Let’s Talk: Money, Hard Work, and Bad Luck.

I recently posted about a harsh writing reality of mine regarding hard work not being good enough. This led to some discussion regarding the necessity of luck in the writing industry and money. These things have a synergistic relationship. The general equation goes as follows: hard work plus good luck equals money and success.

As I discussed in the previous post, hard work does not necessarily equate success, be it financially or otherwise. However, since most people select careers based on financial viability, I'm going to delve into the breakdown of my writing career, start to finish.

Most of these numbers are pretty accurate, although there will be some estimates involved. (For example, crowd funding doesn't earn you what the campaign states; there are fees associated with their use.)

To begin, I want to address the costs of writing, the mistakes I've made, and the mistakes I want to avoid in the future. Really, establishing a career in writing fiction is a long series of mistakes, learning from those mistakes, and perseverance–a lot of perseverance.

Some people get lucky. I'm not one of the lucky ones, and I have no problems admitting that. Luck plays a huge factor in establishing a writing career.

So, costs. Every book has been different, but my first four titles had a very similar trend.

Some important things to note: I have excluded some costs from this list. I have also excluded crowd fund earnings. Most of the costs excluded deal with The Eye of God and Storm Without End.

To give you a rough idea of the crowd fund earnings, I'd put them at roughly $3,500 (before fees) total, which brings the number closer to $3,000 after fees.

Here is a fancy link to all of my novels if you want to have a look at them.

Cover Art Costs

I spent, on average, $200 per cover. (My artist is Chris Howard! He's fantastic. He's taking break from creating art for hire, but he's still stellar and I love working with him.)

Copyright Costs

Flat fee of $50 per novel.

Editorial & Formatting Costs

This is the big expenditure. I'm going to break this one down by novel. For Tales of the Winter Wolf, I made arrangements with some readers and friends to do the editorial work thanks to my financial situation. I started this transition with Blood Diamond.

Title Amount Spent
The Eye of God $775.00
Storm Without End $860.00
Storm Surge $660.00
Inquisitor $1,200.00
Winter Wolf $660.00
Blood Diamond $510.00
Tales of the Winter Wolf, Vol. 1 $20.00
Tales of the Winter Wolf, Vol 2. $20.00
Tales of the Winter Wolf, Vol. 3 $20.00
Tales of the Winter Wolf, Vol. 4 $20.00

Promotional Costs

Since I have no luck or bad luck, I've used promotion as a way to help boost my chances of success. I'm missing some costs from this list, as my full tracking spreadsheet is on my other computer, but this includes the majority of my expenditures for promotion.

The Eye of God & Storm Without End are the novels with expenditure inaccuracy. I have spent more than what is listed below.

Title Amount Spent
The Eye of God $227.00
Storm Without End $250.00
Storm Surge $40.00
Inquisitor $550.00
Winter Wolf $1,025.00
Blood Diamond $0.00
Tales of the Winter Wolf, Vol. 1 $115.00
Tales of the Winter Wolf, Vol 2. $0.00
Tales of the Winter Wolf, Vol. 3 $0.00
Tales of the Winter Wolf, Vol. 4 $0.00


I've talked about what I have spent. Now I want to talk about what I've earned. This covers my earnings by year by title, current until May 2015.

Novel/Year Total
Inquisitor $5,975.10
2014 $5,285.85
2015 $689.25
Storm Without End $1,005.84
2013 $428.63
2014 $423.81
2015 $153.40
The Eye of God $448.31
2013 $197.85
2014 $216.69
2015 $33.77
Winter Wolf $1,945.15
2014 $1,203.20
2015 $741.95
Storm Surge $231.53
2015 $231.53
Grand Total $9,605.94

Profit? What profit? We don't need no stinking profit!

Said no businessman or woman ever.

Let's take a look at the totals, shall we? Let me remind you, some of the numbers (dealing with money spent) are lower than reality, especially for The Eye of God and Storm Without End.

I would also like to mention that these earning figures do not factor crowdfunding and all relevant costs and earnings.

Title Amount Spent Money Earned Profit Margin
The Eye of God $1,252.00 $448.31 -$803.69
Storm Without End $1,360.00 $1,005.84 -$354.16
Storm Surge $1,050.00 $231.53 -$818.47
Inquisitor $2,100.00 $5,975.10 $3,875.10
Winter Wolf $1,935.00 $1,945.15 $10.15
Blood Diamond $760.00 $0.00 -$760.00
Tales of the Winter Wolf, Vol. 1 $205.00 $0.00 -$205.00
Tales of the Winter Wolf, Vol 2. $70.00 $0.00 -$70.00
Tales of the Winter Wolf, Vol. 3 $70.00 $0.00 -$70.00
Tales of the Winter Wolf, Vol. 4 $70.00 $0.00 -$70.00
Totals $8,872.00 $9,605.93 $733.93

I'm actually astonished Winter Wolf has earned out. I thought it would take at least another 2-3 months before it reached that stage.

The Mistakes

I'll be the first to admit my writing career has been a bit of a clusterfuck. There's no use dancing around the bush regarding the matter. I've made mistakes, and I've made a lot of them. I'm going to go ahead and break down the mistakes I've made by book. Now, it's worth noting there are a substantial number of mistakes not making the cut for this blog post. Some of them are so minor it isn't worth discussing.

Do with the knowledge what you will. I'm just putting it out there for your reference.

The Eye of God

Mistake One: It was my first book and I knew nothing. Book education does not make up for a lack of actual experience.

Mistake Two: I had an ego and a skewed belief on what good enough was. It was skewed in the wrong direction.

Mistake Three: Hiring multiple editors doesn't necessarily mean quality. (I had five for The Eye of God. Some were experienced, some were not. There are still errors lurking in the pages of that novel.) Most of the errors in the book are my fault. Editors are there to help authors.

They are not there to take the blame. The blame always belongs to the author.

Mistake Four: I may have jumped in too soon. My writing style has dramatically evolved since I wrote The Eye of God. This is a ‘mistake' I can live with.

Mistake Five: Spent too much, didn't get enough for the money spent. I wouldn't say I made bad choices in who I approached to do the work, but I will say that I didn't have high enough standards throughout the entire process.

Mistake Six: Patience is a virtue I didn't have. I should have had the patience to run through the novel six or seven more times before pursuing publication.

Mistake Seven: Genre Choice. This one hurts, but I'll be up front with this. The Eye of God does not fall into an appealing genre. The Fall of Erelith series is written for me and my enjoyment, and if people enjoy it with me, that's great. It's not in a money-making genre. This book likely will never turn a profit.

And yes, turning a profit does matter when writing is your career choice. Hobbyists can look away now and laugh. But when it's your career choice, you need to make money. Right now, only two of my books have actually made money.

In a nutshell, if there was a mistake an amateur could make writing a novel, I made it. It was a learning experience, and a good one–but still a learning experience. There were a lot more than seven mistakes made, but I feel these are the big ones.

Storm Without End

I learned some new tricks while writing and editing this novel.

Mistake One: Once again, I failed to demand enough of myself on this one. I used three editors, but there are still lots of issues littering the pages of this novel. Ultimately, the fault is mine for not seeing more of the mistakes.

Mistake Two: Promotional mishaps suck. I did a lot of promotional experimentation with Storm Without End. Most of them didn't pay off. The good news? I learned a lot.

Mistake Three: Genre Selection. Once again, this is a series written more for me than it is for the average reader. I enjoy stories where I must piece together a complex puzzle. This makes this novel a harder read, because there's a lot of inference the reader must do for more subtle concepts to come through. This book caters to a very specific sort of reader.

No, I'm not saying readers are stupid. I am saying this book is written for a very specific type of reader, and those who aren't that type of reader probably won't like the book.

Mistake Four: I think I'm more clever than I am. Read into this one what you will, but it relates to mistake three.

Mistake Five: See all of the mistakes from The Eye of God and lessen them a degree–I was learning, but some mistakes got repeated but in a slightly different fashion.

Mistake Six: I'm not really sure if this is a mistake or simply a reflection of the world I've created. It also is something relevant in The Eye of God. In both of these novels, I write from male perspectives in cultures where women are repressed. I do not write these stories catering to those supporting women's rights. In the world and culture, the women simply have not overcome those issues. It has nothing to do with my personal beliefs, but you better believe readers think it does.

In both The Fall of Erelith and Requiem for the Rift King, women are not given anything. They must earn it.

To some readers, that is a mistake.

Unfortunately, that's not the story I want to tell. My women will be given a chance to earn their success, their freedom, and their strength. I refuse to hand it to them because they're women in the same way I will crush men in my world simply because of the circumstances surrounding their situation.

Storm Surge

I'm skipping around in my publication order so I can deal with both Requiem novels at the same time. Storm Surge is a substantially better novel than Storm Without End–at least, it is in my opinion. The writing is better, there were fewer mistakes in the final version, and generally, I really started making progress in correcting all of the repeated mistakes from all of the previous novels.

That said, mistakes were still made. I wasn't attentive enough to my editorial responsibilities for my own books. (I'm improving my self-editing skills, but damn, it's hard work.)

If I had to pick a mistake for this one, it'd be my promotional efforts for this one. Half-assed promotion equals a half-assed launch. Unfortunately, because of the genre mistakes and other mistakes from Storm Without End, the retention rate of readers between the first and second book of the series hasn't been what it could be.

Sequels are hard. It isn't a matter of writing the sequel. Storm Surge actually came together quite easily, especially compared to other books I have written. However, because Storm Without End isn't as strong as it could be, there are fewer readers going to pick up copies of Storm Surge.

That's just a hard reality, and this is why many people suggest working with standalone novels. You don't have to worry about book one to book two retention rates like you do with a series.

So, this series will probably go into the graveyard of written for my amusement and for dedicated fans. I'll finish it, as I will The Fall of Erelith, but I will have to adjust how I spend money on it. That hurts, but it's necessary.

Fortunately, in the writing world, the barter system is alive and well.

The Witch & Wolf Novels

I'm clustering Inquisitor, Winter Wolf, and Blood Diamond together for this entry, although each book does have their unique mistakes.

Inquisitor shared many problems Storm Without End did; the two were written back to back, and I was still trying (and failing) to reach my quality goals. I also wrote in an entirely new way, transitioning from third person to first.

What I did get right was the genre, which is the reason this series has actually turned a profit at all and has essentially given me some chance of an actual career.

Winter Wolf was an editorial nightmare. I went through four editors, and only one was able to see the project through from start to finish without issue. (Two actually finished the project, but the one had a move and health issues during the process.)

As such, the book just wasn't what I was hoping for in many ways. I love the title now, it's among one of my favorites, but back when I was writing it, all I wanted to do was light it on fire.

Many tears were shed during Winter Wolf.

Winter Wolf also had a promotional nightmare. I spent over a thousand dollars in promotional costs and didn't even make back half of that in its opening week, which essentially means my promotion was a fairly substantial failure.

Blood DiamondBlood Diamond, I'm hoping, will be a huge shift in how I approach my writing. I finished the book before I had the cover–the book is mostly done, too. I'm doing a couple of proofing runs before releasing it. My cover artist is taking a vacation from commissions, so cover art hasn't been done for it–at least not matching the Witch & Wolf novels.

But, at this stage in the game, only people who have read books 1 & 2 are going to read 3. Cover art, I feel, is just not as important as it is for 1 & 2. I want a nice cover, but I'm not going to hold the book back for up to a year to get the matching cover.

That may be a mistake in the making.

Tales of the Winter Wolf

This is my first foray into short, interconnected fiction. It also signals a major shift in how I work. Because of my precarious financial situation, I am using barter, trades, and volunteers to help me write solid, professional stories. You've seen my financial numbers.

You know the reason why.

Will it work? I don't know. Is this a mistake? It could be.

All I know at this point is if I wish to continue writing as a career, I need to work harder and find a way to get an injection of good luck. Becoming better at my job is only the start of the battle.

That said, I'm starting to really believe there is substantial truth in the concept of needing at least two hundred loyal fans to have any hope of success in this field.

I'm not there yet, but if hard work can overcome bad luck, I'll find a way. Otherwise? I'll have to look for a new job.

Leave a Comment:

John Henry says June 23, 2015

I’m considering going into business as an editor, and I have a couple of questions for authors, especially for authors who have been through the process of publishing books.

1. If you could could pay a competent editor/project manager a dollar for any services at all, what would be the most valuable/useful things they could do for you? Proofreading/structural editing? Help with publication? Help with marketing? Beta reading/focus groups? Something else?

2. How would you feel about an editor/publisher working for a percentage of sales instead of an up front fee? What would you consider a fair percentage? 10%? 25%? 50%?

3. How deep do you like editors to go on the contents of your stories? Apart from obvious errors in the the text, do you appreciate/want feedback on story structure, characters, tone, world building, etc?

    RJBlain says June 23, 2015

    I’m going to drop you an email, but I’ll do a brief reply here.

    1: All of the above. Seriously, they’re all important. I have in past, and will in future, pay for all of the above.

    2: It’s not a common current practice, but I’m not against it, especially if there is a ceiling on the total amount paid to keep things easier. (A higher ceiling than flat fee, but once paid out, to be easier to deal with long term.) As for percentage, I don’t know. Something I haven’t thought about.

    3: Once again, all of the above. Personally, I need lighter feedback on structure and characters and more on the obvious errors in the text. I do appreciate the feedback, though.

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