I normally roll my eyes at titles like this one, but they do tend to get a lot of attention, so please excuse the cheesiness. It took me a week to decide to write this article. I was just going to write about one topic, but my pragmatic nature kicked in. Here’s some info that most authors want readers to know and that I hope my readers already know about me.
1 – Something I Never Thought I’d Have To Explain To Readers
Most authors write their own books. I write my own books. It never occurred to me until recently that I would have to ever say that aloud much less prove it. My author friends and I are joking about adding a “written by the author” label to our book covers so readers will be able to tell at a glance.
I did Technical Writing for years before I became a full-time fiction writer. I was under contract with the company I worked for and that contract said that my name would never, ever be on anything I wrote. It wasn’t like ghostwriting fiction, but it was a similar situation. In the 18 years I worked as a technical writer, I wrote manuals, help, website content, software directions, tutorials, and much more. This involved over a hundred books and who knows how many words. My name was on nothing as the author. Not one piece of writing. Rather, in exchange for my wordsmithing, I received a healthy salary which meant my kids got braces and went to college.
With my English degree, hiring myself out as a technical writer was a good way to make a good living, but NOTHING I produced in those years remotely compares to the moment I held my first copies of Dating A Cougar and Dating Dr. Notorious in my hands with Donna McDonald written on them. Each book I’ve published has provided the same rush of pride and pleasure. My stories are my brainchildren, my gifts to the world, and the best of me.
So yeah, in case you were wondering, I write my own books.
2 – Plagiarism Is Real But It Is Not Simple
Plagiarism is theft and hurtful and usually requires legal recourse to resolve which is sad and expensive and stressful.
I taught college English for over six years and used a plagiarism checker on hundreds–maybe thousands–of papers. Every paper and I mean every paper no matter how good contained content that could be found elsewhere, up to 20% of the content. Say what?! Yes, that is truly the case. There are only so many ways to say phrases like “She turned around and looked at him.” When you add in slang and common metaphors, the similarities multiply exponentially.
True plagiarism–the kind that is happening more frequently–is more than using a few similar words. It is appropriating chunks of stories, in-depth descriptions, catchy phrasing, character mannerisms, and copying another writer’s style. This is the stuff that readers catch, but in that catch are some simple words too. The court ends up functioning exactly like the tool I used to test college papers only with actual humans doing the comparisons instead of a machine. It is an effing hard matter to decide how much was done with the deliberate intention of one author to use another’s work.
It is heart-breaking to find your books have been pirated and nearly all authors have had that happen. Being plagiarized is a nightmare-inducing fear. I grieve when instances of it come to light because it’s more personal to me now. I’m seeing it happen to authors I know and respect. It’s impossible not to worry and wonder who’s going to be next.
3 – It Takes More Time Than You Think To Write A Good Book
No matter how fast I produce books, it never seems fast enough. Readers want more, which is both flattering and frustrating because a quality story is not an instant thing. It takes a lot of time to write something that fits into a series and satisfies the ideas in my head. I write fast. What’s fast? A good day for me is 6000 words. An average day is 3000. A bad day is 0 and usually means I didn’t get to write at all because my mother needed help, or my grandchildren needed a sitter, or my husband had a crisis, or I did something crazy like actually take a shower and go get my hair cut.
But if I write that fast, and I get a steady block of time at my desk, shouldn’t I still be done with a novella in a couple of weeks and a large novel in a month? No. Well, sometimes. But mostly no. Creativity is not reliable. Plus, around the story writing is editing other stories and marketing already published work. Sometimes you get sidetracked in the story you’re working on and that means getting rid of a few thousand words because a scene isn’t working. For me, more often than not, it means pacing and talking to myself for an hour to work through a character situation. It means doing dishes while I work out a plot point. And each book is a different effort. Maybe that’s just me, but I don’t think I’m all that unusual.
My average time to write an average book is 3 months to finish a whole draft. Editing happens after that which can take another month. I have concluded that 4 books a year is what I can reasonably produce with quality. When I’ve managed to release 5, 6, or even 7 books in a year, it means the word count was lower–like 3 short novellas of 20k each instead of 1 larger novel of 60k or more. It also may mean I’ve pulled a previously written but yet to be published novel out of the drawer. I’ve done that a time or two.
I know readers see a lot of authors publishing new books every month. Sometimes that happens from extenuating circumstances like independently publishing backlist titles or getting your traditional rights restored. Publishing a fresh, new, never-released-before book every month can be done obviously, but not without compromises and extraordinary strategies being put into place. I have not been willing to take those measures because I want each book I write to be special and unique and to have its own time to find its place in the world. I want to take my time and do it right.
4 – Writing Is A Money-Making Job For Most Authors
Did you read Virginia Woolf’s “A Room Of One’s Own” in high school or college? Unless an author is wealthy enough not to have to work at all, they have to do some kind of work for money to pay their bills. Most authors are not writing because they are wealthy enough to indulge themselves. Most authors are writing because they want to live a creative life and tell stories, but they need to sell their writing to make money enough to do so.
For me, writing is my real job–still my only job–but every year I have to reassess my work situation. I willingly invest time in writing books rather than in working for an employer. In order to make a profit from that writing, I need to recoup the costs I spend to do my job like making book covers, getting the books edited, and marketing them. And instead of getting less expensive, all the costs of publishing a book have quadrupled in the last three years. My first book cover in 2011 cost me $50. Last year, I averaged $225. I ended up having to learn to do some covers myself.
When I started in 2011, it was very, very easy to sell books. In 2019, it is very, very, very, very hard. My love for what I do has not changed one bit since I began 8 years ago, but the costly reality of getting adequately paid for my efforts seems to be declining with each passing year. Having to go back to a day job continually stays on the horizon.
5 – When I Can’t Write The Book You Want
Early on in my career, I chose to write across genres. This doubled my marketing work, my social media work… actually, it doubled everything. But it made me a much, much happier writer. Notice I said “happy” and that I didn’t say it made me smart or successful. I’m blessed to be an indie author. I would have been okay with traditional publishing, but I would have had a very hard time writing the books that my contract said I had to write. My muse is very stubborn. He’s been known to get up and stomp away from me for months.
If I try writing a story for a few days and nothing is coming, I switch to another–and I always have others–so I continue to produce but not always the one readers may be screaming to get. This is why I don’t declare a release date until the book is two-thirds done. I honor my muse and he sets my writing schedule. This is why I recently finished Book 2 of a new series when I meant to be writing Book 6 of a previous series.
Some authors would call this tendency a lack of discipline. Maybe they’re right from a certain point of view. I call what I do the price of being creative. At the end of the day, I’m an artist with stories to tell, not a book producing machine. So, dear readers, thank you for waiting for the next book. Your patience allows me to make sure it is the best book I can write for you.
Excellent article. The cost of publishing a book and the market environment changes were enlightening.