by Laura Anne Gilman
One of the ways that you can make a living as a writer is by writing. A lot. And by a lot I mean writing two (or even three) books a year, be it under your own name or a pseudonym, in one genre or many.
This is a tried and true career path, all the way back to the rise of genre publishing. Not because genre books are in any way ‘easier’ to write than literary ones, but because – bluntly – genre readers read more. And faster. Voraciously.
So if you’re able to come up with good, solid ideas that publishers (and readers) like, and are willing to spend 8 hours a day at your keyboard, 50+ weeks a year, you can do it. Having spent several years writing one series, one trilogy, and stand-alones in another genre, three books a year, I am here to say that it’s a hell of a ride.
Much, I am told, like doing a lot of coke. Only you’re earning money rather than blowing it.
But the crash at the end? That’s very much like.
Writing one book a year is an emotional drain. When you’re writing two or more, every 12-18 months, you’re asking for twice that drain. Never mind the pile of cocaine: imagine a candle. Book one lights one end, books two/three lights the other. It burns toward ppft stage twice as fast.
And then, if you’re also trying to maintain some kind of a personal life, or maintaining any other interests… imagine a candle, lit at both ends…and then turn it sideways, and place another flame at mid-section.
Eventually, all that’s left is a puddle of wax.
“Every client I’ve had, who does three books in a year…burns out.” My agent said that to me, a few months ago. She was talking about the stage we come to, when we think “oh god. I’m too tired to do this any more.” And she’s right.
So am I telling you to never try to write more than one book a year? No. As I said, it’s a realistic way to make a living as a writer, if you can manage it. Plus, having your career spread out over several publishing houses and/or indie formats is not a bad idea, even in good times. But be prepared.
- You will get sick, and blow a deadline.
- You will have days at a time when you simply can’t face the desk.
- You will – no matter how well you plan it at contract stage – end up with projects overlapping each other at the worst possible time.
Acknowledge, now, that these things will happen. It doesn’t make you a failure, and it doesn’t have to throw you completely off the cliff, emotionally or physically. And above all, breathe. I can’t emphasize this enough. This is your job, you’re doing it six, maybe eight, sometimes ten hours a day. You have an endless parade of deadlines, and they will crush you under their feet, if you let them.
- Talk to your editor(s). Ideally, have them talk to each other (trust me, the odds are good they know each other). Keep them up-to-date on what’s happening. This is advice I gave you way back when, and it’s even more important when you’ve got more than one production schedule waiting on you.
- Schedule something indulgent on a regular basis. Something that doesn’t depend on you hitting goals or anything specific – just Nice, Now. A thing, or an activity, or an indulgence that makes you slow down and relax, and gives your body and brain both time to recover. I’m a huge fan of a quarterly massage sessions – it has medical, emotional, and creative benefits I feel almost immediately.
- Physical activity. Every day. Get up and walk. Play on the Wii. Turn up the music and dance like a loony person (your pets won’t tell, and your kids PROBABLY won’t post it to YouTube).
- Write every day, even when you really feel you can’t stand it any more. It doesn’t have to be the thing you’re working on – just so long as you keep to the routine for a few hours.
- And most of all, accept that you will, at some point, burn out. Have an exit strategy planned.
Coming up in Week 51: will that be a book for one, or two, this evening?
Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, including the THE SHATTERED VINE, Book 3 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy,, and TRICKS OF THE TRADE both IN STORES NOW! (ahem). Her SF collection, DRAGON VIRUS, which SF Signal called “amazingly evocative….a potent ride through a changing future,” was published by Fairwood Press in June 2011. For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman)
She also runs d.y.m.k. productions, an editorial services company (www.dymkproductions.com).
And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.