Tags: money

supposed to die

It's my write-aversary!

file4411334714768Six years ago today was my very last day working for someone else.

I had spent years writing books on the side (my first was published in 1999) while working full-time in public relations for Kaiser Permanente. I had been working for a variety of someone elses since I was 14 and started babysitting. My past jobs included everything from making pizzas to making change, from translating German to a one-time stint jumping out of a giant faux cake at some guy's 40th birthday party.

I had published six books and was wondering when I was ever going to be able to quit my day job, when I hooked up with a television personality and we got offered a four-book deal for an adult mystery series. While my share of the advance was not a huge sum of money, at the same time I knew I would never see that much in one place ever again. It felt like it was then or never. So I gave notice. My agent called it, "Sailing your boat out into the middle of the ocean and setting it on fire."  (She was with a big agency and went out on her own, so she knew what she was talking about).

And on this date six years ago, I packed up my emergency makeup (I occasionally dealt with the media), my snack stash (I was known for having a steady supply of pretzels), my family photos, and the cup where I kept spare change. I said goodbye to a lot of folks and tried not to think too hard about whether I was crazy to quit when the stock market had lost 40 percent of its value and I hadn't actually signed the contract yet.

But you know what?  It has worked out. Of course, it hasn't been all sunshine and lollipops. Thank God I've got health benefits from my husband, but everything else I pay for out of pocket (like retirement) or simply don't have.Two years ago was the first year where I made more than I did at my day job. In 2013, I made substantially more.  At the same time, I've learned that money doesn't always come in when you expect it, counted on it, planned for it.  There have times when I have done the math and wondered exactly how we were going to pay the mortgage. And there have been times when I have gotten money I wasn't expecting at all.

It all tends to work out, although sometimes not before you've curled into a fetal position.

I've had eight books published since I quit, including Girl, Stolen, The Night She Disappeared and The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die.  Two more will publish this year, including The Body in the Woods. I've got contracts for more. There have been movie options, foreign sales, and books chosen for the Scholastic Book Club, the Junior Library Guild, and many state reading lists.

And I am so much happier!! All day long I get to kill people (or at least make them worried they might be killed) and it is so much fun. And if some of those people occasionally bear a passing resemblance to an old boss or annoying co-worker, I’m sure that’s a coincidence...
supposed to die

Don't quit your day job?

Earlier this year, when I had far less time to blog, I ran into several posts about how financially it didn't make much sense to be a writer. One was this which was based on numbers from 2005 and for some reason posits that each novel you write will sell fewer copies than in the past.  Then there was this roundup from Galley Cat.

However, I think these posts might be a bit too dire.  Way back when I got my first book deal in 1997, it was for $12,000 for the first book and $15,000 for the second, so far more than the $5,000 or $6,000 that many of these examples start with. Maybe mysteries pay a little better than the horror or science fiction they were talking about in the linked articles.  And as your career moves along, hopefully your career is building and your backlist is still selling.

Plus there are other ways you can make money as a writer, although none of them are sure things. Audio books, foreign rights, book clubs, movie options.  If you write books for kids, especially younger kids, you can get paid to do school visits.  (My first five books were for adults, so it was a real shock to learn this.)  And books for kids tend to stay in print for a long time.  My first YA came out in 2006 and is still, as of today, in print.  Anything that has gone out-of-print I have put back up as ebooks.  A few times when things were lean I taught classes at my local bookstore.

Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but for past couple of years I have made well more than I did when I worked in corporate communications for a big health care company.  I will say that my husband has helped tremendously by having a job with health insurance and regular bi-weekly paychecks.  I've also learned that money you don't expect to come in does and money you did expect to come in ends up being delayed for months, but somehow it all balances out.

The one thing I don't like is that it's very hard to crystal ball it, hard to look more than a year into the future.  I'm getting better at living with that uncertainty. If you are self-employed, I highly recommend The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed: The Only Personal Finance System for People with Not-So-Regular Jobs. You need to get good at paying your retirement, your taxes, and your emergency fund up front.  This book has helped me do that.

Author Jim Hines looked at his finances for 2012 here.  He also has a full-time job in addition to his writing.

Anyway, if you are thinking of quitting your day job, don't despair.  I believe it is possible.  You may find yourself working like a dog, but you'll also be making up stories, your commute will be from your bed to the computer, and you will be your own boss.  Even if I was making less (and who knows, I might soon be), I would still say it was worth it. 
supposed to die

Can you buy your way onto the best seller list?

Can you buy your way onto the best seller list?

Why, yes you can.  With enough money, nearly anything is possible. (The Wall Street Journal talked about this a few months ago, back when my free time fell to zero, which was why I haven't brought it up until now.)

Here's part of the article:

"It isn't uncommon for a business book to land on best-seller lists only to quickly drop off. But even a brief appearance adds permanent luster to an author's reputation, greasing the skids for speaking and consulting engagements.... But the short moment of glory doesn't always occur by luck alone. In the cases mentioned above, the authors hired a marketing firm that purchased books ahead of publication date, creating a spike in sales that landed titles on the lists. The marketing firm, San Diego-based ResultSource, charges thousands of dollars for its services in addition to the cost of the books, according to authors interviewed."

Read the rest of the article here. It points out it's particularly easy to game business book bestseller lists, since even a few thousand copies can put you on a list.

I think it would be pretty hard to game any of the NYT's fiction lists. And I'm not just saying that because I've been on one. Given enough money, though, that still might be possible.

Smaller lists can probably be gamed more easily. Someone who had a lot of money (and who was also a good writer) once confided in me that she had gotten on the LA Times list through spreading around her own money to straw buyers who purchased the book.
Night She Disappeared cover

Self publishing - what's the truth of it now?

Some people who are self-published make hundreds of thousands of dollars.  

Many more make a few dollars.  

Some who buy a high-priced package of services for self-publsihing may end up losing money.  

Some get a glowing review from the New York Times' Michiko Kakutani.  (Who, as Annie Lamott once said: "The one little problem with Michiko, though, is that if she doesn't like your book, she will kill you -- cut your head off with a surgical knife, and play hacky-sack with it until she grows bored. Then, maybe in the last paragraph, she'll pour acid on it.") (Read more about her here.)

Most never get noticed.  

And no one really knows why something like 50 Shades of Grey is a huge success.

When I got my first contract in 1997, the only people who self-pubbed were deluded fools who ended up with boxes of books in their basement.  I still meet people who have paid thousands to have their picture book published with cheap materials and bad drawings.  (Often, sadly enough, they seemed to be suckered in by a company that claims to be Christian.)  

I've seen people break with traditional publishers, and people who have had success self-publshing happily sign with one of the Big Six (or is it Big 5 now?).

Recently, I've read two interesting articles about self-publishing.

One lengthy one in Time magaizne says, "Its an article of faith in the indie movement that writing fiction can be a way to get rich."  

Here's a link to a pdf of the article called The 99-Cent Bestseller. he author they profile earned $352.70 in nine months. Not get-rich-quick stuff.  

NPR also covered self-publishing, including looking at the prices people pay for help in getting their book in e-print.

I have put all my backlist out as ebooks.  I seldom earn more than $300 a month.  But hey, it's free money (I did the formatting and my husband did the covers), and it means that people are still reading my older books. 

Here are links to the ooks 've put back in print and another ebook that for some reason isn't showing up when I click Kindle. 





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Night She Disappeared cover

It's my write-aversary!

file4411334714768Five years ago today was my very last day working for someone else, after having worked for a variety of someone elses for years and years. I had a contract coming my way for a medium-sized chunk of change, and I figured it was now or never.

So I gave notice and packed up my emergency makeup (I occasionally dealt with the media), my snack stash, my photos, and the little cup where I kept spare change. I said goodbye to a lot of folks and tried not think too hard about whether I was crazy to quit when the stock market had lost 40 percent of its value and I hadn't actually signed said contract.

Of course, it hasn't been all sunshine and lollipops. Thank God I've got health benefits from my husband, but everything else I pay for out of pocket (like retirement) or simply don't have. This past year was the first where I made more than I did at my day job. There have times when I have done the math and wondered exactly how we were going to pay the mortgage.

But you know what? It has worked out. I've had five books published since I quit, including The Night She Disappeared and Girl, Stolen.  Two more will publish this year, including The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die. I've got contracts for three more. There have been foreign sales, movie options, and books chosen for the Scholastic Book Club, the Junior Library Guild, and many state reading lists.

And I am so much happier!! All day long I get to kill people (or at least make them worried they might be killed) and it is so much fun. And if some of those people occasionally bear a passing resemblance to an old boss or annoying co-worker, I’m sure that’s a coincidence...




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Blood Will Tell

My faith: rusty and with a hole in the middle

Lately, there have been two big things I've struggled with.

One was the health of someone I care deeply about. Their health status was a question mark. Doctors ordered more tests, and the test results showed abnormalities. It was possible that they were facing something very serious, perhaps even deadly.

After losing three friends last year, I was freaking out. Not calm at all. Not the kind of support I should have been. Instead I was madly googling combinations of symptoms, finding rare diseases and not so rare diseases, and all of them with bad outcomes.

The second thing I've been worried about is a new project. Of course, it's not nearly as important as my loved one's health. But still, I want this project to succeed, and there's a lot about it that is different than anything I have done before.

One morning, when I was out for a run, I asked God for a sign that things would be okay. Specifically, I asked to find a coin.I always like to find money, and I look for it everyplace I go. First of all, it's rare, at least in my neighborhood. I walk and/or run every day, but sometimes months will go by where I don't find anything. Second of all, money says "In God We Trust," and it reminds me of my need to trust.

And then I saw the glint of something silver. A nickel, a dime, even a quarter? Silver coins are much rarer to find than brown-colored pennies.

No. It was this weird metal thing, I guess a washer of some sort. And it was rusty.

Rusty

I started to laugh. It was rusty and it had a hole in it. Perfect metaphor for my faith.

At home, I kept praying. A long time ago, someone taught me this way to pray where you lift your hands high overhead and you tell God about the burden you are carrying - or you think you are carrying - and you offer it all up to him. Eventually, your arms get so tired and heavy and you have to let go. You have to give it up.

A few days later, I was running and I found another flat silver thing that wasn't a coin. It had a hole in it and it wasn't rusty.

Grommet

And a few days after that, I found these. Play money that's basically one-fourth the size of a dollar bill.

play money

Meanwhile my loved seemed to be slowly getting better even as they did more and more medical tests.

And on Monday I stepped out of my car at Traders Joes and found this.

dime

And yesterday we heard from the doctor that while we may not ever know what caused it, the test results have all returned to normal, or close to it.

As for the project? I don't know yet. But I think it will be okay.

Today I also find myself thinking of Jay Lake, a Portland sci-fi writer who has been very open about his battle with what is now Stage Four colon cancer (the same cancer that killed Bridget Zinn last year). On his blog yesterday he revealed that his latest test results are bad. Three new growths in his liver. I know he is an atheist, and that he is unwavering in that. Maybe I am deluded, seeing signs and portents in pieces of trash.

But maybe not.

ETA: (And, as Jay says in his latest post: If it helps you to pray for me, feel free to pray. Just because I'm an atheist doesn't mean I think you should be. Likewise, if it helps you to cuss, feel free to cuss. Or send a check to the American Cancer Society or the Clayton Memorial Medical Fund. Or buy one of my books. Or just go tell someone you love them.)




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Blood Will Tell

The cost of getting another author to blurb your book

I was once on a message board where a person seriously claimed that Stephen King was upfront about charging money for blurbs.

Sure.

Authors blurb books for a variety of reasons (friend, friend of a friend, editor or agent's request), but mostly it’s about paying it forward.

Although one author has come up with a tongue-in-cheek price sheet for people who might request a blurb. Sample: “You’re still using the author photo from your “promising debut.”” (+$75)




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Blood Will Tell

How to make it on a writer’s income

Lawrence Block has a great, great blog post (originally written in 1981) about how to make it on a writer’s income - a lot of it comes down to cultivating certain attitudes.

One thing he talks about is the dangers of “sure money.” “There are more ways than one to run scared. In my own case, fear has tended to manifest itself more in terms of an inability to take chances at the typewriter. For a few too many years I wrote pulp novels on regular assignment for sure money rather than risk failure by attempting something more ambitious.”

You can read all of Lawrence Block’s great post here.




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Blood Will Tell

What it’s like to quit your day job



When you go from a corporate job to making your living as a writer, you also go from paychecks every other Friday to paydays that occur as infrequently as once or twice a year. (With luck, they are bigger checks than they were before.)

Here’s how it works:

First week after you get your check: “Let’s go out to dinner! Let’s go to Costco! And Trader Joes! And even Whole Foods!”

In the intervening weeks, you keep running the numbers. Will the money last? What will break (arm, toilet) that you didn’t budget for - and how will you pay for it? Will you get royalties? And if so, how much reserve against returns will there be?

Months later, the last week before you get your check: “Do you think that ravioli has been in the freezer for longer than five years? And if so, do you think it’s still edible?” “Sweetie, do you mind paying for your annual in dozens of quarters scavenged from the cars and the house?” “Wait - is that a Starbucks cup? How did you pay for that?”

What I've learned in the last four years: Money doesn't come that you expected. Expenses happen that you didn't plan for. And money that you didn't know you would get happens. And it all kind of washes out.



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