The State of Me

It’s been a while since I posted here but I keep paying WordPress each year to keep the site up because I think it’s important to see someone’s entire journey. I’d say I’m about a quarter of the way up the mountain I’m climbing and there’s a whole range of mountains behind it after I get to the top of this particular one.

So. Where am I writing-wise? What has become of the pretentious little you-know-what who actually provided dictionary links to big words they used in their first few blog posts?

(It’s good I can grow and change and laugh at my past self, right? Although a little horrifying to think what I might look back on in another ten years. I have accepted that I am sometimes cringe and that is just the way it is. At least I moved past the “I drink Malibu rum straight up” stage of my life. Anyway. Back to something anyone else might possibly care about.)

So.

First, if you want a short story that’s close to my heart, I put The Price We Pay on free in honor of my dad’s memory. Amazon hasn’t caught on to that fact yet, but the sites that actually let you just set a book to free have it available. A bit of universal healthcare, relationship dynamics, impact of money sort of story.

This month was 27 years since he passed. I blogged about it over here for those who didn’t follow me to the new blog or fell off at some point.

So, this was always a writing-focused blog. Where am I on that?

I’m now a member of SFWA. I went from not qualifying for full membership under their old criteria to qualifying 20x over under the new criteria. Not sure what to think of that. But, hey, we’ll see what it offers. So far the member forums look to be very dead.

Which is a bit of a blessing, right? The last thing I need is more talking about writing instead of writing.

I also had my first short story “sale” last year. I submitted a story to a charity anthology, so it wasn’t a paid sale, but my story was still chosen, which is a nice warm feeling. It’s under the pen name I use for my cozy mysteries, Aleksa Baxter.

I tend not to write many short stories because they really don’t sell well when self-published and the whole “submit to ten markets over three years” process seems like time I could better spend working on a project that will sell self-publishing-wise.

(I think if you have an established name it’s a different experience. But as someone trying to break in who is going straight-up slush each time, it’s just a long slog. And for me in the time I’d spend on finding markets, keeping the stories out on sub, etc. I can write a short non-fiction title instead.)

Self-publishing-wise at this point I’ve grossed somewhere north of $270K and netted about half that with all production and advertising costs factored in.

It’s a number I’m both proud of and frustrated by.

I have a personality that wants more. Not wants to beat everyone else, but just wants to improve.

And I try very hard not to compare an industry like this one, where very few people make anything at all but some make lots and lots, to an industry like consulting, where if you stay within the lines and keep showing up you’re gonna make good money. (The trick with consulting is getting in the door in the first place. And then there’s a bit of not saying or doing anything that makes people decide you don’t belong. Pull that off and it’s a very comfortable living.)

That money came from about 80,000 sales. Which, really, is kind of crazy. That’s not friends and family anymore. That’s strangers who read and enjoyed what I wrote. And not people I personally met and cajoled into reading my stuff either. Complete, random strangers all over the world.

That’s really amazing to think about.

For me the bulk of those sales were actually non-fiction. And not writer-related non-fiction which is a quagmire.

Early on the book I wrote on AMS ads was a decent source of income for me. Not huge by any means, but at that point in time, noticeable.

But the thing about self-publishing is it moves too fast to base any sort of stability on something like that. I wrote the first edition of that book, Amazon made changes, and it was outdated within a year I think. So I revised it and issued a second edition and that was outdated within three months? So I stopped writing those.

Of course, I did just publish a whole series of books on Affinity Publisher so I clearly don’t learn my lessons well.

But I like writing non-fiction because it helps me consolidate my knowledge. Writing it points out to me the gaps I have in my own knowledge and prompts me to go find the answers which I wouldn’t do for myself.

So, yeah, non-writer non-fiction has been my big seller.

On the fiction side I now have eight cozy mysteries out and they’ve netted me 3x what the YA fantasy trilogy has.

Both took about the same amount of time to write, but I think just having more releases so you can bring readers deeper in helps. The fantasies cost more money ($5.99 each) but there are simply more of the cozies to buy. Also, covers. I’ve paid for nice covers on the fantasies twice now and the cozies are ones I did myself because I had a cover designer flake on me.

Of course, even though I’ve done nothing with the series or the pen name since 2015, the billionaire romance short story series I wrote back in the day is still my second most profitable on a per-hour-spent basis. And that includes audio production taking a chunk out of the profits.

I should probably give audio another go with some of my other titles, but I’m gun shy there. I have one series that doubled its money, one that is about 1.5x, one that’s breakeven, but then five that are at about half of what they cost still after all these years.

Probably down to a lack of advertising. I mean that’s basically without ads. But still. It makes me nervous to think about sinking that kind of money into audio again. Plus, what Audible did with returns? I pulled all my audiobooks from them as soon as they changed their contracts to allow it. Small fry that no one noticed, but it felt good to do.

(Although I did narrate one of my short stories last year just to see how that would go. And it’s up there and elsewhere, too.)

So, yeah, that’s where I am.

I feel like I’m at a pivot, continue, or quit moment. I have one more cozy to wrap up that series and one more non-fiction title I should’ve really written two years ago, but then I could walk away.

Is 2.5 million words published enough to say I gave it a good try and move on?

Then again, I have a list sitting in front of me right now with ten novels I could write next. Each one a good idea that’s been nagging at me for a bit to be written.

So why stop now when there are ten more novels to go and writing is a process of self-discovery and deepening knowledge? (Rent. But there’s always moving to Omaha…Haha.)

Until next time.

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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