m not sure the best answer. I researched publishing for a long time, from the traditional big guys, to the indie presses in our community most know by name. I can’t say anything really threw me for a loop. That’s one thing I can get an A+ on. Research.

What’s the best piece of advice you could give an aspiring writer?


David: The best advice?  That’s a tough one.  Off the top of my head, it would have to be something like this:  No matter how good you think you are today, there is always room to improve, so never stop working on your craft.  Keep writing.  Keep reading.  Find a good editor.  Don’t just network; make real and lasting friendships within the industry.  Get used to the fact that not everyone is going to like you or like what you write, and that’s perfectly okay.  Learn to take constructive criticism and distinguish it from a personal attack.  If it is a personal attack, laugh it off and don’t internalize the negativity—responding to bullies outright only encourages them to ramp up their game.  And last, but not least, enjoy whatever praise comes your way because you worked hard for it.

S.C.: Keep it professional in public.

 Grow a thick skin. Not everyone will like what you do. Deal with it. Accept it. And even if you think you’re the best thing since sliced bread, always be working on writing better. Read, research and put time into learning how to write well. The ideas are the easy part. Executing it takes skill.

C.S.: Practice! Practice, practice, practice. When I learned to play the violin, I was psyched! Look at me, mom! But was I good enough to start applying to orchestras? No. Writing is an art, just like drawing or painting or playing instruments. You have to commit and study and know it won’t happen overnight. You must practice first.

Felice: Learn your craft. Take on-line classes that RWA groups give, find a critique group and really listen to what they have to say. Get edited and proofread before you publish. Have as many qualified eyes on your work before you send it to a publisher or hit that publish button. Pay for quality editing. It shows. Don’t read your reviews.  J If you’re planning on writing M/M Romance, get Josh’s book, Man oh Man, Writing Quality M/M Fiction.

Josh: FELICE IS MY FAVORITE, FOR THE RECORD.

Anything else you want to address?


S.C.: I’d love to thank you, Josh, for having me on your blog, along with the other authors. You could have just asked us what our favorite color was, but you dug deeper and I appreciate that.

Answering these questions actually helped me get a better understanding of what I think and feel about my experience as an author. Maybe readers will find my answers interesting. Maybe my responses will help them catch up on some much needed sleep. Either way it’s a win, win.

C.S.: Be friendly. Be kind. Please never lose your passion. Whether you are a writer, reader, reviewer, artist, publisher, editor… you are awesome.

Felice: I want to thank you, Josh for giving me this opportunity. Your books have always been my inspiration.

David: Last words, huh?  I hope I didn’t come off overly pessimistic today, because despite everything I’ve said, I’m very hopeful about the future of M/M and LGBT publishing, and publishing in general too.  Book lovers will always have to have new books in some form.  I think the best is yet to come once the industry settles into some kind of stasis, and I look forward to many years ahead, reading, writing, connecting, and publishing in whatever mediums evolve.  With that, I’m afraid, my font of writerly wisdom has runneth dry and I should stop talking now.

********
Thank you to Felice, David, S.C. and Caroll. I appreciate your thoughtful and sincere answers. And I hope this has been interesting to our readers!

10 comments:

Clare London said...

Marvellously heartening and honest responses from your interviewees, Josh! Thanks for sharing :)

Dianne said...

Loved discovering what all these wonderful authors have to say about a subject so near and dear. Gave me a great smile to start the day. Thanks everyone for taking the time to share with us :-)

Anne Marie Becker said...

Thank you to all the authors who shared their voices here today!

scwynne said...

FELICE IS YOUR FAVORITE???? LOL

Josh Lanyon said...

I loved hearing how passionate all four of them are about the work itself, about the craft. :-)

Josh Lanyon said...

AND I loved that they all understand you have to look at the big picture. You need a game plan, a strategy, and it's got to be for the long haul. I hear people who have been published for all of a five years complaining that it's all over and the end is nigh. That's an amateur talking. Those are the words of someone who just landed on the doorstep.

Josh Lanyon said...

OKAY, S.C., FELICE IS ONE OF MY TOP FOUR FAVORITES. How's that? ;-D

Toni Anderson said...

Great interviews. Thanks for sharing. So many different perspectives in this interesting publishing landscape of today. Craft is so important, and taking time to write the best book you can. I'm very much against the panic mindset. Long haul thinking is required for a lifetime career! Thanks again 😎

Felice Stevens said...

Yeah S.c. YOU GOTTA PROBLEM WITH DAT?? :D

Lloyd Meeker said...

Thank you for the fine conversation, everyone. Really solid.

I came away from the Dreamspinner retreat in Orlando last week cherishing my connections with friends and allies, and resigned to the financial realities of not being prolific, not being a big seller, and not being an A-list personality.

I continue work to become a better writer, continue producing a new novel every twelve to sixteen months because that's what I am driven to do and the best I can do, and continue to celebrate the magic of stories with the network I've been lucky enough to stumble into.