Succeeding for Others

Chapter twelve in a series on Book and Art Business 101 wherein I show how the solid logic of art business sold me on self-publishing. If you’re too busy for the whole series, download your copy of my Cheat Sheet for Book and Art Business 101. 


If you want to succeed as a writer, you must take the path that’s yours alone.

I never give up on people. It’s a defining characteristic of my life, for better or worse. It’s better because I’ve had the privilege of playing a small part in some of the greatest turnaround stories in my network. It’s worse because sometimes you’ll dump your heart and soul into another person and they will respond by habitually letting you down, breaking promises, and flaking out. Those are the moments you have to reassess and establish some boundaries.

At this point in the journey, most of my old beliefs of traditional publishing had faded when faced with persistent, logical rebuttals. But one remained: an agent. I had searched for an agent before with lesser works, but this time was different. This time the only two reasons I had for searching weren’t connected to the levy of sound business choices, the lumber of a sustainable career, or the leverage of legal counsel. This time, I was trying to succeed for others first indirectly through a quest for prestige and then directly through giving others a leg up.

Indirectly, I believed that saying “I got the agent I’ve always wanted and they represent this author and that author” would lend legitimacy to the things I’m doing. For one, that may or may not be true since, as we showed in this series, more and more agents poach authors from the self-publishing bestseller list. For another, is my work somehow diminished, somehow illegitimate without an agent? Well, no. But the fear that others might think me illegitimate almost drove me to make a bad business decision (we’ll get to that). I cared more about having my name attached to another name, in the moment, than I did about building a sustainable career to the extend that it even needed legal council after a long history of sound business decisions. Indirectly, I was cutting off my own legs and their capacity to power clean my work to a higher altitude.

Directly, I believed that others depended on me. It’s a classic first-born (of a first born of a first born) fallacy. Others depend on you, therefore be dependent for them. In reality, had I taken on a traditional track at this stage in the game, I would be crippling the budding young authors who would like to meet the people I’ve met. I would be living a lie, pretending as if I could get them connections that would help them even though these very connections may not help me as much at my dependents assume at this point in the game. I would cripple them by setting a bad example: the best way I can help those who depend on me is to show them what independence looks like.

What I mean to say is that on the one hand, I have many unpublished and underpublished authors in my life who have said, “Lance, the only way I’m getting in is if you get an agent.” I also have family members in my life who said, “Lance, I’m depending on you to take care of me. Get an agent and sell a big book through that agent and do it again and again because I’m not going to make it without you.” Whether or not either of these categories of people will make it may or may not be up to me (psst, Lance: you may take responsibility for someone, but the burden of worlds falls not on your shoulders — you’re only a man). What is up to me is whether I trust the methodology they weld to their need.  Is their plan really the proper way to meet their need? I do want to help young and budding authors. I do want to provide both for my immediate family and extended family.

I doubt, at this stage in the game, that getting an agent will help me towards that end.

Why?

Let me recap a few things:

Throughout this series, I have tried to show how the times and circumstances of my formation into a professional writer biased me against making the logically sound business decision to self-publish prior to now. And how art business logic persuaded me otherwise. What really changed my mind was a clean line of sight:

  1. I wanted to bring people into other worlds and blur the lines between fantasy and reality.
  2. I wanted to tell the truth.
  3. I wanted to sell these things I had written, rather than writing to sell. That’s a key distinction.
  4. I wanted to let rejection reform me. Over the years, it has — I’ve improved markedly.
  5. I wanted to be considered a pro and having made money at this, both in my desired path and in shadow careers, people consider me an authority on the subject within my network.
  6. I wanted to the writing to challenge me rather than simply write for the money, write for regular assignments, or write to please.
  7. I wanted to use all of this to advocate for others and bring others along on this journey.
  8. I wanted to sign a contract for a single book, not my entire career.
  9. I wanted to make a steady living off of writing through the exponential interest of a backlist and I really didn’t care how that came about.

The last piece came in submitting my recent novel Faceless to agents. Several requested the manuscript and gave compliments about the premise, certain pieces of the writing, and specifically how it stuck with them and made them think (that’s a big priority for me: culture change). These are people I respect. I look up to these people and cherish their opinions and insights.

Overwhelmingly, however, they hinted at or directly called out my need for a freelance editor. I’ve hired editors before, but here’s where my mind went:

  • At best, I’ll get a $2,500 advance against a 7.5% royalty that may or may not earn out.
  • I’ll spend $3,900 on a freelance editor to get this novel in shape.
  • Which means I’ll be in the hole $1,400.
  • And have sold away several career rights rather than simply rights connected to that one book.

How did I figure this out?

The Traditional VS Self Publishing Calculator

 

I learned very quickly that by taking on a little more risk (roughly $800 for a book cover and formatting) I would retain all of the assets to the book I created and the career I’ve been building. It’s a Berkshire play, a chance to set up shop at my own bottleneck, a monopoly on my own backlist of intellectual property.

It’s the choice between breaking even with a 70% royalty and losing money with a 7.5% royalty. It’s a pretty simple decision.

But it took a long, long time to admit that because the two are so intermingled, the dependency of my dependents and the preferred methodology for meeting their needs as dependents.

You see, writing isn’t some fluffy Care Bear power you pull out of the ether.

It brings with it just as many troubles as swinging a hammer and sweat staining your blue collar, just as many apprentices and just as many mouths to feed.

But hunger for learning and hunger for food can make someone ravenous enough to eat a boot.

It’s my job to take away the boot and bring home the kill.

And at this stage, I doubt if an agency’s the way to go. If it works for you, great, but I need a freelance editor and there’s only one way to earn back that money with some margin of safety built in.

Succeeding for others, in the end, assumes that you can succeed at all. And sometimes others assume a lot of things about success that are flat-out wrong.


Don’t have time for the whole series?

That’s okay, I made you a…

CHEAT SHEET TO BOOK BUSINESS

Here’s our outline for upcoming posts:

  1. Intro
  2. The Gateway Drug: Poetry
  3. Does Fiction Lie? — The Liar’s Club
  4. Where and How to Sell What You Write
  5. From Daydreams to Written Dreams
  6. Rejection Slips
  7. Any Money Makes a Professional Writer
  8. Regular Writing Assignments
  9. Making Good Money… in a shadow career
  10. Kinfolk and Advocates or “How to Build a Platform”
  11. Draconian Contracts
  12. Author Earnings
  13. Succeeding for Others
  14. Blaze a Trail All Your Own

lancelot tobias mearcstapa schaubert monogram

cover image from Justin Connaher

Author Earnings in 2016

Chapter twelve in a series on Book and Art Business 101 wherein I show how the solid logic of art business sold me on self-publishing. If you’re too busy for the whole series, download your copy of my Cheat Sheet for Book and Art Business 101. 


In Any Money Makes a Pro, I took an example of brokenness — Faulkner’s brothel — and turned it into an example of goodness — passive income for the artist that hopes to make a better world. Passive income will enable you to have a lifelong career as an artist. The examples I gave were being a landlord, dividend-paying stocks, and intellectual property.

To intellectual property we now turn:

 

Your backlist is your career, in aggregate.

When I said in Draconian Contracts that you shouldn’t sell your birthright for a bowl of soup, I meant that $2,500 in intellectual property today will be worth $25,000 ten years from now (or $2.5 million by the time you die). This principle undergirds the earlier maxim of “reinvest your profits.” It includes reinvesting your intellectual property.

Do you know that Cold Brewed is worth exponentially more now than it was when Mark and I released it in 2012? Cold Brewed, our hackneyed joke project starring baristas that somehow became something significant for a lot of people, is worth more now than it was in 2012. Think about that.

If that’s the case with Cold Brewed, it’s the case with anything.

This website? It’s worth more now than it was five years ago simply because of the compound interest of clicks on the internet. Imagine if I hadn’t stopped and restarted several times either through starting a new blog seven times or deleting over 1,000 posts!

My poetry? Just by piddling away on poetry through this and seven other sites over the years, I now have over 60,000 words, much of which will be released in a compilation later this year.

It does not matter what it is because if you’re improving constantly and if you’re consistently creating, then time is on your side. The trajectory of the artist? It’s the exact opposite trajectory of the professional football career. The professional football player gets drafted from highschool by a college, gets drafted from college to NFL, tears his ACL at 28 after making his millions and, if he’s lucky, gets to be a coach or an announcer on ESPN. The author? The painter? You seldom meet has-been authors, has-been painters. Oh you’ll meet has-been football players and has-been politicians.

But the artist?

The artist can only be a might-have-been or a could-become.

That’s why (1) constant improvement and (2) consistent creation are so crucial for the career of the working author, the working artist. Over time, the reinvestment of effort and money into your work will create a backlist that exponentially gains value over time. The better you get, the more people will pay for your work — and that includes stuff you’ve already created.

So when you sign a contract, you’re not selling a book.

You’re selling momentum.

You’re selling a career.

Your backlist becomes your passive income. And when that happens, you should by all means quit your day job. It would be financially stupid to do otherwise.

Especially in an age when nothing goes out of print — things these days stay in print forever.

There’s a site called Author Earnings.

 

If you haven’t heard of them, you need to look into their work. The guy created a data crawler that pulls from Amazon’s daily sales of every single book on the list, then compiles that into one great big set of beautiful charts. For the dataheads among you, it’ll be great fun. But even for the super right-brained author, it’s necessary. Here’s a list of revelations Data Guy has proven over the years (everything that follows is a direct quote):

FINALLY — 13 out of the 20 authors who debuted in the last five years, and 8 of the 10 authors who debuted in the last 3 years, and who are now consistently earning $1,000,000+/year from just their Kindle ebook best sellers are indie authors.

I could go on for weeks, but my site is not Author Earnings, no matter how much I quote Data Guy. After twelve articles in this series I want to make a clean and simple point:

For years I wanted to become an author who made a living off of his writing. I had been conditioned by the books I read, the teachers I had, the conferences I attended, and the advice I sought from other authors to take a path that worked thirty years ago but doesn’t really work anymore.

When you add to this the uptick in agents and paperback publishers who keep picking up books like The Martian, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Wool from this deep bench of indie authors, you start to realize that we’ve been sold a quack remedy for our need to make a sustainable career. And as I said in the first post, this isn’t the case for everybody — many agents out there are advocating for authors, pushing the rights back into the author’s court.  But these are also the same people who pick up authors from the top of the self-publishing list. So it’s a wash.

By the way, this same dataset is mirrored in the art world, the game development world, the list goes on — pick your craft and apply it.

But what about an agent?

Surely you need one of those.

Well… it kind of depends… tune in tomorrow.


Don’t have time for the whole series?

That’s okay, I made you a…

CHEAT SHEET TO BOOK BUSINESS

Here’s our outline for upcoming posts:

  1. Intro
  2. The Gateway Drug: Poetry
  3. Does Fiction Lie? — The Liar’s Club
  4. Where and How to Sell What You Write
  5. From Daydreams to Written Dreams
  6. Rejection Slips
  7. Any Money Makes a Professional Writer
  8. Regular Writing Assignments
  9. Making Good Money… in a shadow career
  10. Kinfolk and Advocates or “How to Build a Platform”
  11. Draconian Contracts
  12. Author Earnings
  13. Succeeding for Others
  14. Blaze a Trail All Your Own

lancelot tobias mearcstapa schaubert monogram

cover image from William Warby

Publishing Contracts of the Draconian Variety

Chapter eleven in a series on Book and Art Business 101 wherein I show how the solid logic of art business sold me on self-publishing. If you’re too busy for the whole series, download your copy of my Cheat Sheet for Book and Art Business 101. 


 

We find out in On Writing that Stephen King signed a contract he considered not quite indentured slavery, but in the neighborhood, when he sold Carrie for a $2,500 advance.

I didn’t know that and had no literary agent to know if for me. Before it occurred to me that I might actually need an agent, I had generated well over three million dollars’ worth of income, a good deal of it for the publisher.

That was 1974. It’s 2016. 42 years later. Guess what the starting advance for a book deal is?

$2,500

You know, $2,500 — the amount that was not quite indentured slavery, but in the neighborhood 42 years ago. Fast food workers aren’t the only ones whose wages have stagnated in order to pad the pockets of billionaires. Add to this the practice of most modern publishers who include a clause in their default book contracts that literally forfeits your sixth amendment right to a fair trial. Add to this the “most favored nation” clauses that prohibit you from charging, for instance, any less than $12.99 for the e-book version of your work, even though a lower price point typically results in much, much higher sales volume, out-earning even the $12.99 price point (more on that in the next article on author earnings). Add to this phrases like “advance against royalties generated from this or any other work of the author,” which basically bundles all of your work together to earn back the money the company fronted you in your advance.

The aforementioned $2,500 advance.

Add to this how you will need to sell tens of thousands of copies in a very crowded marketplace in order to get a second book deal and that your second book will need to sell tens of thousands more in order to justify a third and a fourth. And, of course, the little bit about how the publisher now owns the rights not only to these works, but to the characters in these works and — through that nice little non-compete clause — your right to work in that genre again.

By the end, you haven’t sold your book.

You’ve sold your career.

For $2,500.

Don’t worry, if you want the rights to your career back, they’ll always return it to you… for a price.

Contracts in publishing are no different from contracts in banking: they favor the big guy over the little guy.

 

As a little guy, you must find ways to work this towards your advantage starting with a refusal to sign contracts that:

  1. Don’t pay well,
  2. take away your right to a fair trial,
  3. take away large swaths of your intellectual rights,
  4. cripple you from the long play.

DO NOT accept short-term gains over long term, exponential momentum. DO NOT sell your birthright for a bowl of soup, your career for a couple grand. It’s not worth it. That’s the short of it. Remember: $2,500 today is worth $25,000 or even $2.5 million ten years from now.

If you want to read up more on contracts, grab a copy of How to be Your Own Literary Agent and pick Porter Anderson’s brain — he keeps a firm pulse on the industry.


Don’t have time for the whole series?

That’s okay, I made you a…

CHEAT SHEET TO BOOK BUSINESS

Here’s our outline for upcoming posts:

  1. Intro
  2. The Gateway Drug: Poetry
  3. Does Fiction Lie? — The Liar’s Club
  4. Where and How to Sell What You Write
  5. From Daydreams to Written Dreams
  6. Rejection Slips
  7. Any Money Makes a Professional Writer
  8. Regular Writing Assignments
  9. Making Good Money… in a shadow career
  10. Kinfolk and Advocates or “How to Build a Platform”
  11. Draconian Contracts
  12. Author Earnings
  13. Succeeding for Others
  14. Blaze a Trail All Your Own

lancelot tobias mearcstapa schaubert monogram

cover image from U.S. Geological Survey

Kinfolk and Advocates or “How to Build a Platform”

Chapter ten in a series on Book and Art Business 101 wherein I show how the solid logic of art business sold me on self-publishing. If you’re too busy for the whole series, download your copy of my Cheat Sheet for Book and Art Business 101. 


Imagine with me a whirlpool.

You know, Charybdis from the Odyssey. Whitecaps, blue water, maybe a ship or two getting sucked down to Atlantis.

 

At the top of this whirlpool sits a current. It’s mild way out there on the fringe where the marshes lie. There sit people you’ve never met in little airboats and canoes. Maybe some of them have kiddie wings. Maybe pool noodles get involved. They’re having a good time but they haven’t met YOU yet.

A little further in, some people do laps in the deeper water. These people have seen your face. They might have gotten ahold of your headshot in an agency office or saw you comment on a Facebook thread or ran across your name in a profile piece or saw you walking the dog while passing through your hood. They’re not acquaintances. Chance meetings, that’s all.

The current gets stronger and here float your regular strangers. These people come across you in an interview with a podcast, a chance meeting at a conference, your local indy bookstore, or a hundred other places where large groups meet. These people have potential to get swept up into the current that’s you, in the orbit of your system’s gravity, assuming you get that whirlpool churning strong enough.

From there, strangers turn into followers and get swept up in the current. Maybe they know they’re moving in a circular pattern, orbiting your whirlpool. Maybe they don’t. But they begin to lean into the general momentum you’re building. They take note of the other people on the same trajectory and enjoy the ride.

And then they buy something and get swept over the edge, spinning down into your whirlpool. Your follower is now a fan. They either react poorly and try to swim out of the current or they swim with the current and go deeper.

Down and down…

Where many Argonauts have come to join you in Atlantis. No broken ships down here. No destruction. But a whole life of people who have come not to meet you, but rather to participate in this other world you’re building — a hopeful world, a beautiful world. They are your citizens and compatriots.

 

That’s the point. You’re trying, bit by bit, to suck people into the vision you have for what our world might become. Bring them from the swamps to Atlantis.

How?

Build your platform by turning strangers into advocates for your work. Read everything Tim Grahl has to say about this — the guy had five clients on the New York Times Bestseller List at the same time. If you don’t, at least know this:

Outreach means finding people outside your normal sphere.

  1. Podcast interviews
  2. Guest articles and posts
  3. Speaking at conferences
  4. Taking classes in other disciplines
  5. Being friendly everywhere you go and asking people about their work first — not because you have ulterior motives but because you actually love them as fellow human beings

Permission means getting people to agree to hearing from you more often.

  1. Get an email address (or a phone number — some piece of direct contact)
  2. Add it to your list.

Substance means provide free work — great work — that people will want to keep coming back to read. This will help:

  1. Prompt people to share your work (for new outreach)
  2. Prompt people to give you permission (for new points of contact)
  3. Keep people subscribed and engaged (for existing audience)
  4. HELP those who are long-time fans and advocates

Sell means you simply make an ask.

  1. Let them know your work is available early.
  2. For early buyers, offer them bonus rewards to help them further in their own work.
  3. Include in the work other chances to buy other work — outreach, permission, and substance for those who stumble upon your work and pay for it on a whim.

Advocacy means turning buyers into people who help you push forward into broader uncontested marketspace. You can:

  1. Ask them if you can meet any more of their needs.
  2. Ask them to share specific social media blasts that you aggregate in one, easy, sharable place.
  3. Ask them to review your work.
  4. Ask them to recruit others to your team of advocates.
  5. Ask them to support you regularly as patrons.
  6. Ask them to join your team of beta testers or beta readers.
  7. Finally: the best advocates come to you and ask you where they can help. Some of my best advocates are other writers, photographers, sculptors, and musicians. You know why they advocate for me? Because I advocate for them. I am in their corner fighting hard.

 

In short “building a platform” is less about marketing and more about developing people — you’re building up and pouring into a community. You’re giving of yourself over and over again and, just like rich soil, eventually it’ll give back to you. That’s not your motivation or end goal, mind you: the land could lie fallow and you’d still have emptied yourself in a worthy cause. The point is we must give more than we take.

We must give to our kinfolk.

Or be kinslayers.

 

When you read this post, you need to know you aren’t some random click on a screen for me. When every now and again, I click over to my Google Analytics for the day and see “shutterbugs — 4% of audience,” I know that Mark Neuenschwander or Drew Kimble or Matthew Kern or Derek Hammeke or Shawn Willis or one of hundreds of photographers I know and love and support has clicked over to read. And I ask myself: did I help them?

When I click over now and again and see “film buffs — 2.7% of audience,” I know that Kyle or Doug Welch, Joshua Schwartz or Natalie Gee, Lily Ann or Ise White have visited. And I ask myself: did I help them?

Or maybe it’s “musicians — 1.9%,” I know that Ben Grace or Lindsey Luff or Caleb Paxton or a dozen others might have come to visit. Did I help them? 

Your audience is more than your income.

Your platform is more than followers and fans.

 

They’re your kinfolk — advocates and the people for whom you advocate. And your options are either kinslaying or kindercare. I want to take care of them and many others. I want to advocate for them.

And often, when I empty myself, I find them advocating right back for me.

 


Don’t have time for the whole series?

That’s okay, I made you a…

CHEAT SHEET TO BOOK BUSINESS

Here’s our outline for upcoming posts:

  1. Intro
  2. The Gateway Drug: Poetry
  3. Does Fiction Lie? — The Liar’s Club
  4. Where and How to Sell What You Write
  5. From Daydreams to Written Dreams
  6. Rejection Slips
  7. Any Money Makes a Professional Writer
  8. Regular Writing Assignments
  9. Making Good Money… in a shadow career
  10. Kinfolk and Advocates or “How to Build a Platform”
  11. Draconian Contracts
  12. Author Earnings
  13. Succeeding for Others
  14. Blaze a Trail All Your Own

lancelot tobias mearcstapa schaubert monogram

cover image from Gordon Wrigley

Making Good Money… in a Shadow Career

Chapter nine in a series on Book and Art Business 101 wherein I show how the solid logic of art business sold me on self-publishing. If you’re too busy for the whole series, download your copy of my Cheat Sheet for Book and Art Business 101. 


Once you’ve read The Writer’s Market and come to terms with the good sides of your gift, once you’ve started putting down your daydreams on paper and decided to work regularly of your own volition, once you’ve reformed your craft through that self-assessment called “rejection,” you’ll figure out how to make good money.

In many inferior ways.

You’ll figure out what it’s like to be making good money in a shadow career.

Remember when in the Where and How to Sell What You Write section when I told you that tons of people out there want to make money off of you, the writer, and don’t necessarily have your best interests at heart?

Remember when in the Any Money Makes a Pro section when I told you that making passive income will help you create the space you need to start making money off of your writing?

And remember when in the Quarterly Assignments section where I told you that regular work is a double-edged sword? How it can lull you into passivity?

Well smash all of that together and you’ll get the shadow career.

You can make good money off of people who want to make money off of you, people who are offering you passive income or the space you need to make money writing, people who want to give you very regular work.

It’s called advertising.

Chesterton taught us in Utopia of Usurers that in a modern capitalistic society it’s not that there won’t be any good art. It’s that there won’t be any art that is not simultaneously advertisement and that’s a considerable step lower. Spiderman can’t shoot a web without shooting at a Dr. Pepper can. The Transformers can’t show up on screen unless they’re the most recent model of the Dodge Charger. Half the clichés Americans use didn’t originate with poets as they did in other cultures. They originated with copywriters — anyone who watched the first episode of Mad Men knows this. But anyone who has watched Mad Men also knows that all of those boys have a manuscript in the bottom draw of their desk or a painting at home or a dream to be a movie star.

You can make a lot of money selling someone else’s work. Is that what you want?

If it is, be the best salesman in the world. But very, very few people show up to career day in gradeschool saying, “When I grow up, I want to have higher sales figures than Dale Carnegy and Zig Ziglar combined.” Warren Buffett didn’t even think that, exactly. He was too busy learning about class ranking for horses and reinvesting his profits for compounded interest.

My guess is that someone so burned you early on, so drilled into your head that you can’t make money writing that you got desperate and tried to short circuit the process. I did. I was burned by a great many people I respect and started making a lot of money doing something that resembled fiction writing on the outside but was very, very far from my goal. I would have been better staying at the hospital, in the end, because I ended up taking a five-year detour around my goal. I wrote copy for ad agencies and tech startups. I poured hours over phrases that sold umbrella insurance, only to have to (1) deliver it on spec — meaning working for free — and (2) have super needy clients change it to a lesser campaign anyways.

For what?

To make money writing.

I told you: I was desperate. Warren Buffett said, “I chose early on to only work for people I respect and the only person I respect is me.” I had something of that attitude in me early on, but I’ve gotten rid of it — there are several people I’d happily work for or alongside these days. I’m no longer desperate. And because I’m no longer desperate, I’m doing a lot better work, quicker, and for much higher returns.

And it’s all my own work. Work I care about. I’m not selling my birthright for a bowl of soup.

In this city, everyone’s something else. My business partner Kyle Welch said, “New York is a city of underachieving geniuses. L.A. is a city of overachieving morons.” I know what he means. In L.A., you meet guys that made millions off of cat posters so that they can surf all day long. In New York, you’ll be grinding it out as an extra on the set of some Netflix TV series alongside a guy who just wrote the next great American opera, a guy who has no connections and no hope and is just struggling along. “Starving artist” is used as a term of insult in America but Mother Theresa often starved that the lepers she loved might eat. Perhaps the artist has an eye for more than the next ten years. Perhaps the artist, like Fred Danback, has his eye on his great-great-great grandchildren.

Here, people will also make millions in finance or advertising or real estate because it’s the closest thing they could get to the thing they love and they went from survival to survival of the fittest quicker than a cheetah kill. Think about that. Is that you? Did you go from survival mode to survival of the fittest mode?

Did you go from being a starving artist to the kind of person who profits off of making artists starve?

Shame on you.

Shame on me.

Shame on all of us for accepting this as normal. It’s not normal. It’s distinctly American, but not everything distinctly American is distinctly good — like Japanese internment camps and African slavery and legalized usury that results in political bribery. It’s unacceptable that we convert our brightest minds and best hope for tomorrow into people who exploit those with the brightest minds and best hopes. I reject my shadow careers and embrace my real, my true, my überself — the man I was made to be.

You too.

Become you-i-er. Today. Right now.

Stop making money off of that shadow career. I’d rather you work in a field completely unrelated to your writing (or art), a field that can give you space to write or create than for you to compromise your vision and passion, sacrificing it all to that golden calf on Wall.

Okay?

It’s going to be okay, I promise. Hang with me.

Oh and by the way, that golden calf on Wall? It was originally an installation made by an artist to critique American greed and celebrate the strength and power of the American people. It took guts, a vision for the future, and passion to convey such a message in the heart of such a place. That Wall Street embraced the golden calf as their go-to mascot tells you everything you need to know.

And that’s coming from a Taurus.


Don’t have time for the whole series?

That’s okay, I made you a…

CHEAT SHEET TO BOOK BUSINESS

Here’s our outline for upcoming posts:

  1. Intro
  2. The Gateway Drug: Poetry
  3. Does Fiction Lie? — The Liar’s Club
  4. Where and How to Sell What You Write
  5. From Daydreams to Written Dreams
  6. Rejection Slips
  7. Any Money Makes a Professional Writer
  8. Regular Writing Assignments
  9. Making Good Money… in a shadow career
  10. Kinfolk and Advocates or “How to Build a Platform”
  11. Draconian Contracts
  12. Author Earnings
  13. Succeeding for Others
  14. Blaze a Trail All Your Own

lancelot tobias mearcstapa schaubert monogram

cover image from U.S. Geological Survey

Regular Writing Assignments — The Dark and The Light

Chapter eight in a series on Book and Art Business 101 wherein I show how the solid logic of art business sold me on self-publishing. If you’re too busy for the whole series, download your copy of my Cheat Sheet for Book and Art Business 101. 


Once the rejections slow down and you’ve found a bit of success (or, possibly, a bit of success has found you), something even more dangerous can set in and throw off your internal compass, reneging scores on your internal scorecard.

It’s the danger of regular work, regular writing assignments.

Work you can count on.

Over the years, a several different publications and businesses have given me assignments that came in quarterly or monthly. It was steady work, the kind of regular contract any businessman should seek. Long-term buy-and-hold investors often look for undervalued dividend-paying stocks. This is the literary equivalent of the quarterly dividend. But there’s a deeper layer to the metaphor:

Sometimes a stock is being artificially propped up by share repurchases and by giving out a larger and larger share of their earnings to shareholders as dividends. The executive board is doing this because they’re lost. They don’t know how to reinvest earnings into their own company to exponentially increase their future return and thus enrich shareholders. A quarterly assignment can do this to the author.

You get to where you count on that paycheck. You get to where you expect it. You get to where you don’t write another short story because this one, this one, is guaranteed to give you another writing credit and challenge you to produce regularly.

But is regularity enough at this stage in the game?

Surely by this stage in the game, you’ve taught yourself good habits and are writing daily. So regular assignments won’t help you that much in that department. Which means you need to be evaluating this assignment based on (1) how it stretches you to grow creatively and in terms of honing your craft as well as (2) the momentum of reinvesting the earnings you make from these sales. I was noticing, for instance, that I had gone from making a habit of being way early on one of my quarterly assignments to making a habit of being way late delivering on deadline.

Why?

What had changed?

The money certainly hadn’t changed: I’d been reinvesting my profits in a couple of productivity tools and platform building resources. When those tools ran out, I was saving up to reinvest in marketing, an assistant, and a bulk buy of some shares of stock that related to the literary business. Rule #1 is always reinvest your profits to compound the effect your money has and make it work as hard as possible for you. The money, in other words, generates as much momentum as time or mass if allowed to compound.

But that wasn’t enough. I felt, in my bones, that my time could be spent making more money doing bigger projects over the long hall. I was still delivering late. What else was wrong?

Here’s what was wrong:

The assignment no longer challenged me. I had gotten to the point where I would spend a half hour on a draft and email it immediately. It would go to publication with minor blue pencil adjustments, published almost as-is. An artist who has worked himself beyond criticism isn’t an artist anymore because art is always a dialog between the maker and the spectator, the giver and the receiver. You and I? We’re not God. That means we’re not perfect or good through-and-through. We’re flawed.

We need reform, regular changes of mind, adaptation, evolution.

And when we’re a member of a broader society — civil, literary, or otherwise?

Revolution.

That can’t happen if you’ve worked yourself into a very clean, very safe, very well-preserved museum exhibit. Art thrives when it looks a bit lived-in — the billionaire grandma who never allows her grandkids to write on her white walls is missing an essential part of what it means to be a grandma. And, as a matter of fact, what it means to raise up the next generation of writers.

So I quit.

And the editor, who has worked with me for years, wished me a ton of luck and understood completely — she’d been feeling it too, I’m sure. If there’s one thing an editor hates, it’s late writers.

To review: the benefit of a quarterly assignment is steady income that you can consistently reinvest as if it were a DRIP (dividend re-investment program) for a utility stock.

The downside is malaise: never get comfortable in your writing. Never get to where you’re writing fiction free from critique and the reformation of rejection. I want you to succeed, but not that easily: if it comes between your success and your greatness, choose the latter. The path of least resistance is not the path of the high and noble, the way of the knight. Choose renown over fame, investiture over fortune, meekness over power, long suffering over instant gratification, and faithfulness in your craft over get rich quick schemes.

Steady work, in short, is great.

But you must be the initiator of that steady work. Otherwise you’re only doing it because someone else is nagging. And writing because someone’s nagging is worse than doing the dishes because someone’s nagging. At least with the dishes someone has to do it. No one has to write. To put yourself in a position where you feel that way is ludicrous.

Regular writing assignments may count as your regular, willful work, but often they can get in the way.

But not always, so:

 

  1. Work daily at will.
  2. And then reinvest the profits that come from your regular, willful work.

Don’t have time for the whole series?

That’s okay, I made you a…

CHEAT SHEET TO BOOK BUSINESS

Here’s our outline for upcoming posts:

  1. Intro
  2. The Gateway Drug: Poetry
  3. Does Fiction Lie? — The Liar’s Club
  4. Where and How to Sell What You Write
  5. From Daydreams to Written Dreams
  6. Rejection Slips
  7. Any Money Makes a Professional Writer
  8. Regular Writing Assignments
  9. Making Good Money… in a shadow career
  10. Kinfolk and Advocates or “How to Build a Platform”
  11. Draconian Contracts
  12. Author Earnings
  13. Succeeding for Others
  14. Blaze a Trail All Your Own

lancelot tobias mearcstapa schaubert monogram

cover image from Chris Devers

NYC author & producer

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