Writing is a Job, For Which You Should Get Paid

Sitting in my drafts folder over at the olde blogge, I have a post entitled “I Just Want You Lot to Get Paid.” I never finished writing it, and the incident that sparked it is several years out of date, but the sentiment still stands. Last week, events in the writing world that had me thinking about it all over again – the short version is, YA writer Stacey Jay put up a Kickstarter for the sequel to Princess of Thorns. She mentioned that part of the goal amount would pay her bills for the four months she’d be writing the book, and if the project didn’t fund, she wouldn’t be going forward with it. The internet fell on her head in a terrible, frightening way and she pulled the Kickstarter. Her posts about it are here and here.

It’s raised questions about how – or whether – a writer should get paid for work that hasn’t been written. There’s also quite a bit of ur doin it wrong in regards to Kickstarter and crowdfunding in general, which I disagree with.

First of all, on writers getting paid and setting the price they’ll accept for their work:

Writers are freelancers. We have to determine what constitutes a fair wage for us, what is worth our time and focus.

That manifests in many different ways.

If you’re going the trade publishing route, it means looking at all facets of an offer: the advance, royalty rates, which rights they’re buying, what kind of marketing support your publisher is offering. For example, would you prefer to take a higher advance from Publisher A with the understanding you’ll need to do most of the promotion yourself, or a lower one from Publisher B where the company will promote the heck out of you? That might depend on how good you are at self-promotion, or how much time you have available to dedicate to it. What’s right for one author might not be right for another, and that’s okay!

If you’re self-pubbing, it means setting a price that pays you for the work you’ve done at a rate you’re comfortable with. I have not yet dipped my toes into this area, but I know if I do, I’ll be poring over pricing and promotion and a million other things I probably don’t even know to consider, because if I’m going to put my work out there on my own, I want to get paid for it. Some writers do great at $.99, others at $2.99 or $4.99 or more! Balancing what is a good price for the author vs. what the reader is willing to pay for it is a form of alchemy all on its own.

If you’re submitting short stories, it might mean choosing only to submit to pro-rate markets, or going with a semi-pro sale to a place that has built up an excellent reputation. I would, in general, discourage writers from “for-the-love” markets – places where hosting your story (“exposure”) is supposed to be a reward all on its own. If anyone knows the original person whose response to that was, “Yeah, you can die of exposure,” please let me know, because I’ve been repeating it for years.

If you’re creating a Kickstarter or a Patreon, it means setting a minimum price at which you’ll produce the work. I always assume that the price of actually writing things is baked into those projects. And well it should be! You’re paying editors and cover designers and, I dunno, sticker makers for whatever they produce to make your book look good. You should also be paying yourself for it.

I’m not quite sure where the logic is in the idea that writers and other creative people are allowed to just break even, and that’s it. As though we’re allowed to recoup only the cost of materials, but not the hours spent using those materials. It’s a mindset that says your printer ink is more valuable than the words. Or your paint is more valuable than the art created with it. That’s… that just not true. Your work has value. Your time has value. I want you to be compensated for it.

This is where I blather a bit about crowdfunding in general and Kickstarter in particular.

Some people suggested Ms. Jay should have used one of the other crowdfunding platforms for this project – Go Fund Me or IndieGoGo or the like. That seems to be primarily because she said she’d use the funds to pay her bills, and the sentiment was, she shouldn’t treat Kickstarter as an advance – that Kickstarter is ONLY for work that’s already been finished and just needs some flashy stuff added, or to cover cost of production.

To which I say, fie.

Go look at the Kickstarter for Diaspora, which got funded way the hell over its goal because it would, when finished, be an alternative to Facebook. They stated RIGHT UP FRONT that they’d use the money to spend the summer writing the code that would become the social media platform. Here:

We are four talented young programmers from NYU’s Courant Institute trying to raise money so we can spend the summer building Diaspora; an open source personal web server that will put individuals in control of their data.

And

We have a plan, a bunch of ideas and the programming chops to build Diaspora. What we need is the time it takes to iron out a powerful, secure, and elegant piece of software. Daniel, Ilya, Raphael, and Maxwell are all ready to trade our internships and summer jobs for three months totally focused on building Diaspora. We want to write code all the time, everyday.

I do not recall people getting angry that these guys were spending their ten thousand dollars on rent and utilities and food. That they were leaving their internships and jobs to make the thing the Kickstarter was funding, and that therefore did not yet exist.  That wouldn’t exist for several months. That might – because this is a risk you take backing any Kickstarter – might never come to fruition.

There’s a whole other post’s worth of what it implies when a woman asking for money gets shouted down, but men creating things don’t. It’s not just the Diaspora dudes. Plenty of writerly men have successfully crowdfunded not-yet-written books and did so without a tenth of the static Stacey Jay got. I’m not going to take myself off-topic here (and oh, could I spend a few thousand words on this), but I do want you to think about that. It’s significant, and I’ll be coming back to it in the future.

When you back any Kickstarter, there’s the danger that you might never receive whatever it is you paid for. I have backed projects that were delivered much later than the “Estimated Delivery Date” for the tier I chose. Sometimes life happened. Sometimes people needed to go back to the drawing board to make an even better product. One of the projects, which had a very prominent SF author’s name attached to it, raised half a million dollars and after quite a long period with no updates, said “Hey, sorry, it’s not going to happen.”

So do you sometimes lose out? Sure. But again, that’s part of the risk of any crowdfunding venture. In Ms. Jay’s case, she’s an established author. She’s met deadlines before. She has a fanbase who wanted to read more of the story, and considering she’s done this professionally, would likely have delivered on time. This wasn’t a high-risk Kickstarter.

Lastly, can we talk about advances a little? Let’s do that. Some of the pushback on that Kickstarter was that, advances – as done by trade publishers – come after you’ve submitted the work to an editor. As in, the advance is for something that’s already in first draft form, paying you for work you’ve already done.

Well. Sometimes? But not always.

Yes, if you have a single book deal, the money you get paid is most likely for work you wrote on spec. On spec means you bled the whole book out, polished it up as many times as needed, then sent it out into the world to be considered by editors.

But what about multi-book deals? Night Owls was written when Ace bought it, but Grave Matters sure as hell wasn’t. Part of my advance was for that second book. Once upon a time, advances were there to help keep the author in food and whiskey while they wrote their next work. Multi-book deals are a lot like that. When you read that so-and-so got heaps-o’million dollars for a five book deal, it’s a safe bet that only the first book is finished, and they’ll live off of that advance while they write the rest. There is nothing wrong with this. It is now on the author to produce those next works on time, but the publisher is taking the same gamble as the Kickstarter backers in this scenario that the words will get written and turned in in a timely manner.

Now consider that some writers can sell books on proposal. That’s when you or your agent go to editors and say “here’s the idea I have. Give me money and I’ll write it.” You see it with non-fiction books for sure, because part of the money is intended for the author to get out in the field and research their subject, then sit down and write it. It happens with fiction, too, though, especially if the author has a proven track record. In both cases, money is going toward the author so they can pay their bills while they’re in the process of creating their work.

So, if we’re going to consider Kickstarter funds as advances, the argument that “that’s not how trade publishing does it!” falls pretty flat.

Writing is a business. The blessing and the curse of it is, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for everyone else. The industry itself is in a state of flux, and has been for what, at least a decade now? People are figuring out new and different avenues to get their work out there – both into bookstores and directly into the mailboxes or inboxes of readers making grabby hands for new content.

If you find a way to do that and keep the lights on, too, I support you.

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Hark! An Eligibility Post!

It’s pretty weird for me to be typing that at all, but it’s true. 2014 was the year of my first awards-eligible publications. Last year, I told other writers hell yes I want you to remind me what you’re eligible forWhich means I have to take my own damned advice, huh?

I will admit, this is way outside of my comfort zone. Impostor Syndrome is super-loud right now, with a heaping, steaming scoop of your stuff’s not good enough on the side. But y’know, this is part of my job, now, as Mary Robinettte Kowal points out in a post of her own. She is a damned smart person, whose short story “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” was at the tippy-top of my Hugo ballot last year. I’m inclined to take her advice.

Thus.

In 2014, I published the following:

“Ex Astris,” Fireside Magazine, January 2014 (short story)
Night OwlsAce Books, February 25, 2014 (novel)

Since both of those were professional sales, and were published last year, I suppose that also makes me eligible for awards for new writers. Do I think I deserve an award?
/snerks
/points at second paragraph, second sentence

That’s not me being humble. That’s me saying I read an atomic truckload of fiction, and I have a list of amazing stuff I’ve read over the past year. At some point I’ll write a roundup of my favorites.

But for now, there you go. My very first eligibility post. It’s one of those odd intangible milestones for me, so, huzzah!

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Hello, 2015!

It’s time for this blog’s very first State of the Things, which is fitting for a new year. I didn’t write this up on January 1st, as resolutions and I don’t go the distance. For reference (and to refresh my own memory) here’s what I was hoping to accomplish in 2014.

Brief recap, GO.

  • My first professional short story sale, “Ex Astris,” appeared in Fireside.
  • Night Owls was published. A thing I wrote! Out there in meatspace!
  • On the RPG side, Green Ronin released Dragon Age Roleplaying: Set 3. I am now playing through Dragn Age: Inquisition and goggling at Orlais, because reasons. Do we get to see Tevinter, too? NO WAIT, DON’T ANSWER THAT. SPOILERS.
  • Pelgrane Press’ Mythos Expeditions contains an adventure I wrote, “A Load of Blarney.”
  • I was a Kickstarter stretch goal! Or, rather, a world I created for Storium was. So excited for people to play in Camden’s Hollow.
  • The Fire Children sold to Ravenstone Press. /gleeeee
  • So much travelling. All the travelling. Forever. Including WorldCon in London, which was amazing.
  • I was on staff at Viable Paradise XVIII*.  Which, by the way, applications for VPXIX are open… now!

And now, onward to 2015.

Books and Writing

Grave Matters, the sequel to Night Owls, hits shelves on February 24th. Preorder links, if you’re so inclined: Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | Amazon

The Fire Children, my first YA fantasy, comes out this summer, on June 30th. More preorder links: Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | Amazon

I have several irons in several fires. Currently poking at:

  • Adrift – swashbuckling fantasy aboard the Creeping Jenny (aka the Please Don’t Sink)
  • Dead Letters – the third book in the Night Owls series. I’d tell you what it’s about but SPOILERS
  • “Dominion” – a story about Lilith
  • “Blood in the Thread” – I have this thing for birds and wings and stories about them.
  • RPG freelancing. More when I’m allowed to say.

Travel and Appearances

I’m attending both Arisia and Boskone, and will be doing readings at both. The schedules are being finalized, so I’ll post ’em when I’ve got ’em.

Deeper into the year, I’ll be at WorldCon in August. I’m still eyeing GenCon, but there’s stuff (good stuff!) happening at the day job I’ll have to consider when planning out more travel.

Etc.

Looking back at last year’s post, I accomplished a hell of a lot. I still need to be better about the things that get pushed aside for writing: the garden didn’t happen. I was terrible about practicing my guitar. Greg probably cooked more of our meals than I did (he doesn’t mind. He likes to cook. But damn it.) I didn’t get back into running. But, with all those things, like I said in my post-NaNo, uh, post, failing to hit those goals doesn’t mean I have to put them aside and never try again.

*This is where my greatest lament that I fell apart on the “practice my guitar” front kicks in, but my pretty little not-a-Martin was in good hands during the week. This fall I will play something and accompany myself, damn it.

So, that’s the shape of the year. How’s yours looking?

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NaNoWhatNowMo

Okay, ‘fess up. Who among us is bleary-eyed this morning, having raced midnight to eke out those last few words on the way to 50,000, in a breakneck attempt to “win” NaNoWriMo this year?

If you hit that milestone, congratulations!

If the deadline whooshed by and you have a tangle of words that, no matter how you squint, doesn’t make it anywhere near 50K, don’t despair:

YOU ARE NOT DONE.
YOU DID NOT LOSE.

If you’re kicking your own ass this morning because you didn’t hit that goal, I understand. I’ve been there. But here’s the thing: if you’re serious about writing, your output over one 30-day period does not define you. People who hit the goal now need to go back and edit – or even finish – their novels. Their work isn’t done. Neither is yours.

Give yourself a little time to wallow, if you need to. It’s okay. But set a deadline on that: a couple of hours, the morning, maybe even the whole day. Eat some fancy chocolate, goof off on the internet, snuggle your furry animal friends. Fight pixellated dragons. Do things that make you feel better.

Then get right back up on that writing horse.

Were you fired up on November 1st? Ready to tackle the blank page and fill it with your characters, your story, your badass ideas? Go back and read those first few pages. Reread your notes, if you jotted any down in October.

If you feel the need to tinker with what’s there, this might be the time to do it. I say might because no two people have the same writing habits. Sometimes tinkering is a good thing. Others will end up tinkering endlessly, rewording and rearranging the same page over and over and… But if you’re anything like I was, the first few times I NaNo’d, there were absolutely chunks of exposition and backstory and useless junk I wrote in a fit of must get to 1667. Cut these – don’t get rid of them entirely; they might be useful later on. Could be good things for you, the author to know, whether or not your reader ever learns them. Yes, it reduces your wordcount even more, but that’s not a bad thing.

Whether you’ve tinkered or not, take stock of where you are in the story, where you want it to go from here.

Set yourself a new goal. Look at your calendar and be realistic. Did you notice any patterns in your writing in November? Were some days better than others, output-wise, or even brainspace-wise?

I know that, for me, 1667 words every single day isn’t a goal I’m going to hit consistently. I have a day job. I have other responsibilities. Somewhere in there, I need to read books, see friends, have non-writing-related fun. I also have learned that, in general, Monday nights are a wash for me. That first day back at work after the weekend leaves me tired and out of focus. On the other hand, Sundays are my big writing day.

Think about how to word your goal in a way that works best for you. Do you do well with a smaller daily goal, one you can realistically hit and feel good about if you go over? Is it better for you to be able to look back over the month and average out the words at the end? The point here is, set a goal you can hit, and hit consistently. It’s not cheating. You don’t have to stretch for anything. You don’t have to prove you can do more, or do it faster, than your natural writing pace.

Did you have NaNo buddies? Whether you participated in the community or had friends you knew from outside of NaNo cheering you on, keep in touch with them. Ask them to keep writing, too. Having a circle of people who will hold one another accountable – or, y’know, give you a swift kick in the ass to get writing – can be another way to keep the words flowing. Word sprints, bi-weekly critiques, even simply occasional “how’s the writing going” emails. What do you need from them? What do they need from you? Do those things.

Above all, keep writing. You can do this.

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Shiny New Space!

Hello, friends old and new! It’s a bit overdue, but I’ve finally snatched up a bit of internet space with my name on it. Look how shiiiiny it is around here.

/sits on the new furniture
/runs across the hardwood floor in socks
/pushes buttons
/flips switches

This little corner of the web will be dedicated to writerly things, including blatant-but-hopefully-not-obnoxious self-promotion, things I’ve learned while scribbling away at books, and pretty much anything else I feel is writing-related. If you follow me over at falconesse.com, don’t despair! That site’s not going away. While I get a feel for what I’m considering writing-related and, well, not writing-related (spoilers: everything’s comes back to Story for me), I’ll probably do some cross-posting and ICYMI-type threads at both places.

For now, make yourselves at home, check out the new decor, and introduce yourselves!

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