The Business Rusch: Career Writers

Business Rusch free nonfiction On Writing

 Business Rusch logo webThose of us who blog regularly about the changes in the publishing industry do not do so from the place of disinterested observers. Even though a few of us are former journalists, we’re not writing like the journalists we once were. Yes, we’re imparting information, but we’re imparting information with a bias.

For those of us who were formerly in the midlist, our bias is generally Oh my God! This is sooooo much better than traditional publishing.

But we’re coming out of being treated like the mud on the shoe of traditional publishing—if, indeed, we made it that far.

I’m in an unusual position. I have started two publishing companies, have been involved in several more, have worked as an editor for magazines, anthologies, books, and textbooks, had bestsellers because I was a tie-in writer, had bestsellers because all the stars aligned on my original novels, had publishers dump me, have trained copy editors, written cover copy, run newsrooms, sold lots and lots of nonfiction, worked on daily newscasts, been head-hunted by broadcast news organizations and traditional publishing houses, and…and…and…

Sometimes I write from the position of someone who’s seen most everything; sometimes I write from the position of an editor or a publisher; sometimes I write from the position of a mistreated writer; and sometimes I write from the position of a successful writer.

But the one position I never write from is the one-book writer. It’s a position I honestly don’t understand. And that gets me in trouble with some of you who read this blog. Some of you think I don’t do enough to support my “book”; some of  you believe I don’t understand what it’s like to be a beginner (what, was I born fully formed from the forehead of Zeus?); some of you think I could never understand how hard writing is.

I understand all of that. What I don’t understand is why some of you believe that your book (singular) is a sacred and holy text. Why you believe that once you’ve published your one book, you’re done.

I’ve never understood that position. Or the idea of writing as something other than a career.

At my very first World Science Fiction convention in 1989, I got invited to do a book signing. I foolishly said yes. Whoever organized the signings that year did so alphabetically by guest last name, so I ended up signing books between Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson.

My first novel had yet to come out. I’d published a few short stories, and I’d edited a few issues of Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine. I showed up for my signing—pen in hand—to see lines snaking around the door, into the hallway, and down to the lobby. I walked past those lines, sat down, and proceeded to watch Jack and Fred sign book after book after book older than I was, along with their latest releases.

I signed nothing, although some guy took my picture. I used to joke about that, mostly to hide how embarrassed I was to even be at a book signing when I had published so little.

Jack Williamson had sold his first short story in 1928 to Amazing Stories. Frederik Pohl had sold his first piece nine years later under a pen name. By the end of the 1930s, he was editing two pulp magazines and often writing some of the content himself.

By the time I sat next to them, they each published hundreds of things, many of those things books (be they collections or novels or novellas or anthologies). They’d survived several downturns in the industry, including one that was content-driven. (In other words, what once sold was considered “horrible” and only “good” “new” fiction in a completely different style was “acceptable.”)

They grew as writers, learning new technologies and adapting their work to new mediums. And they continued (or in the case of Fred, continue) to learn.

In the last few years of his life when he could no longer travel, Jack Williamson invited his friends to his hometown in New Mexico for a symposium (which still continues) called The Williamson Lectureship. When Dean and I went in 2001, I was pleased to note that the most informed person in the room about the current trends in science and science fiction was 93-year-old Jack. On that trip, he showed us his office, where he was working his latest project. I don’t know what that project was because Jack continued to write up until the last few months before his death at age 98.

Ninety-three-year-old Fred is still with us, still learning, and still writing. He’s blogging, almost weekly, as well as writing other things. A month ago, he blogged about the way to start a new magazine, and ended with this line: “I know I shouldn’t give it a thought, but if an [editing] offer got real, how could I say no?”

So many young writers are afraid of blogging, afraid of learning new tools, afraid of leaving the traditional world, and here’s Fred, who has seen countless changes in the industry, writing blogs about his life, the industry, and his thoughts—using a form that did not exist when he started writing. Or when I met him, for that matter.

I went to Wikipedia to find a list of what these men wrote, and realized as I glanced at it how those lists were. I had the same reaction when I looked at the obituaries of Elmore Leonard this week. They all said he wrote 45 novels (a figure that comes from his website), but they don’t count his short stories, the reviews and essays he wrote, and the countless other things he had probably lost track of.

The initial obituary in The Los Angeles Times focused on his Hollywood work, and left out much of it. An obit that I saw on one of the major newscasts made it sound like Leonard only had three of his works produced, Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, and the short story that inspired the series Justified.

In fact, Leonard’s obituaries became a kind of Rorschach test for me: Had the person who wrote the obituary read Leonard’s books? Seen his movies? Seen Justified? Read his rules on writing?

Elmore Leonard had been a career writer, a working writer, who didn’t become famous until he turned sixty. He had another 27 years of writing after that, and died with his boots on, as he was deep into his 46th novel.

We lost other career writers this year. Most of you have never heard of Barbara Mertz, but she had two bestselling pen names: Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels. I am a big Barbara Michaels fan—have been since I read Greygallows in 1972. I’m not as big a fan of Elizabeth Peters. But I must admit that one of my favorite Mertz books is long out of print, one the incomparable Laura Resnick mentioned to me. Called Two Thousand Years in Rome, the book (which Mertz published with her ex-husband Richard Mertz) is a travel guide to Rome that still holds up—mostly because the book looks at the historical Rome, not the modern one.

Mertz would have turned 86 in October. She wrote on her website (which I couldn’t access tonight, so I had to trust The Los Angeles Times for this):

I have never been able to understand how people can complain about being lonely or bored; there are so many interesting things to do, so many fascinating people to know. I love my work, and I hope to go on doing it till I drop at the age of 99.

If only. Because, had she kept writing for another 13 years, we would have more wonderful books.

Career writers are different from most writers. We’re more resilient, for one thing. This career has incredible ups and downs, heartbreaking sadness and some truly nasty crap.

Michael Connolly intimated at the ups and downs in his tribute to Elmore Leonard in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times:

He had worked so hard and for so long in obscurity before getting his due, before ending up on the cover of Time magazine and in American Express ads. There was nothing that could rock him, no moment for which he didn’t have a line.

It was like he was one of those jazz masters who had come out of a long stay in San Quentin. You knew there were dark times back there but he had to go through them to play the music he made now. I never could bring myself to ask about those times. By the time I knew him he was an elder statesman of sorts….

Writers often don’t talk about the hard times. I’m unusual in that I do—and I’ve noticed that because I do, I get called all kinds of things on the web: bitter, angry, a failure. I’m told that I hate traditional publishing, even though I’m still traditionally published, and I’ve started two traditional publishing companies (one is still in existence) and worked at countless more.

I’m not sure where the name-calling comes from. I do know that it usually comes from other writers, although this summer, Danielle Steel had issues with people (men, she says, but this might be generational) who belittle her writing career. They ask her if she’s still writing, and here’s how she responded on her blog:

Yes, I am STILL writing. What this does is that it immediately puts my writing into the category as a hobby. As in, are you still taking piano lessons, doing macramé, have a parrot? I don’t have a huge ego about my work, but let’s face it, for me it is a job. A job I love, and I have been doing it since I was 19 years old. I have been in the Guinness book of world records repeatedly for having a book on the bestseller list for more weeks consecutively than whoever. Yes, for Heaven’s sake, I am still writing. It’s my work, my job, how my family eats and went to college. People said that comment to me when I was 35. Now when they say it, I get even more insulted…

Yeah. Been there. Apparently, very few people—writers and non-writers—understand that many of us view writing as our job, our career, the thing we do every single day.

I ran into this as recently as this past weekend. And my problem usually comes from other writers, often other published writers. On Saturday, I participated in a mass book signing at Bob’s Beach Books on the Oregon Coast, an event I participate in every year. Some of my books were on the table in front of me, but honestly, not even a tenth of what I’ve done was represented there, and certainly not most of what’s in print.

I found myself apologizing to three different writers (published writers!) for the fact that I have published more than they have, that my output is significantly higher. I was tired because the signing was in the middle of my night (I usually get up at noon; signing began at 10:30), and when I’m tired, I actually get polite. (I learned long ago that I’m caustic, so my default is either funny or polite.)

So there I was, apologizing for the fact that my writing has been my job for my entire life, that—like Danielle Steel—I’ve had work in print since I was a teenager, and that I write a lot.

I shouldn’t have to apologize for being prolific, especially to other people who consider themselves professional writers. But I do apologize in those situations, which is why, more and more, I don’t talk to other writers about writing. In fact, I avoid those discussions as much as I can. I’m “intimidating,” you see. I “should know how uncomfortable it makes other writers” when they see what I’ve done.

Which, honestly, I do not understand.

When I sat at that book signing with Fred and Jack, a 29-year-old writer between a 70-year-old writer (who started at age 19) and an 81-year-old writer (who started at 20), I looked in awe at their lines, at those books that predated me (sometimes by decades), at their latest books in the hands of fans, and I admired it.

That’s what a writer is, I thought. And that’s what kind of writer I wanted to become. It was a defining moment for me, a moment that enabled me to see so many possibilities.

Like Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake and Robert B. Parker and oh so many others, I want to die with my boots on, facedown on my keyboard if possible, in the middle of a sentence.

Which brings me back to this blog. I write from the perspective of a career writer, someone who started as a teenager and plan to finish when my heart stops pumping. I write about survival—long-term survival—in a business that discourages longevity. That’s my point, that’s always my point, in all of these blogs.

I know some people only have one book in them. I know that others quit after four or five books because they get discouraged. I think some of that discouragement might be abated in the future with the rise of indie publishing, but I doubt that all of it will. Already I’m seeing blogs by traditionally published writers who are convinced that indie publishing is too hard. I keep hearing, “All I want to do is write!” and I think it unrealistic in the extreme.

Of course all they want to do is write; that’s all every writer wants to do. And indie or traditional or a hybrid, we must do other things, like look over edits, maybe approve covers (or design them), maintain blogs, and a whole host of other non-writerly duties. It doesn’t matter what side of the fence you’re on or if you’re straddling that fence. No published writer gets to “just write.” Not a one of us.

Much of the advice out there, though, on both sides, is geared toward the one- or two-book writers, the folks who have the time to monitor their Amazon reviews (and, as one rather dumb new writer advocated, revise the book accordingly).

There are a handful of us—from JA Konrath to my husband Dean Wesley Smith to Bob Mayer—who blog for the career writer, the ones who know that we have many books inside us, and who want readers for all of those books.

We approach this new world with awe, and with the spirit of experimentation, because we have no idea what will work five years from now, but we’re eager to see it. All of us are making more money indie than we ever did traditionally, and we’re rather stunned at it.

But more than that, we’re getting to our readers for the first time.

Our readers don’t ask if “we’re still writing” any more, like those poor idiots asked Danielle Steel. Our readers used to ask that question because they couldn’t find our books. Now the readers can find our books, and what we’re getting is “When is the next one coming out?”

The fact that we now have an answer is new for us—most of us suffered series interruptus because of problems with our traditional publishers. We’re excited about all we can write. (And sometimes overwhelmed by it.) We can experiment in craft, we can experiment in types of stories, and we can write as fast as we want.

Readers aren’t intimidated by prolific writers. Readers like prolific writers. Readers can always read faster than we can write; we’ll never be able to keep up with the demand for stories.

And that’s a good thing (even when it’s hard to remember as someone asks for a novel two books away from being written).

I’ll be honest: this blog came from a reassessment I’ve been doing all week. I looked at my schedule and realized I’m having a slow novel year. So far, I’ve only finished three books (and one of them was rather short). I have written a number of short stories, and I’m on pace for a good short story year. But if I want to finish all the books promised in 2013, then I need to get cracking.

So I was trying to figure out what I could cut, and I looked hard at this blog. I no longer consider myself a nonfiction writer, even though I produce about 160,000 words of nonfiction every year. (That’s two novels, folks.)

But the blog does serve me, right now. I’m still exploring this new world, and I like doing it with the help of the blog’s readers—so long as you understand that this blog is about writing careers, not about writing a single book. I also am not looking at one way of doing things. Because there isn’t one.

I’m still deeply rooted in traditional publishing, even though I do some indie publishing. I understand most sides in this industry, even though I rarely express those other sides on Thursdays. If I wanted to, I could write a blog about the ways that agents could change their business model and survive. Or a blog about how an editor could thrive in the modern market. Or a blog about the best paths for beginning writers.

Even though I understand those things, they don’t interest me much. And this blog is for me as much as it is for you all. I’m still learning about this new world, still figuring out my path

And as long as I am doing that, this blog will survive. I haven’t missed a week in 54 months. That means I’ve written about 700,000 words. And that number scares me, considering how much of those 700,000 words are only one-time words.

To put it another way, most of what I write here won’t last six months, let alone four more years. That makes most of these blogs what my friend Bill used to call ephemera, works that are unimportant and don’t last, works that I’m certain didn’t even show up on any publishing list after my death.

But I see all of these words as part of a process. I think better while researching and working at the keyboard. I feel an obligation to investigate the changes in publishing every week because I have a Thursday deadline. So I do.

I’ll leave you with the words of George Carlin, spoken in a 1997 interview with Jon Stewart. This morning, writer and actor Terry Hayman sent this to a list serve that I’m on (perfect timing, Terry!), and Carlin’s philosophy on being a career artist sums up how I feel about being a long-term writer.

Carlin said, “The artist has an obligation to be en route, to be going somewhere. There’s a journey involved here, and you don’t know where it is, and that’s the fun. So you’re always going to be seeking and looking and going and trying to challenge yourself.”

This new world of publishing is challenging, but that’s not enough. The act of writing is challenging. Being an artist in the 21st century is challenging.

And oh so very much fun.

Even though I write part of this blog for me, I also need the blog to fund itself. That’s why I have a donate button. If I’m going to sacrifice two novels a year to this blog, I need to recoup the amount I would earn (at least as an advance) from the blog itself. So, if you’ve learned something from this week’s blog or previous ones, or if you like what I’m doing here, please leave a tip on the way out. Thanks.

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“The Business Rusch: “Career Writers” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

82 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: Career Writers

  1. I remember when Doris Lessing received the Nobel Prize for her work and while she was floored by the news she seemed more focused and interested in talking about the novel she was working on at that moment. She was in her 80s then and I was sitting there thinking: ‘I want to be like that.’ I want to be in my 80s and still writing.

    It took me a while to get into the more career-focused mind-set, partially because of depressions and partially because I’m still haunted by the specter of my dad who was always extremely dismissive when it came to my writing and once called it a *waste of time*. But I’m working on it, slowly, often only taking baby-steps (though I write over 2.000 words yesterday and only stopped because I was falling asleep over the keyboard).

    Your and Dean’s blogs are always very motivational and sometimes the kick in the ass that I need to sit down and write. But not only the kick in the ass, but also the motivation and affirmation that writing isn’t a waste of time. The fact that I have less issues with my depression when I’m writing regularly should have already told me that.

    So, thank you for writing this blog. I often go and re-read some of your older articles as a motivation, inspiration, or confirmation that I’m on the right path. THANK YOU!

  2. Julianna Baggott made an interesting observation in a recent Poets & Writers interview: Once she realized that male writers were never criticized for being prolific, she stopped apologizing for it.

    1. That’s not true, though. Stephen King got a lot of crap for being prolific, so much that his publisher slowed him down deliberately. Another very, very, very big name from the 1980s (male) writes under so many pen names that you’d be surprised, all because his publisher tried to slow him down. (And because he started with a lot of pen names.) Many, many male authors get the same criticism.

      In fact, it could be argued that women are the ones slowly changing the perception of this. Romance readers (who are mostly readers) learned to read several books monthly through the subscription services, and took those habits in the late 1980s to the regular bookshelves. So, Nora Roberts continued to write 6 books per year, and so does Suzanne Brockman, and others who started in the categories.

      It’s not a gender bias at all.

      1. That’s one of the things I love about Koontz’s writing book. He’s quite open about the fact he has a bunch of pen names, and no, he won’t tell you what all of them are. I read his book long before I found your blog, and it was encouraging to hear about how many books he wrote a year, even if New York kept flipping out about it.

  3. I have, and I’m really not kidding, anxiety attacks when I remember I wasn’t published by the time I was 16. There was a bonfire and drama and… it’s not important, except that it was scarring at the time and impacted my creative life for a long time after that. I’m a youngun compared to a lot of the people who’ve admitted their ages here but I’m really feeling the urge to write faster and make up for lost time.

    I’d been publishing my short stories, slowly, as I built up the courage to actual show them to people again, when my parents asked if I was still writing and if I had thought about doing anything with the kindle. Since they were the ones who started the fire, I was a little reluctant to say anything but did eventually that I had a few stories up on Amazon under a pen name. They asked me again recently if I was ever going to get a real job.

    I really appreciate the information from the career perspective. It was always my intention to pursue this as a career but all of the advice I came across was for the new writer or the one book writer and that became very, very frustrating after a while. The best advice I ever got before I found your blog was at the bar during writers conferences when people were willing to talk about the realities of being a writer instead of the standard advice for the newbies.

  4. Hey, Kris.

    First of all, I wanted to say thankyou for the blog and the information you give out. Incidentally, the first blog post I ever saw on your blog was about perfection, which you are so right about. No matter how much polishing a work receives, it’ll never be perfect. All we can hope to do is make our work as good as we can make it.

    Moving on, I’m not exactly a new writer and I have edited a few works. I am a new writer in the sense that I published my first short story about five months ago on Amazon. But prior to that, I’d been honing my craft for years until the feedback I’d received on one story told me I was ready. I’ve never sent anything to a publisher either. Anyway, I’m sort of in the camp that my stories need to sell or it’s a failiure. But that’s only because my financial situation is pretty bad. Else it wouldn’t matter, and it is so very hard to get noticed.

    The reason I’m posting this though is because I don’t get why people would have a problem with you or others being prolific. The only time I’d ever dream of having a problem with someone being prolific is if it seems like a project has been rushed out the door. Basically, it’s the end result that matters, not the time taken to write something.

    Some people really pick the oddest things to complain about. It could just be a case of jealousy though and people realising they need to write a lot if they want to make any money, which I do struggle with due to being a perfectionist, though the amount of words I write per day isn’t what it should be honestly.

    1. Thanks, David. I appreciate the comments.

      I think we all have trouble with perfection because we care so much about what we do. It all goes back to that quote, which I first saw from Ted Kennedy, but it might’ve come from someone else (Winston Churchill?): “Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.” I try to keep that in mind.

      Good luck with the writing–and thanks again.

  5. Self publishing has opened a whole new career for me. Although I’m making only enough with my two novels (so far) to cover my whiskey and Starbucks bills while I write more, I don’t care about income today. I love my day job and make a very good living at it, and I’ll keep at it until I retire.

    But when I retire, I’ll already be several books into my “second career.” And that’s something I don’t think traditional publishing could have offered. The short term pressures and long term rights issues of traditional publishing get in the way. If I can do one book a year as my moonlighting (also not a hobby), then when I’m in my sixties I’ll have quite a list, and, hopefully, a growing readership.

  6. the thing with traditional publishing, for new writers it’s difficult to get in the door. as such, for one who wants to make a living exploring writing as a passion, you have to know about the changes going on both in traditional and online publishing.
    I thank you for your blog and the information you’re providing.

  7. Hear, hear. I look to you to set the standard, as you are one of the only writers I “know” writing more books than me per year. The crazy thing is, I keep thinking I should slow down (becuase something about my prolificity must be unseemly, and you get those double edged compliments “my how many novels you’ve written this year!”)but then I get my weekly Kris Rusch shot in the arm… I am also improving as a writer, and that feels VERY good and confirms to me that more is not less, it’s MORE and BETTER. And surrounding myself with happy readers is the way to go–one wrote in a review that she wished I put out a book a week!
    Maybe someday, I will. Thanks for writing 100 books, Kris. That’s a goal I can aspire to.
    Toby Neal

    1. Thanks, Toby. Isn’t it great when a reader tells you that? I used to work in a used bookstore, and a number of readers came in with paperbags of books, trade them in, take out another paperbag of books (and pay a few dollars), bring the books back the next day, read and ready for more. I always wanted to be like them, but never read fast enough. I know some folks do. And they do want their favorites–now! (Me, too, honestly.) Congrats on that.

      And thank you for the kind words.

      1. You’re welcome. Your blog has been the most inspiring one I follow (along with Seth Godin) for hitting the nail on the head each week with something I need to hear in my new life as an entrepreneur/career writer! Look me up if you ever come to Maui with Dean.
        Much aloha and respect

  8. I sold my first book when I was 25, and it has been my full-time, self-supporting living since then. 25 years later, I still constantly get that “Are you still writing?” question.

    I think sometimes it’s simply that many people don’t recognize writing a real profession. Even if they somehow vaguely see that it’s how you make your living, they still think of it as something you can only cling to as an income-producing profession for a couple of years before moving on to something else.

    (There’s also a misconception about why we work. My childhood friends’ parents, for example, all always ask me if my dad is still writing–because they’ve all been retired for years and can’t quite get their head around the fact that my dad, a career writer, will never retire. They don’t disrespect that choice, but it’s one that’s foreign to them.)

    I think in other cases, people are being polite. They recognize that writing is like acting or music–a hard profession to earn a living in year after year after year–with many people dropping out all the time. So, “Are you still writing?” (potential answer: “No, now I’m doing such-and-such,”) perhaps seems a less socially awkward question than, “How’s your career going?” or “What’s your latest book?”, either of which might produce the answer, “What career? I couldn’t sell another book,” etc.

    And sometimes it’s just envy. Sometimes this question comes from people who “wanted” to be career writers but didn’t/won’t do the work or don’t have the persistance or drive. “Are you still writing?” is a way for them to dismiss the fact that you’re a career writer because you ARE completing book after book after book and persisting at the business.

    In 25 years as a full-time professiona writer, I’ve written around 30 books, around 60 short stories, and well over 100 articles. And having just turned 51, I’m trying to figure out how to increase my pace, because I’d like to write double that amount in the next 25 years, which may be all the time I have left (one never knows) before my number comes up. I find I’ve just reached an age where I’m worried about how to squeeze in everything I want to write (dozens of books) before I die… I’ve got time, but I need to start planning better to make sure I get it all done! Even knowing that, since there will always be new book ideas, I never WILl get it all done…

    1. I find it fascinating, Laura, that those of us who have hit the big 5-0 are now looking for ways to get faster. I’m feeling the same way.

      I think your analysis of the “are you still writing” comment might be spot on. I was thinking of that yesterday. When we were younger (ahem) and Danielle Steel was just starting out, those comments to women were belittling. But a few days ago, I heard a thirty-something guy ask another guy, “So, still lawyering?” I think the fact that professions (non-writing) are no longer for life lead to those questions.

      But they still niggle, especially when you’re as visible as Danielle Steel. 🙂 I can’t imagine what she put up with, particularly on the romance side.

      I get the envy. I just don’t get why people need to tell me I should stop throwing my success in their face because it makes them feel bad. They should stop looking, in that case. 🙂

      1. Feeling bad about your (or my, or someone else’s success) is their baggage, not yours (or mine, or etc.).

        I know this, because I spend so much of my life around people more successful than I. One of my closest friends is an NYT bestseller and award winner who’s always on “Year’s Best” lists and earns ten times what I do. A number of my friends are earning six figures a year self-publishing their backlists (my self-pub backlist is not generating anywhere near that sum). I’m friendly acquaintances with various people who’ve made the NYT hc list multiples times, earns millions a year, and/or have lucrative TV and/or film deals. I personally writers who’ve publisher 2 times or 3 times or 6 times as many books as I have (30).

        Their success is not about -me-, it’s about them. Sure, I try to learn from them, because most of them are very SMART about this profession. But what they achieve and what happens to them is not about me.

        And if I tried to make it about -me-, I would accomplish one sole thing–I’d spoil a lot of friendships and lose a lot of friends though my own squirrelly self-absorption.

        1. (I also probably wouldn’t have enough energy or focus leftover to keep writing and selling books if I were that focused on OTHER people’s success instead of focused on pursuing my own success.)

  9. I am so pleased I discovered this blog (and Dean’s) a few weeks ago. I set off this year with a small amount of savings and the desire to walk across Europe (currently a third of the way across England!) and try to transition into a career novelist. I didn’t really have a name for it, I wasn’t very sure of how it worked (except that it obviously had to be at least one book a year), and I wasn’t sure if I could really write that fast. One book a year! (Book one took a lot longer than that . . . but I redrafted it numerous times.) Then I started reading the Freelancer’s Guide, and Dean’s Sacred Cows of Publishing, and I’ve become seriously inspired by your productivity. And, well,managed to write 2/3 of my new novel in the past three weeks — the goal is to have the draft done by the end of August. I don’t think I would have done that — would have even *tried* to do that — without your and Dean’s blogs, and your example held before me.

    I do understand the need to apologise, though I also think you shouldn’t have to. I always seem to end up apologising for reading quickly — or for knowing a lot about something I’ve spent a lot of time researching. I think dedication and hard work intimidate people, especially if you’re good at what Castiglione calls ‘sprezzatura’ in the Book of the Courtier — the affectation of nonchalance, as if it wasn’t hard. (But that way lies annoying people…)

    Anyway, thank you so much for what you’ve written on this blog. I’m not sure I’m even on the bottom rung of the writing career ladder yet, but I am determined I will get on it one day, soon I hope, and your blog will be part of the reason why.

    1. Victoria, you’re doing something I often wished I could do. Enjoy your walk. Have you thought about blogging about it? I’ll bet you’d get lots and lots of readers over time.

      And thank you for the kind comments. Glad you found us!

      1. I am blogging about it, despite the name of my blog!

        It really amazes me how many people have this hidden desire to go on a long-distance walk.

        Though along with all the ones who tell me about how they want to go do the Camino de Santiago or walk along the Danube or something, I also get the ones who tell me I’d get there much faster if I biked or took the train. All I can do is say, yes, that’s true. 🙂

        But really it’s about trying to follow dreams, one goal at a time. The shining city on the distant hill you mentioned in your Guide made me think of Lord Dunsany’s story ‘Carcassonne’ … the main character never got there. But he was always going.

  10. I’d love to have your colums as e-books – and would be more than happy to pay for them. Any plans to that end? (I’ve also bought Scalzi’s advice on writing as an ebook, though it was all compiled from blog posts.)

    1. If you have a kindle, Aleksandr, there’s the “send to kindle” button just below the “donate” button. You’ll need your device to be wifi or 3G connected.

      It would be great if blogs had the “send to my epub device” button. That shows us Amazon is still way ahead from the others.

  11. “I keep hearing, “All I want to do is write!” and I think it unrealistic in the extreme.”

    And pretty much all I want to do is read, but that pesky real life keeps intruding. It’s what happens, you guys. Personally, I find that all the other responsibilities make me a better, more focused and – yes, I’ll say it – more ruthless reader. It can’t be that different for writers. That kind of sentiment sounds…self indulgent, to be honest. And it wouldn’t be tolerated outside The Arts.

    1. Thanks, Liz. I think “self indulgent” is very polite. And I agree. (And yeah, in Alternate Me Land, all I want to do is read as well.) I love this sentence of yours: And it wouldn’t be tolerated outside The Arts. It also wouldn’t be accepted as reasonable outside of the Arts. (Not that I think it is)

  12. As usual, you’ve written an inspiring blog post. Others have said it too, but I remember telling my husband, 30 years ago, that I hoped to die at my computer, face down on the keyboard. Since then I’ve written 27 books, 15 published. Thanks to the new way, I hope to get the remaining ones out into the world too. Thanks a million.

  13. If it was up to Evil Alternate Timeline me, I’d chain you to the keyboard and yell “WRITE MORE RETRIEVAL ARTIST NOW NOW TYPE FASTER” but that would make everyone unhappy, plus I don’t have henchmen and an island lair. So I read other things. No matter how prolific someone is, they can’t write as fast as people can read.

    If you just want to publish the one book, that’s cool too. But then why do you care what other people do with their writing, be they trad pub, indie, fast or slow? Write. Have written. Enjoy.

    There’s always someone quicker or better than you at everything. We can’t all be Kris Rusch or Michael Jordan or Warren Buffett.

    Pohl and Williamson and Leonard are truly inspiring. I love that Fred Pohl won a Best Fan Writer Hugo a few years ago for his blog. He’s an old dog but knows the new tricks.

    I get splenetic when I hear “No, mom and dad say they’re too old to do stuff online” and when I inquire how old the parents are, they’re near my age. So I tell my young correspondents how old I am. If Pohl can start a blog in his late eighties, if Williamson could write till he’s nearly 100, if my mom could learn word processing in her mid-70s, your fifty-something mother can learn freakin’ Facebook.

    I hope Danielle Steel dropped her collected works on those people’s heads. She probably got grief not only for generational reasons, but also she wrote romance, which as we all know is just a cute little girly hobby.

    Kris, this blog IS journalism. There’s nothing better for history than going back and looking at the ephemera. Someone will probably get a PhD from this blog in the future when we have books beamed into our brains.

    1. Sally,

      Totally agree on the Retrieval Artist stuff, lol! I’ll work on getting henchmen and an island lair (hmm…which island?).

      Anyway, I’m a 50-something writer, just started indie publishing (and writing on a regular basis) 2 years ago – learned how to format for Kindle, ePub, and now, print (egad, it’s been difficult to grasp the whole interior formatting thing), do my own blurbs, taught myself how to do my own covers – yup, if I can learn to do that stuff at this age, ANYONE can. 🙂

    2. Thanks, Sally. You guys are convincing me that maybe this is the first draft of history after all. 🙂 I too Danielle Steel dropped her collected works on the guy(s). But who knows? She might be polite in public too. 🙂

  14. During the Great Recession a few years back, I , like a lot of writers i knew, got slammed. There was a period when I couldn’t give my stuff away, and I had by then almost sixty novels under my belt, including a dozen or so tie-ins that were NY TImes Bestsellers.

    Think about that: A dozen titles on the NY Times bestseller list, and I couldn’t sell my work.

    This his how I came to ebookery, because I wanted to be doing something instead of just sitting and waiting for what I hoped would be the inevitable turnaround.

    Until that point, I had a 10K career. Gold, though not pure; I always had a book in progress for which I had a contract from NYC. Comfortable on the midlist. Never in almost thirty years had a dry spell where I couldn’t sell anything. Then all of a sudden, books I would have easily sold a few months earlier got no offers, and it was a scary thing. Scary? Yep. Because like most writers, I always believed that I was faking it, and that sooner or later, the Writing Police were going to show up and call me on it.

    There are some writers I know who gave it up and walked away when that happened. I wasn’t the only writer in that leaky recession boat. Though mostly, we don’t like to talk about such things out loud, I was able to hear enough from other midlisters like myself to know which way that wind had blown.

    Sometimes shit happens. Get one of the Star Wars writers working that field in the late nineties drunk and ask them about the showdown SFWA had with Lucasfilm/arts and what that did …

    Um. So ebooks, which were just being born, still under 5% or so in sales, became a place where I could work, get it published, and even though I wasn’t making much money, give me a reason to get up in the morning. It’s always about the work AND the money, but the work I could control, and the market, I couldn’t.

    Eventually, I got offers from traditional publishing. And I took one. But hereafter? I dunno. I’m at a place where I can get by, and sometimes, the idea of just writing a book I want to write without regard for where it’ll get stuck on the rack? Not having to worry if a house and editor thinks it is worthy? It’s really appealing. At some point, you either have the chops to write to a certain level or you don’t, and if you do, you don’t need some kinds of validation.

    Never a dull, nor a boring moment …

    1. Thanks, Steve. You’re right: never dull, and often hard. Sorry you got hit as well in the Great Recession. So many of us did. I’m very glad we have other options now. I was looking at Leonard’s bibliography, and during one of the last huge downturns (late 50s to mid 60s), he had very few books listed and none (I believe) after 1961. He started back up again in 1968 (I think) as the market improved, but he had no other choices except find paying work. We do. And I’m grateful for that.

  15. I’m sorry you had to apologize, Kris. But I understand the impulse. I feel that way–or worse, defensive–when people start “accusing” me of being so prolific. (And I’m just getting started!)

    I’m not intimidated by your success. Honestly, I’m envious. But I also realize that the only way I’ll get there is to get my butt in the chair and work and write.

    Honestly Kris — you’re an inspiration. You and Dean have inspired a whole generation of writers, I feel. These words in your blog are not wasted.

  16. Kris,

    Your blog announcement arrived in the same email download as my payment notice from Amazon. I consider that proof enough of the importance of what you’re doing here–reminding us all that it is possible to get published, that it is NECESSARY to keep writing, that it is fun to do all of this. If I hadn’t paid attention to you, I’d still be sending out manuscripts to strangers and otherwise wasting my time.

    One other famous writer who died with his boots on: Bat Masterson. The famous Western gunfighter, marshall, buffalo hunter, Friend of Teddy (Roosevelt) and sportswriter died at his desk at the ,i>New York Morning Telegraph, in mid-sentence. May God take me the same way.

  17. I often feel like you, Kris. I’m an old pro who intimidates young writers, but I look at my the novels I’ve written, anthologies I’ve edited, videogames and screenplays I’ve scripted, the nonfiction articles, and blogs, and books on writing, and I think, “Gosh, I’ve got so much more to do!”

    I’ll try to be a little more productive over the next 40 years.

    1. I’m trying to figure out how to be more productive too, Dave. So much to write, so little time. (And how did we get to be the old pros, anyway? Wasn’t it just a week ago that we all started out…?)

  18. I believe it was in 2001 that I first spent a night in what some writers referred to as the “Kris Rusch Intimidation Room” in the old workshop house. I never thought of that room that way. I looked at all those shelves filled with your books (and only your books), the boxes of author copies of your books in the closet and along the outer wall, and thought “this is the career I want to have.” For me, that room was all about inspiration, not intimidation. It showed me what was possible, which was a very, very cool thing.

  19. Thank you so much for this blog. It has been an inspiration for me. Reading you and Dean have shown me that writing can be a career rather than the pass time of someone who found a rich partner. You have given me the words to explain to my friends and family that writing isn’t just “something I do”.

    I’ve wanted to be a career writer since before I met this blog. Now I am beginning to see how it works. I can’t be exactly like you (I didn’t start at the age of 19 for starters) but I can use your example to make my life the one that I want live.

    Thank you so very much.

  20. I get what you’re saying about ephemera not being permanent. But those temporary waves that hit the shore change the sands forever. I can’t begin to tell you how much your sharing here has shored up my determination and given me a broad and valuable understanding about career writing… tending to my little forest, yet seeing the forest for the trees. Thanks for that. 🙂

  21. One of the main reasons I keep coming back to your blog is because you do come from the career writer perspective. As a reader I always loved the prolific writers. I inhaled the books and searched for more. When I looked at authors to emulate, I wanted to be like the career writers. I want to look back on my life and see that I had written over 100 books across several pen names. I want to have readers discover my other pen names and get as excited as I did that there was even more to read by that same person. I never saw the one hit wonder as anything beyond the right book at the right time. And I realize, no one knows when or what that book will ever be. So just write.

    But even as someone that has just begun this journey, I run into the “hobby” stigma. I am building my business, writing everyday. I work a nine to five, then go home and write. Which means, I have two jobs. Just like so many that work two jobs to make ends meet, or the baker that wants to open their own cupcake shop, I must work my tail off before writing becomes my only job. Yet, when friends or family wonder why I choose to write instead of do something fun, it is a hobby that is getting the way, not a job that needs to be done. Perhaps someday, when things start to look a bit more lucrative, I will be able to explain, but I can’t promise they will understand. I will just have to keep plugging away.

    Reading your blog is in many ways similar to sitting next to you at that signing table. I am in awe and yet, because you share your thoughts and experience, I have a real picture and goal of what it means to be a career writer. And someday, I will be on the other side of the table, sharing and helping the next 29 year old with stars in their eyes.

    1. Oh, I can relate, Erin. Thirty (some) years ago, I was newly married (the first time) and staying home to write, making my money at nonfiction. All of my neighbors and almost everyone in both families wondered why I was staying home, since I didn’t have kids yet. Then they figured I had to be pregnant. Nope. Just writing. I’m not sure why others don’t value writing (or the other arts), but they don’t. Until you become successful, and then they think you’re going to quit. [shakes head] Thank you for the kind comments!

    2. I think even when the writing picks up and becomes more lucrative people will still treat it as a hobby. I seem that with some bloggers who blog full-time and complain that people stiff viw it as a cute hobby.

      I freelance and work from home and constantly run into the problem that friends and family believe just because I’m at home that I have time to do stuff for them, meet them, chat on the phone etc. I have to point out again and again that if I take the time now (like I’m doing right now) I will have to add it in the evening so that I meet my daily pensum and get everything done.

  22. I fully intend to be found at my keyboard (or whatever technology is being used by then), in the middle of a story when I pass from this world. I hope to be at least 100 years old, still raising heck and giving my kids all kinds of grief.

    As usual, really good words about being a professional writer, and the reality of this new publishing world. Thanks for all you do on this blog.

    And I’m totally jealous of all the works some writers have published, and full of admiration, because I know how hard it is sometimes. But how delightful to make a living from words!

  23. I’m astounded that anyone would be intimidated by the number of works you (or anyone) have published. I find it inspiring. I love the stories of Frederick Pohl, Jack Williamson and Elmore Leonard writing into old age. I hope to die with my boots on, too. And the fact that Leonard didn’t become well known until he was sixty inspires me, too, because it makes me feel better about the very modest level of success I’ve achieved so far. It’s not too late, and at 48, I’m just a kid in this business! 😉 That’s one of the things I love about writing–you can keep on learning, improving and challenging yourself right until the moment you keel over.

  24. I’m just about to publish two new novels under a new pen name. Should I create a weekly blog under this pen name first, start commenting on similar blogs, and create a Facebook and twitter account?

    I’m happy that I can afford to donate a bit today because I’d never want you to stop blogging! Yours’ and Dean’s sites help me so much.

    1. Remember, Suzanne, you don’t have to do anything promotion-wise with the new name. I would recommend a static website, though, so your new names fans can find all the books under that name. Other than that, keep writing! (And congrats–and thanks)

    2. Suzanne,

      FWIW (and it might not be much ;-)), I don’t tweet or post to my Facebook wall unless it’s fun – if it’s not fun, I don’t do it. 🙂

      Why make so much extra work for yourself? I have 1 pen name, and I didn’t bother with a blog, Twitter account, etc. Too much work that could be better directed toward writing the next novel, short story, whatever.

      But I think you might want to check this site and Dean’s because I think they’ve posted about the pen name thing before – ultimately, it’s up to you.

      Again, just my 5 cents (adjusted for inflation ;-)).

      1. Thanks, Nancy.

        I have read the blog post about pen names. It’s good information, but does it work? Do you get sales on your pen name books without a blog or social network accounts?

        I guess I’ll find out for myself once I start publishing under this new pen name. I’m going to give it a year before I start thinking about doing online promo. I hope to have at least 10 novels under my pen name by then.

        Obviously it’s about whether or not readers like my work, first and foremost. But if I can publish one novel every 3 weeks and be consistent about it, readers might notice that.

        Hopefully by next year I’ll have enough books available too, which will help my visibility without having to blog and do internet promo stuff.

        1. I have some pen names other than this one, and there have been times when they’ve been selling better than this one with absolutely no promotion. I’ve no idea how anyone finds those books, but somehow they do.

        2. I have one shortstory out under a pen-name. I do almost zero promotion on it. I don’t blog, don’t use Facebook, no Twitter. Nothing. Nothing. I average five sales a month with that short-story alone.
          I imagine the numbers will pick up once I publish more under that pen-name.

  25. As a newbie working on book 4, less than one year into this process, believe me — I am absolutely grateful that someone like you is taking the time to ruminate and advise on the process from the professional, career writer point of view. That’s my own aspiration, even though I started late. Whenever people speak about the leading-edge bloggers on this topic, you and Dean are (of course) always at the top of the list, and for good reason.

    Much obliged.

  26. Like Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake and Robert B. Parker and oh so many others, I want to die with my boots on, facedown on my keyboard if possible, in the middle of a sentence.

    We would prefer that if you were to die in this manner, that the sentence you were composing at the time be “The End.”

      1. Also, don’t accidentally delete the words as you expire. Try to at least hit the save button after you type “The End”. Maybe with your nose as you fall face down.

        It’ll make a great lede for your obituary, if you can manage to end at The End.

  27. Some of us are listening, and following your advice for a long-term career path as a working writer. My first book was published just over two years ago, and I’ve followed it with two other novels and six story collections, plus numerous other projects. Some authors setting up at signings have a story or two in an anthology, and that’s about it. Others have their one book out from Big Trad Pub, and sniff at small-press offerings, while acting like they’ve got the output (and skill) of Elmore Leonard.

    I keep getting asked where I find the time for my output and appearances– I tell them I make the time, because I want to do this as my full-time day job. At a time when other people my age are thinking of retiring, I’m beginning my career, which I hope to do for a long time, until I end at my keyboard at home.

    Am going to be on an author panel at Bouchercon, and I feel a bit awed. Not a bad step for a small-press outsider. Will keep plugging away with more books and stories, and growing the readership. Thank you once again for providing so much usable, real-life experiential data and support.

    1. Thanks, Dale. One of the great things about doing this blog is that I’m reaching the writers who want to hear this stuff. (Many of them show up at our workshops as well.) I love helping folks who have a strong vision of the future and their careers. It’s one of the perks of the job. Thanks again.

  28. Hi Kris:

    What a great and timely blog post.

    For one, it wasn’t until I realized there was such a thing as a career writer that I finally had the hope and energy to start writing. All I saw were the best-sellers, and all I heard was how hard it was hard it was to become a best-seller. That’s not a good attitude to have when sitting down to write. Once the critical voice rears it’s ugly head, it’s so easy to fall into despair and quit. What it all boils down to is the myth that a book is an event. The book MUST succeed or else the time is wasted. The book MUST be perfect or else you won’t have readers. Accepting that a novel is NOT an even and that you can earn good money if you just work hard and write a lot was, for me, completely and totally freeing.

    This post is timely, too, because yesterday my kids went back to school. All four of them, full time. The house is now very quiet and completely mine for 8 hours — the first for me in 13 years! Sure, I have the typical at-home parent responsibilities, but my wife, who is 100% supportive of my writing *so long as I’m writing* and not talking about it, is more than fine with me writing during this time. Thus, this is a major life change — and in a good way. Your blog post was a nice reminder as to what my goal is — to be a career writer — not to get caught up in the Book as Event myth and to use this time wisely, following Heinlein’s rules to the best of my ability.

    Much thanks!


  29. Ye gods, don’t ever get embarassed about revealing how prolific you are. Personally as a writer at the beginning of my (hopefully) long road I see that as a torch burning away the mists of the myths and lighting my way.
    I’m very thankful to people like you and Dean who are showing the path and opening the eyes of folks like me who were mired in the myths and afraid to even try.
    Here’s to many more books from you and your mate. May we all die with our keyboards clacking.

  30. You hit the nail on the head when you said “fun.” I have learned so much in the past year from yours and Dean’s blogs, but the main lesson was that I should enjoy writing. I spent two decades trying to write “literary” and “important” work and, frankly, hating every moment of it and not understanding why I wasn’t getting anywhere in my writing career. Now that I am working on projects I love I am writing more than ever; in fact I’m writing my fourth novel of just this year. The future looks bright enough that I actually have a career plan now – something I wouldn’t have even dreamed about just a couple of years ago. I know I speak for others when I thank you for all of those 700,000 words that have given me renewed inspiration and shown me the boundless possibilities before me.

  31. Kris, this blog may seem like ephemera because it could be out of date in a matter of months, but it still provides a record of these turbulent times, so that in 20 years, people can say, “What was it like, in the first few years of indie publishing? Better read the Business Rusch.” In the meantime, it provides a valuable service for the rest of us.

    The first time I came across the idea of one book wonders, it was in the WOTF article by you and Dean. You pointed out that some people just wanted to publish a single story, and then they felt satisfied and moved on to other things. I couldn’t relate at all, since I’d rather have a writing career (while simultaneously juggling other careers), but in the past year or so, after I had a little indie publishing success, I did feel…not like sitting on my laurels, but not as desperate, either. Like I could enjoy playing with my kids and travelling once a year, instead of frantically hitting the keyboard every spare moment. Which doesn’t mean that I feel threatened by your or anyone else’s productivity, just that my personal definition of success includes some downtime.

    1. Ah, that’s how to turn the blog into a book someday: “A Historical Retrospective on Indie Publishing, [date] to [date].”

      I could see that, really. 🙂

  32. I have to confess, Kris, I find it astonishing that you write 3000 words a week for this blog. My intimate feeling is that we, writers don’t deserve it. Yes, that’s part of your journey and learning curve, I understand it, but, would I dare say if there was not this “donate” button, you would not so much feel compelled to write so much on this blog ?

    I have been a freelance jornalist, so I understand the need for an objective, a timing, a reward, and self-discipline.

    I do some modest blogging myself, and each and every time I post, a part of me has the feeling it’s words that go into the void. So I have learnt to do it for myself without expecting any reward. Another part of me knows it is a feeble attempt to gain influence, discoverability and perhaps, prestige. (And by the way, if you want my POV on the french SFF milieu and my experience in it, see my 11, august blog post : Un crabe comme les autres).

    I’m slowly reaching 300 posts. When I see that Cory Doctorow has 50 000 posts and Seth Godin 2500… Just wow.

    Each writer is different. Our goals may have similarities, but the way to reach those goals vary greatly.

  33. I had the same reaction about Elmore Leonard. Right now, I can’t imagine not being in this until the end. It’s what I do and am now.

    I’ve also told the husband he’s not allowed to retire. Not only would he be bored, he’d be underfoot.

    I’ve also seen you being very polite. Now I’ll know when I’ve said something dumb.

  34. Readers aren’t intimidated by prolific writers. Readers like prolific writers.

    I’ve always been that way, and I’ve read many book reviews where the reviewer bemoans the fact that, “the next book won’t be out until next year, and I can’t wait that long!”

    I liked what the publisher did with Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, in that the first 3 books were available immediately, one month after each other. (Then began the wait! But that’s old news now.)

    After many delays (mostly personal rolls), I finally got the first in my next series up last night on Amazon and SW. Next up is Kobo, which I haven’t done before…

    But I like learning new stuff. So altho it’s a pain to have to do the different formats, remember to do, well, everything :-), it’s all part of the process, a process that I control. What could be better than that?

    And I’m not about to give up after just a few books. I’m in this for the long haul, whatever that means. 🙂

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