A Walk Down Memory Lane

I went through the posts on this site today to delete references to a certain self-publishing forum that at one point was an incredibly valuable source of information for me but that is now under new ownership that has shown itself more than willing to run the forum into the ground.

And it was interesting to do so, because it gave me little glimpses of the journey that brought me to this point. Five years into self-publishing, seven years into writing. It’s crazy how we forget how we change over the years. I’ve always kept journals so I can always go back and see for myself, but this blog did that for me, too.

I suspect if I sat down and started reading from the beginning I’d laugh uncontrollably more than once at what I once thought mattered or didn’t in this whole crazy business. And I’d probably find insights I’ve lost. Little nuggets of wisdom that I took in at some point and forgot about but that still live somewhere mashed together with everything else I’ve experienced and learned.

I’m a little nervous knowing that location for self-publishing information is going to fade away. (Some would argue it won’t. I think it hit critical mass in terms of users who were upset enough to leave. I know I won’t go back.)

As I said on my newer blog, I think this is a pivot point for the industry where we start to mature and people don’t openly instruct their competition on how to compete with them anymore which will make it harder for those already publishing as well as those who are new to it.

I could be wrong. Time will tell.

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7 Years, 2 Million Words, $40,000

That pretty much sums up where I am right now.

I started writing for publication seven years ago this month. (Yesterday was the last day on my tracker for year 7.) That’s when I said, “I’m going to write a novel and try to get it published” and, me being me, started tracking my hours spent and words written.

I’ve written a little over 2 millions words of short stories, novels, and non-fiction in that period of time. (I count net word change when I write and edit, so that means if I start with 1,500 words, cut 1,000, and write another 1,500 then the net change I’d count for that day is 500 words.)

And from self-publishing I’ve made a little over $40K at this point. A helluva lot better than my first year of self-publishing where I made $87. But not where I want to be just yet. And of course that number is “gross” without expenses. Take out expenses and it’s closer to $16,000.

Even though I mostly blog over at mlhumphrey.com these days, I figured it was worth coming back to this blog to give this status update since this is where I went through all my early growing pains.

So, for anyone who actually sees this post, what can I share about what I’ve learned at this point?

I’m pretty much converted over to one space after a period because it looks better for print formatting, but I’ve decided that alright is all right with me regardless of what Strunk & White think.

Turns out I might be better at writing non-fiction than fiction at this point. At least from an hours spent, words written perspective. That $40K is about half non-fiction. I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t been willing to try different things and experiment. That’s one of the strengths of self-publishing–you can publish whatever you want. So if you’re not seeing success in one direction, try another. You might surprise yourself.

The first couple years I self-published I was afraid to advertise, which was a mistake. I have a pretty clear chart showing that the more I advertise the more I make, both in profits and total sales. So I’d say advertising is pretty much essential for anyone self-publishing these days.

I was hoping to be an outlier when I started all this, but looks like 10 years is pretty much what it will take for me to get the writing income to the level I want. Ironically, the closer that goal gets the farther away it seems.

While I would never suggest that someone who fails at trade publishing should pursue the self-publishing path as an alternative (ten times as much to master on the self-publishing path), I have to say that for me personally it was probably the best path to take because it forced me to keep going.

If I were just writing in a vacuum and sending off queries or short stories on occasion I’m not sure I would’ve had the same impetus to keep going as I did with self-publishing since it’s such a public way to fail. I suspect without self-publishing I would’ve written a novel, maybe two, and some short stories here or there and maybe had a short story publication or two by now, but not even a million words written if I’d stayed on that path. But because I’m stubborn and don’t like to fail I’ve kept pushing forward with the self-publishing. (I’m still a bit of a slacker. I think I average out to about 7 hours of writing/editing per week on average.)

It’s also taught me a tremendous amount about genre expectations and categories and marketing that I think can feed back to my writing in a productive and useful way. Lessons I think every writer has to learn at some point if they’re going to succeed at this.

I am both pleased with where I am and frustrated by where I am. It’s a weird feeling to live with, but I think part of being a writer for most of us, that pride with what you’ve done that sits side-by-side with the disappointment for what you haven’t accomplished.

There are definitely times I’ve thought about quitting and walking away. I will always tell stories in my own head–it’s what I do when I’m bored–but the whole writing it down, sharing it with the world, and trying to make money from it part of things isn’t truly necessary for me. But I like working from home and doing my own thing. And writing seems to be the best suited to that if I can just make it profitable enough and sustainable enough for the long-term…

So I keep going. For now.

 

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Priorities

It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting here at my desk trying to motivate myself to work on a story that just doesn’t want to come together. It’s a holiday story so if I want to publish it this year I need to stick with it.

But it’s also a gorgeous fall day. Almost warm enough to be summer, but the leaves have turned and there are some brilliant red-leafed trees just outside. If I got sit out there with a book I’ll be able to see them in the distance as pup sits quietly nearby, her face to the breeze. It’ll probably be one of the last chances I have to sit outside like that for the next few months.

It’s easy to think that the story should be the priority. It’s what has the potential to make me money, after all. And sitting outside enjoying the day seems self-indulgent when there are bills to pay and only so many hours to each day.

But the thing is…

What’s the point of working all the time? What does that get you? Financial security? Maybe. As long as the markets don’t crash and tax law remains stable or continues to favor those with assets. Status? Fine, okay, but what is status, really. Who cares if other people think you’re important if your life is a misery? Or not even a misery–that’s easy to recognize and walk away from–but bland. Like unflavored gelatin. What’s the point to acquire more and more and more if it doesn’t increase the quality of your life?

I mean, there has to be a balance. You can’t just spend your life having amazing experiences and savoring the moment with no regard to how to pay for that. (Not unless you have a really good trust fund.) But it seems to me that far too often we achieve what we need but then we keep on going, sacrificing it all to get what other people tell us we should want. Or to prove to others that we’re good enough or worthy enough, whatever that means.

I think what we should really do at that point is step back and enjoy life a little bit more.

(Then again, because I did take that step back and walked away from the more-money path, I’ll probably be living off Go Fund Me campaigns a few years from now, so don’t listen to me. The way our world is these days it’s very zero sum. You either have too much or too little. You can’t stop easily at the midpoint or you risk slipping backwards.)

Anyway. Those are my thoughts on a gorgeous fall afternoon. If you’d like to help head off my descent into poverty and you’re a writerly type, I am part of this year’s NaNoWriMo StoryBundle. You should check it out. It’s a pretty good selection of books if I do say so myself.

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Sort Of Kind Of Outing Myself

Not in the traditional sense of outing yourself, but more in the “I have too many pen names to keep track of and I’m tired of keeping them all separate” sense of things.

I’ve started a new blog at www.mlhumphrey.com.

It basically combines this pen name, the M.L. Humphrey name that I’ve written writing advice and financial advice titles under, the Cassie Leigh name that I’ve written dating advice, cooking, and puppy patenting titles under, and my other fantasy pen name, Alessandra Clarke.  I’m keeping the romance names separate for the time being just…because.

I’ll probably be more active there than here going forward since I feel like I can blog about more topics there than here, but I’ll probably circle back here on occasion or cross-post if a topic seems like it would fit on both blogs.

Right now I’m planning on posting photos of my dog on Mondays, a random thoughts post on Wednesdays that could cover almost anything, and thoughts about AMS ads or maybe self-publishing on Fridays.

My first random thoughts post is about pen name bios and honesty and how people still assume things about the author even when the bio is 100% true.

We’ll see how the new blog evolves from here, but since some of y’all have been following this blog since 2012, I figured I should give you the heads up.

Hopefully for those of you who’ve been around that long it doesn’t actually come as a huge surprise that I’m a woman?  Then again, perhaps it does since, as I mentioned in that new post on the other blog, I do tend to self-censor out the more feminine examples or comments on this blog.

Anyway.  Check it out if you want.  If you’ve been curious about some of the other stuff I’ve published over the years, I have links and thumbnails up so you can see and know what I was talking about when I vageuposted here more than once.

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Lucky Number Seven

This week starts the seventh year of my writing journey. I’m not where I wanted to be, but I’m making forward progress.  And I have to keep in mind that when I started down this path I had heard that it can take ten to fifteen years to break in, so I’m not behind yet. And certainly, in some respects, I’m probably ahead of lots of folks who’ve been at this for as short a time as I have.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard and that I don’t want more now.

It’s kind of crazy really. Last year I wrote 323,985 new words.  (That’s words added in any writing session whether it’s an editing session or pure writing session which means I probably wrote more words than that because when I edit I can delete four hundred words and then add five hundred and I only count that as a gain of a hundred.)  And I feel like a slacker.  I feel like I should’ve done more.  I technically could have. I don’t need to watch television every night.

But at the same time there’s only so much I can extract from my subconscious at any given time and only so much time I can spend wallowing in emotion before it exhausts me.  And, really, not like 324K words is some pathetically low number.  (Although I do wonder where those went in terms of what I published…Half of that was two novels, but the rest? IDK.)

I’m in a tricky spot right now.

Technically, I could quit and walk away.  There might be a reader or two who wonders what happened to that author whose book they enjoyed.  But it’s not like I’d receive hundreds of emails from strangers wondering what happened to me and asking when I’m going to write the next book.

And in many respects stopping now would probably be the smart thing to do. Go back to the 9-5 that pays a helluva lot better than writing does before it’s too late to do so. I’d always know that I accomplished something more than most people ever do. I not only wrote a novel (I wrote seven across all my pen names), but strangers bought it and enjoyed it.  At full price, too.

It’s not what I wanted out of my writing, but it’s not failure either.

But it seems I’m too stubborn for my own good.

And I don’t like to fail. Especially at something I think I can succeed at that’s showing steady forward progress.  My year four self-pub income should be twice my year three self-pub income which was 1.5x my year two self-pub income which was 20x my year one self-pub income. And I just had my first $1000+ month. (Gross, not net, so not as exciting as it sounds.) It’s hard to quit when there are glimmers of hope like that.

So one more year. Or at least six more months.  And then I can reassess again.

I just hope when the time comes that my friends are generous with their spare bedrooms and couches. And that they like dogs.

Haha. Sigh. (I’m a fool.)

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I Should Be Happier

I’m sitting here in my own house with pup snoring somewhere down the hallway and my day is completely my own. I can write, I can sit out on the porch and read a book. I’m in good (enough) health.  I have plenty of food in the fridge.  Money in the bank to pay my bills.  Good friends. Family is doing well.  The nasty stress that used to feel like a hundred-pound weight pressing down on my shoulders is a distant memory.  I’m on track to have my best month ever self-publishing.

And yet…

I’m dissatisfied.

I want more.

I want to know that my writing will pay my bills. That I can keep doing this for years and be successful at it.  I want to know that I’ll be able to keep this house long-term.  I don’t want to have to return to that world that I did well in but that felt like wearing one of those Medieval hair shirts.

I should be happy right now.  I’m making forward progress towards my dreams.

But I want to write a book that people adore.  That they tell their friends about and re-read over and over again because it’s just that good.  And a book that I love, too.  Not something I write to appeal to the masses, but something I write because I love it and I find the people who feel the same way.

I sit here, overwhelmed with so many ideas and so many possible paths and no way to know which one leads to where I want to be.

I’m grateful for everything I have.  I am. I have been so so fortunate to do what I’ve done the last seven years since I left my day job.  I just…I want more. And I’m beginning to fear that that’s always how I’ll be.  That there will be moments of happiness or contentment, but that they’ll be gone within a day or a week.  That I will always see what more life could be and never truly be able to settle into the moment and enjoy it for what it is…

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I Know You Mean Well, But…

So I mentioned a little bit ago that I have a friend who’s dealing with brain tumors.  They’ve set up a FB page to keep everyone posted about what’s going on so I’m getting to see not just updates by friend and their partner, but also what others have to say about it.  Now, this is an eclectic mix of folks.  Yogis and skydivers and people from all around the world.

And…

I have to bite my lip a lot and try to keep my own issues separate from my friend’s illness.

Because there’s a lot of “if you just eat enough tumeric those tumors will go away” or “if you just put all your faith in God he will carry you through this” or just “you’ve spent your life jumping out of planes, you can easily beat this.”

And I get it.  I get that people want to be positive and give encouragement.  No one wants to be the asshole who says, “This is serious shit.  You might die.  Or be forever changed.”  When someone is facing something like this, there’s this desire to be encouraging.  To tell someone it will get better.  That they can make it through if they just…whatever.

But that’s not always true.

And I’m not sure how helpful it is to tell someone these things even if it’s something they believe in.  My father was a man of God.  If he could, he dragged himself to church every single Sunday.  And he prayed.  And he believed.  (And, more surprisingly in this modern age, I think he actually lived a truly Christian life down to loving your fellow man and forgiving people their sins.)

But praying and believing didn’t change the fact that he didn’t have his kidneys.  And that he couldn’t have another transplant.  And that he was in a slow, decades-long decline that was going to ultimately kill him.

Yeah, sure.  Sometimes it works out.  I’m sure there were folks with AIDS who feel their prayers have been answered.  Because it was a death sentence when I was in middle school and now people can have a normal life expectancy with it.

But to imply that “all you have to do is X” makes people who are already in a shitty situation feel worse because maybe they aren’t doing enough.  In my father’s case, maybe he didn’t believe enough.  Maybe he’d sinned by marrying a woman who wasn’t a God-fearing person.  Maybe he’d failed by not raising children who shared his faith.  Maybe, maybe…

Maybe life is just sometimes shit.  And it’s not the fault of the person who is sick that they were struck down by this.  And it’s not their fault that they can’t be the one that recovers from it no matter what they do or how hard they fight.

I get that people want to be encouraging and positive.  I do.  But…I don’t know.  Sometimes I’d rather just hear people say, “This sucks.  And it may for a long time yet.  But I’m here for you.”

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You Could, But Have You?

That’s the much more polite version of what I found myself wanting to say more than once this weekend.  I was visiting a good friend and her spouse and the spouse–who was once incredibly successful but basically hasn’t done much in the last seven years–kept talking to me about how he’s going to write a best-selling non-fiction book.

He hasn’t really started writing it yet, but if he does decide to self-publish he knows who’ll design the cover and edit it.  And he talked to an agent who said it sounded interesting so of course he already has an agent lined up and could easily sell it to a trade publisher if he decided to go that route.  One of the big five, of course.

Really, the world is his oyster. All he has to do is bother to write the book because, of course, once it’s out there everyone will want to buy it.  Then again, he doesn’t really want to be an author, it’s just his way of getting access to certain key people who will allow him to do what he really wants to do which is be a venture capitalist.

Now, maybe he’s absolutely right.  He has had two successful careers, no reason he couldn’t be successful in a third.  And maybe he would put enough money into the launch and has the right connections to get the book seen by the right people and genuinely does have something truly interesting to say that will let that book take off.

It’s possible.  (Not likely, but possible.)

I can’t say for sure.  Because he hasn’t written it.  And shows no signs of doing so.

Lord knows I haven’t approached my writing with a career mindset.  I’m all over the board with what I write–non-fiction, fantasy, romance.  I have yet to publish a series in my fiction.  I never followed up on my most successful romance series.  And I do it under different names so that even if someone liked one of my books, they can’t actually find the others.

So I can’t say to him, well, I’ve struggled at this, so you obviously will, too.  (I mean, I, too have been very successful in the past.  But that was at a different game with different rules.  You can borrow lessons from the business world for your writing, but at the end of the day your writing makes or breaks you if you want this to be a long-term, sustainable thing.)

But, I do know one thing.

This guy will not have his bestselling book if he doesn’t actually write it.

As much as I’ve messed this whole thing up, I have actually written a damned book.  And published it.  And advertised it.  And researched how all this works.  (So I know that one casual conversation with an agent does not an offer of rep make.)

And slowly, very slowly, I’ve made progress.  I’ve improved with each project.  I’ve learned.  My covers are better. I now advertise my books regularly.  I’m focusing on what works and doing more of it.

I think I posted a while back about being excited that I’d made at least $50 per month for a year from my writing.  Now I should (barring any weirdness) be about to close out a year of making $250 per month or more from my writing.  And I will finally, after too long, be publishing the last in a series next month and be able to really advertise that and see if it can gain traction now that it’s done.

So, as someone who has worked at this for a while (I can’t say worked hard because the number of hours I put in daily compared to my old day job don’t compare), when I cross paths with someone like that I just want to throttle them.  Because there is this attitude I see far too often in our society of “oh, I could do that” from people who never do anything.

You know what?  You can do that?  Then do it.  Go out there and show the world how it’s done. But don’t sit on your couch doing nothing and criticizing those who are actually out there doing the thing that you can’t be bothered to do.

(That is the generic you, of course, not you readers of this blog who are actually out there trying to learn something and move forward.)

 

Posted in General Musings, Life, Writing | Tagged , , ,

Writing Rules Are For Shit

So on an agent blog this morning someone had written in to talk about how “bad” J.K. Rowling’s writing is.  I’ll note that they failed to mark the two times in her Harry Potter books she used a really strange saidism for something Ron said, but really?  Really?

And, instead of saying, “Dude, chill on the writing rules”, the agent sort of kind of agreed with the assessment.  What the what?

I think writing rules are something that newer writers latch onto because they think if they just follow all the little rules they’ve heard that they’ll be successful.  And they assume that if they aren’t successful it’s because there’s some rule they haven’t learned yet.

But go and look at some of the best writers out there.  Look at Stephen King.  He uses parens in his fiction writing.  Seeing that was what finally freed me up to sort of kind of ignore the rules of writing.  If I want to use an adverb, by god I will.  If I want to use a saidism, I’ll do that, too.

Writing rules are what we should look to when something isn’t working.  But not before.

Instead, sadly, it’s the first thing other writers look to when they want to critique someone’s writing.  “Hey, I noticed you were telling in this paragraph instead of showing” or “You repeated this word three times in this paragraph.”

Yep.  For a reason.  Because I didn’t need to spend five chapters getting my characters from Point A to Point B and the repetition of the word was a stylistic choice meant to provide emphasis.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard some newer writer call out every use of “had” or “was” without understanding why you might call those words out.

And, yet, I almost never hear anyone mention filtering words in critique (like heard or saw when in first-person or deep third-person point of view), even though removing those will strengthen a writer’s writing ten times more than the removing every use of had or was.

Why doesn’t anyone ever stop to think how many really, really successful writers are “bad writers” and realize that maybe the criteria they’re using is wrong?  Story trumps everything. Writing is just the way you convey that story to your audience.

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That Gray Area Between Death and Life

I’d written about 300 words of a post about ethics and how like people gravitate to like people and then realized I just didn’t want to go there today.  But…Since I’m here…

A very good friend of mine just found out he has a brain tumor.  And he’s handling it amazingly well.  Some people would get that kind of news and be devastated, especially since the tumor appears to be secondary to a cancer somewhere else in his body that they just haven’t located yet.

But my friend is fine with it.  If this is his time, he’s okay with that.  He’s lived a good life.  No regrets.

What I can’t say to him, so I’ll say to all of you instead, is that I don’t think he understands that there can be a gray area between life and death.

When I was skydiving, I had no problem with the idea that I could die doing it.  If things went really wrong and I went splat, I figured it would be over in a minute or two.  (Turns out, maybe not so much, but that was what I thought when I started jumping.)

I had no kids, no one who relied on me financially, no pup.  It was just me.  And if that’s how I went out?  Okay.

But what I came to realize was that, thanks to the joys of modern medicine, it was much more likely I’d be seriously injured but not killed skydiving.  And that was something I didn’t want.  Chronic pain.  Months of rehab.  Decreased motion for the rest of my life.  The need for others to help me do the simplest things.

None of that was worth it to me.  I loved skydiving, but not enough to go through that. I didn’t want to live in the gray area if I could avoid it.

My dad lived in that gray area the entire time I knew him.  As I’ve mentioned on here before, he was very ill as a child and eventually lost his kidneys because of it, and was a dialysis patient pretty much my entire life until he died when I was eighteen.  (With a brief hiatus in there when he got a hep positive kidney transplant and then pneumonia and spent three months in the ICU and almost died and ultimately lost the kidney and part of a lung before it was all over.)

He lived in a world of daily awareness of the limitations of his illness.  Every single meal was impacted by the requirements of his disease.  And three times a week he spent hours hooked up to a dialysis machine so he could live.  On top of that were the inevitable complications.  For him those included water on the heart, low blood pressure, decaying bones, macular degeneration, carpal tunnel, two spinal fusions, chronic pain, and on and on and on.

I think we often see illness and think it’s an either/or scenario.  You get cancer and you beat it or you die.  You have a heart attack and it kills you or you recover.  You’re in a car accident and you have surgery and rehab and go on with your life.

But most people who get sick or are seriously injured actually live the rest of their lives in a gray area between life and death.  They’re not dead, but they’re never quite the same as they were before.  It drags at them and weighs them down a little bit more every single day until it becomes too much.

My mom is ten-plus years out from a successful heart surgery at this point. If she hadn’t had it, she would’ve died within a matter of weeks.  That surgery gave her years of additional life.  But she lives with the consequences of it every single day and she is not as active as she was before that.  And not as healthy.  She’s alive, yes, but there’s a quality issue that most people overlook.

I had a co-worker who made it to the five year mark with a glioblastoma brain tumor.  Odds of that were something like 5%.  You hear that and think, “Wow, he was one of the lucky ones.”  But he wasn’t.  He had no short-term memory for most of those five years.  A man who was one of the most brilliant lawyers I’d ever met, and for the last five years of his life he couldn’t have a real conversation because he’d forget he was having it and start over from scratch.

Life is rarely black and white.

Especially with illness, it’s rarely, you’ve got this and it’ll kill you or you get to go back to who you were before.  Far, far more often, it changes you, in big ways or small.

And most of us aren’t mentally equipped to understand that that’s what’s coming and prepare for it.

I hope for my friend’s sake it’s a black and white outcome.  I hope he gets to be who he’s always been or it’s over fast.

But I fear that’s not what’s going to happen, and that, while he might be fine with a black or white outcome, he’ll struggle with the gray space between.  As we all do.

(But until that actually happens?  I’m keeping that to myself.)

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