Here’s the thing. You got yourself good enough to get a publishing contract back in the “old days” when you needed to impress an agent, get repped, get shopped, and then sign on with a house. Your books came out with nice covers, some marketing, some placement. You did book signings and conference appearances. Three books I think it was, right?
So what happened? Sales weren’t enough to earn back the advance. And not enough to get another contract from the publishing house.
There’s an author support group for that. It’s called “Practically Everyone” and they meet at the bar.
I don’t know the exact percentage, but most fiction authors who ever lived never caught on in a big way. Many used to manage a “midlist career” which meant at least enough sales to keep on publishing, though not enough buy a yacht.
So you went through a dry period. Your agent shopped you but without success. So you parted ways. That was a tough time for you. You wondered if you’d ever get published again.
A couple of your colleagues, myself included, suggested you ought to look into self-publishing. That was four or five years ago. You said you didn’t have the desire to learn “all that stuff.” You just wanted to write.
Then you found another agent, a newer one, and he thought you ought to start over with a pen name. So you did. And he got you a contract. (See? You are still good enough!) Yes, it was a smaller house, so the advance and marketing were minimal. You got some good reviews for the new book, which was to be the start of a series.
But the book went nowhere. And the publisher decided not to bring out the next book. (To hear more stories like this, go to the next Practically Everyone meeting at the bar).
Then your agent got out of the business.
You told people, That’s it. I’m done. Goodbye, writing. No use. Never again.
Your colleagues gave you a pass the first time you expressed this. We all understood. But when you did it again, I decided to write you this letter.
Look, bud, are you a writer or aren’t you? I’m not talking about someone who has a contract. I’m talking about someone who has this yearning to tell stories because you’ve been caught up in storytelling dreams and you want to do that for other people.You long to move them, entertain them. Is that you? Then you’re a writer.
And as such, you’re subject to the slings and arrows of this crazy business. The question is, what are you going to do when you get a few arrows in the keister?
You can give up. Or you can go see Miracle Max. (You’re only mostly dead!) And when you can sit comfortably again, self-publish.
Sure, it takes effort to learn what to do. But no more effort than it took you to learn how to write a good scene.
I know, I know. You’ve heard about that massive “sea of content” out there. Yes, you’ll be starting out as a minnow. But at least you’ll be alive and swimming. The beach, meanwhile, is covered with rotting kelp and flies and the bones of writers who gave up.
When you self publish, you’ll instantly be better off than you are now. Like the old prospector said, “A handful of somethin’ is better than a cartload of nothin’.”
It’s within your power to make it happen. Think about that. You’re not at the mercy of a corporation or committee, or the shrinking shelf space in bookstores. You are your own captain, your own boss.
You say you’re not a particularly fast writer. Well, fine, here’s my advice: write to a quota and stick to it. Find out how many words you can comfortably write per week. Then up that by 10%. You have to have extend yourself a little. Even the lowly oyster needs a bit of grit to make a pearl.
Do you want to be outclassed by an oyster?
Get out of your shell, man. Start by putting out short stories and novellas. Get them out there and in the Kindle Select program. Use the free promotion to move units. Set up an email list with a service like MailChimp or Vertical Response, and make it easy for readers to sign up on your website. Put a sign-up link in the back of your books.
This is your foundation. Meanwhile, work on a full-length novel. Continue your series if you like. Or write that book that’s been tugging at your heart. Keep at it—quota, steady pace. The pages mount up like magic.
You will make some money. How much? It depends. The formula is quality + production + time. Do your best every time out. Keep on doing it.
For the rest of your life.
That’s what I said. Because you’re a writer.
Am I right?
You’re bloody well right I’m right.
So write! You’ve come too far to give it all up now.
P. S. You still owe me that ten spot, but if you write a thousand words tomorrow, we’ll call it even. Deal?