Category Archives: Making a living

How Much Can You Earn Writing…uhm…Spicey Novelettes for Grownups?

Over at Funny about Money, which after all IS putatively a personal finance site ( ūüôĄ ), I’ve added up a fantasy profit-&-loss scenario based on what some people claim they earn writing 3000- to 5000-word er0tica for the adult set. The figures are interesting.

They’re high, but they may not out of the question.

Some people, including an acquaintance of one of my best friends, claim they’re making six-figure incomes on this endeavor. In a more modest scenario with goals set to cover subcontractors’ costs and provide oneself a fairly low living income, it looks…well, possibly do-able.

You’d have to churn out two or three racey novelettes a week, or pay someone else to do it. But I write 3000 words every day, seven days a week. Wouldn’t be hard to direct some of those words toward a specific type of booklet. The marketing plan is described nicely by a person writing under the name of Jade K. Scott in The Six-Figure Er0tica Author.

What say you? Would you resort to writing naughty booklets to get out of teaching freshman comp and editing brain-numbing dissertations translated from the Hebrew?

How Long Will It Take to Write This Book?

Finished chapter 1 of the Boob Book today, and started on chapter 2. With all the research done, it took about a day and a half to write the first chapter.

So I’m wondering how long it will take to compile the 800 pages or so of research material that’s stacked up on the table into a single coherent book.

The book will have nine or maybe ten chapters (depending on whether I decide to break one of the projected chapters into two) plus six short appendices.

If nothing gets in my way, I can get through about a chapter in a day, or maybe two days. Chapter 1 is 2800 words, not an unreasonable amount to crank in one day. Some chapters will be shorter. But let’s say that realistically it takes two days to write a chapter: that would give us about 20 days to write the main body of the book. Each appendix should take less than a day, although the glossary may be lengthy. So maybe a day apiece for those?

That adds up to 26 days: about a month.

But, of course, as a practical matter “nothing gets in my way” will not happen.

‚ÄĘ My best paying and most reliable client just resurfaced, asking if I’m up for more copy of his. This is a guy that you don’t say “no” to. Probably not even if you wanted to…but most certainly not when he pays you so handsomely to read such entertaining material.

‚ÄĘ The online summer course is just heading into its most intense period, with three major rafts of stoont papers about to fly onto my desk.

‚ÄĘ The Latina studies journal is in full production. We’ve moved a set of academic papers but not seen the reviews, the creative work, or any of the front & back matter.

‚ÄĘ And I should be preparing my fall courses as we scribble.

‚ÄĘ We await the artwork for the next two installments of my self-publishing empire, and I’m in the process of laying out 18 serials of the Fire-Rider story, which I also will convert to .mobi files and post on Amazon. All of these will need to be marketed, something that I find quite the challenge.

‚ÄĘ The proposed porn empire awaits. My friend and I are still studying the possibilities. But to make that work will also require cranking at least 3,000 words every day or two.

As soon as I finish chapter 2, I’m sending a proposal to one of my former publishers, for whom (some years ago) I once wrote a best-seller. Unfortunately, like most other American publishing houses it has changed hands and been consolidated into unrecognizability; as far as I know, none of the old editorial crew persists there. But still, I hope reminding them of that former glory will at least get someone to read the proposal. And once anyone with even the vaguest sense of marketability sees it, it will sell.

The median advance on a single book deal today is around $25,000. That’s more than I need to live on for an entire year.

So if a publisher manages to offer even a modest advance, I intend to stand down from teaching for at least a semester, and to farm out the editorial work to subcontractors. Even if it only takes a month or two to draft the Boob Book, I may need the time for rewrites; but it looks unlikely that an advance will get me out of enough work to let me give my undivided attention to the Boob project.

But…if a miracle happens and I can move the thing to the publisher within two or three months, then if I don’t teach and I farm out the editorial jobs, I’ll have another three or four months in which to get 20 existing bookoids online and to begin experimenting with sales of racy fiction.

It looks like a phenomenal amount of work. But around here, that’s nothing out of the ordinary. I already work any 18 hours of the day I choose, by and large for poverty-level wages. It would be mighty nice to work 18 hours of the day for something resembling a middle-class income.



Advice for a Writer? SHUT UP!

You got it: Shut TF Up when you’re networking and cocktail-partying and otherwise socializing with strangers.

Here’s why: Your job is to learn about human beings and translate their behavior and thinking and wackiness and wonderfulness and joys and sorrows and boredom and humor and pain and ecstasy and fear and anger and all that into the written word.

Your job is not to tell everyone you meet all about yourself.

The problem is, if you really are a writer or if you’re trying really hard to be a writer, you’re spending uncountable hours in your garret, laboring over a keyboard or a notebook. You are, in a word, lonely.

Lonely people get hungry for other people’s company. They get hungry for conversation. They long to tell someone else, anyone else, all the things they haven’t spoken in the past week, the past month, maybe even the past year. When you’re lonely, one of the symptoms is a deep craving to tell all.

Every tiny detail of all.

I’ve been there myself, yakking away til all of a sudden I realize my mouth has been going nonstop and no one around me has had a chance to say a word.

Right now two of my friends are in that mode: yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity oh please stop yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity excuse me… yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity really I… yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity I’m sorry but I… yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity it’s been wonderful talking with yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity but I’ve got to get home and yakity yakity yakity yakity let the dogs yakity yakity yakity yakity out before they yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity¬†yakity shit all over the freaking floor!

It’s not just that this trait is boring and tendentious and maybe even rude. It’s that when you’re in the I’m so lonely I can’t stop talking mode you’re abdicating your job.

Your job is to listen to people, not to talk at them.

The trick is to come loaded with questions: the kind of questions that elicit stories from the people you meet:

‚ÄĘ That must have been an exciting time for you.
‚ÄĘ That must have been a difficult time for you.
‚ÄĘ What was the most rewarding experience you had as a rock climber?
‚ÄĘ What was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you as a police SWAT team member?
‚ÄĘ What was the funniest thing that happened while you were a grade-school camp counselor?

‚ÄĘ When did you realize your calling in life was to become a pole dancer?

The answers are the stuff of novels. It’s the stuff of writing. And when you ask people to tell you about themselves — instead of you telling them all about yourself — they love you. Suddenly, you’re popular!

‚ÄĘ Don’t talk at people: listen to them.
‚ÄĘ Don’t show off for people: watch them.

Pay attention. These folks are your bread and butter.

If you’re feeling lonely, go someplace where the whole point is to help people get over being lonely, or at least to let them yak. Join a focus group. Join a church. Better yet, join a church choir. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Join a book discussion club. Take up with a hiking or bicycling group. Become a Democrat. Whatever it is, make yourself UN-lonely for a few hours a week.

You need that time away from your garret, to be a better human being and to learn more about other human beings. But whatever you decide to do…

Shut up.

Why Publish with a Mainstream Press?

One reason: creds.

Several of my friends and acquaintances have immersed themselves so deeply in the indie publishing/self-publishing phenomenon that they can’t see why anyone would want to publish through an old-fashioned brick-and-mortar mainstream publisher. After all, they cry, look at how much more money you can make on sales of your book through Amazon!

To that I have this to say:

a) Fat chance and good luck with that.
b) Even if you make more per retail transaction, you’re still very unlikely to make as much publishing a good, truly promising book through Amazon as you would on an advance against sales from a major publishing house. And…
c) Let’s look at the whole picture.

Here’s the thing: even if you publish regularly on Amazon, you’re not very likely to earn a living on it. Sure, some people do. But most people don’t. And dreaming about being a Writer with a Capital W does not put food on the table or a roof over your head.

Unless you have a working spouse or independent wealth, what you need to be a Writer is a job that will support you while leaving you enough hours in the day, every day, to do the work of writing. And those hours cannot occur after eight or ten hours in the salt mine: writing is every bit as much a job as slinging hamburgers or preparing tax returns or or painting houses or pushing some company’s papers. The Writing hours need to occur when you’re fresh enough and energetic enough to devote your full attention to your job of preference.

There is a type of work that fills the bill: teaching in higher education, preferably at a university. Preferably in a graduate-level writing program. Whereas in the olden days artists and writers were supported by aristocratic patrons — dukes and earls and kings and such — today’s patron is the university.

Universities (and, to a lesser degree, two- and four-year colleges) support artists and writers by employing them in jobs that are light on labor and heavy on prestige. And the “prestige” part is the part they expect you to deliver.

To provide that — to get a tenure-track job at all — you have to be published through a recognizable press. And that does not include CreateSpace. As with any tenurable position, jobs in writing programs require more than just publishing. It’s not that you’re published. It’s where you’re published. You have to be published with a first-line press that has gatekeepers — editors and marketers and reviewers who assess the quality of your manuscript before it’s accepted for publication.

A book or two published through a recognizable house will open the doors to jobs that ask only that you teach two or three sections of creative writing or literature in exchange for freedom and time to build your career as a writer. It doesn’t have to be a Big Five publisher. An academic press or a small (but real…not CreateSpace, not Nook, not iBooks, not Ingram, not Kindle…) publisher will do the job.

I landed a full-time teaching job complete with excellent benefits, very nice office space, a decent salary, and a future on the strength of two books published through university presses and one through a major commercial publishing house. If I were to apply for such a job today, my CV probably would contain no mention of the book published through Amazon’s Kindle platform. Any whiff of a self-published book could be fatal.

Could I earn more by aggressively marketing a self-published book with broad appeal than I would by publishing the same book through a mainstream publisher? Maybe. Let’s even say “sure.”

But that income would be short-term. It would peter out in a few years, maybe even in a single year. To stave off the evil day, I would have to devote an inordinate amount of time to marketing and to hustling sales.

A salary from an academic job, on the other hand, will remain a salary as long as I hold the job, whether I publish more books or not. The academic employer will match contributions to a 403(b). It probably will offer a health insurance plan. It will offer disability insurance. It will give me an annual travel budget to cover junkets to various professional conferences. It will, in a word, support me.

Now, I’m not saying no one ever cobbles together a living wage by cranking out self-published books. No doubt some people do — maybe a lot of people. But it’s an iffy proposition.

If your books are good enough to sell to enough readers that the proceeds will support you, then they’re good enough to sell to a mainstream publisher. And the kind of job you can land with a few mainstream publications on the CV will support you steadily and usually better than a catch-as-catch-can income stream from Amazon will.

Mainstream publication gives you credentials — the credentials you need to persuade an academic patron (a university or college) to support you while you keep on writing.

Promote Your Book: Give a Presentation

Whether you publish through a mainstream press or whether you self-publish, the bulk of the promotion job falls upon you, the author. One fairly easy way to promote your book is to volunteer to do a presentation on some subject relevant to a group’s interests.

For example, my friend Donna Freedman has offered to speak to a large writer’s group about strategies for creating popular, readable blog entries. Because the group’s main thrust is not craft but marketing, members will be very interested in what she has to say — and we hope, in her new online course on writing a blog people will read.

And just today, I talked to a business group about donating directly to breast cancer research centers rather than to self-perpetuating organizations that function as middlemen. Members of this group are active in public service and donate generously to worthy causes, so I knew they’d be interested in the subject. And speaking about the Susan G. Komen foundation and similar institutions gave me an opportunity to plug my upcoming book on the decisions women face after they receive a breast diagnosis.

A successful presentation can’t just have you step up to a podium and plug your book. You need to offer more than that.

Bearing that in mind, it’s pretty easy to create a public presentation that works, if you follow a few basic rules.

‚ÄĘ In thinking about your angle, consider your audience. Today’s talk, reproduced at my Funny about Money site, addressed a group of small business owners and executives. They’re committed to charitable works and, since most of them are middle-aged, they’re interested in health-care issues. Those who are not women have wives they care about, and so they can easily be engaged by the hot topic of breast cancer.

The material I put into today’s presentation may not go into my book at all, since its topic primarily concerns the kinds of choices women have to make, often on short notice and under a great deal of stress, about any number of proposed breast cancer treatments. It actually is based on information I came across in my research for the book. In thinking about it, I realized it would probably interest group members more and make them less uncomfortable than a frank discussion of what goes on inside the operating theater. For a different group, a different aspect of the topic might fly just as well or better.

‚ÄĘ Prepare your presentation thoroughly. Check and double-check your facts, and be prepared to answer any questions audience members may ask. Be sure to cover all the ground, even if briefly, within the time limit you’re given. Respecting that time limit is part of your preparation — don’t neglect this key aspect.

‚ÄĘ Write out a script and rehearse it, preferably in front of a mirror. You should practice delivering your presentation several times — at least three, and maybe more. Ideally, your presentation should be memorized. Of course, sometimes that’s not possible — too little time is given for preparation, or you have to present complex data that’s hard to remember accurately under the stress of public scrutiny.

‚ÄĘ In any event, do not read your script to your audience. Deliver your presentation as though you were speaking to a small group of friends, as off the cuff as you can make it appear. If you need a cheat sheet, list the main points in outline style and let these remind you of the content that you’ve rehearsed. Print out your notes in 18-point type, so you can read them easily under any lighting conditions.

‚ÄĘ If you use PowerPoint, for hevvinsake DON’T read the captions and notes in the slides to your audience! zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..

‚ÄĘ Watch a few TED Talks, studying the style and demeanor of presenters. Note how the speakers move and how they engage their audiences.

‚ÄĘ Provide useful information, preferably in the form of a handout. In my talk about the controversy around the Susan G. Komen foundation, I provided a one-page list of cancer research institutions to which anyone can donate. This is worked into the blog post, but it was offered separately to the group members, as a take-home.

‚ÄĘ Try not to be crass about plugging yourself. Instead of reminding listeners repeatedly about the wonders of your new book, mention it in your bio and — ideally — get the person who introduces you to remark on it. Use your time to provide valuable and interesting information.

‚ÄĘ But make it easy for audience members to find your book. Have a website that’s easy to find, preferably as your name — or some such — and place a link to Amazon or your own store so readers can buy. Bring business cards that carry your book’s title and a link to your website on Amazon ( And if you have copies of the book, bring a stack to the meeting, hand them around as a show-and-tell, and let audience members buy direct from you.

‚ÄĘ Look for the right audiences. This of course depends on your subject matter. A church group might be right for a discussion of some moral issue or — say — of philanthropy. Business groups are interested in a wide variety of subjects that bear on daily life and the well-being of members’ cities and commerce. Do a subject search on for groups that meet to talk about or participate in whatever your book concerns.

‚ÄĘ Don’t be shy about asking. The worst that can happen is they’ll tell you “no.” But you won’t get an invitation to speak if you don’t ask.

‚ÄĘ Speak early and speak often. You don’t have to wait until your book hits print to speak on your subject. If you have some expertise that you’re working into a book, begin giving presentations before the book comes out. Then when it’s published, you can go back to the group, remind them of your existence, and proudly announce publication.

Once you have a presentation that works, recycle it. Look into massaging it to fit the interests of other groups, work it into your newsletter and send it out to your subscribers, or revamp it into a post for your blog.

w00t! Boob Book Intro DONE!

To my surprise, writing the introduction to the proposed book describing the choices women face when they receive just about any kind of breast diagnoses went a lot faster than expected. At this point I’m now reduced to doing the slow, mind-numbing job of organizing 535+ pages of notes.

One of the benefits of self-employment, of course, is that you can carve some time out of your day to work on your own projects. And I do: I segment my days to devote about three hours to the client’s current book, about three hours to the Boob Book, about two hours to riding herd on my three online courses (more, when student papers come in or when course prep¬† has to be done), an hour or two to keeping up my various blogs, and one to three hours for marketing.

But as grand as that sounds, it’s not so easy.

Problem is, life keeps impinging on one’s business. In about fifteen minutes, for example, I have to visit an oncological nurse practitioner at the Mayo Clinic — that’s a 50-mile drive, two hours through city traffic, not counting the time spent sitting around the waiting room and then chatting with the woman, probably pointlessly. Though I’ll take my laptop and work on the client’s project, it’s difficult to concentrate when people around you are yakking on their cell phones and when staff are calling out people’s names and annoying Muzak is impinging on your consciousness.

On my way home, I’ll stop by a couple of markets in Scottsdale, stores that serve the middle class that has migrated away from my part of town; there I can buy a few items no longer available nearby because not enough of the residents remaining near my home can afford to buy such things. That will consume another half hour or so.

Yesterday I finally gave in to a friend’s repeated importuning to drive to his home way to hell and gone out in Sun City to have dinner with him and his girlfriend. I dearly love this couple, but I do NOT love driving to the sprawl-infested far west side in the rush hour. Nor could I afford the several hours of the afternoon and evening that this junket required: because my business group met that morning at a venue way on the east side of the Valley, I got almost no work done. Between the time I returned from that meeting, had something to eat, and rested up from a sleep-deprived night and the time I had to get dressed and drive to my friend’s house, only about four hours of useful work time remained.

Tomorrow I have to drive even further west — halfway to freaking Yuma, in my opinion — to go with some friends to a book-signing and of course, as long as we’re convening with the friend who lives in one of the Valley’s farthest-flung suburbs, to schmooze over lunch and catch up with news. This activity will consume about half my day.

Not to complain: I’m happy to see my friends and spend time with them. And showing up at networking groups is an indispensable part of marketing your business. The point is, the best-laid plans of mice and persons often go awry…

That’s why I say it was “to my surprise” that the introduction got itself drafted so quickly. Having several days in which the work schedule went uninterrupted…wow! But it was probably a fluke.

And What Do YOU Do for a Day Job?

Seriously? How do you put food on your table while you’re trying to make it as a Writer with a Capital W?

Do you ever question whether it’s the greatest idea since Eve offered an Apple to Adam?

Ain’t a-gonna copy and paste the Rant of the Day from my main blog over here. Don’t have enough energy, after this fine day, to recast it all in fresh new language. So c’mon over, folks, and join the party.

Holiday Work Overload: The inevitable lot of freelancers?

What IS it about entrepreneurship (my appropriated term for “self-employment”) that masses of work always pour in at the end of the year? This happens every single Christmas and New Year’s: clients think I’m going to drop everything and work for them.

Naturally. What else do I have to do, eh?

For three years running, it was the indexes of medieval and Renaissance history. When I ran an editorial office at the Great Desert University, one of our journals was a large, prestigious annual. Every issue, of course, being book-length, had to be indexed. That was fine — part of the job. But when the university closed our office, canning me and all five of my staff, the journal came with me.

Like all academics, the authors and editors always ran late on deadline. This meant page proofs would invariably surface late in December…some time after the thing should’ve gone to press. Among the chores I would do for this publication was the index. So a vast PDF would show up along about December 20. The editor wanted the completed index in hand shortly after New Year’s.

Indexing a scholarly tome to the level of perfection that particular editor demanded would take, under the best of circumstances, a good three weeks. But he was always asking for more, more, and more. On deadline. So that would mean I would spend all day Christmas Eve, all day Christmas, all the period between Christmas and New Year’s, and all day New Year’s compiling 20 single-spaced pages of index entries on some of the most mind-numbing copy this side of mathematical biosciences and engineering — the topic of another of our journals.

Last year the editors of a book on medieval maritime history surfaced, wanting an index. It looked like they would hit the holiday window, too. But no…they ran SO late it was July before they sent proofs. By then I was into what has turned into an eight-month-long surgical nightmare. I farmed out the job to a subcontractor, who probably will get all future work from that source.

Now a particularly favored client is back in the country — he’s quite the globe-trotter — and wants to make hay while…the bells jingle. He sent 250 single-spaced pages of copy to edit. I got through 100 pages; earlier this week we spent two hours sifting through those edits and had to quit before we finished. He wants to meet again on Monday for another marathon analysis.

This would be fine any other time of year. But it’s not so fine now. In addition to struggling with the ongoing medical drama — major, exceptionally unpleasant surgery is slated for January 6 — I sing on a choir. That happens to be about the only thing I do that is NOT constant unremitting work. It’s the only thing that gets me out of my garret and around other people. And Christmas is one of its most active times.

I really do dislike it, then, when people think I’m going to spend national and religious holidays working on their projects. Especially when those projects could have been delivered at more convenient times.

Then I still have to do the course prep for the magazine-writing class. One part of that chore entails creating new videos to help students understand what’s involved in writing and marketing magazine copy. The chair of the journalism department wants to deep-six the textbook and rewrite the course so that it substitutes Internet sources for the book’s content.

That, of course, will be a marathon project. I used the healthcare fiasco as an excuse to beg off doing that this spring. But nevertheless, it’s going to have to be done.

Last night I recorded and posted a new video explaining “What Is a Feature,” and realized I’ve got to redo the one on the query letter ASAP. That was after I posted a video on writing the position paper for the freshman comp students (they can’t tell the difference between a position paper, a proposal, and a report). Those jobs absorbed the whole afternoon and evening, and I¬†still have to work on the globe-trotter’s book. Haven’t even started that.

Well. I can’t complain. It is work, and it isn’t waiting tables or greeting shoppers at the Walmart. Still: EVERY Christmas? EVERY New Year’s?

Should Writers Teach?

More to the point, should writers teach so-called “writing-intensive” courses, such as composition and literature?

When I was an undergraduate, lo these many years ago, a favorite English professor remarked that teaching ruins you as a writer. He was, I’m sure, in one of those funks that reading papers or sitting through faculty meetings can bring on. But since I wanted nothing more, in those days, but to grow up to be a Writer with a Capital W, his remark struck me. And it has stayed with me all these decades.

Could he have been right?

Certainly, if you want to write well, immersing yourself in bad writing is counterproductive.¬† A great writer is not built by swimming in bad writing: one needs constant exposure to the best writing in one’s chosen language, preferably the kind of writing one would like to emulate.

Reading bad writing corrupts your own writing. No matter how much you try to resist its influence, it insinuates itself into the crannies of your mind. And you find yourself emitting clichés, echoing group-think, constructing weak sentences and weak paragraphs and ultimately entire weak documents.

Last night I finished grading the latest set of student papers at 10:30. By then my brain had gone numb.

Few people write well. This includes some very bright people — one need not be a dunderhead to be a terrible writer. When your job is to help anywhere from 30 to 200 people a semester learn to write at something resembling a competent level, you’re set up for frustration and for brain-melt. Yesterday I spent hours trying to explain basic sentence structure to people who have a tin ear for language; trying to correct grade-school grammar, sentence, and punctuation errors; trying to explain what a paragraph is and how to build one; tracking down plagiarism; reminding would-be writers of what the assignment actually was (as opposed to what they turned in); and on and on and on…into the evening.

My students have passed a minimum of thirteen years in K-12 schools. Many have more education than that — some are upper-division college students or even college graduates.

Any such activity hugely wastes your time. Five or six hours of grading time (or even five or six minutes of it, for heaven’s sake!) displaces time that you could use for writing, or for reading high-quality models who might imbue your writing with good technique. Instead, you’re imbued with the worst of all possible technique.

I haven’t read a real piece of literature in months! Not that I wouldn’t like to: there’s simply no time for it. In any given day I’m lucky to get through the key parts of the newspaper, much less sit down and read a book. When I’m not teaching, I’m editing other people’s copy, which, while better than student emissions, remains to prove itself as an avatar of the Western World’s great writing. The rest of my time is spent marketing work I’ve managed to put in front of readers and attending to daily survival chores.

So…if you want to be a Great Writer, should you avoid teaching?

To say so raises a much more obvious question: how do you propose to put food on the table?

Personally, I’m too old to wait tables or tend bar — both useful ways to meet and study people for writerly purposes, by the way. Greeting customers at the local Walmart doesn’t appeal. Driving a forklift could be good, I suppose…

People who can write can often get decently paid work in jobs that use their skills. One of the best fiction writers I’ve met made her living as a technical writer, a decently paid occupation. It’s probably as mind-numbing as teaching, but if the subject matter is boring, at least the copy is not grammatically and structurally corrupt.

You could try to be a journalist. But you’d do about as well driving that forklift (compare!).

Public relations is a possibility. I find that line of work corrupting in itself, personally. I quit doing it because I found some things are not worth any amount of money. And here you do run up against people who can’t write a coherent sentence and can’t grasp the most basic principles of clear communication — but instead of being your students, they’re your bosses.

There’s a lot to be said for the trades. They can’t be offshored, pay in some trades exceeds minimum wage (something that can not be said for adjunct teaching), and you meet an endless array of characters.

Where do you go to sign up for fork-lift school?