Saturday, 6 April 2019

Long overdue update (includes stuff on day job)

I'm back from Paris, where my French publisher, Juno Publishing, hosted me at their booth at the Livre du Paris. I had a really good time meeting both French (and Belgian) authors and writers, and spend a lot of time chatting with the Juno ladies as well as the Dreamspinner ones.

There'd be much more to talk about, like the food and how Eurostar suffered delays and how I still made it home, exhausted, but happy. It's all good.

Yesterday was my fourth anniversary at the day job. I remember pretty clearly that, two years ago, I was already unhappy there - it had too much of an impact on my writing (let alone sleep patterns),
but they mollified the pain quite well with bonuses and raises, and the financial security is worth something too.

The idea was to build a second income from writing while employed, and once the big debts are taken care of, to downshift in some way. That is, either work part-time or change jobs. The three years of the Brexit process also haven't helped - if the UK applies the same rules to EU citizens as it (shamefully) applies to non-EU immigrants, I need an income of £35,000/year to be allowed to stay (or my partner does, but I've always hated relying on others for basics like being allowed to stay in the country where my house, books, etc are located). If the current UK government has shown one thing then that it's xenophobic, nationalistic and anti-immigrant - the details of their deliberate "hostile environment" are frankly mind-boggling and worth an internet search for stories of people who've been affected.

I'm still hoping I can make better plans once Brexit resolves itself - one way or the other. At this point, I'm prepared to stay, I'm prepared to leave. If I'll leave, I'll need more money, quite clearly, because re-building a life isn't cheap, which is where the day job comes in. If I stay, my status needs to be sorted, so I know what rules apply (how much money do I need to make to be allowed to stay, because I cannot imagine myself taking British, that is, English, nationality). And on the thoughts circle. It's surprisingly draining, certainly emotionally, and it has an effect on my desire and ability to write.

Which has a negative side-effect - with no new books out since July 2017 (which was Shadows Watching), the huge hit from Kindle Unlimited and piracy, the back list sales are dwindling from "breakfast money" to "coffee money", and I can see the trend towards where it won't be even that. At this stage, the money is really only a nice "ego boost", a weird measure of success (and arguably, the most successful thing I've done, Special Forces, never earned me a penny). But way beyond that; as the income stream becomes an income trickle, the door to "becoming a full-time writer" is closing. Were I to attempt to live off writing, I'd be far far below the poverty line. I'm simply not making enough to live off those books, even if my house is paid off. It's scant comfort that even big authors complain about their sales these days - not in public, mind.

The plan of "working this job for a few more years, build a second income from writing, while I pay off my house and reduce my outgoings to the point where writing will support me" and then quit to write full-time (plus some coaching and weird shit) needed to be revised. I have no inheritance coming my way, either, so I don't see any of this changing.

Meanwhile, my work load at the day job has at least tripled since I started there. Brexit has beaten my love of England out of me (I'm even struggling to write in England at the moment because everything is poisoned by what's currently going on) - that had an impact on the Witches books. Which are half-written. We were already barely coping in December, but then the bank decided they needed to make cuts to the workforce and one team member was fired. Since then, it's been a mad scrabbling to keep up. Morale is at rock bottom, as far as I can tell.

Good stuff is also happening - I found a fantastic source for ways to kill people, and will meet him in London in May to discuss a book project (and ways to kill people). The house payment is progressing. Things are steady, but highly pressured and intense. I'm picking meditation back up again because that seems like the only way to cope. They fired some of the worst bankers I had to work with (but hired two more that are... difficult).

I still have book ideas, just no energy/time/emotional capacity to write. I attempted marketing old titles and seems they have no life left in them.

So I had to step back and think. I'm in the "simplify your life" groove now, where I reduce all the processes I have to keep up with (or thought I had). I left Facebook groups, cancelled Patreon subscriptions, other subscriptions, and am running a budget to cut my expenses to the bare minimum over the next few months. I'll have to file the taxes for my company and will see in actual black and white numbers how the self-publishing income is coming along - specifically the drop versus every year since 2014.

There are so many things I want to do - translate my books into German, lay out the print versions, sort out merchandising stuff for giveaways, learn how to do Amazon ads, but the truth is, I'm still behind on the one crucial thing that really makes a writer - writing. I'm not writing in any meaningful quantities.

Turns out, if you edit for 8-12 hours per day under high pressure and add a three-hour commute, the last thing your brain wants to do is work more while staring at a screen. I've thought about mobile solutions, I've bought a million lovely notebooks to write on the go, but even then you need headspace to do all that. I can outline and plan on the go, I can't actually write prose f I can't fall into the book and feel what's going on. I need to see and feel my characters inside or it's just not happening. In other words, I really do need more time, and I don't have the time and I'm already behind on everything. I've tried every time management system and app, and I'm already getting a shitload of stuff done, but it's not enough, because my energy is limited. I've pondered at great length whether I'm depressed, but I don't think so. I'm pretty mentally resilient overall, which is truly a blessing.

I want to write. I have three or four half-written books on the computer that all need just maybe a month of concentrated work each.

I used to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, as it were. Do a few more years at the day job, even if that means sacrificing most of my writing, build an income, pay off the house, and leave. I don't currently see that light anymore. As the day job expands and keeps pushing, the rest of my life simply has to accommodate and retreat. Most of that battle is in my head (and I'm already much better than most of the team at defending my life against the job - I can see colleagues getting eaten by it, bite after bite). I still have to wait for the outcome of Brexit before I know what my legal situation is, and I'll feel a lot better once the house is paid off, which is why I'm cutting expenses and distractions to the point where I can manage them with the energy currently available.

I also need to retrench in terms of writing and publishing - I'm clearly lacking the core skills of the successful indie writer (ads, mostly, but also the willingness to hire cheap ghostwriters to churn out a book per week or form an author collective to share the workload while pretending to be one person).

I don't have the time to manage all that in a way that it needs to be managed, so I'm going back to "hybrid". I'll be publishing "commercial m/m" books with a small press (I'm currently negotiating my first contract in that vein with Dreamspinner, and more will follow), and do the sequels/prequels to self-published books still myself, because switching things up mid-series is just a headache.

That takes pressure off my income - the royalties aren't enough to pay for covers and proper developmental edits, so my day job income would have paid for that, which is totally counter to the plan of building a second income - at that point, writing and publishing would have just been an expensive hobby that I'm financing with the day job. It also means no expenses for audiobooks or translations (they're just not in the budget, for the same reason). I'll keep supporting my self-published books as best I can, but I'll also have to focus on writing new books very urgently at this point.

As to the weird, "non-commercial" books, I'll do those myself as well. I'm not going to compromise on the quality or covers. I have a good level of quality (as a publisher told me in Amsterdam, "I point people at your books when they ask which indie gets the quality right"). The writing will remain slow while I try to find a way through the tunnel and chip away at the budget and mortgage. I'm bracing myself financially and mentally for the incoming recession as well (various economists think we have another 12-18 months, others think we're much closer), so I'm not going to make any radical decisions that would have an impact on my ability to support myself.

Going with a publisher will mean a delay in putting the books out - you hand in a manuscript and it comes out maybe 12 months later. On the positive side, they'll be available in more markets, and I do feel we need to push back against Amazon (Kindle Unlimited is not an option for so many reasons). I can't promise any releases - I'll need to get my grove back, finish the book for Dreamspinner, finish all the others I have half-written. The guy I'm meeting will help me with writing Franco, hopefully. Right now, I'll just continue chipping away and regroup and recover. It's still a marathon and not a sprint, but it feels like they've just tacked an Iron Man onto the marathon I was already running. 

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