Thursday, December 11, 2014

Change by Giselle Renarde

One quarter, three nickels, three dimes
See all that money? I found it on the street last week. Okay, that's a lie. Two of those nickels were on the floor of the bus. I am not above picking up bus floor change. I will pick up any change. It's free money.

Two years ago I set up the Street Change Challenge. Sounds like a charitable initiative, but it's not (except inasmuch as I am a charity case).

Can't make this shit up.
Here's what happened: in November 2012 I received a royalty cheque in the amount of $1.90.  Yes, one dollar and ninety cents. That covered three months' earnings from one of the publishers I was working with at the time. They recently returned my rights on the three short stories they had under contract.

I wonder why.

Haha, no I don't. They told me why and they weren't douchey about it: I hadn't sent them a new manuscript in years and old stuff stops selling after a while. Returning my rights made good business sense for me and for them. No hard feelings on my side, and I hope none on theirs.

A royalty cheque for $1.90 was nothing unusual for me, unfortunately, but that particular cheque got the cogs cogitating. You can't get a coffee at Starbucks for $1.90.

Writing isn't a hobby, over here. This is my career.  Pretty dismal.

But it inspired my tongue-in-cheek Street Change Challenge.

In 2012, I proclaimed that if I found more than $1.90 on the sidewalk in three months, I would quit writing and turn to picking up coins as a profession.

In 2012, we still had pennies in Canada.
I never did report my findings, so I'll do it now. Actually, it was a close call that came down to the question of whether or not Canadian Tire Money should count toward my total. It's not true currency, but that red loyalty program bill was the tie-breaker. Without the 10 cents in Canadian Tire Money, my total came in just under $1.90.

The Street Change Challenge was kind of an exercise in ridiculousness. It doesn't take any special skill to pick up change off the sidewalk. Does it not take skill to write a book?  Shouldn't a person who writes books for a living earn more than someone casually picking up nickels off the floor of a bus?

I love a good deal. I love getting something for nothing. I'm happy to go out of my way to buy stuff on sale. I regularly walk when a subway ride would be faster because the $3 fare is too high. Hey, if it's more than $1.90 I can't afford it!

My girlfriend often asks me, "Why don't you pay the subway fare and spend that saved hour working? Isn't one hour of your time worth more than $3?"

My initial reaction is NO, but I don't tell her that because she'll say I'm devaluing my time and thus denigrating myself... which is probably true. Sometimes when I'm chasing the lowest price on milk (keeping my eyes peeled for loose change on the sidewalk), I ask myself, "Would my time be better spent writing?"

I've decided there is no measurable answer to that question. When you're a writer, you can't calculate what your time is worth the way people with hourly earnings can.

Writing is a crapshoot. You can quote me on that, and I hope you do. Writing is not a job--it's a gamble.

It happens that I'm not a gambler (I don't even buy lottery tickets), so it's kind of weird that I do this for a living. There's no way to predict whether a book will hit it big or sell ONE copy (the one you bought yourself). I like certainties. I like math. I want to be able to calculate the value of my time, but it's constantly in flux because this industry changes so damn fast.

When I started writing erotica in 2006, I was a short story writer answering calls for submissions for print anthologies. If you're an erotic fiction writer, you know what that world looks like these days.


You probably signed contracts two years ago for anthologies that are stuck in the queue of a halted production schedule. Generally speaking, contributors don't get paid until after the book is published. That's a long time to wait for $50.

Math is my friend. I can't help calculating what I might earn self-publishing a short story in the time it takes a print book (that my work may or may not be selected for) to make it to market.

But, like I said, it's a crapshoot.  In order to do the math, you need to be able to count on something, anything... and you just can't, in this industry.

Two years ago, my goal was to find $1.90 in change on the sidewalk. Nowadays I'm concerned with paying the rent and putting food on the table. I'm working with fewer publishers. I only send work to houses that make me money, otherwise I self-publish--something I thought I'd never do back in 2012.

I realize now I spent too many years sending manuscripts to publishers that earned me next to nothing. I didn't listen to the math. I felt a sense of loyalty because they'd taken a chance on me early in my career, or because they were nice people.

I don't do that anymore. I know I sound like a total dirtbag, and maybe I am a total dirtbag, but who benefits if a book doesn't sell?


  1. Great post, Giselle. I thank my stars I'm not trying to make a living at this game.

    I'd love to know, though, what publishers you write for where you DO sell. Off list if you'd rather not say here.

    And, as you say, things constantly change. I made more on the MBBNE13 payment (with two stories, admittedly) than I've made in five months from my romance publishers (who have at least twenty of my books in their store).

    1. Excessica is pretty much the only publisher that's earned me paying-the-rent money. I've taken books to "prestige" publishers and been sorely disappointed.

      I didn't submit to that Mammoth book. I couldn't afford to mail a manuscript to England.

  2. Giselle:
    I'm still amazed when ever I read your bio of the great volume of material you have published. You are a writing machine. What's also amazing is given the level of your talent that you're not better known. I highly recommend "Seven Kisses" to my fellow OGG bloggers. I'm glad the coin deal worked out in favor of your readership.

    I am very fortunate that I don't need the money from writing to make ends meet. There isn't any meat at the ends. I haven't earned enough to even support my coffee jones, however the local coffee shop is doing well. Still, the allure is there. Book sales are the ultimate validation of your work. Maybe in that sense we are like the gold diggers of the 1840's. All the lasting wealth was made by the people who provided products and services to the prospectors.
    I will quote you on writing being a crap shoot,but you're not a dirt bag. I have been trying to find a way to contact you off line. I sent out a general inquiry through the shared yahoo e-mail but it never posted. There's no way to contact you through your website or blog. I am interested in a couple of points in "Seven Kisses" and also want to grovel around to see if you will feature my holiday story in the open invitation on your website. You can reach me at

    1. Let me second Spencer's praise, Giselle. I just finished Seven Kisses last night. What a wild, original story! I hope to review it soon.

    2. Thanks guys.

      Spencer, you were the ONLY person out of all the people on the entire internet who responded to my announcement of free publicity. What a bummer. I'll feature your book, don't worry.

      If anyone else wrote a holiday book they want featured on my blog, the form is here:

      Free publicity. Tell your friends.

    3. Giselle:
      It says more about Google+ than it does about your offer.

      Lisabet wrote a nice review of my story. Her story summary was better than my blurb and mine was done with the assistance of a professional editor.

      My story is part of a seasonal collection being released all this month by my publisher, Breathless Press. I'll put a link up at the PB authors private Face Book site. Brace yourself.

  3. I don't think it's "dirtbag"-gy at all for an author to resist sending materials to publishers who experience has taught her will probably not manage to sell them, if earning revenues (and/or having readers) is essential to her. Not that there's anything wrong with a different author sending the stuff regardless of that, if that other author just wants to be published by a given publisher, even if readers and revenues are zero. But to not be willing to do that is certainly not dirtbaggy, imho. Personally, I won't even send short stories to publishers whose anthos are unlikely to sell (because I want readers), and a novel is so much larger an investment of time and energy than that!

    1. No kidding. I remember being SO EXCITED when one of my books was accepted for publication by a bigger publisher than I was used to working with. And then sales were just... nothing. I think that book sold like four copies?

  4. The publishing world is shifting under our feet. Hmm, maybe I'd better wait to share whatever bits I dare to say publicly, so I'll have something for my post on Monday. But as a writer and a freelance editor, I know about the pain, even though I don't need the income to live on--a perk, I guess, of not getting around to writing until I'd already worked for many years in a business that let me save up for retirement (with luck and good timing--these days that small retail business would no longer support me well enough for any savings.)

  5. I don't think a day goes by that I'm not thankful I'm past my money-making years. Sure, I still hustle an antique here and there, but I wouldn't want to start an enterprise like that today, even if I did have the energy. (I can also save money on my little medicinal mini-farm in the back yard. ;>) Momma and I get a social security check every month. That way, I can save my writing for the hobby it is without pressures of making it pay. Of course I want my work to sell, but it's value for me is mainly in the satisfaction of it all.

    1. I tell people I'm too lazy to work real jobs anymore, but yeah right. All I do is work. If I'm awake, I'm working. I just happen to like what I do (and do it in my pyjamas).

  6. "Isn't one hour of your time worth more than $3"

    That one makes me sad all the time because I don't know how to think about it either.

    I'm dying to read Seven Kisses, though! It looks so awesome.

    And apologies for not seeing your promo post. I've been struggling to keep up with communications lately, and in my personal triage my feed reader is the first thing to go when I'm behind. Normally, your blog is one I like to follow and really enjoy reading.


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