Writers and Money and What to Write
Writers are like everyone else — at least in some respects — what we really “want” is hard to define sometimes.
I wouldn’t like to sign on to some dogma that there is some definite thing (a novel, story, genre) that I’d solely like to be writing, and everything else that I’m writing I hate (or at the very least, don’t want to write.) That’s never true, at least not for me. I only write what I want to write, but writing can be like choosing where you want to eat. I like a lot of different kinds of food (you know this if you know me) and would and could be sublimely happy with any of them. That doesn’t meant that there isn’t a particular food that would hit the spot RIGHT NOW.
So let me get this straight before I go into the topic for this post. I’m happy writing all the stuff I’m writing now (including the stuff I have on the docket to write.) I love the stories I’m in, and I have every intention to continue them. So don’t take this post as some kind of complaint. Because it isn’t.
Some of the stuff I’ve written pays a little, but most of it doesn’t really pay at all. Some of the stuff I’m writing now will pay off, some will not. Almost everything an Indie writer writes is written on “spec.” That means “speculation.” That means, there is no money, only the hope that some day someone will pay to read it.
I think a lot of people (especially authors) think that financially I must have it made since I had a big bestseller a year and a half ago, and I sold an option on that book to Hollywood. Nothing could be further from the truth. I haven’t released a new novel since the end of April 2015, and though that book did alright – it didn’t do great. The money for almost all Indie writers slows to a trickle when you aren’t putting out stuff regularly.
I do have the advantage of living totally off-grid, raising a lot of our own food, and living a plain and simple lifestyle. That’s what allows me to write “full time.”
The Pennsylvania script I’ve been working on for months is a “spec” script. There is no money now, and no promise of money in the future. Months of work is invested with the hope that someday the show will get picked up and made and some money will come from it. Prior to the screenplay work, a good portion of 2015 was spent working with my friend Nick Cole trying to launch a very speculative project called Apocalypse Weird. A wonderful idea that just never found it’s wings. Neither Nick or I ever made a dime from Apocalypse Weird despite the better part of a year spent working on it. Every penny from the sales of the book Texocalypse Now that Nick and I wrote together for the AW project went to support the project and to help other authors get started with their AW books.
In the meantime, with all of that work, some of my ongoing projects have suffered. Oklahoma (the sequel to Pennsylvania) is still in just the beginning stages, although I hope to have Part 1 ready to go out this summer. And of course a very few steadfast fans from the early days of my fiction career are still waiting for Cold Harbor, a project which keeps getting shoved back because of reasons (reality.) I’m finally in full-scale writing mode on FUTURITY, which I think will be one of the best things I’ve ever written, but even that project has it’s own dose of reality. I’m sending it to my agent who will be shopping it around for awhile. So that could take a year.
And what does all of this have to do with what I “want” to write? Everything.
At some point, you need to make some money at this or it’s just a hobby and not really a career. Those of you who have followed my career for some time know that I’m an accidental Sci-fi writer. Sci-fi isn’t my natural genre at all. I never meant to write sci-fi… at least not at first. My first novel The Last Pilgrims, as far as I was concerned, was a fictional historical novel set only 25 years in the future. No lasers, no robots, no machines. In fact… no cell phones and no Internet. It was a post-apocalyptic novel, but even that setting was merely a stage setter in order to tell the story of the real-life Ancient Waldenses, only set in our own time. Anyway, I soon learned that Amazon (and every other book seller) considers Dystopianism or Post-Apocalyptic books to be Sci-fi. Pretty soon, I was being called the Amish Sci-fi writer. WICK was a pre-quel to The Last Pilgrims. Futurity (the novella) and Pennsylvania (serialized) were my first real sci-fi books. I never meant to write sci-fi at all.
What did I “want” to write? Snobs and industry folk would call it “Literary Fiction” but I would call it something else. I mean, in what genre did Hemingway write? Tolstoy? Turgenev? They didn’t call it “Literary Fiction” back then. They just called them novels. Was Vonnegut really sci-fi? Not to me he wasn’t. But that’s what I would write if I had my perfect world. And some of them would be without any speculative genre at all. And some might have time travel or elements that can be considered sci-fi. My dream novel I hope to write some day is entitled Lubbock 1955. And it is a Jack Finneyesque time travel novel about the 50’s and rock and roll and time. It wouldn’t really be sci-fi either. That book will take a few years of research, and that can’t happen until I can afford that kind of time spent studying old pictures and maps.
I pitched a book to my agent the other day, and he politely told me it was crap (my interpretation, ok?) and no one would read it. He’s a pro, and I think he’s funny as hell, but I also think he’s wrong about this book. I think a lot of people would read it. I want to write it, so I plan to. I told him (with a gleam in my eye) that I would prove him wrong. He told me (and he’s probably right) “Get Futurity done!” But this book is begging to be written, and I’m going to write it, even while I’m doing everything else. I’ll make special writing time to write it. And that leads me to the point of all of this…
I have resisted doing a Patreon thing for many years.
If you aren’t familiar with Patreon, it is a fantastic service that allows artists to get subscribers who want to support their art. All kinds of artists use Patreon. I learned about it when my friend Ben Adams (the superstar who made the Brother, Frank cover) started his Patreon (seriously, support him. He’s awesome.) I saw that a bunch of writers were doing Patreon, and I resisted it. I think authors should, as much as possible, make their money from selling books. I’m not judging authors who use Indiegogo or Kickstarter or any other fundraising platform. I just couldn’t justify doing it myself.
Anyway, this morning one of my closest friends sent me a link to Patreon and asked if I knew about it. He said that this could be a good thing for me, since I do so many things (including non-fiction writing, etc.) and it would provide a small amount to cover all the stuff I do for free (or on spec.) I told him I had looked at it many times and I had trouble justifying it for authors selling books.
Now, just yesterday, a good friend of mine tagged me in a Facebook post that was written by a guy who had just discovered many of the Russian writers (my all-time favorite literature!) This guy had just stumbled upon Alexander Pushkin, and my friend asked me if I had read Pushkin (of course I have you ninny.) Well, the way my mind works… I read “Pushkin” and I immediately start reminiscing in my mind about the first time I read Eugene Onegin. Eugene Onegin was Pushkin’s poetic novel masterpiece (novel in verse) that he released serially, by chapters, between 1825 and 1832. It is Pushkin’s most famous work.
And then I started thinking that most of my favorite novels were written serially, and published by chapters. Hemingway did it. Tolstoy did it. Solzhenitsyn did it. A Farewell to Arms was written and released serially. Some of the greatest books in history were actually released serially in magazines and often were… gasp… Indie published. And many of those great authors were able to write because they had patrons ~ people who supported their writing financially because the authors suffered in poverty. Pushkin was under house arrest a lot of the time (for pissing off the Czar) so a lot of other authors were his patrons and helped him get things published.
And here was my friend, the next morning, telling me about Patreon. Which I had rejected using for almost two years. And the name “Patreon” comes from “patron.”
So I began to think it over. What if… What if… instead of being (only) a way for me to finance my writing… what if Patreon could be a way for me to provide some content to many readers who are frustrated that due to my other responsibilities, my fiction book production has slowed down? What if… and just stick with me here… what if this gave me the ability to accomplish two things at once? What if I could write what I really, really, really “want” to write, and also provide a regular stream of story to my best reader friends… something they couldn’t get anywhere else, and no one else would get at all (until the full novel is published in the future.)? And what if the story was written more along the lines of traditional literature… not some need to shove artificial action into the front of the book to keep the attention of social media age readers? No need to end every chapter with a cliffhanger. No need to satisfy what some industry folks think will sell?
And what if this writing didn’t hinder my other projects. Not a bit!
I figured out how to do it. And Patreon, despite my resistance, is the answer.
Here’s what I’m going to do…
I’m going to start writing an epic literary novel entitled Hell and the Sea are Never Full, or just Hell and the Sea. And I’m going to give my best reader friends the story episodically as it comes out. Mostly chapter by chapter. Not some 20k word short story entitled “Part 1.” Instead, this will most likely be released a chapter at a time. No one will be able to tell me that the story needs to fit into some pre-conceived mold. I’ll write the story as it should be written. It won’t be sci-fi. It’ll be a novel. An epic novel. (And if this works, when this novel is over, I’ll start another one!)
There will be no attempt made to encapsulate an entire thread or storyline in a single chapter. That’s what makes for bad writing. In fact, most of the strictures now imposed upon writers makes for commercial, but not quality, writing. So I’m going to write what I truly, truly, truly want to write. You want inside my mind, here you go! And I already have the story! And readers will have to work too, like they ought to in a literary novel. Still, I promise a great story – one that my readers will love.
In addition to the story, Patreon partners will get background to the writing process, and they’ll get to see the story crafted from beginning to end. I’ll come up with some bang up other options readers can select. And no one else will get the story until it is released as a finished work!
We’re going to do this OLD SCHOOL, and I think (and hope) it’ll be glorious!