My 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.
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.