Clawing My Way Forward One Day At a Time

I should be writing, but I’m not.  So I figured it was a good time to stop and reassess and maybe tell a story that might give someone somewhere a glimmer of hope…

(Maybe.  Or be that last nail in the coffin of your writing aspirations, depending on  if you’re a half-full or half-empty sort.)

Okay, so background and context:

I’ve been at this writing thing for five and a half years and in typical me fashion when I decided I wanted to be a published writer I started off with a bang by writing a novel in the first six weeks or so.

It sucked.  I think I had point of view and tense okay because I’d read enough novels by then that that part was almost intuitive, but the story itself and the structure sucked.

So I rewrote it.  And rewrote it.  And rewrote it.  And nine drafts and one year later thought it was good enough to query.  I admittedly didn’t query hard but I got a “send the next one” rejection from an agent, which was cool.

In the meantime I got derailed by another agent who informed me I needed to master the art of short story telling first, get pub credits on that side, and then I could sell a novel to the big guys.  So there went a year of writing short stories.  And I came close with those, too.  I have some very nice personal “almost bought it” rejections from the top markets.

But I really wanted to write my novels.  And I was tired of talking around my stories on here without being able to talk about them.  (Of course, thanks to pen names I do that now anyway…)  And I figured why sell my work for token rates if I could instead keep control of it myself.

So I self-pubbed.  Two non-fiction titles under a pen name (because I had no platform and no chance of selling those trad), five short stories, and a short story collection over the course of four months.  (With horrible covers by the way…but live and learn, right?)

I even had a plan.  I was gonna write and publish a short story a week until I got that momentum and that audience.  But…life.

So one cross-country move and a full-time work project that sucked everything out of me later, I didn’t write or publish anything for almost ten months.  But I had made some good money, so I went full-time, writing my butt off (sort of), hoping against hope that I’d get something out there that would earn me enough to stay full-time.

I didn’t.

And I found that being full-time for me was a bit of a waste because I am not a write-ten-hours-a-day person.  On my best day when I wrote 9,406 words I did it in about three hours.  And that’s probably my max and I couldn’t do that day in or day out.  (Likely a non-fiction day, for those who just freaked out.)  Me full-time is me putzing around on the internet reading blogs and getting stressed by the latest writerly drama.

But it was a good year for me.

Half a million published words later I’d learned a lot.  Like romance does sell easier.  Same with novels.  Same with related titles.  And that a cheap genre-appropriate cover could do just fine.

And the year wasn’t a complete bust. I’d seen glimmers of hope here or there.  Two titles that sold easily right away and gave me my first $600 month.  (Chump change to some, but nice numbers to me.)

But I didn’t pursue those successes.  (That’s that whole write to market discussion.  If I were just writing to pay the bills I’d be all over erom and probably making six figures by now, but there are easier ways to make money for me that I’d probably enjoy/not enjoy just as much.)

At the end of that year I took my heart in my hands and finally published a fantasy novel I really believed in.  (Under a pen name, of course, because who wants to leverage all the hard work they’ve already done.  That would be silly.)

And it did okay.  But not as okay as I’d wanted.  Not enough to pay for its cover.  Not enough to shoot it up the charts.  And I probably cried and doubted my ability to continue and wondered if I was a talentless hack after all.

But I got fan mail!  And friends who’d bought it raving to me about it on Facebook!

So I told myself I needed to put out the full series and then it might take off.  And even though I knew it would mean going into some serious debt, I was prepared to do that and get those books out in the next six months.


I got a work offer and I couldn’t exactly turn down money.  (No move this time, yay.)  And then I got another work offer.  (I didn’t go looking for either one, but I’d told myself I’d take work if it came along.)

And I started to find some balance.  The work pays the bills.  (Almost, mostly.)  And I still get the time I need to write.  (Usually.)

Of course, because the work pays the bills, I no longer have this urgency to finish those books NOW.  Which means I finished one and got it out there but the third in series probably won’t be out until next summer.  (It seems I am more on a traditional publishing timeline than a self-publishing timeline, but that’s okay.)

And that novel has started to do better with some steady advertising and picked up some more nice reviews.  (Writer’s Digest gave it an almost perfect score in their contest this year. Yay.)

I just hit the point where I’ve grossed $1,000 off the novel, which makes it my first standalone title to hit that mark.  (One of my romance series did that a long time ago.)  So, steadily but surely, things are moving upward.  Year 2 of self-pub was better than Year 1 and Year 3 was better than that and Year 4 is looking to be the best yet by a long stretch.

Some days (most days) this writing thing feels like I’m clawing my way up a sheer rock face and hanging on by bloodied fingertips, but that’s just the way it is for some of us.  And I’m too gosh-darned stubborn to quit.  (And it seems too full of ideas…I’m planning to focus on two of the pen names next year, but I have a “maybe, also” list below that with six titles related to four other pen names not to mention the folder full of other ideas I’d love to pursue if only I had all the time in the world.)

So if you’re out there and starting out and getting bummed by how slow things are going, don’t give up just yet.  And don’t think that just because a title doesn’t take off right away that it never will.  I made more in audio on the first title I ever published in one month this year than I did on that title the first two years it was out.  You just never know, so don’t quit, adapt.


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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