The cheque for my eleven-book deal with Audible arrived this week. I can’t actually explain how much this payout means to me as a working author. Once more, I have to thank my agent, Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency: there is no way I could’ve swung this one on my own. I’m not even going to say how much the cheque was for, although if any of my hard-grafting colleagues out there are wondering what agent-sold audio rights are fetching these days, feel free to email or PM me. For the purposes of today’s blog, the amount isn’t relevant. What’s relevant is the effect upon my daily life, and I do want to take up a few moments of your time to talk about that. The daily life of an author, because I know the market is tough at the moment, and I’ve seen a lot of discouraged people, and I’ve had more than a few queries lately about what it takes to make it as a writer. And I still think it’s possible, so I’ve tried to answer.
That’s a tricky task, although in each case I’ve tried my best. I can only tell you what it takes me. Am I making it? Well, just about, according to my own unsteady lights. First off, as my dear friend Josh Lanyon has said recently, you really have to decide what you mean by making it. Do you want to be JK Rowling? Do you want to get one book – yes, dear Goddess, please just one teeny tiny little book and I won’t ask for anything again ever – published, to obtain that one moment of orgasmically sweet validation and triumph? Do you want, like me, to enjoy the dubious, dangerous benefits of living off your wits, free from employers, in the middle of the wilderness, no savings, no pension, no sick pay, making just enough to cover the bills? There’s all kinds of making it.
Second, what are your circumstances? You need to balance out what you need to do against what you can do. I’m all in favour of pushing boundaries, but unattainable goals will wear you out and make you miserable. For me, in order to progress my career, stop living hand-to-mouth, get some money in the bank and make some provision for my frail (and rapidly advancing) old age, I’d need to produce about 5,000 words a day.
I can’t. I max out on 1,000, or 1,500 when I have no other commitments. Do you have kids? I spent five minutes with a kid the other day, and I was depleted and drained beyond imagination. I salute authors who have kids. How the bloody hell you do it, I have no idea. Do you want to have some kind of life outside your authorial vacuum flask? I didn’t think I needed one, but as I moved from part-time to full-time writer, and ploughed head-first into the menopause at the same time, I realised how badly I did. Depression and borderline agoraphobia presented themselves and asked to be considered for the role of Wolves at my Door. I had to chase them off while I was still capable of leaving the house in order to do so. Changes in my metabolism meant I could no longer get away with the utterly sedentary lifestyle I’d rejoiced in so far. We came back to my native northeast, where my family embraced me, undeserving as I was. I discovered Sacred Circle Dance; a wonderful group of fellow Pagans. I felt better. (Note: my problems were causative, circumstantial, temporary. Companionship and activity may help with cases of clinical, chronic depression, but far more likely will only act, if at all, as adjuncts to therapy, meds, and the sheer, gritted-teeth, back-to-the-wall courage of the sufferer. There’s a very big difference.)
So – 1.5K per day, zero future security, but a hell of a good time in the present moment. There is no prospect of retirement for me. That’s okay. I wouldn’t want to stop anyway. But that 1.5K per day has to happen. It has to, if that’s the figure you’ve come up with to allow you your work/life balance and to get you to the point of making it. Whatever figure’s come out of that complicated sum, it has to happen. Sometimes people ask me how I do it, and I don’t really understand the question. I mean, some of the people asking me this have proper jobs! And they’re asking me how on earth I manage. I want to say to them, “How do you do it? How do you get up at six, face a brutal commute, deal with your boss and whatever mountain of stress you have to scramble up and over every single working day in life?” I think they’d just say, “Well, I have to.”
And that’s it, precisely. As an author, you have to. Can you bring that combination of guts, persistence and sheer necessity to a computer screen, typewriter, notepad, whatever, every single day, and dig out of yourself your sacred and carefully calculated Daily Word Count? If you’ve ever had a job you hated and you stuck with it and did it anyway, you’ve got the character skillset for this game. You’ll stick with it and do it anyway, through illness, adversity, family upheaval, loss, just as you had to do with your day job. You’ll do it in sensible places and strange ones: at your desk, on riverbanks, on the back of bus tickets. And hopefully, one day – it took me about five years, transitioning slowly – you’ll be doing it in order to serve the needs of a job you love. At the very least, at the end of X amount of time doing X amount of words per day, you will have written a book! And even if you don’t think it’s a good one, it’s there. You can’t edit, polish and rework something that doesn’t exist. You can’t even chuck it in the f*ck-it bucket in favour of the next project, at least not with a satisfactory clang.
It’s still a tough ride. At the beginning of this post, I mentioned the impact of that Audible payout, and that’s all I meant to talk about. The trouble with establishing yourself as an author, letting go of the Day Job jungle vine and swinging wildly on your new one, is that you have to keep swinging. My self-pubbed books do pretty well, but still drop off a three-month sales cliff at Amazon. And you know what that means, don’cha? 😀 My trad-published novels have a longer run, but it’s getting increasingly tricky to place one’s word-children with good and reliable adoptive parents. Essentially it’s a case of run, run and then run some more. So a sudden big cheque – wow, I can’t even begin to tell you. Missus and I will be down to B&Q on Monday morning faster than a pair of rats leaving a house with a leaky roof! I feel like all the boys in those eleven books went out, got second jobs and sent their wages home to Mama. More than anything else, I can breathe.
But you know what? I probably won’t. I could let myself off the word-count treadmill, for a month or even more. When I think about that, I get a rush of elation, and then a backwash of panic. I have a horribly addictive nature, and my primary addiction – thank God; it could have been so much worse – is writing.
It’s just nice for me to know that I could, and I’m so grateful. Grateful to my agent, to Missus for keeping the world around me sane and safe while I ride this bizarre roller coaster to wherever the hell it goes, to my family for their endless love and support, to my circle dancers for enfolding my abstracted, isolated brain into the warm realities of the group. As ever, to Josh, because all these eleven titles are self-pubbed, and it was Josh who set my FoxTales boat afloat. And just as much to every single person who’s ever bought and read – or, indeed, listened to! – one of my books. Thank you for the ride so far, and for the breathing space, which I’m now fairly certain I won’t – can’t – use. I’m not much good at saving, but I’ll try and save a bit of this one for a rainy day, and when I do, I’ll be thinking of all of you.