I decided to become a writer in '92. It took me until '99 to get a book out. Along the way, I did just about every stupid thing a writer can do, except give in. I've now got 13 books out, the 14th in press and contracts for 3 more. I am, in a world of falling sales numbers, slowly selling more each time. Not a lot, but I started my career as a new kid out of the slush-pile (took me two years to the day) with a minimum advance and a boilerplate contract. I got the standard treatment for these low advance gambles - minimum of anything toss you out to sink or swim (which, for the record, is how I think all writers should be treated. Readers, not marketing should decide who is good). Somehow, I was the one in four who made it through the 3 book hurdle. I've sold about 25 other, shorter works too... And written another half a million words I've not sold (and I think about 14 proposals). This is what I do.
Except: Last Thursday I reached the grim decision that I was reaching the end of the road. That I was going to have to find a day job, at least a part time one. That even catching and growing our own food, and living really carefully, as a writer I just don't earn enough to cope.
Ok, in this case it has a lot to do with my business model being based on three things, of which at least two of which have to be true most of the time, and the fact that cash flow is always a problem to any small business. Firstly, because I don't have a huge cushion to absorb delays, payment has to be reasonably prompt. Anyone who has ever dealt with publishing knows this is the exception rather than the rule. Secondly, by living rurally in far-off countries, a strong dollar exchange rate just gives a little boost. That's not something one can control or should gamble on, but it has been a lifeline. It isn't right now. And thirdly, the process is a cycle. As long as the cycle continues smoothly, the fact that the publisher is 3 months late with your royalty check or advance or turn-in is fine, because they were 3 months late last time, and so there is no sudden vast gap in income. Only, with the GFC and then emigrating and my mum's death the cycle is broken. I normally sell 1-3 new books a year averaging at 2 on proposals. I sold the last 2 years back. There are a bunch which are sitting - some agreed to, some interest shown, some just hovering... but not signed for and paid for.
It's been preying on my mind. And then the last straw came. I finally got my turn-in money for the next Heirs book (you check your account 5 times a day, you try not to worry, you try not to nag, because it doesn't help. It does nothing for productivity either). Now, the delay there is at least in part down to it being co-authored, but it's been 4 months... Needed badly. Only, despite asking, reasoning and even begging the office staff at the publisher never to do this to me again (because I've been through all of this before) I was sent a check, not electronic payment which they've agreed to and normally do. Well, I am in a new country, which generally works much better than my old one, and took it in to the bank with palpable relief. The value of the payment, thanks to the currency fluctuations, had already taken 20% dip in its value. It was down from five months rent to four. But it was money coming in. The bank told me it'd be available by Wednesday.
And then on Thursday, Westpac let me know that they'd changed their mind, and it would take two months to clear a foreign check. Given the weakening of the US dollar who knows what it'll be worth by then - 3 months rent?
At this point I realised that my career as a full time writer is probably over. I'm not going to stop writing, but it's going to take longer and be as and when. The money is lousy anyway, and here, if I can find manual labouring jobs at minium wage, even part time, I can pay the bills and not stress about the dogs, cats and B having to live in the truck ( No, it's not that desperate yet, and it won't actually get near there, there is some work to be had here, and there is a social service safety net if all else fails). B's also been job hunting, found some casual bits - and it's scut work, but it's keeping us afloat. Neither of us are proud and we both work hard.
The writing is not quite dead yet. I'm a battler, which I suspect means too stupid to know when to stop. I - and Eric, are trying to finalise the proposals that have been growing green fur and not getting signed. I'm looking toward bringing out some of my backlist (which various publishers have been sitting on for a LONG time) as ebooks. If they sell well enough I can go on, and I'll cut a major stress and delay factor (the waiting) out of my equation. I'm trying to finish the steampunk book O'Mike thinks he has interested party for as a finished book as well as DOG AND DRAGON (so that can get in the turn in payment queue). I'm looking for other kites to fly. But...
The odd (and sad) thing is it actually felt quite good to finally admit that I was going to have quit as a full time writer after 18 years of pushing through the morass. I love writing, but I am so sick of the endless waiting. I detest the proposal process, but it is the only way to get some financial security (and I have a family to look after too). It means getting deeply involved in a book... and then copping out and casting it at various publishers. I've yet to write a book everyone hated, and every one of those proposals IS a good book with a real market - but I seem bad at convincing publishers of this (and a couple have gone on to prove my point, after being turned down by one publisher). Several years may elapse and suddenly I must jump back into it. That's hard. I've also had to write books that had no appeal to me as concepts... that editors wanted. I always managed to twist them to the point that I DID love them. But I have such a long, long, long list of books I WANT to write, that I love the idea of, that the idea of being the chooser is heady.
Anyway. The game is not over yet, quite. And I'm dipped in over-ripe sewage before I just quit. I'm looking for options, pushing what I can.
And ideas on just how to deal with currency, the waiting or cash flow, or getting DRAGONS RING to rush up the best-seller lists happily received.
Or just how to get my ebooks to sell well enough to just be able to write, and write, bypassing the joys of the industry.
Nil carborundum illigitimi.