Writer, Editor, Reader, Fan Girl

Business Musings: The Upcoming Year

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I come to the end of 2015 dog tired. Not stressed, like I was in 2013 and 2014. Plain good old-fashioned tired.

As you could tell from my blog posts the past two weeks, I wrapped up a project that had been on my plate for maybe 15 years. I wrote the first draft of the book in 2005, realized the book didn’t work because I was scared of it (and approached it wrong), and have tried it several times since. Some of the parts of those earlier books will appear in the future in other novels. I now know how the story all lays out.

No matter how I sliced it, this book ended up at 170,000 words (yeah, I know), and Dean is reading it now. The sheer physical work tired me, yes, but more than that, the complexity of dealing with this project really co-opted my brain.

At this time last year, I wrote several pieces at year end about the state of the publishing industry. I had hoped to do the same this year. I woke up on Christmas Eve, and realized it was the end of December—which meant the end of 2015—and what with the health issues, the travel, the marathon book, and some changes in two of the other businesses we own—I hadn’t been paying attention to the publishing industry as a whole. I thought about cramming, but I had left some other projects for year end (one anthology to edit and four short stories to write—eek!), and I wanted some time off (we all need to see Star Wars, right?).

I didn’t have time for cramming on the industry.

But I did want to talk about the year end. I wanted to look forward as well. In doing so, I decided to read some of the blog posts other people have written about the state of their writing careers in December of 2015, and the plans they have for 2016.

I discovered a theme. And ironically, it was the same thing that Dean and I had been discussing.

Joe Konrath said it best in his annual year-end blog:

This year, I’m boiling my resolutions down to the essence:

WRITE.

He’s not alone. I said to Dean as we were planning our 2016, “I need some time to write, to be alone with my creativity, to just think about new stories, experiment, and focus on the writing, not on being a business person.”

Note the word focus. I didn’t say I was going to give up doing the business stuff and the business research. In fact, as I was reading the year end blogs, I made some notes of business things I wanted to do in the future for my own writing.

For the past four years, though, I have worked on building several businesses that are not my writing. Some involve my writing in a peripheral manner, and one publishes much of what I do (although not all of it—still hybrid, still proud of it), but none of them are writing-only.

How do I plan my writing?

I don’t. I write. Planning my writing is a business strategy. Writing is what I do and what I love.

Yep, I have four short stories due, and while that seems like planning, it’s more happenstance. I accept short story deadlines because I love to write for anthologies and other projects. Writing for other people like that forces me outside of my comfort zone. I know I’m doing well when my first thought as I sit down to write one of these projects is Oh, my God, I’m not good enough to write this thing. Especially now. Especially in this limited time frame.

Gauntlet thrown.

Gauntlet taken up.

Challenge accepted.

Over the past week, as I’ve relaxed into the idea of writing as my focus, I find my brain exploring ideas it was too preoccupied to consider in the past four years. I see that as a good sign.

What I find fascinating is that as I click through the blogs of friends, peers, and colleagues, I discover a similar sentiment. It’s not just Joe who stressed writing, but other writers as well.

Perhaps the clearest example of what I mean by focusing on writing comes from Elizabeth Hunter’s year-end blog. She writes:

In the past year, I’ve had so many friends feel burned out. Tapped out. Done. Finished. Writing became this chore that they had to do to keep up with… what? Financial obligations. Reader expectations. Personal goals….

When I start to get burned out, it’s usually because I haven’t had enough creative time. It’s because I’m focusing on the publishing and selling aspects of this business and not on the writing parts. I NEED the writing. It’s still my most-fun-thing. My escape. My happy place.

Exactly.

I managed to continue writing while storms swirled around me, while we built 3.5 other businesses (the .5 is still being built), while we dealt with all kinds of other stuff that make up this everyday thing we call “living,” but I couldn’t write as much as I wanted to. I was telling my own stories, but there always seemed to be some outside crisis that took precedence over writing time. And when you’re building something else, you have to tend to the crisis.

What I thought, as I prepped this blog, was that these emotions were unique to me. And yet, I found them in blog after blog after blog.

Ron Vitale, in his year-end blog, echoes what Joe Konrath says about focusing on the writing, and adds the life lesson he learned in 2015:

To everyone who is new to publishing and living the indie writing lifestyle: It’s not possible to do it all. I will say it again for myself so that I can remember this and not get myself in the mess I was in. I cannot do everything. I need to rest, eat, relax and connect with those around me. I can’t be plugged in all the time writing and then working at my day job. I learned a hard lesson this year. Yes, I love writing and want to write more books, but they can’t happen as fast as I would like and that’s okay. In fact, that’s better than okay. It’s normal and I’m perfectly fine with that.

That’s something I’ve already learned…and relearned…and relearned…and, yes, dammit, learned again…and again…

The fact that Ron learned this is one reason he’ll stick around. A lot of writers didn’t. I noticed that in the responses I got to blogs all year. Writers who wanted to quit. Writers who did quit. Writers whose work I sought out for a variety of reasons only to find that “I’m done with this awful business” blog post. Or worse, a website that hasn’t been updated since early 2013, and no new works published since then either.

I’m not the only one who noticed this. Elizabeth Hunter remarked on it in her blog:

A lot of people quit publishing in 2015. More will quit in 2016. Everyone has their own reasons. Some are good and some are bad. But if you’re getting into this business as a quick way to make a buck, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. If you’re writing and publishing to tell your story, then no matter what happens on the sales front you still have your work. [Emphasis hers]

I blogged about that very topic a few weeks ago, because I’d seen so many writers trapped in that loop and getting burned out. And really, it’s sad to get burned out doing something you love.

These blog posts from other writers, plus discussions with Dean and the professional writers I meet with every week, did spark something, though. A realization, I guess.

It’s not a coincidence we’re all thinking this way.

Our industry has changed phenomenally since 2009. Joe posted his resolutions for the past several years in that blog, and some of them are true blasts from the past.

What we’ve been doing is inventing a new way to go about being writers. In the past, the path was stable. If you wanted to get published, you had to go through gatekeepers. And if you wanted a career as a published writer, you needed a lot of resilience and creativity to survive inside a system that was hostile to your creativity and your needs.

The new world isn’t actively hostile, but it is difficult. And why shouldn’t it be? We’re working on an international level.

But one of the degrees of difficulty we’ve been dealing with since 2009 is that the new system hadn’t stabilized yet. Things changed, sometimes weekly, and those of us who jumped into indie publishing from the beginning were constantly revising expectations as well as ways of doing things. Even the kinds of files we had to upload for ebooks changed, and changed again, and then changed again. The files haven’t stabilized yet, but the rate of change (at least in that area) has slowed immensely.

We all had incredible learning curves, and we worked with each other—sharing information on blogs and in person—trying to figure out not only what worked best for the readers, but what worked best for us.

Most of us became what I call outer-directed. We focused on things outside of our writing and, for some folks, to the detriment of their writing.

Well, the industry is stabilizing. It hasn’t stabilized entirely, but it’s not going through such a rapid state of change either. We can actually envision parts of the publishing future.

And that has allowed writers to breathe. As we breathe, we realized—hey, I want to write more. I want to be creative, not in marketing or cover design, but in making up and living in imaginary worlds.

Some of us are too burned out to do that. And for those of you who fit into that category, time to recharge. Rest. Think about things other than writing and publishing. See a movie. Walk on the beach. Spend time with your family.

If you’re destined to be a career writer, you’ll come back to it—or rather, it’ll come back to you. One day, a story will pop into your head, a story that needs to be told. I just got an e-mail from a long-time published writer who said that very thing. For the longest time, he thought he was done writing, and now he’s turning his attention to a new novel.

The burnout I recognize. It happened a lot in traditional publishing, but for different reasons. Usually writers were driven so crazy by publisher-agent-editor demands that the writers had to leave to maintain sanity. Or the writers went on book tours and wrote books at the same time with no breaks at all. Or the writers wrote to order, forgetting to tell stories they wanted to tell.

The writing to order happens in indie as well, but writers impose that on themselves. (Sad, I think, to see writers forcing themselves into old molds based on some mythological “you-should” way of doing things.)

I never expected, though, writers to burn out because they were learning and trying so many things. It makes sense. That outer-directed thing, for creative types, is utterly exhausting. Necessary, especially when you’re learning and building, but tiring just the same.

So I think I’m ending up with a prediction after all. 2016 will be the Year of the Writer.

Not because writers will suddenly become the darlings of the culture. (Wouldn’t that be weird?) But because the writers who have survived all the changes and have worked hard to publish in whatever way is best for them are now returning their attention to the very thing that got them started in the first place:

Telling stories.

What a great thing. Because…speaking as a reader now…that means we’ll have all kinds of marvelous, new, exciting books by 2017. Things writers have longed to write and either hadn’t had the time to write, the energy to write, or the courage to write.

It does take courage to write what you want. To follow your own creativity and see where it will lead you. To walk down a path that doesn’t exist yet.

So maybe I should modify my conclusion and call 2016 the Year of the Courageous Writer. Because we’ll be seeing a lot of courage in print this year.

And we’ll all benefit from it.

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“Business Musings: The Upcoming Year,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.




16 Comments

  1. January 4, 2016    

    I read this with a big smile on my face. I’ve just published my latest blog post before coming here, stating that my main goal for next year is to do more writing!
    I’m a hybrid author, but all my trad published work is non-fiction, so aside from keeping up with those deadlines, I plan to focus on my indie published fiction. I feel I’ve spent so much time the last two years on platform building and marketing that my creativity has suffered. I’ve now accepted that I will never write and publish fiction at the speed being touted as ‘essential’ by so many ‘experts’ in self-publishing, and I’m comfortable with that decision. I want to write at my own speed, and produce quality books, not quantity.
    I’m pleased to hear I’m not the only one.

  2. January 2, 2016    

    Yep.

    This is exactly what I need to do and what I plan to do. Here I thought I was the only one.

  3. January 2, 2016    

    Having written mostly historical novels and western short stories for much of my life, I released 12 POD paperbacks between 2011 and 2013. Weary of the marketing merry-go-round, last year I returned to a long-abandoned pursuit of graphic art with only a few detours back toward fiction. I’m glad to see I wasn’t alone in making this decision.

  4. January 1, 2016    

    This year, I paid something like €500 in promo aimed only at ebooks, mainly Facebook ads, and earned something like €1000 in ebook sales.

    I stressed a lot about my ebook figures, but by the end of the year, I had taught myself to put some distance with my ebook sales. As I cannot control them, these are just icing on the cake.

    Of course, I still make my modest living with writing, but as always, mainly with paperback books.

    I think I put too much pressure over the ebook sales, because I’ve focused only on the writing of English books for two years now. For me the English language market is mainly ebooks (although I also make my books available on Createspace).

    So I also taught myself that the english market wasn’t a matter of life and death for me. It is mostly about satisfying the people who follow me on Goodreads, and a matter of prestige in my home country.

    The money I burnt in this adventure? It was necessary. I needed to explore that market by myself. It was part of my dream, and I needed to bring face to face this dream with reality. It is one of the blessings of self-publishing, to be able to fulfill one’s dream, to put it in the harsh light of reality. Whatever the market is.

    And by the end of 2016, I will be proud of the three english Fantasy books of my catalog.

  5. January 1, 2016    

    Feeling the same way. Self-published my first three books just before Christmas, then I collapsed. I was in a fog over Christmas, but this week I’ve been having fun with family, visiting and meeting with friends. I NEEDED that. Decided to extend my vacation until Monday. My well really needed refilling. I have a lot of projects planned for 2016, and I can’t go into it all burned out.

  6. lindajordan lindajordan
    January 1, 2016    

    Oh, I so agree. I nearly burnt out this year, but for other reasons. I set a high, but doable, word count goal for myself and then I slept in all summer long. By Oct. I still had a third of my words left to go.

    I made half of that in November, but Christmas hit and I was fried from trying to do all the writing and the holidays too. My brain rebelled and took the next week off.

    I still could have squeezed in those words after Christmas, but I had an epiphany. I wasn’t having any fun. It was sheer torture.

    So I backed off and said, ‘Okay, that’s it for this year.’ And I’ve spent the time watching movies, drawing and basically playing. And finding flat surfaces in the house again.

    So, my strategy worked and I feel rested and ready to write again. Tomorrow!

    Lesson learned. No more torture!

  7. December 31, 2015    

    I’m right there with you. I’ve been so focused on numbers over the past couple of years, with somewhat disappointing results, that I’d forgotten about the joy of writing. I’ve also declared 2016 the Year of Writing and, more importantly, the year of enjoying what I’m doing. I intend to take more of the pressure off myself and focus on the fun of being able to do what I always dreamed of doing.

  8. December 31, 2015    

    As a very small cog in a very big wheel, I wasn’t aware of this emerging pattern until you pointed it out, but yes, this is the change we’ve all been feeling, and it feels good. Thank you, and I hope you have a safe and productive 2016.

  9. December 31, 2015    

    I’m assuming that you’re going to see a lot of “me too!” here in the comments.

    But yes, me too.

    There’s a lot of things on the publishing side that I’m still working on, including changing over the entire web site, teaching workshops, taking on more writers, etc.

    At the same time, though, I’m refocusing on the writing. On playing. On doing what I love.

    I went away for the holidays, back to MN to visit my family. I had the opportunity to spend time thinking, and day dreaming, and doing those things that my creative side needs in order to write.

    I need more time staring out the window. Which isn’t writing, but it’s essential to the writing, if that makes any sense.

    So while I have an ambitious word count goal for the year (at least for me, given all the other tasks in my life) the unspoken goal, the other half of the coin, is to spend more time doing those things that feed the writing. Long walks. Day dreaming. Regular visits to museums. Spending an afternoon taking photographs. Quilting/sewing/knitting. Etc.

    I hope the new year turns out to be wonderful and full of words for you!

  10. December 31, 2015    

    Nicely put! And, yes, the outer-directedness can be very exhausting. It gets better, though, because the learning curve is less steep for me. I still have a long way to go, but the very basics of putting a book out are familiar by now. Writing it, formatting it, having someone go over it for typos (that’s a bottle-neck for me still, by the way,) covers (getting better, very slowly), and launching the little suckers so they’re off my desk and out of my hair. That’s the fun part! Plus setting up web sites and maintaining them (ugh… not my favorite task, but it’s getting done.) And getting a better grasp on pricing and promotions, or lack of promotions. So even though I have a lot to learn, I can at least do all these basic things now, and it feels good. It takes less time and is less stressful than it was one year ago, and that alone makes it more fun to focus on telling stories and making new words. Happy New Year to you all, and happy writing!

  11. December 31, 2015    

    This is exactly where I’m at!

    I wanted to try a Liliana Nirvana style release (5 titles all released on the same day), and I did it. I released 5 new titles on November 12.

    I’m glad I tried it. It was something new, and I’m pleased I pulled it off. But I didn’t realize ahead of time that it would have two unpleasant consequences. 1) As the finished books piled up and waited while I finished the last (really long; longer than expected) novel, I began to feel increasingly pressured. The pressure was enough that it detracted some from my enjoyment in writing that last title. Which is a shame, because it’s a “book of the heart” and I could have been enjoying it without alloy. 2) Releasing 5 books at once meant it concentrated all the publishing tasks. I had 5 covers to design, 5 blurbs to write, 5 PODs to create, etc. That took me away from writing for far longer than prepping one book release does.

    The result is that I’m feeling more drained than I’ve ever felt before.

    And I’ve decided that in 2016 I am going to simply enjoy my writing and immerse myself in it. Sure, I’ll still do all the necessary publishing chores. But writing is not only going to be my top focus, it’s going to lead the pack by more than a nose. More like three horse lengths. Writing will be #1, and enjoying writing will be #2, and going to the gym and spending time with my family will be #3. Publishing tasks will be #7 or #8. 😀

    I am so looking forward to immersing myself in my stories and the fictional worlds in which they transpire.

  12. December 31, 2015    

    Getting lost in an imaginary world—that’s the fun part! As I struggle to get a print copy of my book out, I feel frustrated by the whole process and just want to get back to the writing. Glad to know I’m not alone in this. Your posts always leave me feeling energized and motivated. Thanks!

  13. December 31, 2015    

    Thank you for the reminders, and for the boost and encouragement. I never feel like I’m doing enough writing/promotion/all else, but mostly realize the impossibility of that task, since my goals are many and ridiculously high. I still follow the advice of you and Dean, to just write, publish, and keep telling good stories, and worry less about the biz and the numbers. We need to keep hearing this, so thanks again. Best wishes for successful writing in the coming year!

  14. Marsha Marsha
    December 31, 2015    

    Hi Kris,

    I came so close to being sucked down the whirlpool of being overwhelmed. I have 6 novels I’m getting ready to publish (first time publishing) and I have been taking your online workshops as fast as I can to not only improve my writing, but learn how to put out a professional looking book.

    In early December I realized I wasn’t having fun anymore and my stress levels were through the roof. Fortunately Dean reminded me to have fun. And I saw that I had put all sorts of self-imposed deadlines upon myself, that I wasn’t allowing myself time to learn and absorb, and worst of all, I wasn’t allowing myself time to create.

    Once I saw how I was shooting myself in the foot I reprioritized. Writing first. Covers, formatting interiors, publishing, and ongoing classes follow in whatever time I have to spare from family. Balance is restored. Husband and animals no longer feel neglected and things are getting done. More slowly, yes. But more sanely.

    Best of all, I’m having fun again. Those books will get out there. Maybe not this month, maybe not even next month, BUT they will get out there eventually. And I am once again writing the stories in me that need to be told.

  15. December 31, 2015    

    I look forward to getting back into it after time off. I have the to do list and the goal is to work through it without stressing over it. I have stuff that has been written and needs to get out there. That will be the main focus. I have to become a better publisher. It’s going to be all about finding what works for me in writing times and publishing times. In other words balance. But I’m not going to stress about it!
    I wish you and Dean all the best in the new year and wish all commenters here the best in writing for the new year!

  16. December 30, 2015    

    Thanks Kris for this lovely blog post. Like you and others I intend to solely focus on my writing in 2016. I want to experiment. I want to try different genres. I need to tell stories. I don’t care whether there is a market for my stories or to whom will it appeal in the world. I just want to write to entertain myself. I read your pieces on promotion and totally agree with it. Indie publishing is truly an international profession and I have already sold books in 36 countries. The best part was that I didn’t spend any money on advertising. I hope you have a great year ahead. 🙂

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