Saturday, April 23, 2011

Indie Flip Side: The Fallacy of "Just Writing"

(Note: This is NOT a judgment of someone else's decisions, or a declaration that a traditional publishing deal is "wrong," or that I think anyone makes a "mistake" by accepting a traditional publishing deal. This is simply a philosophical exploration of consequences of paths you choose in your life, and what you want. If a publishing deal gives you what you want, you absolutely, positively should take it.

I refer to Amanda Hocking for the sole reason that she is the current symbolic lightning rod. Two years ago, it would have been Boyd Morrison. Last year, J.A. Konrath, and in two months it will probably be John Locke. While "Scott slams Amanda" would get me more blog hits, I'd rather take the post--and the entire blog--down than suggest such a thing.

I can't make those choices for you or anyone else, only myself. And I won't even know until the next one is offered, and then I will only know it for that one deal at that time for me, not all deals for anyone at any other time. That is the point of what follows. I thought it was clear but I apparently failed to communicate it well)

The discussion (and it is now a discussion, not an "argument" or a "debate") on whether writers should choose the indie or the traditional path, or both, usually focuses on money alone. That's odd, because money is usually one of the least valuable considerations when you are choosing how to spend your life. Clearly time is the most valuable resource, because it's non-renewable and finite, unlike money.

A successful writer friend recently gave me a "hot tip" on an emerging book sector--it was all the rage at an international book fair, and now publishers have the stats to back it up. Stats mean sales people can buy in, which means editors can spend money, and writers can get book deals, and everybody's happy. Right? He was trying to get me in on it as an act of generosity, with connections in place and everything. And I thought about it, because that siren song of "Your name on a REAL BOOK" is still pretty melodic. I could do it. I have an agent and enough success and this market is new enough that my old genre sales numbers wouldn't matter.

The next morning I woke up and thought, "No way in hell." Think of the drama. First off I'd have to explain it all to my agent, come up with an outline and sample chapters, wait to see if it sold, then work with editors and PR department and then wait up to a year for anything to happen, all the while getting approvals and requests for revisions. Dozens and probably hundreds of emails and phone calls. Just thinking about it exhausts me, when my biggest worry today is whether I should plant beans or plant spinach.

When compared to just typing and publishing as I do now, a big manufacturing process is not very appealing. That's not to say a good editor can't greatly improve a book. But you know what? I am already an editor. I edit other people's books, and I am probably better at it than some who are doing it on salary, because I'm a writer and not just a reader. That's not ego, that's 15 years of experience.

I have to laugh every time someone quotes Amanda Hocking saying she took her deal so she could "just write." I saw on a blog that her assistant had turned down a request by the blog for an interview. So, aside from the layer she's now installed from her former real life when she dealt with the book bloggers who were important to her success, she is managing an assistant, as well as the "lawyers, accountants, and financial advisors" that success brought. And an agent, and probably several agents if you count film and foreign rights, and Hollywood people for the movie versions. And at least one editor, until those foreign rights sell, and then there are multiple editors.

And despite the oohs and ahs over a $2 mil contract, that is not a lot for four books/English world rights when the superstars earn $10 mil per book. By industry standard definitions, she is an upper midlist writer, which means she will still have to do a lot of promo work, which means dealing with a PR department--and book signings, events, travel, and she will be working harder than ever to run a business, because now it's not as simple as watching it dump into her bank account now. She is managing a staff, or perhaps a better word for it is an "empire." And even if she continues self-publishing on the side, she can't remove those layers and obligations and interruptions.

Before you light the torches and storm the castle, please note I am in no way demeaning, second-guessing, or wishing Amanda Hocking ill--we have traded emails in the past and in her social media presence she is clearly sweet and compassionate, and I wish her all continued success and happiness and nothing less than utter joy. But I suspect her life just got more complicated than ever and the one thing she can no longer do is "just write." Perhaps there's a reason J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer went dark.

People overlook the value of quality of life and how time is spent. I can't speak for anyone else, but for me, I realize lots of money would NOT make my life "better." Just having to buy the next used car fills me with fear--choices! My wife and I tried to picture ourselves in the perfect vehicles for us, and we agreed--for me, it's the rusty 1986 Isuzu pickup I already own. It's my dream car, I love driving it, I like my self-image when I am driving it (a working-class hero), and it's useful. I am incredibly happy when I stop by the landfill to salvage firewood or get a load of manure from the neighbor's pasture.

A boatload of cash would just create more burdens and deplete the one finite resource that is most valuable--time. Another friend of mine is struggling with this same situation--whether to go corporate and what the gain would be, when he's already living the life of his dreams.I'm already burdened by the money I do have, because it begets desire. I am going to find the cheapest potatoes in town, buy a truckload, and drive it to our local Hunger Coalition. I trust God will fill that hole back up in my bank account, because She's done it over and over. I don't say that to brag about how humble I am, but from the acute awareness that all the goodness that comes to me is an obligation to return goodness to the world.

There's no way a big fat book deal would improve my life. I don't care how much money it is. It would be a step backward. Because I am already doing everything I want on my own terms, and that is all I ever wanted. Going that route would be someone else's (many someones) routes. I'd go from being a business owner to a temp contract employee.

That's not to say I'd never take a corporate deal. The point is, I don't need to. Just the offer from my friend made me anxious and unhappy, because it sounded like the sort of opportunity I should leap at, and that I should rush before the crowd gets there.

But, guess what? I am quite happy outside the crowd. And I've had my best success, luck, and happiness following my own path. That doesn't mean I am isolated, because without you, my writing and my dream becomes rather meaningless. But we're connected precisely because I am outside the crowd, not because I'm in it.

I am already doing everything I wanted in my writing career--writing stories for a living. My life wouldn't be improved by a shinier car or a third house or a bass boat. While there is a "next" to shoot for, there's not a "better" or a "next level." When you're living a dream, why leave it for someone else's dream?

If your dream is $2 million, there are tons of millions out there. If you want to spend more time on the phone with strangers talking about money, that is possible, too. I just hope each of you are happy. It's the hardest thing in the world to be, and a thing writers often seem least capable of achieving.


21 comments: said...

You articulated brilliantly the value of time -- unlike money, you can't make any more of it. Thank you for telling a truth that needs to be told loudly and often.

I recently blogged about what it felt like to be an indie author. It feels good. -- Lindsay said...

This is the link to the blog about being an indie author, meant to include it:


McDermott said...

I think this is the best blog post I ever read. Kudos to you pal.

rinnziegler said...

I have been writing for quite some time and nausea inducing idea of the "industry" (signings, publicity, contacts, pitches, agents) has stopped me from even thinking about publishing.

I agree with you completely. I want to write, and have control over the process. Enough money to support that habit is really all I desire. That is why I have chosen to go indie.

Michelle Muto said...

Excellent, excellent post. Isn't it a relief when you realize it isn't money that make you happy? Thanks so much for this post, Scott.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Thanks for sharing your link, Lindsay. I will pop over and read it.

Thanks, McDermott.

Rinnzeigler, best wishes for writing happiness!

Michelle, yes, it's quite a relief!

janellemadigan said...

Such a great post. I was just saying today that, despite my temptation to become a workaholic, I'm realizing that I write, one, because it's fulfilling, and two, so my family and I can live our dreams. Thanks for writing this post.

McDermott said...


I just read this post from a blog I never visited before, but it is terrific, and very much along the lines of yours. Being technically challenged, I'm having difficulty getting it to come up as a link, but the URL is as follows:



Brenda said...

The drama of whether to plant beans or spinach is the level of drama that appeals to me. Thanks for sharing.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Hi Janelle, I learned the best thing you can do for your family is live your dream and be happy.

Thanks for that link M, I wanted to comment there but couldn't find a slot.

Brenda, well, when the Japanese radiation hits, it COULD get interesting...

Mark Terry said...

Great post that may very well have come at exactly the right time for me. I'm a successful freelance writer and that includes novel writing both indie and traditional, but I've been considering some other business-related publishing ventures and although I think one of them could be quite lucrative, the thought that keeps intruding is, "I really hope something else comes up." Probably a warning signal.

Jason White said...

Thanks for posting this, Scott! Very informative and interesting. As an indie author myself (my stuff has mostly been published by small, indie anthologies and magazines), your blog here makes me wonder where I should go with my own writing. Take it to the next level or remain where I am. I love writing, but I'm not sure I could do the phone call thing with strangers, talking money.

Maybe I could. Who knows?

Suzan Harden said...

Dang, Scott. Is there something in the air? I had this very same discussion with a customer at my part-time job. He asked me if a stack of gold bricks would change my life. From somewhere deep inside of me came the word, "No." It really threw him for a loop, but it gave me the answer I've been looking for. Thanks!

Neal Hock said...

Very eloquently put, Scott. I wish you all the happiness that you seek. It's a difficult journey at times, but it's a rewarding one.

And having seen your truck, I think it is the perfect vehicle for you. I can't picture you in a Cadillac.


author Scott Nicholson said...

Thanks, everyone--some people have misinterpreted this as a criticism of Amanda Hocking's decision, and that's why I'm revising it. This isn't about Amanda Hocking. It could be anyone. It's just the whole idea that there's a "next level," or a "better," or some magical fantasy land where you "just write." There's not one. There's this place called reality and I hope you're inspired to make the best of it.


author Christa Polkinhorn said...

Couldn't have said it any better. I take time anytime before money, as long as my basic, frugal needs are met. And I would just plant both beans and spinach. Guten Appetit!

Claude Forthomme said...

Great Post. You are a very brave person, Scott, because you have the guts to tell the truth and live up to it. So many people fall for the lure of "more, more, more"! And more money does not equal more happiness!

Everyone in America means to exercise their "right to pursuit happiness".


But how many people really know what it means?

Claude Nougat

author Scott Nicholson said...

thanks Christa, and an auf weiderschein to you

Claude, glad you came by.


David Ross Erickson said...

Excellent post, Scott. I wish more Indies had your attitude.

Here's a conversation between Pyrrhus of Epirus and his chief ambassador, Cineas. They were speaking of Pyrrhus' conquest of Italy.

Cineas: Once we have Italy, what next?

Pyrrhus: Sicily, which is a wealthy island, should be easy to take.

Cineas: Will the possession of Sicily put an end to the war?

Pyrrhus: Carthage and Africa would then be within reach, and once we have them, who in the world would dare oppose us?

Cineas: No one, certainly. And then what shall we do?

Pyrrhus: Then, my dear Cineas, we will relax, and drink all day, and amuse ourselves with pleasant conversation.

Cineas: What prevents us from doing that now? We already have enough to make that possible without any more hard work, suffering and danger."

The logic of this troubled Pyrrhus, but he was unwilling to abandon the hopes of what he so much desired.

Lori Lowe said...

"But, guess what? I am quite happy outside the crowd. And I've had my best success, luck, and happiness following my own path."

Amen. Thanks for inspiring more of us as self-publishers!

L.J. Sellers said...

Nice post. Occasionally when I start to covet one of those mega deals, I have to remind myself of how great my life is...just the way it is.

I already make it more complicated than it needs to be with my own driven, workaholic nature, so I sure don't need to add any layers. And I never want to get to the point that I don't have time to communicate with readers.

Well said. Happy trails.