Thursday, March 2, 2017

Take a long walk off a short career

by Giselle Renarde

I listen to podcasts while I clean the kitchen. Self-publishing podcasts, mostly. That's why the notebook on my fridge is covered in titles of books I want to write.

Books like: The Lazy Writer's Guide to a Sustainable Long-term Writing Career.

If I actually wrote that book I don't think anyone would buy it, so I probably won't write it. Mind you, I've written a lot of books nobody buys, so maybe I will. We'll just have to wait and see.

What brought this idea to mind in the first place? Most of the marketing advice geared toward authors (in the self-publishing sphere in particular) is stuff that I'm either way to lazy or way to cheap to put into play. Maybe I should call my book The Cheap-Ass Writer's Guide to a Sustainable Long-term Writing Career. Because, lazy as I am, I'm ten times cheaper.

There are a number of authors who make a mint self-publishing. They exist. They do. But the vast majority of those uber-earners work waaaaaaay harder than I'm willing to work. That, or they spend way more money than I'm willing to spend.

If I funneled hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of dollar into Facebook advertising maybe I'd make more money. Or maybe I'd be out hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars. Maybe if I purchased pricey advertising slots on bookish newsletters I'd sell more copies of my books. Or maybe I wouldn't.  I'm not the kind of person who likes to take risks. Just ask my sister how it works out every time she tricks me into going to the casino with her. I am not a gambler. In my mind, expensive advertising is always a gamble.

My book would be incredibly controversial. It would go against all the advice you'd typically get from those in the know. But what it really comes down to is how you want to live your life. I think a lot of advice is aimed at people whose idea of success is vast financial gain. If you want to earn a lot of money, you should be prepared to work hard and make sacrifices.

My advice would be geared toward people like myself: writers who are in it for the long haul, but who want a pretty peaceful life, who aren't expecting to make millions in their first year, or probably ever; people who are laying the groundwork for a slow and steady career as a writer.

You can work really hard if you want to. You can wake up at 5 in the morning to write until your brain melts. But the thing about writing 40 novels per year is that it's really fucking tiring. Maybe you can do it for a couple years, but most people aren't going to find that type of production schedule sustainable across the decades. And instead of backing off and just writing... oh, say, 30 novels per year... a lot of authors burn out and stop writing completely.

I don't want anyone to think I'm tearing down authors who make a quick buck and then ride off into the sunset. Earning a shit ton of money is a huge accomplishment--and it's certainly an accomplishment I have yet to accomplish.

My goal was to earn enough money from writing to pay my bills. I'm not a shifting goalposts type of person. I don't feel the need to earn more money this month than I earned last. I just need to keep afloat, and I can do that because I've being doing this work for more than 10 years. Every book is an investment. I couldn't pay the rent with my earnings in year one. Not sure I could have done it in year five. I've had a variety of part-time jobs over the course of my writing career, but the writing was never my part-time gig. The minimum-wage jobs were the part-time gigs. Writing came first.

Like I said: I don't think anyone would buy my guide to a sustainable writing career. Most people who are prepared to take ten years to reach their ultimate goal can probably figure out on their own how to get there. But maybe it would be encouraging for people like me to know that you can be a writer without being a go-getter. That's okay. You don't have to feel bad if you don't earn much or you don't release a book a week. It's still possible to make a living from your writing. It just takes a while.

But if you're lazy (like me), you'll wait.

Giselle Renarde is an award-winning queer Canadian writer. Nominated Toronto’s Best Author in NOW Magazine’s 2015 Readers’ Choice Awards, her fiction has appeared in well over 100 short story anthologies, including prestigious collections like Best Lesbian Romance, Best Women’s Erotica, and the Lambda Award-winning collection Take Me There, edited by Tristan Taormino. Giselle's juicy novels include Anonymous, Cherry, Seven Kisses, In Shadow, and The Other Side of Ruth.


  1. But do you truly believe the level of success you've had is reliably replicable, by anyone with a comparable skill set who did everything just the way you did? I'm not questioning your methods or your savviness or, of course, your talent—I'm very impressed by all of it, and I recognize everything you've put in to getting where you are. So obviously, I'm not saying it's just luck, not at all. But I do feel there are a lot of variables governing how one's career goes, and some of these factors, including some major ones, are out of the writer's control. Supply and demand is a biggie; and if, as is often the case, there are more highly capable writers who are willing to do everything "right" and stick with it than the marketplace can support, the math tells us that not everyone will succeed, even at the level you describe. At a certain point, you'll have, say, 100 talented and savvy writers doing everything right, and of those hundred 25 will hit all the lights right and the other 75 will be foiled by bad breaks, market oversaturation, being repeatedly in the right place at the wrong time, and so on. (Or so goes my analysis.)

    1. Or, to be more accurate, those 25 won't all necessarily hit all the lights right, but enough of the right lights at the right time. I do understand that recovering from bad breaks and pursuing "alternate routes" (to continue the traffic metaphor) is part of the skill set, and that you yourself have showed great flexibility and persistence in responding to the things that didn't go right. So, to be clear, I'm not saying you've just "cruised through," not at all. But I still think if there were 100 identical Giselles doing all the same things, not all of them would succeed. (:v>

  2. You are the opposite of lazy, Giselle. True industry is showing up, sitting down, keeping on keeping on.

    I actually think your book title (not to mention your post title) is fabulous. The book just *might* be your ticket to fortune!

    I know what you mean about investing a fortune in marketing. Some authors spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars advertising their releases. They talk about this, quite calmly, on the romance author email lists to which I subscribe. Say what? I'll spend a max of $100...and at least some of that will be a prize for some lucky reader.

    Anyway, I hugely admire your ability to support yourself, even at a modest level, with your writing. That really does take a significant level of commitment--not to mention serious work.

  3. I'd buy that book!

    I think there are more writers like you describe out there than you may think. Who knows, if it's some kind of perverted average that actually comes into play, perhaps you'll hit pay dirt. How-to stuff can be successful.

  4. I told my girlfriend nobody believes I'm lazy. She said, "Oh, I believe it!" heh

  5. I'd say that being able to pay your rent with your writing income and live more or less the way you want to IS pay dirt. I'v been making, at best, what I could call "play dirt," insomuch as it funds a couple of one-night stands in NYC for readings (I can get there by bus or train in just a few hours) and one or maybe two conventions that I'd want to go to even if I couldn't do readings or signings, but since I can, I consider them tax-deductible. At a stretch, it also funds very minor (but how they add up!) political contributions, which, unfortunately, are not tax deductible. Shelling out for marketing, well, I just can't bring myself to do it, although if I thought I knew how to do it effectively, I'd be tempted.

    I do think that there may be more of a market than you think for how-to books, though. I've been surprised at how many writing/marketing how-to books are being listed as read on Goodreads by an author I consider very well-known in my niche, and co-owner of a small-but-not-tiny publishing company besides. I don't know her well enough to ask if she gets anything out of them, but I'd think she'd be writing them herself.

    Hmm, come to think of it, maybe she is, under multiple pen names, and all the books she posts as read are really her own! That's certainly food for thought.

    I wrote a chapter for someone else's how-to book several years ago (a book that pretty much disappeared) and on the basis of that chapter, the publisher asked me to do a whole book. I dithered, but didn't do it. The notion of having would-be writers of lesbian erotica pay for a book of advice when I knew, and know even better now, that the market for that niche was shrinking and they'd be lucky to earn back the cost of the book, kind of discouraged me. That, and the fact that I really am lazy, and the advice idea bored me.

  6. Giselle, I agree that being able to live on your profits from freelance writing is a big accomplishment in this era. Re "how-to" books, feh. I've seen too many on the market, and I always wonder if the writers have gained fame and wealth by following their own advice. Some of the best advice I've read came from Anne Rice: write the book you want to write, and worry about its "marketability" later (or never). She did that in the 1970s by resurrecting the vampire genre, and her novel Interview with the Vampire was a surprise bestseller.

  7. I really like what you say in this post, Giselle. What I've noticed is that many of the "how to" writing books out there are written by people with much less experience than me or you. They may have made a lot of money, but it's clear to me that they don't know what it feels like to do this day in and day out over time, and as a result they lack perspective. (There are exceptions, obviously, but this is something that struck me when I had a recent bout of reading business books about writing). So the book you're talking about sounds wise and interesting. If you ever do write it, please let us know. I'd buy it!

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