Plotting a writing career: the fame monster

fameI was listening to Writing Excuses this week. They were doing a Q&A, and the first question was relevant to my interests, as they say.

“How has your opinion on self-publishing changed in the last year?”

In particular, I thought Howard’s response was spot-on. “Self-publishing means you trade getting past the gatekeepers for getting the attention of signal-boosters.” In other words, you still have to impress influential readers in order to get your work out there. And it’s still a lot of work. It still involves being able to sell your book to a small group of influential people. It’s just a different group, and depending on the appeal of your work, it might be a group you have a better shot of pleasing.

However, the most useful bit for me was Brandon’s contribution (I think–he and Dan sound a lot alike). He said he’s changed his belief that self-publishing success was about platform building. His data indicates that the majority of indie authors who are making a living are not “platform writers.” Instead, they’re writers who are putting out a lot of short fiction very fast, releasing 6-7 books per year and earning ~$50,000 per year. They’re not the big million-selling success stories that make all the headlines, but they’re the ones really driving the market.

This, of course, makes me both happy and sad. Happy, because I have put out 6-7 books this year, and a very short novel is the longest among them. Sad, because I spent my entire royalty to date on a Chinese buffet, which is a far cry short of $50,000 per year.

However, aside from the feels of it all, it was valuable information. I’ve spent most of this month plotting my fiction writing career. (As opposed to plotting my fiction, but we’ll get there, too. Eventually.)

Further into the podcast, there was another interesting question:

What is the hardest thing about your career now?

Both Mary and Brandon said that the amount of time they have to spend doing stuff other than writing is their biggest challenge. That because they have so many speaking engagements and spend so much time traveling to promote their books, it’s actually more difficult to find time to write now, at the height of their success, than it was when they were “mid-list” writers.

Taken together, they paint an interesting picture about what might be the most desirable career path for me personally.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been attracted to the idea of courting fame. My theater and radio background mean I’m comfortable being the center of attention, but I don’t really crave it. It sounds like there’s a tier of success to be had for those who favor production over promotion. Which is not in any way a judgment on people for whom the opportunity to travel, do conventions and conferences and speak at events is a reward. One of the reasons to do this whole crazy writing thing. We all have our own goals and desires, and that’s okay.

For me, it’s more of a cost. I’ve figured out that much thanks to the very similar state of affairs in my current industry. I’ve done some speaking. I’ve done some events. It’s exhausting. Frankly, I’d rather be the “behind the scenes” person.

It’s encouraging to hear evidence that I can build a career around being prolific and writing lots of shorter fiction. Because frankly, I’m good at that. Especially because thanks to my current career, I know darn well how much work it takes to build and maintain a platform. Too much work and energy for me to have much left over to actually write. At least, not at the pace I prefer.

I’ll court the fame monster if I have to, but frankly, I’d rather just write really fun stories. It’s good to hear a professional say that’s probably a viable option.


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    “For me, it’s more of a cost. I’ve figured out that much thanks to the very similar state of affairs in my current industry. I’ve done some speaking. I’ve done some events. It’s exhausting. Frankly, I’d rather be the “behind the scenes” person.”

    This is what I’ve been wrestling with this year in particular. That and finding myself spending more time figuring out promotion in general than actually writing.

    As for sales, I’ve made more than a Chinese buffet’s worth this year, but not a lot more. In previous years, I’ve joked about the dozens of dollars I made annually on my self-published works. I’ll say this year, since I’m more focused on promoting, and am with a couple of small presses, is promising to be many times those dozens. I do hope for the day when it’s not all pushing uphill, but I suspect that day is a long way off.


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      The Chinese buffet comment is a little bit of an exaggeration. If I added up my accrued royalties, it’s probably more like $40-50 (which is not bad when most of it was racked up $0.35 at a time.) The problem is, part of that is on Smashwords ($10 minimum not met yet). Part of it is in Createspace (again, $10 minimum not quite met). Part of it is international Kindle sales (I sell stuff on the German, Canadian, Japanese and UK domains, and each one of those has it’s own $10 minimum).

      I suspect the .de and .jp sales are U.S. military stationed overseas.

      It’s encouraging that the small presses are working for you. I’m talking with at least one small press about re-releasing my Clockwork Republic stories. So your story is also an encouragement. Thanks!


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