Friday, March 11, 2016

But Can You Make a Living at It?

Writing has always been a tough gig. It's full of rejection and disappointment and, even when you're successful, most writers don't earn enough to live on. So has it been and so shall it always be. Okay? Got it?

Now that we have that out of the way, let's move on.

All we seem to hear lately is doom and gloom from people who apparently mistook the exhilarating bump of a few years ago for a permanent state of affairs. They were wrong about the boom and now they are wrong about the bust. By which I mean, yes, this is a tough publishing environment, but that's kind of the normal state of affairs. Actually, it's kind of the normal state of affairs for ANYONE trying to earn a living in the arts. If you're going to be successful in the arts, you have to learn to roll with the punches. And you need to be prepared for getting punched A LOT.

The good news is, people do still earn a living at writing. I earn my living writing--and have for a number of years now. And even if most writers will not be able to support themselves, a lot of them will be able to successfully supplement their existing income. That's a big deal in today's economy. And I'm not talking about people who have been writing and publishing forever, I'm talking about authors who've been working hard for a few years and have started to see the pay-off. 

And I thought it might be refreshing to talk to four of these authors--to read some success stories, to hear some good news. Because one thing never changes: as long as the world needs stories, it will need storytellers.

So here's our cast of characters:

Felice Stevens has always been a romantic at heart. "I believe that while life is tough, there is always a happy ending around the corner. My characters have to work for it, however. Like life in NYC, nothing comes easy and that includes love.

I live in New York City with my husband and two children. My day begins with a lot of caffeine and ends with a glass or two of red wine. I practice law full-time but daydream of a time when I can sit by a beach (under an umbrella with sunscreen) and write beautiful stories of men falling in love.


 I just finished the last of my Breakfast Club series, What Lies Between Us, and am working on a spin-off of characters I introduced in that book, who appeared in a short story last year."



David Warner was "that kid with the over-active imagination who was always making up stories to scare the other kids in the neighborhood.  It wasn’t until college that I started writing them down so I wouldn’t forget them.  I never really gave publishing much more than a passing thought until I was encouraged to do so by a mutual friend of ours (the illustrious M), who was also the first person other than my husband Marc that I ever allowed to read anything that I’d written.  No one was more surprised than I was when I actually got published. 

"A transplant from northern Wisconsin, I’ve been living in Washington, DC for the last 30 years.  I currently reside in a cozy, i.e., very tiny, garden condo in the heart of the city with my husband of 23 years (aka Mr. Man) surrounded by hundreds of books, plants, and bulk paper products from Costco."
 
 
S.C. Wynne loves rainy days and gloomy weather. Ironically, she’s landed in sunny California with her husband and two children, where she endures endless days of sunshine. S.C. loves writing stories with angst, and dryly humorous characters. Her most recent title is Assassins Are People Too. The sequel; Assassins Love People Too is being released March 15th from Loose Id.


C.S. Poe is an author of gay mystery and romance. She lives in New York City with her three cats. She has an affinity for all things cute and colorful, and is a fan of coffee, reading, and cats, in no particular order. Her debut novel, Snow & Winter: The Mystery of Nevermore, is released this summer through DSP Publications.


When did you publish your first M/M or LGBT story? What was the story and who did you publish it with?

 Felice: My first book was Rescued, an M/M romance. It was published by Loose Id in August of 2014.

David: My first LGBT story was released spring of 2012 by DoorQ and published under the name of Warner Davidson.  It was the offshoot of an idea I’d kicked around in draft in college that I eventually updated in 2012—rather hurriedly—for inclusion in a LGBT fantasy anthology that my good friend Peter Saenz was editing at the time. 

S.C.: October 14, 2013. It was Hard-Ass is Here with Loose Id. It was actually the very first M/M romance I wrote. I was so green I thought the publisher would name the book for me. So when I saved the file it saved the manuscript as the first line of the book, which at the time was “The new hard-ass is here.” So the book ended up being titled Hard-Ass is Here because of that. I always thought that was funny. But whatever the title, I was ecstatic when Loose Id offered me a contract. Quietly, suavely ecstatic.


C.S.: My first published work came out June 1, 2015. It was a short, Love Has No Expiration, through Dreamspinner Press.


 
How did the reality of publication match up with what you imagined it would be like to be a published author?


S.C.: The publishing part was exactly what I’d expected and Loose Id was great to work with. I’d been through edits before on another project so I understood that process.

What actually shocked me most was how mean people can be in reviews. I knew everyone wouldn’t love my books, but it never occurred to me people would hate them so much their negative response would feel personal. My first published book was a social media wake-up call for me.

David: I was truly na├»ve before publishing.  My expectations were the exact opposite of what actually transpired.  I thought getting published would be hard.  As it turned out, that was the easy part.  I also thought that marketing, and finding an audience, would just sort of happen organically, like photosynthesis, once you actually had material out there in the light of day.  Surprise!  Live and learn.

C.S.: I actually didn’t have much of a picture in mind, other than my words in a book with a price tag. It’s exciting, and I’m very happy with how intimate the process is with my publisher. They listen to the author from blurb to edit to cover, and I think when all parties are invested, it’s an even more amazing reality.

Felice: Oh God. I’m not sure what I expected, but it was a rollercoaster. Seeing my name on the Amazon lists next to people whose books I read and admired was a bit surreal. Rescued did extraordinarily well for me, especially as a debut book so my expectation s far exceeded what I could have imagined. Of course then there are the reviews which knock you down. So I guess it was like the highest high and the lowest low at certain points.
 
To date how many stories have you published?


C.S.: Two shorts! A third short, as well as my debut novel, are finishing up production for summer releases.

Felice: I have four with Loose Id and seven self-published books.

David: I think I’m the novice here in this group of wonderful writers that you’re interviewing—only 6 published stories to date. I’m currently hard at work (as both editor and contributor) on a second, as-yet-unnamed anthology of LGBT-themed horror stories that I hope will be picked up by DoorQ Publishing/Digital Fabulists later this year in time for Halloween.  The first anthology, entitled In Darkness Peering: Tales from the Bent Side, was released by DoorQ last October. It includes three of my own short stories as well as stories from 8 other LGBT authors.  I have many more up my sleeve and in my back pocket.

S.C.: As S.C. Wynne I have 18 published and 3 additional sold to Loose Id, Dreamspinner and Riptide that will be released in the next few months.


Are you strictly traditional (meaning you work solely with publishers), self-pubbed or hybrid?  Why have you made that choice?


Felice: I don’t know what to call myself, lol. I am self-pubbing right now, but I plan to submit a story I have to publishers later this summer. So I guess you could call me an anticipatory hybrid? I’ll see if anyone is interested. When I published my first self-pubbed book, I wasn’t sure I could do it or would like it. But I fooled myself and I enjoy it. I like the control I have, over times to publish, story lines and my covers, especially my covers. It’s a learning experience and I freely admit to asking for advice. I’ve been lucky enough to have had some amazingly helpful people in my life.


David: So far, I’ve been strictly traditional, not so much by choice as by circumstance and opportunity and, so far, it’s working out just fine.  I see a lot of people moving to self-publishing for a variety of reasons that seem quite valid.  Until recently, however, I had no idea where to begin such a thing.  I’ve now built a pretty solid network of author friends who are well-versed in the ins and outs of self-publishing, as well as people skilled at book layout (both for print and ebook) and cover design.  In the last year, I’ve also completed extensive course work in Adobe InDesign and Photoshop with an eye toward self-publishing if and when I ever choose to go that route.  Options—it’s all about options now.


S.C.: I’m hybrid. So far I’ve worked mainly with publishers. I do have one self-published Halloween story Until the Morning and I’m set to self-publish another book in May called Unleashing Love.  I intend to do more self-publishing this year, but I love working with publishers. You learn so much when you go through a tough edit. I want to always be improving my writing skills and edits help you do that. But self-publishing definitely gives you way more control. To me hybrid gives me the best of both worlds.

C.S.: At this point in my young and shiny career, I am strictly traditional. I thoroughly enjoy working with a house and the sincere dedication they have to promoting their authors. I’ve considered projects down the line that may be better suited to a hybrid style, but I don’t think that will be for a while. I do find the process fascinating, however, and love learning from my fellow authors who manage all this work on their own.


Do you currently have a day job? Do you ultimately plan to write full-time? Given your own experience and the doom and gloom climate in publishing, do you think writing full-time is still a feasible goal?


David: I have a day job as an executive at a small federal agency.  Unfortunately, the demands it creates on my time increase each year and this seriously limits my ability to write on any kind of a reliable schedule.  It’s more of a catch as catch can endeavor until I’m able to leave the job—and DC—which will happen at the end of 2018 when I will finally reach the age and length of service requirements for early retirement as a fed.  After that, I plan to write as close to full-time as life allows.  At that point, writing full-time will not only be feasible, thanks to that federal pension, it will also give me a lot of latitude to experiment without having to worry so much about income from sales.

 
S.C.: I own a business where I work thirteen hour days. The good part is I can often write while I’m there. I would love to write full-time. I have no illusions building a career happens overnight. I’m a realistic dreamer. J I think writing full-time is feasible as long as you’re not expecting to make a bazillion dollars. If you’re happy with a modest income, and you’re willing to work your ass off for many years, pumping out great, well edited stories, you can write full-time.

C.S.: I do have a day job. It’s a difficult monster to work around, especially when I’m at the beginning of my writing career, where I know it’s important to establish a backlist. So I usually get up at 3am to write and make the best of the time allotted to me.

I would like to write full-time. It’s my goal. Not a dream. A goal. I keep that firmly rooted in reality, and I work very hard every day to lay the groundwork that I believe will make that feasible. I tend to look at the bright, sparkly side of life, even when I’ve been told my point of view is unrealistic. So yes, I do believe it is possible, given the work and effort and research is put forth, and you’ve got a voice that really offers something new!


Felice: I work full-time as a managing attorney for a large city agency. I deal with employee discipline problems, labor and employment law discrimination. It is very stressful. I may retire next year, given that I took advantage of the early retirement program and yes, write full time.

 I think one has to sit down and think of what their plan is for the year ahead; publishing goals, options available, deadlines…etc. Gulp –a business plan. I am SO disorganized just thinking of what I should be doing for the rest of the year gives me hives.
 
As writers who began publishing after the ebook boom had passed, what’s your perspective on both the publishing industry and this genre?


S.C.: I wish I could have experienced the big boom. But maybe it set people up with unrealistic expectations too. A lot of people think they can still just upload a book and the sales will come piling in. That is usually not the case. There are many well written self-published books out there. But I think what I find most disconcerting is the flood of poorly written, barely edited self-published stories on the lists. It perpetuates the stigma that people who self-publish only do so because they couldn’t sell their stories to publishing houses. That isn’t actually true, but when there are so many inexperienced authors who are unwilling to put any time into learning and perfecting their craft it’s depressing. Writing is hard. Good writing is ten times harder.

When it comes to the M/M genre I’m disheartened by all the infighting I’m witnessing lately. There’s seems to be so much anger, especially toward women writing in this genre. It’s depressing. I write M/M because I love men. I write gay romance. I’m not curing cancer. I’m not saving the world. I’m not pretending to understand the day to day struggle of a gay man. I write romantic, fictional love stories that feature two fictional male characters. It’s escapism and nothing more.


C.S.: This genre appears to be growing. More authors, more books, more options. For sure it’s very different from when I was a wee lass trying to find a book that fit the vague idea of what I wanted to read but found nothing. (Until a certain Lanyon dropped into my lap years later.) The publishing industry, I admit I’m less sure of. A lot of the data only covers the big old school publishers and doesn’t take into account how indies and self-pubbed authors are fairing. It seems to be going through ups and downs, trying to find itself amongst many roadblocks in this digital age.


Felice: Blink and its changed. Everyday someone has another theory on what has happened what will happen; what’s hot, what’s not. The advent of Amazon opening up the ranks to allowing anyone with a computer to self-publish has been both a blessing and a curse, as it opened the floodgates to people who might never have had the opportunity to publish a book, and those who think all you need to do is slap a pretty cover on and not edit the words. So it’s a balance. And I think the publishers are scrambling to keep up as well; I don’t think they understood the impact digital book was going to have on the industry. I’m not sure anyone truly did. Unfortunately I don’t think we’ve seen the end of consolidations and a winnowing away of small presses.


 For the gay romance genre, however, I think it is just the beginning; so many readers are discovering these books and publishers are now beginning to see that people are more willing to try reading books about same sex couples falling in love. It’s exciting and I look forward to seeing what happens next.


David: The publishing industry seems to be experiencing great upheaval at present.  Too many publishers in this genre have closed their doors.  More are expected to do so in the near future.  I’m not sure how much that has to do with trends in the genre or publishing in general.  Authors give up a great deal of control over their work, it’s pricing, etc. when they use big, online sellers like Amazon and B&N.  Since ebooks have become so widely available, print sales have tapered off.  Many books are now also made available to readers for free if they subscribe to certain online services. 

Online pirating is rampant.  If the price point of a book or story is more than a couple of bucks—which I believe is rather poor compensation for an author’s hard work—you’ll get complaints and bad reviews that have nothing to do with the quality of the writing.  Authors now live and die by reviews.  And let’s not even get into the crop of fake, unfair, or intentionally malicious reviews posted by certain people (some even from within the industry itself) for reasons that I will never fully comprehend.  The entire structure of the industry is changing faster than most authors can keep up with it and I see a lot of scrambling right now, people considering new ways of getting their work out there, such as self-publishing, audiobooks, and Internet serials.


Discoverability continues to be a challenge for all of us. What role would you say promotion has played in your success thus far? Do you feel promotion is less important or more important than it used to be? Do you feel you should or could spend more time promoting your work?


David: This topic comes up often at the book conferences I attend and in my own private discussions with other authors and other industry people.  Promotion is hugely important and—as I responded to a previous question you asked—one that I’d never really given much thought to before I hoboed my way onto the publication train.  Most publishers, it seems, do not do a whole lot of promotion anymore on behalf of their writers unless the writer happens to achieve a certain level of popular success, i.e., sales.  Self-promotion has become increasingly important as a result, and absolutely essential for those who self-publish.  I’m an introvert at heart and, personally, I’m no good at self-promotion.  Even though I know it’s an issue that I will need to grapple with sooner or later if I ever hope to be successful, it doesn’t fall naturally within my comfort zone—or even come close.

 

S.C.: I’ll parrot what most authors say: I hate promotion. It’s not in my nature to toot my own horn. I would need to hire horn tooters for that. But promotion is essential and a huge part of the modern writing experience. I have no idea if promotion has played a role in any success I might have had. It’s difficult to know what things have any effect. I’m not that scientific in my approach to self-promotion. I visit Facebook and Twitter each day, and I have started using a platform called Bublish. Bublish is interesting. You make posts about your story with an author insight also included. The nice part is after you post to Bublish, it tracks where the clicks come from. Did people find you on Facebook or Twitter? You can even see if people click your buy links, although you have no way of knowing if they purchased anything or not. It’s too soon for me to know if Bublish has any effect on my promotional ‘success’.

I’m not sure I have it in me to do a whole lot more promoting than I’m already doing. I know eventually I will have to force myself to go to conventions like GRL, etc. But I’m a private, shy person. I can only push myself so much before I end up in a corner sucking my thumb.


Felice: With my first book I was unprepared. I knew, from running a blog for historical romance years ago that getting your book out to as many people as possible was key, especially for a new author. So I did a blog tour. I’m not sure if it helped me or not. I think being active on social media in the format you feel most comfortable in, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, whatever has been the most helpful. I feel lucky in that I have made some amazing friendships with book bloggers who contacted me simply because they liked one of my books and we’ve gone on to become friends. I recommend other authors as well to them.

Discoverability is very difficult. Sometimes to me it seems as though the same four or five authors are the only ones ever getting the attention. And as a self-published, or indie author, it is near impossible to break through to greater visibility. So you have to put your head down and keep plodding along, doing your own thing, writing the books you love. I’m not in it for anything else except I love to write.

 To be clear, just going on social media and spewing your book title all over the place isn’t going to work either. You have to be real and put yourself out there and have patience. It doesn’t happen overnight.


C.S: I believe promotion (in all its varying shapes and forms) did help me with my first short. In the age of social media, I believe it is more important than ever to invest in promotion time. Authors are no longer a four sentence bio and ten year old photo on the back cover of a book. They’re real people, and they can be found on Facebook to Twitter to Blogger. That’s great for us. Readers can reach out, forge friendships, keep in touch with upcoming releases, the list goes on. But I believe it is also critical to learn the difference between using social media for good, and what constitutes as spamming.

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Since I've got a blog due over at Not Your Usual Suspects, I've decided to continue the conversation over there. Click to continue...

20 comments:

  1. Look at all of these marvelous people sharing their thoughts! I enjoyed every heartfelt word of the responses to Josh's insightful questions. Thanks to everyone for sharing. This community rocks, and of course would not exist without all of you who bravely share pieces of yourself with the world. I look forward to reading great works from all of you for many years, as well as the joys of continued friendship.

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    1. I thought it was really fascinating how many of these answers seemed to dovetail. Which makes me think that success does require a certain mindset?

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  2. Wonderful comments and insights by the upcoming authors, Josh. Writing stories isn't something I am able to, but I sure appreciate reading a good one. I also think it is characteristically wonderful of you, Josh, to promote and take other authors under your wing.

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    1. Thank you, Janet. And yes, Josh is always supportive.

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    2. :-) Thank you, Janet. I think there are a lot of positives in publishing to focus on right now. We all need to be realistic, that's all.

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    3. Josh's support of authors is wonderful!

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  3. That is very interesting! I have read all mentioned or better said published Books here, only from David it is sadly just one book (I will changed that) and I admire that you can and do write before and after long work hours! That shows how important it is to write for you. I admire everybody, who risk to work in art and for the art.I really hope, that the time will come, that you can do it full time.

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    1. Awww, thank you, Sabine! :D

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    2. David writes scary stories!!! :-D I love that about him.

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  4. I loved these interviews! Thank you all and thank you, Josh. :) I truly admire your talent and thank you all for the time and work you put in. Now I must go scout out some books I haven't read yet! :D

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    1. Thanks for commented, Karan! And yes, lots of good books to choose from.

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    2. Thank you for taking the time to read our answers, Karan! :)

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  5. Oh wow. This was so awesome to read. Both here and at 'Not Your Usual Suspects'. What a great idea this was, Josh! Thank you so much, you all. I feel like giving you guys a group hug — and I'm only :-) a reader. I can only imagine how interesting reading this must be for a writer, and especially for any aspiring writer.

    Oh, and one more thing: I admire you authors more and more every day. You guys are so brave. You really are.

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    1. Ha ha! The only reader thing is so funny to me. <3 Thank you for reading and commenting, Johanna. I was thrilled to be included.

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    2. LOL Only a reader? We are only the authors. Thank you Johanna. One day I hope to get that hug in person

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