A few things have occurred in the last couple weeks. First, I did my final assignment for my Passion Search workshop. Second, SFWA announced that they would be accepting self-published authors under specific criteria. Third, I went on a three day silent residential meditation retreat.
And with this stew of events in my head, I feel like I’ve come to something resembling provisional life path to pursue.
My final assignment for my Passion Search workshop was to develop a “vision statement.” One was supposed to be a general life path statement, the other specific to what I want out of work. Here’s what I came up with:
Life Path: I want to find a way to combine my love for stories, problem solving, and variety.
Work: I want to have a job that allows me to explore my creativity and problem solving, working with a small group of similarly creative problem solvers. In a perfect world this would also involve being able to use these stories to expand equity and social justice.
On a certain level, I felt frustrated by this. Because I felt I knew this already. Over the course of the class, I feel I learned a lot about myself and learned where some of my challenges started. But in the end I had really hoped I would find a next-step. Which I guess is why the offer a separate workshop called “Vision into Action.”
In this state of frustration, word spread about Science Fiction Writers of America creating criteria for self-published authors to join. The official info is now out, and you can join if you earn $3,000 in a year from your novel. It’s comparable to their normal requirement for authors to get a $3,000 advance on a novel published by a big firm. And, for the record, you just have to accomplish that once.
I have very complicated feelings about SFWA and the criteria for being a professional writer. At a certain point, I decided I just wouldn’t care any more about trying to join. I’d learned that SF writers tend to not make much of a living off of their writing, which is sort of emphasized by how much a professional writer is expected to make on a novel sale in order to qualify for SFWA. (Because, seriously, you’d have to sell four books a year at that rate to reach poverty level.) I just focused on projects I cared about instead of worrying about finding an agent or getting the coveted qualifying sale to join SFWA.
And now this self-publishing option hit, and it’s left me wondering if I could sell that many copies of Kensei. What would I have to do to sell that many? What would I be willing to do? Because as little as $3,000 is compared to my day job salary, it’s astronomical compared to what I’ve made as a writer. I’ve maybe broken into triple digits with my short fiction. For Kensei, I’ve made a grand total of $39.10 since it first published in 2012. (This doesn’t factor in Patreon.) All of that has been since I self-published Kensei last November. I would need to sell almost a hundred times as many books to do this. Which is extra hard when it’s difficult to give it away for free.
And so then I come to the meditation retreat. From Friday night to Monday morning, I was in a silent meditation retreat at Cloud Mountain Retreat Center with about forty other people. I’d never done one before. The experience was transformative. I have no other words for it. I’m not going to say it was perfect bliss, but I can’t remember ever experiencing a greater moment of contentment than I experienced on this retreat. Returning to the real world was not easy.
It was while at this retreat that I had a small epiphany. A big hurdle between my status quo and taking risks to pursue fanciful dreams is my mountain of debt. I’ve done a lot to cut my expenses, but it’s still a slow-going slog that seems like it will never end.
And so the first part of my small epiphany was: It would probably help if I were able to make more money at my writing and publishing. Especially since I consistently lose money at this. Mad Scientist Journal has an all-time net loss of about $10,000. Last year alone was a loss of $3,000. It would help my debt situation if I wasn’t losing $3,000 a year producing MSJ. The other books I’ve put out (Kensei, Crossing the Streams, The Devil, You Say) have also been a net loss thanks to cover art.
The second part of my small epiphany was: I could be doing more with my time. People talk about writing being a second full time job. But lately I’ve only been putting in about 10 hours a week at it. I think I could easily double that and not cause myself undue burden. (Or maybe 30-40 if I gave up doing ANYTHING ELSE. But there are some things I’m not willing to sacrifice.)
So that’s my master plan. Invest more time into things I love, try to find a way for my creative projects to pay for themselves. I don’t know exactly how that will work, but that’s a question for another blog post.