Creativity, Value, and Quitting Your Day Job

I wrote this post for the Rainbow Romance Writers blog and am reprinting it here by permission. Just some thoughts I had about a few articles making the rounds recently.

When I first moved to New York City fourteen years ago, I had a friend who lived in this tremendously terrible apartment in Brooklyn. She made more money than I did, and I lived in a decent apartment, so I thought it was strange that she lived in a building that was covered in graffiti and kind of smelled like urine all the time. It took me awhile to work out that she liked the cachet of living in a crappy New York apartment.

When you’re twenty-two, as I was at the time, there’s a certain amount of glamour in moving to New York City and living in squalor, especially if you’re a creative person. It’s the “starving artist” dream, right?

But I have long thought the starving artist archetype does all creative types a disservice, because it undervalues creative work. The real truth is that, while it is difficult to carve out a living from creative work, it is definitely possible. But we have to put the work in. And we deserve to be paid fairly.

I first started looking into becoming published over ten years ago, and there’s been a significant shift since then. At the time, the standard advice for most fiction writers was to submit short stories to magazines to get a few writing credits before you started querying agents, and by the way, don’t quit your day job because making any money publishing is something only a select few do. So I assumed I’d have a day job until I hit an important bestseller list and/or married a celebrity chef.

I am still waiting for both things to happen.

But then something shifted. A few authors I knew were putting out books so consistently that they were earning a somewhat predictable income and were able to leave their day jobs (with the support of their spouses). Their growing backlists ensured a certain baseline of sales every quarter. A couple of these authors are probably people you haven’t heard of, so they weren’t putting out runaway bestsellers, but they were putting books out steadily and earning a decent income.

Shortly thereafter, authors began talking online about how they were making money—real money—through self-publishing ebooks. Thus the conversation shifted entirely: financial success from writing was no longer rare but something anyone could achieve by uploading their book online.

The thing is, that level of success is rare. Sure, it’s possible to make real money from writing and publishing if you do it well. However, according to Bookscan, the average U.S. book sells less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 overall.

One book won’t bring you sustainable wealth, that much is clear. Fiction writer Meritt Tierce wrote an article for Marie Claire with the headline, “I Published My Debut Novel to Critical Acclaim—and Then I Promptly Went Broke.” In the article, she explains that she quit her day job two weeks before the book release. The book got killer reviews, but she’d been expecting higher sales.

I will admit, I read the headline and thought, “Oh, boy, what kind of delusional nonsense is this?” but I do think Tierce makes a good point. Not having a job created so much anxiety for her that she couldn’t write. So she got a job as a letter carrier for the post office, but it had an unexpected consequences:

I made $16.65 an hour, which was enough to relieve at least some of the financial pressure. But the part of the loop that went straight from If I had money now to I could calm down and write something didn’t account for intense physical exhaustion. I walked eight to 12 miles each day, carrying a heavy satchel. I actually liked being drained that way, as if each piece of paper I put in a mailbox represented a small packet of my own energy. But at the end of the day, there wasn’t anything left for Second Book. I had the stamina to do the job and come home and recover from doing the job and then go do it some more the next day.

This is, I think, a really common problem for writers. We write because we’re passionate about it, but we gotta put food on the table, and sometimes that other job zaps all our energy.

Complicating things is the “myth of no effort” and the way arts are undervalued. As writers, we know it takes hours—months… years, sometimes—to write a novel. But we tend to assume artists are naturally talented and just kind of put our art out there. (See this article. Or this one, arguing that writing is not a job. I beg to differ there. Writing is as much a job as my day job is. And calling it “a thing you can do if you like it!” is just further undervaluing it. Society doesn’t think we should pay artists for art, but artists’ time and work has value.) I think this is related to the struggling artist archetype. We’re supposed to struggle for our art. We’re supposed to live in crappy apartments and eat ramen and channel our pain and frustration into our art. Except that level of anxiety, as Tierce points out, can be crippling to creativity.

So don’t quit your day job.

Or do quit. Remember my friends who did? Each of those authors has worked to write enough books to build a backlist, but they also put the work into a steady marketing plan. One author I know who is doing very well self-publishing has a killer social media presence. A lot of the authors I know who don’t have full-time jobs are also regulars at conferences and put in a lot of time and energy to reaching new reader bases.

It’s not easy. But it’s possible. You can’t just go at it willy-nilly, though. You have to strategize and plan. You have to write and publish books regularly. And you have to spend some time on the business part of your writing career.

It surprised me, then, when my friend Sara Humphreys made the announcement that she was quitting the business of writing. She’s not quitting writing, she’s quitting everything else. The pressure to produce more books—to build that backlist and to give books to her clamoring fans—was killing her creativity, and her social media efforts were eating up her writing time.

I both get it and don’t. Parts of the marketing process are fun for me. I love conferences. I love Twitter. I love interacting with readers online. But I do understand how much of a time suck it can be, especially during weeks when I only have a set amount of time for my author stuff. And, honestly, if I have to choose between writing and marketing, I almost always choose writing.

Historical romance writer Eloisa James told me once that she considered herself lucky because she had a day job she loved—she’s a college professor—so whether she made money from her writing didn’t matter. Although she does—her books have sold thousands if not millions of copies—she doesn’t feel the pressure to earn money from writing. It gives her more creative freedom, because if she writes a strange book and it tanks, her life will go on. I think about that sometimes. I do all right, writing-income-wise—I sell more books than the average, let’s say—but my primary source of income is still my “day job” (which I do freelance now, giving me the flexibility to write and travel to conferences).

The books are why I got into this business to begin with. I want to write and tell stories. And I want to make money doing it.

I think it’s important to take the time to focus on the why. You won’t get rich quick writing. And you’ll have days when banging your head repeatedly against your keyboard is less painful than putting words on the page. Making a writing career work requires sacrifices—TV watching, time with your family, chores left undone, etc.—and untold hours of work. On the other hand, if you manage your career well, you can be successful and live the dream.

I’m not really sure what conclusions to draw from all this, except that a writing career is a balancing act. All things are possible, but you have to put in the work. Overnight success is a rare thing in publishing, but a long-term career is something I think we can all achieve if we continue to hone our craft, work hard, and put out the best books we can.

Now Available: The Boy Next Door, 2nd Ed.

BoyNextDoor[The]FSThe second edition of The Boy Next Door is now available wherever you buy ebooks! It’s been newly revised and has a shiny new cover!

Life is full of surprises and, with luck, second chances.

After his father’s death, Lowell leaves the big city to help his sick mother in the conservative small town where he grew up. He’s shocked to find himself living next to none other than his childhood friend Jase. Lowell always had a crush on Jase, and the man has only gotten more attractive with age. Unfortunately Jase is straight, now divorced, and raising his six-year-old daughter. It’s nice to reconnect, but Lowell doesn’t see a chance for anything beyond friendship.

Until a night out together changes everything.

Jase can’t fight his growing feelings for Lowell, and he doesn’t want to give up the happy future they could have. But his ex-wife issues an ultimatum: he must keep his homosexuality secret or she’ll revoke his custody of their daughter, Layla. Now Jase faces an impossible choice: Lowell and the love he’s always wanted, or his daughter.

All Romance eBooks

The Greek Tycoon’s Green Card Groom blog tour

The Greek Tycoon's Green Card GroomWant to learn more about The Greek Tycoon’s Green Card Groom? Here are all the stops on the blog tour:

MM Good Book Reviews (guest post/excerpt)
My Fiction Book (guest post)
Dreamspinner (guest post)
Open Skye Book Reviews (guest post)
Divine Magazine (guest post/review)
Long and Short Reviews (guest post)
The Novel Approach (guest post)
Two Chicks Obsessed (guest post/excerpt)
Love Bytes Reviews (guest post)
Alpha Book Club (guest post)

Now Available: The Greek Tycoon’s Green Card Groom

The Greek Tycoon's Green Card GroomMy Dreamspun Desires offering, The Greek Tycoon’s Green Card Groom is now available wherever you buy books.

Marriage gets less convenient when love is involved.

It started simple: Ondrej Kovac marries Archie Katsaros so Ondrej can stay in the US, away from his judgmental family in eastern Europe. Archie marries Ondrej in exchange for the money to bail out his failing company. It’s a fraud neither man is convinced he can pull off.

But as Archie introduces Ondrej to New York society and Ondrej proves his skill in the office, they start to discover a connection between them. Can they overcome the rocky foundation their relationship was built on, meddling immigration agents, gossip columnists determined to out their deception, and an aggressive executive set on selling Archie’s company out from under him? Only if they can prove to each other their love is worth fighting for.

Buy it from Dreamspinner
Buy it from Amazon

Upcoming Books, Sales, etc.

It’s been a tumultuous last few weeks on almost all fronts for me. The major thing was that I moved. Just within Brooklyn, but even moving from one apartment to another 1.5 miles away is one of the most stressful things I’ve had to do in a good long while. I’m settling in at the new place pretty well, although it’s still Box City because I’ve had very little time for unpacking.

The bad news: because of this and a zillion other little things going on in my life at the moment, I had to cancel my trip to San Diego for the Romance Writers of America conference. It nearly killed me to cancel; I love that conference and am sad and disappointed to miss it. But there’s always next year!

The good news: I have 2 books coming out in July.

So here’s what’s going on with me on the book front:

OutInTheFieldFS The Greek Tycoon's Green Card Groom BoyNextDoor[The]FS

1. Out in the Field is a dollar! In time for last night’s All-Star Game, read about two Major Leaguers falling in love. Dreamspinner | Amazon

2. The category romance I wrote for Dreamspinner’s Dreamspun Desires Line, The Greek Tycoon’s Green Card Groom is going live on Friday. I bet you can guess what the book is about from the title; Archie’s business is failing and Ondrej wants to stay in the U.S., so Ondrej pays Archie a pile of money in exchange for a green card marriage. Then there are hijinks. You can pre-order it now: Dreamspinner | Amazon

3. At long last, The Boy Next Door is coming back into print. The new edition has been revised and re-edited and is also up for pre-order pretty much everywhere. That’ll be out on June 22. Lowell moves back to his hometown after a decade away and just happens to buy the house next door to his high school crush. Dreamspinner | Amazon

I also got word yesterday that a contemporary romance I’ve been shopping around for awhile may have a home, so stay tuned for more information on that.

Masculine Women, Feminine Men

I ran across this article today: In the Early 20th Century, America Was Awash in Incredible Queer Nightlife (Subtitle: Then Prohibition ended, and the closet was born.) It’s an interesting read while also tying in very well to some of the themes I’ve explored in writing my historical romances.

When I started researching Such a Dance, one of the things that struck me was that history doesn’t move in a straight line. I mean, yes, there’s the linear march of time, but progress is more circular. This article outlines things like the drag balls of the 1920s—although drag performance had existed for long before that—and how they were part the mainstream to a degree.

Such A DanceI think we tend to think of gay rights as starting with Stonewall, but the truth is that, prior to World War II, it was possible to be openly LGBT to some extent (even if they wouldn’t have called it that at the time). But, of course, society always reacts to progress in a two steps forward, one step back fashion. So it went with women, too, incidentally; women in the 1920s had unprecedented freedom that was pulled back in the subsequent decades. What was called queer or pansy culture at the time followed a similar pattern. It thrived, and then sodomy laws were beefed up or enforced, pushing a lot of men (and women) into closets, shutting down the speakeasies and clubs where they had been allowed to flourish previously.

I find these patterns fascinating. I see a lot of reader reaction to LGBT historical fiction implying it’s hard for them to buy a happy ending, but happy endings were possible, even in America, prior to the 1930s. There were sham marriages, sure, but there were same-sex partnerships, too. (In Such a Dance, for example, I think the Mob is a greater threat to Lane and Eddie’s continued happiness than anything else. A gay couple in the 1920s could have built a good life for themselves in Greenwich Village or Times Square or Harlem.)

Also, unsubtle plug: Such a Dance is currently 99¢ if you haven’t read it yet but your interest is piqued.

Cover Reveal: The Greek Tycoon’s Green Card Groom

You guys, I wrote a category romance.

It’s essentially what it says on the tin, but with a twist. It’s a gay Harlequin Presents. Domineering Greek Tycoon? Check. (OR IS HE?) Green card marriage? Check. (OR IS IT?) Fancy parties? A scene on a yacht? Conspicuous wealth? Check, check, check! (OR IS ALL WHAT IT SEEMS?)

I can’t say, but I can tell you it’ll be a fun ride, especially if you like your romances trope-y. And here is the cover:

The Greek Tycoon's Green Card Groom

Hot blurb action:

Marriage gets less convenient when love is involved.

It started simple: Ondrej Kovac marries Archie Katsaros so Ondrej can stay in the US, away from his judgmental family in eastern Europe. Archie marries Ondrej in exchange for the money to bail out his failing company. It’s a fraud neither man is convinced he can pull off.

But as Archie introduces Ondrej to New York society and Ondrej proves his skill in the office, they start to discover a connection between them. Can they overcome the rocky foundation their relationship was built on, meddling immigration agents, gossip columnists determined to out their deception, and an aggressive executive set on selling Archie’s company out from under him? Only if they can prove to each other their love is worth fighting for.

And guess what else? You can PRE-ORDER it now! Get it from Dreamspinner’s new website! It come out July 15!

Out in the Field blog tour!

OutInTheFieldFSWant some facts, inspiration, and background information on Out in the Field? Check out the stops on the blog tour. I talked quite a bit about my inspiration, the research I did, and what it was like to revisit these characters at the various stops on the tour. Here’s the complete list:

MM Good Book Reviews (on sports as a romance setting)
Divine Magazine (on baseball becoming more inclusive)
Sinfully (on revising the second edition)
Boy Meets Boy (on creating the Brooklyn Eagles)
Gay Book Reviews (on updating the second edition for progress made by LGBT athletes)
Dreamspinner (on the process of writing the novel)
Open Skye Book Reviews (on creating the Brooklyn Eagles)
Kiki’s Kinky Picks (on athlete heroes)
Love Bytes (on the rising popularity of sports romance)

And that’s it! I wanted to also thank everyone for the kind words and enthusiasm about this book all week! This book means a lot to me, and it thrills and humbles me that so many people love it, too. <3

Out in the Field is here!

OutInTheFieldFSThe 2nd Edition of Out in the Field is now available wherever you buy books!

Dreamspinner Press
Barnes & Noble
Apple iBooks
All Romance eBooks.

Matt Blanco is a legend on the Brooklyn Eagles, but time and injuries have taken their toll. With his career nearing its end, he’s almost made it to retirement without anyone learning his biggest secret: he’s gay in a profession not particularly known for its tolerance.

Iggy Rodriquez is the hot new rookie in town, landing a position in the starting lineup of the team of his dreams and playing alongside his idol, Matt Blanco. Iggy doesn’t think it can get any better, until an unexpected encounter in the locker room with Matt proves him wrong.

A relationship—and everything it could reveal—has never been in the cards for Matt, but Iggy has him rethinking his priorities. They fall hard for each other, struggling to make it through trades, endorsement deals, and the threat of retirement. Ultimately they will be faced with a choice: love or baseball?

Out in the Field, 2nd Ed, Preorder Info!

OutInTheFieldFSIt’s spring, so you may need some hot baseball action in your life. If you can’t wait to get your hot little hands on the new edition of Out in the Field (which drops May 16) here’s where you can preorder:

Dreamspinner Press
Barnes & Noble
Apple iBooks
All Romance eBooks.

It will also be at Kobo, but it’s not live at press time. Check there later this week if it’s your preferred store. (I’ll try to remember to update the link when it’s live.)