You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!

obscene.gestureMy husband and I watched ‘A Few Good Men' the other week, and the iconic line at the conclusion of the movie has stuck with me the entire time. The rage of the character, his twisted sense of justice, and the circumstances made me stop and think–which is the exact purpose of the entire movie.

Being honest, I only watched the conclusion of the trial, and I only watched it for those two little lines. But, it's something that has really stuck out to me the past few days.

Tomorrow, my pseudonym releases her debut novel. It's been a topsy turvy trip, and there have been a lot of downers with it. A lot more downers than uppers.

I love books, and I love writing books. I sit down almost every single day and work on my next title, pushing through disappointment after disappointment in the hopes of beating the odds and somehow pulling the magical rabbit out of my ass.

Since I have bad luck more than I have good luck, I have tried my best to remove luck as the driving factor of my publishing efforts. I try to make up my lack of good luck in effort, and it doesn't always work out.

New Me's efforts have been plagued with bad luck–bad luck I've mostly taken in stride. My editor was plagued with migraines, had a real life emergency, and otherwise was delayed for a couple of weeks on the project. This put me behind schedule. My ARCs weren't as polished as I liked, although the production copy was polished substantially before being loaded into Amazon.

That works out in the end, although my paranoia is now kicking in.

But, I stray from the point I wish to make. Today, my editor wailed the bad news that has her sad.

One of the authors she really liked announced she will no longer be writing stories. Why?

The author in question had a bad launch last week. In the traditional publication world, the first week of sales make or break an author. If the publisher feels they can't earn a profit on an author quickly, they won't renew or extend a contract. The author dies the cold, sad death of falling into obscurity.

Most authors face this demise.

Very, very few of us get lucky. This is the truth we don't want to face, the truth we choose to ignore so we can keep doing what we love, which is writing more books.

I've talked about my financials before. I'm going to talk to you about it again. Readers, writers, fans, anyone who cares about authors–I'm just one example out of many. Some consider me a success story. Some consider me a failure.

I'm going to go into detail on why I'm both–and why we need to be aware of the cold, hard facts about the fiction world.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert. I'm simply someone sharing my experiences self-publishing.

I am a success because…

  • I make more than median for self-publishers consistently.
  • I sustain higher than a 4* average on amazon… and most of my reviews come from strangers. (Strangers who weren't associated with a blog tour.)
  • I have fans who love my books. (And I love each and every one of you.)
  • Obtained membership in the SFWA on the merit of my book's professional performance. (It keeps me trudging along sometimes.)

I am a failure because…

  • I don't make minimum wage.
  • I don't make median for traditionally published authors. (I'm close, though.)
  • I'm not popular enough to have a fan club. (I'm joking.)
  • I have made all of the mistakes!! ALL of them. (Seriously.)

Some of my comments are in jest, but the problem is very real.

I am a success because I make more than median for self-publishers but I am a failure because I make less than minimum wage.

I actually made minimum wage in November, and I considered popping a bottle of booze to celebrate. True story. Ultimately, I didn't pop the bottle thanks to being sick with a head cold. I don't need a hangover on top of that crap.

Publishing is tough. Everyone has a different opinion on what works and what doesn't.

Here's the thing: it ultimately boils down to luck.

If it didn't, here would be a few facts about the industry that simply aren't true because luck is too much of a factor.

1: All traditionally published books would be bestselling hits.

2: The same formula would work on all books.

Traditional publishers, especially the big five, know what the fuck they are doing and they can't make all of their books hit. They can't even make most of their books hit–very few authors actually succeed.

Think about that carefully. If there were a formula that magically worked on all books, the traditional houses would use it for each and every book–and have those books become runaway bestsellers.

Today, my editor talked to me about an author she loved who is quitting writing because of a sour launch, and she made me think.

I have released quite a few titles–9 full-length features as of tomorrow, 14 if you count the volumes within the omnibus.

Of these 14 titles, I would say I have had one actually successful launch. I am defining launch, in this case, to the two week window following release day. (If you count launch day only, I have had zero successful launches.)

What do I define as a success? I covered all of my costs, including promotion, of the title. This is a pretty low bar, being honest. Let me quantify that for you: $800.

That's an average. Some books cost substantially more. Some cost substantially less, as I have a few folks who have generously donated their time and effort to help me produce my novels so I can keep writing more stories.

Today, my editor talked to me about an author she loved who is quitting writing because of a sour launch, and I understand that author all too well.

There have been so many days lately where I have questioned why I keep on writing. 9 full-length features, 14 total releases… and for what? A couple of hundred a month with the occasional month of making minimum wage?

When presented like that, quitting is the sane and logical choice. Ouch. That hurts.

You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!

It applies to the publishing and artistic sector so much. This is the truth for the vast majority. I treat my writing as a job.

If I were truly treating my writing as a full-time job, I would have quit long ago, because I am not making the money I would be if I did have a full-time job. This really hurts to admit. Writing is more than a job. It's a passion, a lifestyle, and one of the dumbest decisions I ever made in my life–but I'm sticking with it, at least for now.

Writing is hard, but I still love it, and until I stop loving it, I will keep chasing after those stories I so love telling.

I make mistakes, but with each book, I try to do better than my previous book. I want to tell stories people love. I want to eradicate every error from my titles.

I go back over my older titles time and time again to hunt out the errors I missed. (No, not the errors my editor missed, the errors I missed. This is my book, my work, my efforts, and I am the one making the mistakes.)

My editor helps me catch the mistakes, but they are ultimately my mistakes and my responsibility.

One of my mistakes was putting too much trust (and general reliance) in editors to clean up my mistakes. I'm fixing that–I have been working on fixing that for months. I'm getting better at it, slowly but surely.

I'm not perfect yet, I will never be perfect, but I want to be–and I will continue to try to be.

That's another cold, hard truth some writers don't want to accept. You can hire the best editors in the world, and they may miss things, and if they do… it is your fault, not theirs.

It is your book. (Editors are amazing people and do not get the credit most of them deserve, and they definitely don't deserve any flack for mistakes in your book, because it is your book, not theirs.)

For every new writer who steps up to the bat, another quits writing because they are one of the ones who didn't make it, and it has nothing to do with their skill–it has everything to do with their luck.

One of the authors my editor really liked quit writing last week, and they told the truth none of us wants to hear.

To so many of us, launch day means the difference between remaining an author or quitting to find greener pastures. I, too, live with the launch day realities. Will the book sell enough?

Will I get lucky?

Where is my line in the sand, and what will I do if I don't reach it?

A little voice in the back of my head hisses, “You want the truth? You can't handle the truth.”

Sometimes, the only option left for an author is to turn and walk away and cut losses.

I don't want that to be my truth, but every time I release a new title, I wonder.

Leave a Comment:

Justtyn says November 30, 2015

Truth means little to passion, as passion is inherently irrational. That is why the image of the “starving artist” is so apropos; their passion for their craft overrides the rational need for anything else. And that is OK, so long as it is their choice to do so.
You are absolutely correct that artists, of any description, who “make it” are lucky. Their work was in the right place, at the right time, to be noticed by the right people with the right connections. It is the same way that things go “viral” online; you can increase the odds, but it can never be guaranteed.
In the end, whether you are a success or failure is based on whatever your personal criteria for those things are. As you say, when you stop loving the words, that is when it is time to stop writing them. Until then, your passion still has its fire and its purpose, so allow both to burn strong.

    RJBlain says November 30, 2015

    It’s an interesting discussion, but there comes a point where meeting the basic requirements for survival, including paying rent and eating.

    It does go beyond the basic personal criteria, which is hard for many to get beyond, because we *want* to say, But it’s okay for artists to starve.

    It’s not, and it is leading authors to hang up the hat… and I can’t blame them. (If I were smart, I’d hang up the hat, too.)

      Justtyn says November 30, 2015

      But that in and of itself is a personal criteria: when do immediate human needs override passionate pursuit? Everyone has their limit, and they will come to that point in their own time.
      A favorite quote of mine from a book I read many years ago: “passion rules reason”. It is one I return to nearly everyday, so that I can keep myself grounded. That said, sometimes reason needs to be overruled; love, compassion, and empathy, after all, are irrational.

Mike says November 30, 2015

Passion, a job, making ends meet…

I for one, hope you do keep doing it. I would like to see you get lucky with a book, or maybe some one off thing that takes you and your worlds from where they are, into a spotlight.

Every day, every night it’s a struggle of choice. But I cast my die for a while, and while I do not regret it, it has been harder to forge this than other decisions. And sometimes, things slip — I can live with that.

I’m a writer, I’m a story teller, I am not a published author, You are all three. Someday, that wonder in the back of your head, on the nape of your neck that you keep covered so that when it does cause a shiver, you can blame the wind; that wonder might turn into a decision.

The lines we draw in the sand of our lives.. those can also force that wonder to be answered. I hope it get’s answered because of positive things. And if you and yours are ever in my neck of the woods.. you don’t have to starve.

John DeJordy says December 1, 2015

Uh, uh. I know what you’re thinking. Is this a New York Times best seller, or not? I got to tell you, in all this excitement, I know what type of author you are.

But knowing how professional you are with anything you write, and would blow the socks off any of the Big Five, you have to ask yourself.

Do you feel lucky, RJ?

Well, do you?

(I love movies too. 🙂 )

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