Why Am I Writing?

Sunday, November 29, 2015
First the good news:

The book isn’t done, but I can finish the first draft at a more leisurely pace during December.

Like most people who participate in NaNoWriMo, by the end of November the constant push-push-push to reach 50,000 new words written in a month has made me exhausted. If you remember, NaNo for me started in October, when I was focused on creating an outline for this book so I wouldn’t run out of scenes to write too early in the month. Or the word count.

In reality, I’d been thinking about the plot of this book long before that. I know that’s true because as I was taking the James Patterson class, I stopped reading his sample outline of Honeymoon because it sounded too much like the plot I had in mind. (As it turned out, my story was nothing like Patterson’s, but I didn’t know that because I hadn’t developed it yet.)

While I was focused on writing, a number of other things happened. I was too tired to think about promoting my novels, and sales became almost non-existent. There is some cause and effect there, but many authors have been reporting that book sales have faded as the holidays approach. Pages read for Kindle Unlimited also decreased. As did the payout per page read.

Amazon announced that because the KU subscription rate for India was so much lower than everywhere else (due to competition), they will be changing the payout rate on an individual country basis. I assure you it will not be higher in India than in the United States.

Sales of books have become dependent on the book being on sale. Or free. With paid advertising. Facebook began throttling author book promotion posts, even to groups that exist solely for authors to promote books. As a matter of fact, several authors have been prohibited from posting anything for two weeks because Facebook thought they were doing too much promotion. They will, however, let you pay them for the privilege of advertising your books to a targeted audience.

Amazon cracked down on reviews, removing those written by “friends” or by paid reviewers. They even sued 1000 reviewers who wrote reviews for payment. Back to those friends: no one is quite sure how Amazon defines a friend, but it appears as if Facebook “friends” are in that category. Since authors have been encouraged to friend readers on Facebook for years, most of us have reviews by “friends” if they’re defined that way.

Traditional publishing has discovered indie tactics, including discounting and promoting on mailing lists like BookBub and EReader News Today. Not only does that leave fewer slots for indie authors, the law of supply and demand has caused the price of advertising to rise for these venues. A thousand dollars for an ad is nothing to a major publisher. It’s impossible for most indies.

Of course, that means less money for the author.

I don’t know if I’ve ever said this on my blog or not, but my intention when I retired early was to supplement my retirement income with money from book sales. Based on history, it didn’t seem impossible to earn an extra thousand dollars a month as an indie author. Not right away, maybe, but certainly in three or four years. Many indie authors were doing this and more.

In 2012. Or, possibly, 2013. The gold rush year appears to have been 2011. The Kindle was new then and new owners wanted more content. Indie authors who could write fast or traditionally published authors who had gotten their rights back on backlist titles could put them up on Amazon and pretty much be guaranteed good sales and a good income.

My problem was I made my plans in 2012, and started my indie publishing career in 2013. The gold rush was over. By the time I published my third book a couple of months ago, the supposedly magic number where an author started to have enough visibility and a fan base to start earning money, all of that stuff I wrote about before this paragraph happened.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past three years, it’s that indies have to be nimble to be successful. They have to be creative about new ways of doing things as the old ways no longer work. They have to be willing to work long hours and take risks. Most have to write quickly and publish often. The life of an independent author is a never-ending NaNoWriMo.

And you know what? I don’t want to live that way. I missed seeing two movies I wanted to see in November because I didn’t want to take time away from my writing. There were a couple of ancillary activities around this new series that I wanted to do, but I had to make my daily word count first. Afterwards, I had no creative energy left to do those things. I haven’t been getting enough exercise and I miss my daily walks. And I’m nowhere near that thousand dollars a month.

I’ve been reading a number of blog posts by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith lately. Dean in particular has written about a whole different perspective on writing as a career. One of his blogs was titled “What’s the Point?” As you might guess, it was the discouragement felt by writers who aren’t earning enough money, who haven’t made a bestseller list, who haven’t gotten the recognition they think they should. He admitted to having felt that way himself at one point in his career. He quit writing because of it.

I’ve also been thinking “What’s the point?” I had a day job before. I don’t want that kind of job again. But I’m not going to quit writing. I’ve tried to quit before, but I’m addicted to it. I need my writing fix every few days or I start to go crazy.

But I’m going to approach writing in 2016 in a different way. I’m going to do it for the fun of it, not because I have to get another book in a series written or I’ll lose my audience. I’m going to break the rules again. I’m going to design my own covers rather than paying for them, even though “everybody knows” you need a professional cover now to sell books. Dean Wesley Smith and Hugh Howey both did all their own covers at the beginning of their indie careers. Hugh even admits his were pretty terrible. But they managed to sell books. And they didn’t go broke doing it.

I’m also going to take time to do those other things. I’m going to draw a fantasy map of my fictional town of Rainbow Ranch. I’m going to write a text adventure game to go along with “A Game of Murder.” I’m going to start working on the historical research for that time travel romantic adventure book I want to write. I’m not going to worry about my book sales or my Amazon ranking. I’m going to have fun writing stories.

In other words, I’m going to stop worrying about being a professional and call myself a hobbyist. I’m going to write for me. For fun. Because crafting good stories is fun. Worrying about sales isn’t.

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A Clash of Kings
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