Required Minimum Level of Production

When I first started consulting for the company I’d previously worked for I thought, “Freedom! I can set my own hours, I can take extended periods of time off if I want to, I can choose my own projects.  I have control over my destiny now.”

I soon learned that was a complete crock of shit.

Because no matter what you’re doing, there’s someone on the other end buying your product or service.  With my consulting that was my former employer.  With writing that’s a publisher or reader.

Somewhere, somehow you have to deal with the expectations of others.  Which means that I wasn’t really able to set my own hours.  Oh, I had far more flexibility than as a full-time employee, but I had to be available for at least a portion of my client’s day so my client could contact me.  And I needed to be consistent about when that was.

And I couldn’t just pick and choose projects.  Because every project you turn down raises the possibility that the client will find someone else willing to take that project and the other ones you actually wanted to do.  So you end up saying yes to work you’d rather not do in order to protect the work you want.

The other thing I found, partially for the reason above, is that you can’t just take extended periods of time off.  Oh, sure, you can.  But it’s not a viable strategy for a long-term business.  If you’re not there, they will find someone else.

Let’s bring this back to writing.  Unless you’re George RR Martin or Stephen R Donaldson, you can’t take seven-plus years between books.  You will lose readers.  Readers read more than one book every seven years.  And if you aren’t in that rotation on a steady and consistent basis, they may not even notice when you release that next book.  Or they may notice and never quite get around to buying that book, because they can’t really remember you.

You have to feed the beast.

I recently saw a thread about self-publishing where folks were claiming that once they’d made a certain level of income they’d stop writing and just coast on the money coming in from the books they’d already written.  Well, here’s the sad, ugly truth of the matter:

Most self-publishers have found that they fall off a deep, dark cliff into obscurity unless they’re publishing new material every three months or so.  Some will say that number is even less.  Maybe as short as two months or even thirty days or a week depending on genre and length.

Which means you can’t coast on what you’ve done.  What you’re earning now will not continue if you stop producing.

Somewhere, for every field of endeavor, there is a required minimum level of production.  There is a baseline amount of work that you need to produce to (a) stay current and competent at what you do and to (b) stay in your customer’s mind and attract business.  What that level is differs by profession.  But it is not zero.

And interestingly, it may mean you earn more than you need or want to.  Living frugally I could get by on consulting about ten hours a week.  I need to work more than that though to keep my client happy and stay current on developments in my field.

(Hence the reason I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  I’ll probably need to find a source of income other than writing in January and that’s certainly my most profitable choice, but…it may not give me sufficient time for writing.  Something serious to think about.)

The outcome of all of this is that the more balls you have in the air–the more income sources you have–the more time you need.  You can’t just put one down and focus on another.  You have to give them all sufficient attention.  Each one has a required minimum level of production.  You want to edit, write, and do cover design for money?  You have to keep all of them in motion at all times.

Which means that sometimes splitting your efforts makes you less successful rather than more successful if you can’t meet those minimums.  If you only have twenty hours available and each one requires 15 hours a week of effort, you’re likely not doing enough in any of them to be successful.  Better to cut it back and focus unless you can free up more time…

Anyway.  I’m starting to babble.  Key takeaway here: Whatever you choose to do, understand that you will need to put in effort to maintain it let alone to grow it and plan accordingly.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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