Where do we go from here?

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.

Yeah, I totally Instagrammed it.

Yeah, I totally Instagrammed it.

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.

1 thought on “Where do we go from here?

  1. Sue Jacoby

    As I read your post all I could think of (besides how much I wish I could think and write like you) was how far you have come since Passion Search last winter. Your theme has been consistent from day one — you love to write, and you are clearly being called to do it. I know in my bones that you will find a way to pursue your vision. I will hold your vision for you and picture you doing just that, and will also see you drawing fecundity! You are on your path, and we’re here to help you and love you along the way.

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