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.


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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1 Response to 7 Years, 2 Million Words, $40,000

  1. kataar says:

    Some of the lessons you’ve talked about are ones I’ve learned along the way too, and I still have so many more lessons to go. I wish I had learned how essential advertising was from the get go. Funny enough, I didn’t realize just how many sales I was getting through advertising until I stopped paying for any for a while.

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