Myths of Being a Published Writer: Part 2

Myth: If I publish enough books, I’ll be able to make a living as a writer.

Fact: I wish I could say this is true, but there is no guarantee you’ll make a living as a writer, no matter how many books you publish.

And I have no idea why some authors sell more than others or why some books appeal to a wider audience than others.  Look at all the vampire books out there.  There are so many of them, I can’t even begin to count them all.  But it’s only a few we actually know about as a society.  Twilight might have made it big, but that doesn’t mean all vampire books will make it big.  I met a NY Times Bestselling author who was featured on JA Konrath’s blog who made big sales with one of her books.  But her others didn’t sell even a fraction of what that one did, and no matter how many more she publishes, it’s just not there.  Why?  I have no idea.

This is something we can’t take for granted.  While publishing more books increases our odds, it doesn’t promise anything.  That’s why you have to be in this business because you love it.  It has to be something you have to do.  It’s hard, often frustrating, definitely confusing.  The business isn’t an easy one to understand.  There is no easy answer to why some books sell and others don’t.    There is no “one-size fits all” marketing technique out there.

And it might not even be you that does something to hurt your sales.  The algorithms on online bookstores could mess you up.  I suspect that probably causes a lot of the damage to sales because without visibility, how are you going to reach new readers?  I’ve heard of authors who were selling very well when a glitch in the system knocked them down and it hurt their sales and chances of being noticed.  I’m not even going to try to guess what causes glitches, but I’ve read enough about them on forums to know something is going on.  Once in a while, this stuff works against authors.  Writing more books can help buffer you, but it might not save you.  Just don’t take anything for granted.  This is a rollercoaster business and the only relief I find is when I remove myself from all online activities so I can write (because writing is one of the few things that gives me peace and joy).

I know I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again: do whatever you can today to put yourself in the best financial position possible.  I am preaching to myself with this one.  I’d like to say that I have a huge emergency fund put aside and no mortgage payment.  The truth is, I still have a mortgage payment and nothing saved aside because I’m struggling to make my quarterly voucher payments for taxes (which went from 15% to 40% on the federal level thanks to the new IRS laws, and when you consider my state income tax, I am taxed at almost 47% of my total income).  So if anyone needs to hear, “Be careful and wise with money,” it’s me.

Myth:  You must write every day if you’re serious about writing.

Fact: Writing every day might lead to burnout which means your books will suffer in quality.

Sometimes a break does you the most good.  I do think you need a schedule.  A routine helps you stay focused on what you need to do, and you maximize your effectiveness if you have a set time when you sit down and write.  With kids, I tend to spread my time out across the day, but I’ve noticed there are certain hours of the day where I have the best chance of meeting my word count goals for the day.  Word count goals help me stay focused and helps me see my progress in a way that encourages me to keep going.  Other authors find it more beneficial to write for X number of hours, regardless of word count.  Some authors even take weekends off.  As a general rule, I don’t take weekends off because weekends can be my most productive time (esp. I can write while my kids are playing at the park).

But no matter what your situation is, I think it’s time we stopped feeling guilty for taking some time off from writing.  This idea that we must write every single day can be unhealthy.  It can force us to write out poor quality work (just to make word count) or make us hate writing the story we’re working on.  Sometimes you don’t know where you’re going in a story and need to take a break from that story until you figure it out.  This is why I work on more than one book at a time.

We aren’t machines and real life kicks in.  When I start feeling my enthusiasm slide on writing, I’ve learned that if I take a nap, go for a walk, take the day (maybe even week or more) off, watch a movie, or read, I feel my enthusiasm return.  There are days when I push through that “I don’t feel like writing” feeling, but if I have only managed a couple hundred words in two or three hours, I call it quits because I know I need a break.  There’s also time when you should focus on family and friends.  Vacations, family day trips, etc need to be a priority because at the end of our lives, it’s the people we loved who also loved us that give our life the greatest meaning.  Writing is important; it’s who we are.  But it’s not more important than people.  So there should be a balance somewhere.  A schedule can help give you a structure where you can set aside time for writing and time for the people in your life.

Now, it is harder to get back into the writing routine when you get out of it, so be prepared to feel like you’re pulling teeth in order to get stuff written after you come back from an extended break.  If you just take a break for a day or two, you’ll be fine, but I’ve found if you’re away from the routine for a week or more, it’s awful to get back into the routine.  If you’re having trouble getting into the routine again, be patient with yourself.  Just because you’re not making a certain word count every day, it doesn’t mean you’re not serious about writing.  Being serious about writing means you care about the quality of your books.

I’m going to say it again in bold so because I want this thinking to take the place of the “you must write every day” trap:  Being serious about writing means you care about the quality of your books.   Quality being the key word.  “Quality” basically means is that you put forth your very best effort with the help of outside resources (other people who know what they’re doing).

47 Comments

  1. The Real Cie says:

    Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    I’m reblogging this because it might help other writery people. It was a good read for me.

  2. jerrydunne says:

    Hi Ruth,
    as any athlete will tell you: rest is as important as exercise. You just have to find the personal balance between the two. Why should it be any different for writers? Not only is it important to take rest periods but I think it’s also important to have periods in which you idle away your time. During these times you are recharging your imaginatve batteries like at no other, in my opinion. Often, your best ideas may spring up at these periods. So, in a sense, it is idling with intent.

    1. I like that. Idling with intent. 😀 That’s the perfect way to think about it. I was stuck in the trap of feeling like I had failed if I didn’t push myself to write, no matter how tired I was. Rest is definitely important. I think that’s true with anything.

  3. sknicholls says:

    I have often wondered just what does make one a “successful” writer? That I have actually worked hard enough to write and publish one book makes me feel quite accomplished, but I don’t ever expect to be able to live off my word Hahaha! Thanks to some honest opinions from my new wordpress family, I will be unveiling my new cover art soon, stay tuned…always room for improvement, even for a perfectionist!

    1. To me, success is writing what you love and being content with where you’re at. I think success varies from author to author. There isn’t one definition for it. I realize a lot of people think it’s in the money, but I think if the only thing a writer cares about is money, then they won’t be fulfilled in the long run. Money can’t buy happiness if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing.

      There is always room for improvement, no matter how many books you’ve published. I have just published my 31st romance, and I still find ways to write better. It’s all part of the process. 😀

      How exciting on the cover art! That’s one of the thrilling parts of self-publishing. I love being in control of the covers. 😀

      1. sknicholls says:

        Wow 31 and still going! Now that is impressive!

        1. The key is that I keep writing what I’m interested in. I think if I wrote what I thought was popular, I would have burned out long ago. 😀

  4. I do cartoons. One very prominent cartoonist took the time to write me a few personal paragraphs. He explained that only a few hundred cartoonists world wide make a living at it and if one can bring in $500 to $2,500 a year that is respectable. So as you say , keep the day job. Even the most successful writers draw only about 10% royalty.

    1. Thanks for telling me about cartoonists. I didn’t know what they made.

      Sometimes I think it’s a shame we only hear about the authors who are making a lot of money, as if those who don’t are somehow not worth mentioning. I guess it’s like that in any business.

      All I know from writing is that sales are fickle and not something that is guaranteed to stay steady. Don’t put your eggs into one basket is a great motto. Additional sources of income are a huge buffer, just in case. 😀

      1. K. A. Jordan says:

        This is a really good point. I’m pleased to have a very small, but steady income from my books. It’s enough to pay for the next book, if I only publish one a year. I’m on a ‘rest period’ right now. There is too much to do outside to stay indoors, writing all day. I’d feel resentful if I “had” to write every day.

        1. A book a year is good. 😀 I see no reason to write if it becomes something that has to be done. Then it becomes a burden instead of something you love. There’s a lot of debate on how business oriented we should be, but honestly, what works for one person doesn’t work for another. I see no reason to lump everyone into the same mold. I enjoy the rest periods. Every other job has a vacation. Why not writing? And who says we have to reach for making a living off our work? These things that come up where we’re only taken seriously as writers if we meet a certain level of sales or earn so much money isn’t productive. Instead, we should be concerned about writing the best book we can. To me, that is what a serious writer does.

          1. K. A. Jordan says:

            I’ve been a caregive these last few years. There isn’t much energy left for writing. I’d rather pause that turn out crap.

            1. Being a caregiver has to be rough, and you wouldn’t be able to write like someone who doesn’t have the same demands that you do. No matter how much time it takes, I agree that putting out your best work is key. By the way, I have a lot of respect and admiration for you in being a caregiver. 😀

  5. I agree that you don’t have to write every day. After I finished my short story “Resurrection”, I wanted to get started on my next project, but instead I took a personal day and watched a lot of Doctor Who. Let me tell you, it really recharged my batteries.

    1. I think taking breaks between stories is a great idea. I tend to go through and clean my entire house. LOL I know that’s not as fun as watching something (I would much rather do that), but with four kids and a husband, I pretty much have to deal with the house. Otherwise, I’d sit back and treat myself to a few movies. 😀

        1. I like a range of them. I have kids so most end up being kid movies. Thankfully, they’re at the age where the movies have good plots. But if I pick up movies to watch without them, I lean toward movies that are thrillers. I’m too much of a wimp to see blood and guts so I avoid horror, unless the horror movie is more psychological than gory. Ironically, I’m not a big romance movie watcher. I think I like to take a break from romance on my off-time because that’s what I write. 😀

          Do you have any favorites besides Doctor Who?

          1. Well, I do like scary movies and action films. I also read a lot, so manga and thrillers and horror novels. I’m actually reading Cujo for the first time. I got 30 pages in before bed the first day and I had a nightmare! That’s saying something.

            1. Stephen King does an amazing job with suspense. My favorite by him is the novella “The Langoliers” but the novel Misery would be a close second. It’s not even outright scary, but there’s a subtle spookiness to the stories that work on your subconscious mind. And Cujo was one of them.

              1. Cujo gave me nightmares 30 pages in. It and The Stand are still some of my favorites. I hear Hollywood’s trying to give all 3 the movie treatment though. I wonder what that’ll be like.

            2. Oh yes, I remember The Stand. That creeped me out a lot. LOL

              1. Especially Randall Flagg. Btw, quick question for you.

            3. What’s your question? Is it something you need to email me? If so, feel free.

              1. No, I’m just wondering if interviews of other self-published writers is something that can be done on this blog.

            4. Sure, feel free to interview whoever you want. 😀

              1. Oh, I should add that they should be an author you interview. (It’s safer that way.)

                If you want to share an interview you found on another blog, I suggest taking a sample of the interview (a paragraph or two) then linking back to the blog post so people can read it over on that blog. Also, give credit to the person who did the interview.

                However, if you do the interview yourself, then you can post the whole thing on this blog without any possible copyright issues.

              2. Awesome. I know whom to ask first. Thanks for answering my question.

  6. Katie Cross says:

    Very interesting perspective!
    You have several points in here that I agree with completely, not the least of which is the fact that you don’t have to write every single day. I’d go nuts. Sometimes, my writing improves if I’ve taken a break and given myself a chance to have a fresh mind.

    1. I’ve noticed my passion for writing has improved a lot ever since I let myself have those periods where I rest. I never realized how draining it was to force myself to write every day.

  7. lccooper says:

    Spot on, Ruth! Thanks for relieving me of my guilt-trip for not cranking out word count every day. Timely advice, as my computer died, taking a week to return to life. For once, I actually had a relatively current backup of my work, but I still lost 6,000 words. Instead of making the #$*((*# laptop become one with the wall, I took a break. Wow, what a world of good it did me: My story got a spark in a new direction, one major loose end came together nicely, and I’m almost finished with the first draft. This all occurred over the last two weeks–on a manuscript I’ve been struggling with for the last year.

    having said that, would you all quit messing with my head? Geez … “have a large backlist before promoting” … “blog your butt off” … “network, network, network” … “no, focus on cranking out 3-4 novels a year” … and the advice rolls on. Although I am proud of my inner-lemming, my tiny legs are weary from chasing the latest concept. So, I dusted off my desk, and I’m again enjoying the thrill of writing stories. The angst of interpreting the schizophrenic marketplace is behind me.

    LC Cooper, author of: Christmess Diary of a Reluctant Vampire Legacy Man Cave Simmering Consequences The Voices of Cellar’s Bridge “Barefoot Homecoming” “Dan’s Accidental Convertible” “Halloween’s Perfect Storm” “Of Yellow Snow and Christmas Balls” “One Lousy Wish” “There Was a Knock at the Door”

    Date: Sun, 9 Jun 2013 09:01:11 +0000 To: l.c_cooper@hotmail.com

    1. LOL I’m sorry your laptop died on you and you lost 6,000 words, but I did get a chuckle out of the whole “stop messing with my head” stuff. 😀

      The more I do this, the less I’m convinced that networking is as effective as the experts say it is. I got burnt out from networking and huge a step back to concentrate more on writing. I don’t think the networking impacted sales as much as people would have us believe. I also don’t think blogging is for everyone. I blog because it helps me think clearly and see what I want to do with my works in progress. I tried journaling on my own or just keeping it all in my head, but that didn’t work for me. As for a certain book count a year, after watching some authors who have a lot of books out and keep producing them, I don’t really see a correlation between the number of books and making a living wage (which is what the whole 3-4 books a year thing is about). However, you could write 10 books a year and possibly not make a living wage. While more books helps your odds, it’s no guarantees, so I wouldn’t stress how many books you write a year. The important thing is to enjoy what you’re doing. 😀

  8. I would add that spending time thinking about plot points even if you can’t type it is a good way to work them out. I do it while I am doing other things. I tend not to think about what the overall blogosphere thinks I should be doing about my books. I simply write, or plan, or construct. I have found that blogging is the worst way to use valuable time to write, so I only blog when I feel strongly enough about something to say something. I agree that Quality is the only thing one should focus on when writing, but I don’t try too hard. That can be just as damaging as not trying hard enough. Be fluid, like water, and you will come out of a project just fine.

    I should add that I write vampire books, too, but focus more on the plot than the vampirism. Heroes with fangs, basically.

    1. Thinking over plot points is a good tactic. I like to break away from my work when I get stuck and do something else while I go over possible ways to take a book.

      For me, blogging is how I best think. LOL I don’t blog in hopes anyone will read it but just to get everything out of my head and down on the screen. I’ve tried journaling, but for some reason, blogging is much more effective.

      Amen on not trying too hard for quality. I did that early on and my writing was so stiff that it was jarring.

      Plot is king. I don’t see what fun reading any book would be if there was no compelling plot to it.

  9. yhosby says:

    Reblogged this on yawattahosby and commented:
    Ruth Ann Nordin has a great blog post about the myths of self-publishing. My favorite is her quote: “Being serious about writing means you care about the quality of your books.”

  10. I learned a lot of this the hard way. And I agree with every word of it!

    1. Thanks! These weren’t easy for me to learn either. I hope someone else can avoid the difficulties we faced.

  11. Nadja Notariani says:

    Ruth,
    I greatly appreciated this two part post – and needed to read it at this particular time. THANK YOU!

    1. You’re welcome! 😀

  12. Rohan 7 Things says:

    Great points! Some very important things to keep in mind here, thanks for sharing 🙂

    Rohan.

  13. carlhackman says:

    Great post. It is nice to know that even published authors have the same problems we mere mortals have sometimes 🙂 Retweeted for you.

    1. LOL I don’t consider myself as doing anything special. 😀 I’m very lucky I get to publish my own books. When I was a kid, I had no idea I’d have the honor and pleasure of seeing my books in ebooks and paperbacks. Well, back when I was a kid, I hadn’t even thought ebooks would exist. I can only imagine what things will look like in the future. Things are changing so fast. I hope I can keep up.

      Thanks for retweeting! 😀

  14. Rob Taylor says:

    Very good perspective. I often have to get out and just observe….in the streets, the gym,….feel the flow of life.flow

    1. Observing is a great way of collecting material to help with writing later on. Sometimes I watch movies and TV to get an idea of the techniques the writers use in telling the storytelling and watch the actors to get their visual cues. It’s funny how we never stop writing, even when we’re taking a break. 😀

      1. Rob Taylor says:

        That would be true 😉

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