Sunday, April 29, 2007
Quasi-Professional Writing, Goals and Reality Checks...
Today I read a forum post by a romance writer who gave up an extra $60,000 a year to stay in a job that allowed her to keep writing. I am currently negotiating to take up a job opportunity that will earn me a lot more money and probably cut back on my writing time (although not eliminate it). For the first time in my life I look forward to being able to give up raman noodles for good, maybe even rent a place with more than two rooms and shop in real boutiques. In affect some aspects of my lifestyle will improve and others will shrink--writing time likely being something I will lose. We all make these choices, but that's what they should be--careful, rational choices based on explicit goals.
I had long ago noticed that most fiction writers do not earn their complete living from this activity. Full time fiction writers do exist, but the majority even of full time writers either write in various trade/non-fiction venues as well as fiction, or are a member of a household supported by other income/s. Part time writing seems to be the norm either with simultaneous outside or in-home employment or alternating periods writing and periods in other employment. In e-publishing the earnings are typically lower and these tendencies (to be subsidised by other sources of income) are greater. There is typically a balance between writing for money and writing (as ralan.com says) '4theluv'.
In niche writing there is a full range for those selling a few books that struggle to reach double figure sales in an average year, to those who write for high turnover epublishers or large print presses (still a tenuous proposition if your household does not have other more reliable sources of income). There is also, in my opinion, a largely uncorrelated range of conduct from fully professional to thin-skinned hobbyist (some seem to confuse the role of a publisher with that of a clan or a cult). Those who earn the most are not always those who conduct themselves well. But worst of all, there are publishers who take advantage of writers driven by a desire to write and who are willing to overlook that fact that their earnings are slim to none. I continue to see writers strongly promoting epublishers whose typical first month sales are less than 10 copies. They may be writing 4theluv, but those taking their advice re: who is the very best epublisher out there might actually be in it for the money. You can't assume that what someone else considers great sales would be in anyway acceptable to you!
I would be interested in hearing from you all regarding how you balance writing with paying the total household bills. Certainly we need to get a simple living wage from somewhere, then comes the balancing act--writing is not the most efficient way for most people to earn money and those with other saleable skills may end up effecitively 'paying' to write. Are you investing the time in writing needed to 'break through' and write full time, or have you reached an acceptable balance right now? Is money just not an issue and you just want to reach the largest possible readership or obtain the affirmation that others will pay for your work?
My position is that I am not currently seeking large press publication, although I may look into that next year. I still feel it is important to have clear a priori financial goals to ensure I profit acceptably from my writing rather than just being 'farmed' by a publisher for their own benefit. I decided the acceptable level in advance based on my own goals and values. I do not write full time and need not strive for a living wage but I still looked around for a defintion of 'professional' pay rates. I opted for a common dividing line used to define professional level payment--3c a word, I seek this level of payment for each piece within two years of initial publication. I track my stats, I continue to write for publications that deliver this payback. I will gamble on new publishers occassionally, but not as a habit.
This approach allows me to have a professional perspective on an activity that I can normally devote only an hour a day to, often less. Other people take other approaches and other goals but for me it is very important to see my writing as something I do professionally, without needing to do it as a profession.
Sometimes I write for leisure, to support my genre or to communicate a certain point. But in these cases where I do not intend to profit I do not send the work to profit-driven enterprises but offer it to non-profit publications such as the M/M zine Forbidden Fruit. If no one profits, no one is exploited. And that is probably my point. Things that are written only for love, should be published for the same reason. To the extent something is written for money, it should earn money--and to the extent it is written well, it should be published well. And, given the number and range of presses available out there, it is very important that we don't sell ourselves short ...and that is what this website it meant to be all about.
I hope to hear you own thoughts and experiences about balancing the motivations of money and love.