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Come On In! The Water’s Cold!

Writing is a bat crap crazy business.

people in icy water

“Yeah, that was worse than I thought it would be!”

Years ago, when my son was a home-schooling high school student, he asked if he could research my writing business so he could understand how a business works.

He came back a week later, his eyes wide and said, “Mom, you’re in a crazy business.” 

I agreed and he asked, “Why do you do it?”

It was a good question then. It is a good question now. 

To answer it, I need to go further back in my publishing adventures. 

I can still remember my first “publishing reality check,” (which I didn’t believe, btw) at a writer’s meeting. I was gushing. Yeah, I used to gush when I met real authors. I asked a question that was something like, “Is it just wonderful to be published?” 

While I don’t remember her actual bucket-of-cold-water words, I do remember her expression. It wasn’t as dramatic as the ones in the photo above. But it was close. 

she wasn't happy.She wasn’t happy. It wasn’t wonderful.

A lot has changed for authors since I finally understood how challenging this business is. I see a lot of articles about independent publishing vs traditional publishing. They often frame it as a choice. 

It’s not really a choice. You can choose to pursue traditional publishing, but you can’t control if they choose you. All you can do is try. 

Anyone with a computer can independently publish a book. 

Whether that act of publishing actually becomes a business? That’s a much more complicated process. And it is also a choice. (Kind of like jumping into an icy lake.) 

But again, a choice with caveats. You can choose to publish a book, but the reader gets to choose whether to buy it or not. 

Most businesses have factors they cannot control, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that the creative arts—including book publishing—are especially challenging in that regard.

When newly minted authors talk to me about this business, not just the act of publishing a book, I tell them it was actually easier when I wrote for free. Once you put a price tag on your creative effort, once you open yourself up to critique by others (reader reviews, etc), once you take the plunge into chilly waters, it requires a lot of tenacity to hang onto your creative vision. I’ve seen a lot of authors lose their joy in the words and stop writing. Really good writers. 

When you put your heart and soul onto a page and receive a big round of indifference, it is heart-breaking. When you put your heart and soul into the page and find out you just jumped into the icy lake…

And find out the water is cold and selling books is as hard or harder than writing books…

There was a joke when my husband and I were in college.

How do you make a million dollars? 

Work a million hours. 

But, you protest, there are authors who are making a lot of money writing books.

Yes, they are. 

They are some of the hardest working people I know (except for the poor guys working on our renovation, who are doing it in The Jones Zone). In my experience, successful writers aren’t just good writers. They are top notch business people, too. They see an opportunity, and either know how to maximize it or, they have people working with them who know how to do that for them. 

There are also authors who make it big because of pure luck. Events just combine to make the magic happen. Their words connect with readers who tell other readers and sales happen. J.K. Rowling is a ‘word of mouth’ success. 

I would never tell anyone not to do this because the magic might happen for them. How would I know who will make it big and who won’t? I don’t have a crystal ball. No one does. 

I’ve been in this business long enough to know the odds and to realize I’m in that icy lake and have been for a long time—and I still believe. 

Because I love words. I love stringing them together into stories that I love and hope that readers will love. Not all the readers. Just enough to keep my business ticking over. 

If all the readers left and/or hated what I wrote? 

I would probably keep writing. Yes, I try to run a business, but I also know just how crazy this business is. Back in the day, when the only option was traditional publishing, “they” used to say that the published author was the one who didn’t stop trying. That the next place you submitted to could be “the” one. That “the call” might come.

I don’t miss those days at all. I’m so grateful that my choices are in my hands—at least the side of things I can control. And I’m grateful to all the readers who choose to buy my books and for the ones who leave reviews (good and bad—though my favorites are the good ones. Sorry!). 

I guess this is my X-files moment. 

I believe.I believe. 

So, come on in. The water is cold and it’s crazy. But it is also a heck of a lot of fun. (Most of the time.)

Perilously yours,


P.S. Programming note: Other than guest “Why I Wrote” visits, I’m temporarily suspending the Wednesday blog post while I finish my new novel AND our renovation continues to happen. You can track the progress of both on either Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. 🙂

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