In August of 2012, I met Hugh Howey, the author of the best-selling Wool and its sequels, at Worldcon 70 in Chicago. I was fortunate enough to have dinner with him and some of his fans at a nearby Irish pub (which Hugh even paid for). He talked about indie publishing and how it was a viable platform for authors. What he said about this whole new realm of indie publishing really resonated with me. He wasn’t some ravening fanatic about the issue. He was, instead, exceedingly logical about the advantages, and the disadvantages, of this new and powerful outlet for writers.
I’d always wanted to be a science fiction and fantasy writer, but every time I’d looked at what was required to achieve my dream, I’d gotten discouraged. There were too many gatekeepers. The system was clearly rigged so that it favored the publishers. So I’d buried my creative urges in other pursuits like creating elaborate roleplaying games for my friends.
Hugh Howey made me want to dust off the dream again.
After the convention, I began researching this new publishing paradigm that people were referring to as “indie publishing,” or sometimes “self-publishing,” or even “artisinal publishing.” I found that some really great people were sharing information about their experiences, including Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, J. A. Konrath, and others.
Based on my research, I concluded that indie publishing was viable. For the first time, the gatekeepers and the rigged game of traditional publishing could be bypassed. Writers had options that they’d never had before.
Now, please bear in mind that my research showed me only that success could be achieved through indie publishing, not that it was assured. Those people who were successful with this new paradigm of selling content directly to readers, well, they were working their butts off. But here’s the kicker — the things that they were doing in order to be successful (in addition to actually writing) were things that I was ideally suited for because of my extensive background in web technologies, graphics and social media.
By the end of 2012, I had decided to make a serious run at becoming a professional writer. Starting in early 2013, I began actively pursuing my dream.
This is 2013 in review. How did I do?
Let’s talk about expectations for a moment.
I’ve worked for several Internet startups. I know that success isn’t something that just magically occurs. Lightning didn’t strike in 2013, nor did I expect it to. Here’s what I did accomplish in 2013:
Writing: I started writing fiction. It’s been a major adjustment, of course. Years of writing technical documents, proposals, business content, and blog entries are great for exercising your content generation and editorial skills, but not so great for honing talents specific to fiction. Like plotting, pacing, characterization, etc. Surprisingly, my training in writing entertaining speeches for Toastmasters helped me leap this gap faster than I expected — a good speech is, at some level, a story that resonates with an audience.
Rhythm: Tolstoy wrote the classic (and lengthy) novel, War and Peace, by writing during the only free time he had — thirty minutes before breakfast every day. The only way to write a significant amount of content is to establish a rhythm that allows you to write at least a little bit almost every day. It took me a while to ramp up, but I managed to get into a solid writing rhythm. The downside at the half-year mark was that my output consisted largely of blog entries and not stories, so a mid-year course correction was required to ensure that fiction was better represented.
Tools: Online fiction needs graphics, from book covers to advertisements. During the year, I ramped up my proficiency level with Gimp, a freeware graphics manipulation tool, and secured a PC where I could install and use my aging edition of Adobe Photoshop.
I also bought Scrivener, a word-processing tool targeted for authors. I love this tool, especially since it parallels the tools that I’ve always used to produce software. As a web developer, I use an IDE (Integrated Development Environment). An IDE is a tool that displays information about your source code in different ways in separate on-screen panels, and provides you with all sorts of features to manipulate your code. Scrivener is basically an IDE for writers. I started using Scrivener in November, and it’s been awesome.
Networking: I started networking within the SF field, first at conventions like Balticon and Capclave, and then at the meetings of the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA). I need to know people like editors, artists, other writers, etc. Plus, it’s fun meeting people who are passionate about the same things that I am.
Mastermind Group: I formed the Rising Tide Mastermind Group with some ambitious friends from Toastmasters. The purpose of the group is to pool our talents and experience to help all of the group’s members achieve success in their endeavors, which range from being a science fiction writer to becoming a motivational speaker.
Overall, I was happy with my accomplishments for 2013. If I were a professional sports team, this would be considered to be a “building” year, with greater things expected in 2014.
I tracked my writing output, expenses, and writing income all year. Expenses included web site hosting, conventions, books, domain name renewals, a new printer, and training (in the form of Toastmasters and workshops). Toastmasters might seem like an oddity for a writer, since it’s a non-profit organization dedicated to improving public speaking and leadership skills. But professional writers speak on panels, moderate panels, participate in interviews, make pitches to publishers, do keynote speeches, and do readings in front of an audience. That’s all public speaking, and something that I’m admirably prepared for, thanks to Toastmasters.
My writing-related expenses for the year were $1,520. My income was $102, and was generated through advertising on my web sites. Monetarily, a net loss of $1,418 for the year, which was not unexpected.
I produced 70 blog entries, 18 speeches, 5 videos, 3 short stories, and 3 presentations.
My writing output was 44,630 words, but only 12,583 words (28%) were stories. The rest was blogging. On top of this, I’ve tried to account for the effort that went into speeches and presentations in terms of words (but not the videos, which were derivatives of already existing content). I estimated each speech at 1000 words, and each presentation at 1000 words per every 15 slides. So, the speeches add another 18,000 words and the presentations add another 6000 words. This brings my total output for the year up to 68,630 words.
I really started writing at the beginning of April 2012. My mid-year course correction (to focus more on stories and less on blogging) took place at the end of September. In the last 3 months of the year (and despite the holiday season), I produced almost as much straight content as in the previous six months. This basically means that after September I doubled my core output rate and brought story output into parity with blogging content for that period. The casualty in all of this was that I produced fewer speeches and presentations near the end of the year.
2013 was a “building” year. It accomplished what I hoped it would — getting me into a solid writing rhythm at a (hopefully) professional level. I worked on some of the road-blocks that were hindering my writing, and figured out ways to bypass them. Now, I’ve got three finished stories, one of which has already been submitted for potential publication, and the remaining two will be on the way soon.
Say what you will, but I’m gonna call it a pretty good first year. But 2014 is going to be even better…