Friday, March 12, 2010

What are you willing to do?

A thread in the Kindle Boards forum asked authors "What are you willing to do (or give up) to be a successful writer?"

I already feel like a successful writer because I am taking steps to find whatever audience I deserve. I had six books on the shelves (one is still clinging to the late stages of being in print), and I never was able to "quit the day job," but the money from Act I of my career helped get me a house. I measure success differently these days, because I am already pretty content with my life, though I do have the goal of cutting out that trip to the office every day.

Self-publishing books for me are not a way to get attention, assuage my ego, or get instant gratification. I have over 500 rejection slips and I still get them. I still want to publish in a major press. But now I have a baseline for what my work is worth and what the rights are worth. I believe this is a viable foundation for a lasting career, because I can track how much income I can expect to make and how many books it would take to make a living. My sales have increased to the point where having six novels out would equal my take-home pay from my day job. Of course, this ebook enterprise doesn't have a retirement plan or health insurance. If the U.S. adopted nationalized health care, I'm sure I would join the hundreds of thousands of people who would immediately follow their dreams instead of taking the "safe route."

Well, no route is safe. Amazon could cut a deal today with major publishers and drop all indie authors. The continued recession could lead to the death of $250 handheld reading devices. Ebooks could become seen as free content and few writers would even stay in business. Ebooks could evolve into interactive experiences requiring large and skilled production staffs, adding audio and video, that make printing and shipping a paper book look like a walk in the park. The ebook market could reach the saturation point when most every book ever printed floods the market in the next few years.

There are no guarantees, and even the experts are already weeks or months behind what is actually happening in the trenches. All I know is to act on the evidence I see before me: Publish X number of novels and get X number of sales per month and earn X dollars. Publish in New York to stay visible and reach the paper audience, because it is the ebook audience of the future. Write stories without regard to narrow commercial considerations, because now they are lasting works of art instead of three-month shelf products. Write without bitterness over an industry that some feel conspires to keep writers locked out.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's excellent blog "Freelance Survival Guide" muses on the various business considerations of the writing life, as well as the ephemeral notions of success. She says it much more succinctly than I can but the gist is success will change over the course of your life and career. For me, there are measurable goals of sales, income, and the reaching, serving, and satisfying of an audience. But no check I've ever received has matched that feeling of typing the last line of a story and sitting there all sick and shivery and tense and dewy-eyed and whispering, "Nailed it."

There is only one thing I'm willing to do to be a successful writer: write.


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