Saturday, May 3, 2008

Money myths and promo hype

Ever since my move, I've been trying to do the writer-thing, y'know--go to meetings and study, work harder on my writing and editing, stuff like that. I used to live near this RWA chapter where the members and I were on polar opposites of the genre scale. 'Sides, trying to break into an established chapter is hard. It's all clique-ish.

I kind of figured the one close to me now would be a better fit. It's bigger, more members=more chances at finding people to connect with. Writing is so damned lonely, it's like iron deficiency. You start getting the urge for spinach.

I'm not connecting so well--it's, er...I guess the word I'm looking for is clique-ish. The dictionary defines "clique" as members of a group who identify more closely with each other than the group, and maybe it's like that everywhere, but it makes it hard to join once the cliques are set up.

There are good sides and bad sides to cliques. The good side is you either belong or don't belong--and outsiders tend to stick together, which in turn creates more cliques, so maybe that's also the bad side.

But at the last meeting someone approached me to talk about her work. She'd subbed to the house I work for--an odd piece, not odd in being weird or anything, but odd in not really fitting into an established sub genre. Vintage is a new field covering the time period from 1920-1970, and outside of mainstream fiction, the publishers for it are few and far in between.

She got accepted and withdrew her work. On the verge of getting published, she decided it wasn't where she wanted to be, because we wouldn't swing a promo budget behind her. I really wanted to ask her who she'd been talking to, since even before I got the editing gig, I knew NO one will promo you--I don't care if they're HarperCollins or some little fly by night operating out of some kid's garage. Mid-list is a bunch of do-it-yourself-ers, that's why so many people at Nationals have bookmarks--there's no money in writing. You promo yourself unless you're on the verge of what Maas would call "the breakout novel" and then your publisher "might" do something for you.

Writers are a dime a dozen. Money flows toward the writer, but it sure as hell doesn't flow toward some big name publicist on your behalf. It might not be as much money up front because a small press pays less and you don't get your advance up front, but you'd basically get the same promo-package no matter who you sign with.

Today, I had the pleasure of listening to a lecture (in my opinion, the best part of belonging to a chapter--the monthly lecture) where the writer was kind enough to share her income and sales figures. People tell me all the time--writing for a small press is stupid, because there's no money in it. That's true, but I went into it, KNOWING there's no money in it. I sold to TWRP because A) they were okay with my horribly "extreme" setting (Hawaii isn't a popular setting for some reason) and B) my rs "lite" as one big name--really really big-name--editor once called it didn't trigger an auto-reject. So this woman wrote for a BIG press, six books--honestly, she had a bunch sitting in front of her, all new and spiffy in their radiant "big press-ness". Firmly mid-list. And of her advance and earn-outs, she made two thousand dollars a year after paying her agent and taxes. Then they dumped her, because her sales figures weren't good and they're cutting that line. So she's back on the street, looking for a home.

It's hard to make a living at your writing. You need a day job or some other source of income--the arts have got to be the only field where negative income is acceptable. I've been filing as a writer for years and each year I say, "oops, another negative" and make a little smiley face, because y'know--smiley faces make everything better.

I have no promo budget outside of my wits, and one day--when I get my first check, it might sort of pay for a burger or something. And I'll eat my Big Mac and be all happy for a few minutes. I might read my book (it'll probably be out in print by then) and wonder how anyone can buy into the whole JR Rowling mythos (I want to buy a castle, wah!).

A couple thousand is nice, but--honestly, I can make that working, and I'd put in less hours. I did a break down once, and figured I work for air, because peanuts cost too much. I might still have some scruples--not a lot, mind you, but some--where I'd better see a stable outlook for the houses I sub to, and they need to have print, because I want to hold my book, but I'm starting to wonder if NY is the end all and be all--it might just be an ego thing on my part.


Unhinged said...

Great post!

1. I never understood why one must belong to a real life chapter. Why is this a must? Is it? Can you be a member of the RWA and not attend your local chapter?

2. What about the relationships you establish over the years with online peers who are as serious as the real life chapters about writing?

3. I've been on the outside of the "popular" cliques in real life so often, that I easily form my own online. But I've never once made someone on the outside (in real life or online) feel like an outsider--probably because I've been made to feel like one. So there's the good of that experience. :-)

4. Is the object to connect with someone in my local RWA group to connect me with someone who might know someone else in a NY publishing house? (Besides the benefits of sharing work, learning from others, listening to lectures, etc.)

5. The thought of pitching my work scares the bejesus out of me. I'd rather just let my work do the hooking. I'm inclined to grin, hand over a query, and bolt.

Basically, I think your entire posts shows how crazy insane we writers are because anyone not interested in writing will be shaking their head and wondering WHY we want to put ourselves through all of this.

Growing up as a teenager who loved to write instead of hanging out at the pool and smoking with other kids my age, I got asked this question a lot. Even my mom didn't understand. I felt like such an oddity, but writing made me more happy than any other thing. That's why I still do it today.

Jennifer McKenzie said...

This post fascinates me. I think my goal is to have my book on a shelf in a store--like Walmart or Safeway Grocery stores. Some place I've bought books myself.
Maybe I'll be nothing but a mid list author but I'm taking a picture of the book if that ever happens.
I don't think NY is the end all be all. I'm going for both.

Alice Audrey said...

I'm still holding my breath for New York, but I don't think I'm going to last much longer. I'm tired of not having an audience. I really, really need readers.

jodi said...

Ah, Unhingey--I dunno. I really really don't know. I guess because I was right there when CRWA formed, and I got to see how much the company of other writers meant to the founders--I didn't stay, but maybe I should have, I dunno about that either.

I've always said RD was my chapter, clique is gone, I mean, they show up--I can see from their "last seens" that they're still there, but they're not--not really.

We all grow and change and become different people, and sometimes you keep the people you start with, and sometimes you have to find other people to talk to. I talk to you, and Kaige, Jen and Jeanna--sometimes Gwen drops by, I know Cowboy reads me, even if he never comments (because he's a TEXT message junkie) and I love talking to you, because I think the thing about it is that y'all know me for who and what I am, and accept me for what I am, and that's cool.'s like Cowboy. He's my friend and CP, and I text and talk to him all the time, but I miss looking across the table and catching that look when we both click on a bit of writing and the words come faster and we're both screaming out plot points.

I guess I'm not trying to find a clique, I just want to go to meetings where I can get the conference experience over a longer time-period.

And yes, you can belong to RWA and not a chapter, or RWA and an on-line chapter. Many on-line chapters were formed because the members with specific interests were so far flung.

I the beginning I kept going back to CRWA because I wanted to push my work, but I'm more relaxed now, and I'm not ready for NY yet., I'm not looking to get published.

so..the benefits are just company.

(pitching is easy, if you can sell shoes or cookies, or anything you're passionate about, you can sell your book, whether they buy or not is something else again)

:) Me, too Jen--I think that's my ultimate goal--not the money, but the affirmation of myself as a writer. Walking into that Wal-mart and buying "my" book.

Alice...hey, don't give up. Put Suzie together and get that puppy out there!!!! C'mon...

Alice Audrey said...

Suzie is just for fun. It's a gift to my friends and a gift to me when my friends actually like it. I have plenty of manuscripts to shop around, and no intention of quitting anything - except waiting around for New York based publishing to give me a break. I'll make my own breaks.

jodi said...

You go for it, Alice--you have plenty of talent.