Why do we do what we do? For a living, for fun, for fulfillment?
Have you ever known someone who loved her job so much she said, “I’d do this even if they didn’t pay me to do it.” Maybe you feel that way about what you do. I think I used to. In fact, when I had my own physical therapy practice, I did just that. Often. Staff and bills and rent all had to be paid before I could take a paycheck. It was just the nature of the beast. Or maybe I was just a really bad business owner. But I loved what I did, even when I didn’t get paid. Of course, it helped to have a very understanding and supportive partner.
Then I rediscovered writing, something I had loved doing when I was a child. I wrote on and off for ten years before I really thought about trying to get published. I’ve written before about what a strange journey that was. I finally got published just as the recession hit and bookstores—both LGBT and chains—closed all around the country. Then e-books and Amazon took over and changed the game for everyone.
Fast-forward ten more years.
I now work for someone else. I’m lucky enough to have a good job that pays the bills and provides me with good benefits. I know how blessed I am to be in that position, but I no longer am doing it just for the love of it. Most of the time, I like what I do, but when I’m ready to retire, I’ll gladly walk away and not look back.
And that day job makes it possible to do what I really love, but most definitely doesn’t pay the bills.
Writing is a weird thing. My PT degree and license tell me I’m a real physical therapist. It’s the same for other professions—your degree or qualifications or license tell you you’re real.
But when are you a real writer?
When you write? When you finish a novel? When you publish? When you win an award or hit a certain sales rank?
I have now published thirteen novels, most of them under my own imprint, which means I’m back in business. And it wasn’t until this past March, when my most recent story, When the Stars Sang, was published that I started to see a significant bump in my sales.
Prior to that, I averaged 0-3 e-book sales per day. That is not a typo. I had ten novels published (plus two others with Ylva that I don’t have daily sales info for), and would often sell no books at all, for days at a time. A great day was 4-5 copies sold.
There were many days I wondered why I was doing this at all. I had started writing because I love it. It was a big leap to go from writing something just for the enjoyment and sense of fulfillment it gave to putting my work out there for others to read.
No matter how much I told myself it didn’t matter how many copies I sold or how many reviews I got, that I would still be doing this, that sense of gratification gradually shifted. Once I had published, which involved laying out the up-front costs of editing, cover, and formatting, gratification became inextricably tied to sales and reviews. Without those, it became really difficult to remember why I was doing this whole publishing thing. I don’t know if that change can be helped once you publish.
Recently, another writer I really admire was lamenting being in that very boat. Andi Marquette is an incredibly busy woman—writer, blogger, publisher, fangirl of various fandoms, advocate. She blogged HERE about her struggles with whether to continue writing for publication (and losing money at it) versus going back to her roots in writing fanfiction, where she puts her work out there for free. From what she says, that type of writing frees her from the very soul sucking worries of not recouping the money she has laid out to publish her books, and gets her back in touch with writing purely for the love of it.
I can absolutely empathize with her thought process. I know many authors who have stopped writing—or at least stopped publishing—altogether. That whole notion of the starving artist who can’t help but create even without success may be romantic, but publishing, if you do it right, is expensive.
When I released When the Stars Sang, it was with half a mind that if sales didn’t pick up with this book, I was going to have to do some serious thinking about whether this publishing gig was worth it.
For some reason, this book did reach more readers than my previous titles. It’s funny, because it’s not inherently different from my other novels. I felt a bit like the over-night success that only took twenty years to happen. It kick-started sales for all of my books that I’d not seen before. I’m still not a bestseller by any stretch of the imagination, and I fully expect sales will probably taper off again. I hope that doesn’t happen, but I’m trying to be realistic about this. After all, anything more than zero is an improvement, right?
I still don’t know the answer to when a writer becomes real, but this quote from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams comes to mind:
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
So, to those of you who have read my books from the beginning and to those of you who have only just discovered me, thank you. I don’t know if I could really stop writing, but your support makes it possible to keep publishing. And getting to do both is a gift I don’t take for granted.