Transitioning from Part-Time to Full-Time Writing

Until this year, I have been under the very common umbrella of part-time writer, no matter how much I'd like to claim I was writing full time. By spending more than half of my time editing for clients, I wasn't really a full-time author. That changed when I set aside most of my editorial work in favor of actually writing.

In this post, I'm going to go into detail about my evolution as a writer, as well as the challenges I'll face transitioning from part-time to full-time writing. There is also a bit of a question and answer session at the very end, as a few folks on Google+ wanted me to address some specific aspects of my writing career.

Eye of God Cover ArtTo some, the story began when I published my first novel, The Eye of God. The story of Terin and Blaise was written after Storm Without End, but due to my decision to rewrite Storm Without End for the sixth or so time, The Eye of God was published first.

The story actually begins long before I hit the publish button. If I had to pick an actual date my writing story began, it was when I sat down, some twelve years ago, and hammered out a novel in three days. I consumed an entire case of Nestea. I also made my fingers bleed.

I learned very quickly that the story was complete and total garbage. After a fight with depression and low self esteem, I eventually got back into the saddle, writing a bunch of mostly-finished (but not edited) novels, until I discovered Kalen's first story. Eventually, that novel would become Storm Without End.

It took me eight years, approximately, to get to the point I wrote the first draft of Kalen's story, which is drastically different than Storm Without End–it doesn't even include a reference to the Rift, let alone any actual Rifters.

You might be wondering why I'm telling you this. Here's why. On the fourth draft of Storm Without End, which was titled Ascension at the time, I got a bunch of serious bites from agents. I also got a great mention on Authonomy. The novel had been selected as the site's ‘One to Watch', which doesn't mean anything in the long run except for some validation and a pat on the back.

None of the bites from agents worked out for me, but it gave me the courage to sit down and finish a project. I chose The Eye of God. With a great deal of help from the internet, in the form of crowdfunding, I was able to release my first book.

I made a lot of mistakes, but I did my best to own up to them–and fix them. After release, I had the book reedited. I had the cover's typography adjusted. I learned from all of my errors, and I pushed onward.

I also learned one very important (and terrible) lesson: I had a long way to go as an author.

In the interest of being blunt and honest, without the crowdfunding efforts and working my ass off as a developmental editor, which allowed me to publish The Eye of God at par on costs, the book would have lost substantial money. I could never have ever survived as a full-time author if I had to rely on this novel's income.

Here's the proof:

The Eye of God $414.54
2013 $197.85
Misc $71.25
Standard $126.60
2014 $216.69
Free – Promotion $0.00
Kindle Countdown Deals $32.78
KOLL $8.75
KU/KOLL Units $16.75
Standard $158.41

Over two years, the novel has made $414.54. That's not a lot at all. It's, by far, my worst-performing novel. It's nowhere near a living wage–or minimum wage, for that matter. It's also the novel I want to go back and fix, from start to finish, cleaning up my writing style, adding little tidbits here and there, and generally improving.

I really hope I can start doing that seriously after Storm Surge releases.

From my experiences with The Eye of God, if someone asked me about the realism of working as a full-time author, I'd be forced to laugh hysterically and say, “No.”

I, like so many other newbies to publishing, made a lot of mistakes.

Storm Without End by RJ BlainAnd then, because I'm human, I dove into production of my second novel, Storm Without End, where I proceeded to make a lot more (new) mistakes. Unlike the Eye of God, I actually invested into promotion for this novel. The jury is still out on whether or not that was a success or a failure. Generally, a mixed lot. I didn't lose money on the promotion, but I didn't make much money either.

For the record, I rewrote Storm Without End some six or so times. I rewrote The Eye of God twice. I sometimes feel like I should have rewrote The Eye of God four or five extra times to make it a better book. Oh well. I lived, I learned.

Like with The Eye of God, Storm Without End was made possible because of a lot of great people on the internet helping me pay for its expenses. I published Storm Without End breaking even on its costs of production.

Here's the financial story that Storm Without End has to tell.

Storm Without End $852.44
2013 $428.63
Kindle Countdown Deals $233.59
KOLL $14.20
Standard $180.84
2014 $423.81
Free – Promotion $0.00
Kindle Countdown Deals $99.99
Kindle MatchBook $0.63
KOLL $8.75
KU/KOLL Units $8.44
Standard $306.00

If I were trying to survive as a full-time author, I would be homeless. I likely would have starved to death, too. As it was, my husband footed virtually all of our living expenses.

This is where the cold, hard truth comes into play: Writing is not an easy career, not unless you have a golden horseshoe rammed up your ass. I don't. I have terrible luck, as evidenced by things like sewage floods in my basement.

The key with self-publishing–or publishing in general–is to keep moving forward. I could have rolled over, gotten a real job, and gave up. I sometimes think this is exactly what I should have done. My family would be a lot more financially stable, to say the least.

Without my husband's grumpy (very grumpy) support, I never would have gotten four novels released.

After a few more ventures into crowdfunding, which mostly didn't work as well as it could've, I had enough funds to (mostly) cover the costs of my next two novels–mostly. Being totally honest, neither Inquisitor or Winter Wolf started fully funded. The little I made from The Eye of God and Storm Without End paid for what I didn't have for Inquisitor and Winter Wolf. Ignoring those pesky details, I dove head first into my largest effort to date: Inquisitor's launch.

Inquisitor by RJ BlainI invested over $500 in the promotion–out of pocket money. This novel had almost as much investment as Winter Wolf. It was a wild ride, and my very first venture into Urban Fantasy, which is a far more popular genre than my normal traditional and epic fantasy fare. In a way, I feel like I copped out, that I started writing in a more popular genre to give myself a solid chance at being an author.

I really enjoy my Witch & Wolf novels, but I'm not going to lie: I copped out. I wrote to the genre because I needed to do something successful. It didn't hurt that I also enjoyed telling the story. I like the Witch & Wolf stories. I'm looking forward to finishing the series, which has four novels.

I'm also looking forward to writing the next series in the same world as the Witch & Wolf books, but deals with a totally different facet of the world–and the creepy things living within it.

But I copped out, and I have no shame in admitting this.

With Inquisitor, the financial story started to change.

Inquisitor $5,285.85
2014 $5,285.85
Free – Promotion $0.00
Kindle Countdown Deals $401.31
KOLL $153.54
KU/KOLL Units $381.71
Standard $4,349.29

This novel gave me hope that I might be able to make something out of myself. Inquisitor launched in May of 2014. Genre matters. While I love Requiem for the Rift King and The Fall of Erelith, the Witch & Wolf stories are my bread and butter.

Winter Wolf by RJ Blain - Cover ArtAfter Inquisitor's initial success, I immediately went to work on Winter Wolf. I decided to repeat the same tricks I used with Inquisitor, trying to get Winter Wolf into Amazon's mailers.

More mistakes. Sigh. You'd figure after four books, I'd have this down, right? Wrong. The tricks that worked so well with Inquisitor, consisting mostly of book tours online, failed to render results with Winter Wolf. I didn't get into Amazon's mailers. Considering how much I invested into Winter Wolf's launch, it was a flop. I've barely broken even at this point in time on Winter Wolf, even considering the crowdfunding efforts.

Here's a cold lesson for those who are hoping to break into novel writing: Production costs either time or money or both. In my case, both. Money, money, money. While some folks can do their cover art on their own, I'm not one of them. Same with editing, advertising, and so on.

As I mentioned before, I do not have a golden horseshoe shoved up my ass. If I did, I'd be wiggling that money maker… and I wouldn't be writing this blog post, either.

Here's the story, Morning Glory:

Winter Wolf $1,203.20
2014 $1,203.20
Pre Order $240.82
Standard $962.38

Frightening, isn't it? It's never fun having a significant amount of promotional funding blow up in one's face. I blew a lot into Winter Wolf–just over $1,000. I didn't get lucky. I've broken even, so at this point, I can start paying it forward–and finish paying off the resulting credit card debt from paying for Winter Wolf's expenses.

This is where the story gets really scary for me. I have let go of my security blanket, the editorial work which has ensured I stayed in the black rather than splashing around in the red without any hope of surfacing.

Storm Surge - RJ Blain - Cover ArtMy next novel is Storm Surge, and it will release on April 14, 2015. It's currently available for preorder. At the time of writing this post, I've had a grand total of one preorder sale. That's probably around $3.14 or so in royalties, as a rough guess. (Thanks, person who preordered!! I really, really appreciate it!)

To give you an idea of the risks I am taking, here is a rough breakdown of my expenses: $200 + tip for cover art, ~$40 for typography, $~700 for editorial, $60 for copyright registration. I'm looking at a minimum of $1000.00 in investments.

If Storm Without End is an indicator, I doubt I'll ever break even on this title. By the time I finish both Requiem for the Rift King and The Fall of Erelith, I will be splashing about in the red sea… except I won't float.

But that's where one important thing comes into play, something that plays a major part in my decision to go into writing full time. I'm insane. I mean, seriously, I have to have at least a few loose screws in order to even attempt this. My husband is also insane for giving me 2015 to at least try to build a career for myself.

This is one of the most terrible things I've had to write in a long time on this blog… but unless I get particularly lucky, I really might end up just another casualty in the writing world. I don't want that, and bless my husband's heart, he doesn't either. But reality is reality. I have 2015 to prove I can get up to near minimum wage, and I'm going to make the best of it.

Rider of the Sun Horse Cover ArtAfter Storm Surge, I will be seriously applying myself to Rider of the Sun Horse. (Click the link for an unedited sample of the novel!) I don't know the publication date at this point in time, but I'm hoping I can have it ready for early June. While Storm Surge is undergoing editorial, I will be working on transcribing Rider of the Sun Horse. In good news, it's already a quarter transcribed, give or take a little. I have a tentative plan to have it transcribed and ready for editorial for April 1, 2015.

After Rider of the Sun Horse, I will be working on editing and completing Zero, one of my science fiction novels. It's approximately halfway to two thirds completed. I'm hoping to have this novel ready for editorial by April 15, 2015.

After that, I will be working on either Project Zeta or Evolulite, two more science fiction novels. Unfortunately, I don't have the cover art for either one of these projects yet–soon, though. Soon.

Royal Slaves Cover Art RJ BlainIf I finish all of these novels, I will begin work on The Fall of Erelith Book 2, Royal Slaves. If I were to judge my work by profitability, I should abandon the series, but I refuse to do this. I started it, and I'm going to finish it. My goal is to have The Fall of Erelith, which will likely be a trilogy, finished by 2017. The third book will be called Genocide, and it'll be a wild ride.

After Royal Slaves, Witch & Wolf fans will be delighted to find out that I'll be dedicating my time on Blood Diamond, the third novel of the set. Silver Bullet will follow in 2017.

As for the fourth title in the Requiem for the Rift King series, it's called the Tides of War, and I've already started writing it. I don't have any idea when it will be ready.

Things will be gloriously busy for me. If I have to acquire a regular job, I'm expecting to produce 2 novels a year at absolute maximum. If I am dedicating myself full-time to my writing, I'm hoping for four to six a year, depending on length.

So, to bring this back to the main subject, I'm going to talk a bit about my decision to transition–and all of the risks I'm taking by doing so.

The biggest risk is the cost of investment, which I have to pull out of pocket and from royalties. Producing a novel isn't cheap for me. At current, it costs $1,000.00 per novel, assuming I do not do any promotion and I try to limit my editorial staff to two people. That's risky, because I'm a terrible self-editor, and I prefer having three editors going over the book. Unfortunately, I can't afford three editors going over the book. Fortunately, my best friend is willing to help by reading over the books and pointing out technical errors, on top of my hired editors.

I hope she doesn't hate me by the time this year is over…

In order to plan ahead, I'm paying my editorial staff and cover artist in advance. As I receive royalties, I send them payments, which we keep track of. That way, they're already paid when the manuscript is ready. It has helped keep my stress levels mostly controlled. Mostly, however, is the key word.

Looking at this post, this is all I have to say for myself: I am not making the correct choice, if I'm looking at this from a financial perspective. It's the right choice for me for my dream career, and giving it my best shot for becoming a reality. But, I am in a unique position.

Without my husband's support, I simply could not do this. Writing as a full-time job without a partner to cover the household costs simply wouldn't be possible.

I'm not sure what else I can say about it than that–if you are thinking about making a go at it as a full-time author, I really hope you have a huge savings account or a partner to help support you financially–or a golden horseshoe up your ass. (And if you do have a golden horseshoe up your ass… do you have a second one? I'll bend over.)

I was asked some questions on Google+, so as an addendum, I'm including the questions and my answers.

Q: Can I provide by month by title royalty figures?

A: Sure can. I'll even provide it by year. Here you go!

 

Inquisitor $5,285.85
2014 $5,285.85
April $55.45
May $953.66
June $1,794.71
July $749.10
August $410.79
September $305.74
October $223.49
November $187.00
December $605.91
Storm Without End $852.44
2013 $428.63
November $67.93
December $360.70
2014 $423.81
January $67.08
February $97.99
March $30.48
April $13.72
May $74.50
June $81.90
July $15.59
August $5.92
September $3.43
November $6.18
December $27.02
The Eye of God $414.54
2013 $197.85
July $37.40
August $25.55
September $8.30
October $12.45
November $38.25
December $75.90
2014 $216.69
January $38.97
February $33.41
March $2.05
April $7.74
May $39.35
June $40.43
July $13.04
August $10.81
September $11.57
October $5.69
November $1.39
December $12.24
Winter Wolf $1,203.20
2014 $1,203.20
November $513.04
December $690.16

Q: Can you explain how you choose tags and categories?

A: Ouch, this question burns us, precious. Categories and keywords (tags) are such a hard choice. Ultimately, I went by my gut feeling. I supported my gut feeling by browsing Amazon and checking for other books in the categories. As for keywords, I have started to take a look at some tools that checks Amazon's website for the usage of a keyword, hoping to get into more obscure keywords while also having popular keywords. This is really an ever-shifting target for me.

I don't think anyone has a right answer for this one. All I can say is experiment every now and then and see if the changes make a positive difference. That's what I do. I change my categories and keywords twice a year, roughly.

Q: Do you have any advice for breaking out in non-US markets.

A: Unfortunately not. If you have any recommendations, I'd love to know… my non-US sales are abysmal.

Q: What do you recommend investing in to advance my writing career?

A: I'm going to break this down by type–production and post production costs.

Production Costs: Cover Art and Editorial. The rest is gravy, but if you can afford to invest in your novel, this is what I would choose over post production costs.

Post Production Costs: This is a hard one. I've had limited luck with book blog tours on the internet. It helps get the book out there–and to get those important early reviews. If I had to say one post production service to hire for… a book blog tour that includes reviews. Reviews help readers decide if they're interested in buying.

Ideally, you'll get a loyal fan base who posts reviews early after release. That's ultimately my goal. I've actually gotten reviewers from tours request notification of new releases–and ARCs as soon as they're available.

At the end of the day, every penny of your post production costs should be going to get your book in front of the eyes of readers interested in the type of story you have to write.

Unfortunately, there is no correct answer to the question. You have to go with what works for you and your budget. That's a terrible answer, but it's the only one I can give you.

Q: Marketing. What's NOT worth paying for?

A: Hang me over water and set me on fire. This is another hard question. But, I'm going to take aim and fire at a lot of services here. First, any service that tries to guarantee a lot of traffic without any substance–such as posts to a facebook feed, are likely garbage at this point. Why? Facebook's rules prevent many people from seeing content like this. You're better off just buying ad space on facebooks… and I doubt you'll make a profit doing that. You might, but I doubt it.

Twitter has similar problems, but if you can buy tweets for a really popular feed, you might luck out.

At this point, until I hear otherwise–or get to experience it for myself–I'm going to say ixnay to Bookbub. It's expensive. Very, very expensive. The same applies to similar services. That said, if I get a book that gets accepted, I'm going to take the risk, as I'm interested in seeing if the hype is worth it.

My favorite venue for paid advertisement is through book blog tours including reviews–or very cheap blasts that get you on a lot of blogs for a day to get you in front of readers. Your mileage will vary.

Leave a Comment:

2 comments
Constance says February 12, 2015

Thanks for being so blunt and honest with your numbers! My hubbie wouldn’t let me quit my job. He says make money first and then we’ll discus it. But **I know** in a year or two your books will blow up. Your numbers are already looking good and heading in that direction.

Reply
    RJBlain says February 12, 2015

    You’re very welcome, and thanks so much for the vote of confidence! I really hope this is the case. My husband has pretty much been in the same camp as your spouse, but because of our situation, he went along with it–here’s hoping his trust and faith really pays off.

    Especially since he’s transitioning jobs in the next couple of months. (Eep!)

    Reply
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