The Problems of Success
Most how-to tutorials and blogs are aimed at beginners. This makes perfect sense, since the vast majority of people who want to figure out how to do a thing are those who haven’t done it yet.
We have a lot of that here – in fact, we have a nifty compendium on the first steps in a tab up at the top, on Navigating From Writing To Publication.
But while the problems of beginning are fairly well known and hashed out, once you’ve done more than begun, a second set of problems arises: the problems of success. And these can really blindside you, especially when from the slough of despond “success” looks like a rosy promised land filled with milk and honey.
The first problem is taxes. Very few people are truly aware of just how much of their paycheck has been forked over to the federal government before they ever saw it, and are blindsided by having to pay both halves of social security, much less everything else. (The self-employment tax.) Set aside half – yes, half – of your gross income from indie, for paying the IRS. No, it’s not likely to actually take a full 50 percent, but you have two options here: try to calculate it exactly and risk a lot of stress, panic, and heartburn if you miscalculated and the IRS wants their pound of flesh now, or end up with a nice extra reserve when the IRS is paid off that can go toward debt, mortgage, or being a buffer against rising health care costs and tree-through-the-roof.
The second problem is lack of credit. You see, when you become self-employed as a full-time writers, you find out that banks are extremely risk-averse, and don’t like an unsteady income they can’t calculate. It doesn’t matter how much money you have saved if the loan officer is going “Well, you don’t have a paycheck or W-2 to tell me what you can afford for mortgage payments every month, so we can’t offer you a loan.” Just because I strongly urge you to pay off your credit card does not mean I urge you to cancel that credit card. That ability to draw credit will be your buffer when the ER trip hits.
The third problem is learning to budget and guard your time. This won’t totally destroy your life with one big moment like the IRS or the inability to float a new water heater on a credit card while dealing with the insurance company will… but it’ll destroy your productivity and eat your life in little amounts, leaving the same result in the end. When you’re punching a time clock, life is pretty clear: eight to four is on the job, less lunch, plus commute on either side, and evenings and weekends are for chores, home tasks, and socializing. When you’re at home, the distraction of all the things you could be doing eats into your working time, and the “I should be working” eats into your downtime. If you don’t guard it, it mashes together and you never get to relax on days off (because you don’t take them), but you’re constantly distracted and getting a good solid block of work is rare.
Make sure you have down time. Family time is for family, not for sitting there thinking about how to plot your book while your wife wonders why she even bothered to invite you on the anniversary dinner, much less dress up, because you’ve said six words to her in the past four hours and completely ignored the new dress with its cleavage in favor of staring blankly out into the crowd. Make sure you do go on that hunting trip, or range day, or out with friends for dinner… because not taking time off will burn you out when working for yourself just as surely as it’d do it working for someone else.
Make sure you have up time. There are not only internet blocking apps, there are selective-site blocking apps. Stay off Facebook. You know why employers don’t like facebook? It’s because employees spend their time on it, refreshing and chatting and liking instead of, oh, actually working. Well, you’re the boss now – if you want productivity, you better kick the employee off facebook. Turn off email notifications and phone notifications. Then decide you have a window for social media, and when it’s done, it’s over for the day. (You’ll be amazed at how staying off aggregator sites, whether insty, drudge, facebook, or Gab, activates the same anxiety and cravings as trying to cut out coffee or fast. Social engineers are very, very good at hitting that instant-reward link in our brain that makes junkies of us all. The most crushing realization is when you figure out that people have a hard time seeing what’s not there – and if you aren’t on for a week or two, the most you’ll get is “Oh, yeah, I didn’t see you comment in that post you were tagged in.”)
Also, track your words per session, and session times & locations, and anything else relevant. Because patterns emerge from data that may contradict feelings. Peter feels more productive writing in a hotel without cats to distract… but the words-per-day are far lower, because he’ll spend most of the day on whatever we’re traveling to do. I like writing at a coffee shop, but I spend the first 45 minutes getting coffee, a table, eating the food… if I only have an hour and a half, I have twice as much writing time at home as at the coffee shop. So record your data, and come back later to find out what really helps and what doesn’t.
The fourth problem is learning to say no.
You see, when you start out, you feel like you’re on a deserted island, putting messages in bottles and throwing them out into the ocean, hoping to get a response. And every now and then you will, and it’ll be wonderful to correspond or collaborate. But when you becomes successful, all those bottles with responses will start washing ashore at once… and you won’t have time to do everything.
Right now, Peter has a fantasy that should be out by the end of next month if he wants to keep to the time table for the year. He also has (not in order) the third Laredo book to write, the seventh Maxwell, the third western, a short story for anthology with Tom Kratman, a collaboration with an awesome author that’s being planned, his own blog to write…
When he got asked to be in another anthology, one he really wanted to be in, he had to say no. Because he’s stretched too thin. And when asked for guest articles on another blog (over and above the once-monthly blog here), he had to turn them down, too. In fact, most of the above should be considered on the back burner, because he can’t write on six things at once… he can write one thing at a time, with breaks to work on a second when he gets stuck on the first.
The fifth problem is when to end a series. There have been a couple posts here on that, as it’s started to become a series-ous consideration for our authors. Brownie points for the first person to link ’em! (It’s almost midnight and I have to work an early shift tomorrow. You have archives and search tools, we have years of posts. Dig around and discover the wealth of the archives!)
The sixth, related, is when to jump to a new genre, or start a new series, or write a standalone. Because series get a certain number of fans, and an indie author can start to plan on how much a new release ought to bring in. But standalones are extremely hard to market or sell, and a new genre always caries the risk of losing all the readers who like their genre, and like you as a good writing in genre… but aren’t willing to follow you to the new genre.
Avoid getting yourself in a position where you feel you have to crank out your main series to keep the income up. That’s not good for the fans, the work itself, or for you when you feel trapped and stale. (If you want to feel trapped and stale, there are plenty of cubicle jobs I can heartily recommend as reminders that you shouldn’t do that.)
…and note, this is often more a feeling, a fear of failure or of reduced income, than it is an actual data-driven decision. Man is a rationalizing creature, not a rational one, and we often use data as an excuse for our made up minds.
Seventh… I know I’m missing some. What problems of success have you seen or dealt with? How do you mitigate these?