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?

45 thoughts on “The Problems of Success

  1. The tax advice is the best part. One of those things if you don’t know about it will definitely bite you in the posterior.

    1. Yes, but it leaves something important out: everything written about the IRS applies equally to your state, county, and city tax leeches.

      I know a number of us on this blog are fortunate enough to live in places like Texas which don’t have state income tax, but I’ve lived in places that do, and you can get in almost as much trouble with the lesser devils as with the Infernal Revenue Service.

      There’s also the question of which workplace regulations may or may not apply to your home office, etc. As the “gig economy” replaces the job economy, lots of jurisdictions are looking to make sure they continue to get their cut.

      Cheaper to get professional advice on mapping the minefields than playing “minesweeper” yourself.

      1. And if you live in a place that is odd about zoning, inquire, discreetly, about zoning laws and home offices. I’ve read one case where a person had a home craft room and was selling things via the internet, and got hit with local taxes AND fined for violating zoning laws pertaining to what one can do in a building zoned residential. I suspect if you are writing in a home office and selling via the ‘Zon, KOBO, or something else, there’s no conflict. But what if you have a Gumroad account or something similar where you sell directly from your server?

        1. “I suspect if you are writing in a home office and selling via the ‘Zon, KOBO, or something else, there’s no conflict.”

          “Suspect” is not a word one likes to encounter when dealing with legal matters. 😎

          And I didn’t even mention things like HOAs and vindictive neighbors…..

  2. This’ll probably only apply to Commonwealth countries, but definitely keep track of not just taxable income, but how it’ll affect things like Medicare or social assistance type income; or things like, HECS debt in Australia. Since this varies from country to country, it’s prolly a good thing to find out.

    Something else to watch out for would maaaaybe be differences in copyright depending on where one lives versus how it’s applied outside of the country, and which ones hold precedence.

  3. If you are successful enough, consider looking to a corporation or DBA with your state. And about splitting off your work income and work expenses from personal. Can you afford to have everything locked up if a divorce slams into you? I may be at the point, income wise, where I need to shift to registering a DBA (Doing Business As) with the State and move my book income* into the business name. I’m going to talk to my tax guy about that later this year.

    * It already goes into a separate account that I use only for taxes and for paying book-related expenses, at this point.

    YMMV, IANACPA, past outcomes do not guarantee future performance, always speak with a certified financial advisor before investing in this or any other security…

    1. Technically, a DBA is just a name, not a legal protection. Which is why you need to carefully check the protections of your legal form. A sole proprietorship, for instance, may leave you liable.

  4. The eighth unmentioned problem is when you become successful and your editors start letting you write any damn thing you want to. Poverty makes you cautious. Success makes some people think they’re invincible and smarter than everyone else.

    Charles Stross suffers heavily from this, so does David Weber. Just because you have a lot of fans does not mean you will get more by going on a chapter-long rant about Issue X, or have a twelve page info-dump in the first twenty pages of your new book. Even Ian Banks had that Issue X problem with his last book, a good editor would have gone at that thing with a chainsaw.

    As to the taxes thing, (disclaimer, I am -not- a tax lawyer or an accountant) people who make a -lot- of money incorporate. Doctors particularly have a medical corporation as a buffer between them and the Gubmint. Corporations are taxed a a much lower rate, and the assets of an -employee- cannot be attached in an action against the corporation. So the income gets paid to a corporation, which pays its taxes and makes investments and so forth, and then the corporation pays its shareholders (that’s you, Joe Author) dividends, and/or a salary. That way you have a “steady income” for the bank to look at, you have a credit rating, you have much lower overall taxes, and best of all, if somebody sues the company, they cannot get YOU.

    Some people have two or three companies. One for income, one for stock investments, one for real estate investments, etc. It walls the things off from each other, so that no one event can take it all. The most they can get is that one company. The reverse is also true. If you do business with XYZ Inc. and Something Bad happens, the most you can get is the assets of XYZ Inc. Try to be sure that is more than a cheesy desk and a fax machine.

    If you suddenly found yourself with a hit, or something that got picked up for a TV series or a movie, you could find yourself with six figures you have to sandbag to keep it from being washed away by government. Corporations do that.

    1. By the way. Some states in the USA are rapacious with the taxes. NY, CA, a few more are extreme in this regard.

      Your company and your servers do not have to be in the same state where you live. Or the same country. Food for thought. Hire an expert.

      1. Many states have laws regarding where the work is performed. This is why there aren’t as many Californians incorporating in Nevada anymore.

    2. Actually, it is not publisher confidence. It is publisher cheapness. A lot of the Big 5 figure that once you have one book out, they should save the expense of an editor. Editors go to meetings, not edit.

    3. Corporations are not taxed at a lower rate. The US corporate tax rate is still 35%, which is equal to the second-from-the-top Federal tax bracket in the united states in 2016. it really isn’t that much lower.

  5. As you get a streamlined process in place for writing, formatting, etc. make sure you have a) backups of everything b) a secondary system *already set up* with the programs used. I recently had my main writing computer die of cirrhosis of the hard drive, and while I had backups of everything, setting it all up again was a major time sink.

    1. I had office problems. My writing is technical in nature and I found that I couldn’t write at home. There were just too many distractions, most of my own making. The library didn’t work because it was too noisy and I didn’t have my reference material available.

      I found a small 10’x15’ office for $200/month. There was a shared kitchen and conference room. I put in a couple of bookcases and a desk I found from Goodwill, set up a hotspot on my phone and I was good to go.

      And I found a lot of advantages. The conference room gives a professional meeting place. You go to the office to work, so you put your time. After all, that’s your job. The rent is tax deductible. After checking with my accountant, I found lots of other legitimate deductions, paper, ink, office supplies, coffee maker, new computer, etc. And since the office is not in the house, there are no questions from the IRS or state agencies.

      Plus, you can get a business license easier at a commercial address than a home and that helps legitimize you in the eyes of the taxing authorities.

      Once I got established, I got a bigger office and ran in the internet. I was shocked by how much more the net is for a business for the same service you get in a house, but it’s deductible, as is your cell phone if it’s used for business.

      All in all, I was much more productive, had fewer tax issues, and presented a much more professional appearance.

      Obviously, it depends on where you live, but I keep seeing office space for rent at very reasonable prices, so it might be worth it to look into it. It certainly increased my output and makes me more money.

      1. I don’t know anyone who has actually done it, but I’ve seen a few people talk about buying a Sears garden shed and fitting it out with insulation and air conditioning, or just parking a small RV in the back yard and using it for an office.

        Sounds like an interesting compromise between “have to travel to work” and “not being at home.”

        1. I know a couple of people that work out of sheds or a stand-alone garage.

          One is a small accountant, one does drafting and a couple do woodworking, so it’s possible. The IRS is happy with it.

          1. Those are nice designs for an individual or a couple. But in the USA, very difficult to impossible to build near any urban or suburban area, where building codes are set up to encourage the largest possible “McMansion” in order to keep sale prices and property taxes maxed out. And then they generally want to prohibit outbuildings, cabins, or guest houses of any sort, which are deemed deviant and unsightly no matter what they look like, since their secondary goal is that everyone should live in identical houses on identical properties, with individuality expressed by being able to pick one of the half-dozen approved colors for walls and trim boards.

            1. My in-laws have had problems along that line, just trying to add things like sheds or a bathroom expansion, and their property is a rural one. So I deeply sympathise.

              You’d think that if one owned the property, you could do what you liked as long as you met the building codes, but nooo…

    2. I have my work backed up at least four different ways. Separate hard drives on my main machine, a bunch of usb sticks, and copies on my NAS and laptop.

      Once upon a time probably twenty years ago, I had a story kind of being written, and I backed it up on tape. Tape drive died, and that was that.

      1. It’s not *really* backed up until at least one copy is off-site.

        Fire, flood, tornado, theft, police raid… any of them can vacuum everything out of your home.

        Harry Stine lost part of a book to a computer glitch. He swore “never again” and began keeping each chapter on floppy disk, saving copies alternately between A: and B:

        Harry died at his keyboard; his wife found him there when he didn’t come to lunch. He apparently had a moment or two of warning; a mutual friend called and said the wife had told him Harry’s monitor still had the dialog box up saying his file had been saved to Drive A:.

        1. “It’s not *really* backed up until at least one copy is off-site.”

          There are two types of computer users. Those that have lost data and those that are going to lose data.

          I have an external HD attached to the computer for daily backup, one in the office safe for a weekly back up and a third in a safety deposit box I rotate every couple of weeks depending on how much work I’ve done that week.

          Given the low cost of USB hard drives it’s just common sense.

          1. Let us not forget the dreaded corrupted file. This is how I lost a load forecast that was nearly complete. Worse, the back-up was the corrupted file.

            1. Back when we used to use (expensive) tapes for storage, I periodically had to explain to new management layers why one tape set a month got “retired” to off-site storage and replaced with brand-new tapes. The idea what tapes wore out seemed particularly hard for them to grasp.

              I loathed tape drives, tapes, their software, and everyone who was involved in making and selling them with a fulminating fury that still spikes my blood pressure decades later…

      2. As TRX mentions, you also need at least *some* off-site backup. I know someone who had all his files backed up to an external drive, so he figured he was safe. The thief who stole his laptop also stole the external drive that was right next to the laptop, so even though his files were backed up, he lost them all anyway,

        I’ve been using CrashPlan for external backup, which I’ve been pretty happy with. A few annoyances, like a cache folder that never shrinks, ever, and has to occasionally be manually pruned so it won’t take over your hard disk space — but I’ve used them several times to rescue files when my wife’s laptop had a hard disk failure, and they’ve saved my data.

        They offer their software for free, and you only have to pay if you want to use their cloud backup service. This is more useful than it sounds like, because one feature of their software is to let you make backups to other people’s computers (with their permission, of course). Get a friend or two who are willing to give you a few gigabytes of hard disk space on their computers, and you can back up your entire WIP folder to their computers automatically. I haven’t used that service myself, but it looks pretty simple to set up. Your friends just have to go into the CrashPlan software, write down a short code like D8B5V67 (not a real code, just used for illustration purposes) that the software creates, and tell it to you. (They might also have to check a box that says “Allow friends that I’ve given this code to to back up to my computer”.) Also, your friends can tell the software to limit the amount of space you use on their computers, so they can guarantee that your backups won’t flood their hard disks if you accidentally save a bunch of huge files in that WIP folder.

        The backed-up files are encrypted using the CrashPlan password that you choose when you sign up for a free CrashPlan account, so your friends won’t have access to your files. They could delete them, of course, but they couldn’t read them.

        If you don’t have at least one external backup method, your files aren’t truly backed up. I cannot emphasize that enough. CrashPlan is nice because it runs in the background, so it’s a “set it and forget it” safety measure, but there are plenty of other good methods as well. Just make sure you are using at least one of them.

        1. I have been using SugarSync for years for the same reason. It fires in the background and copies any changed files to the cloud as soon as it is closed by the application. No more drive swaps or monthly DVD burning sessions.

    3. That would be a post in of itself, I reckon; and I personally think it would be SUPER HELPFUL to folks. Or even a series of posts.

      If only we could avoid the whole “Well, get a Mac, trololol” or OS wars, it would be super helpful…

      1. The way Mac is going, we’re all going to be saying “to [perdition] with this [manure],” learning Linux or something else, and heading for the proverbial hills. In my humble and annoyed opinion.

        1. I may be getting some new hardware soon. If so, I’m going to investigate whether I can run Debian stable or some other Linux flavor in order to meet my needs.

        2. *chuckles* Yeah, well, I was referring more to the last time we tried to talk about this on MGC… There was this one guy who started throwing his ‘IT knowledge’ weight around, and who, on the very rare occasion I see comment, I find myself still snarling at. Sneering at other people’s financial situations being a limiter to what tech they can get is not helpful, and going “well if this matters to you, you should invest in a Mac” attitude (paraphased) is not helpful at ALL.

          1. Yeah, that’s not the way to win friends. And note, my husband *works* for Apple, and yet he doesn’t say that to anyone. Of course, he’s also a big fan of “the right tool for the job” and it’s not always a Mac—his gaming rig is something else entirely.

            1. I have a Mac, which, as mentioned, I use for drawing. Right tool for the job is the right approach, I agree.

              With Wine, the few games that we have run on Debian, but of course, it’ll depend on the hardware requirements of the game.

      2. You won’t have that problem with 8 bit DOS. Try even getting 8 bit DOS to run on modern hardware, much less run useful modern programs…

        1. *grin* I have an Amstrad. It still works.

          And if I really, really wanted to, I’d go pen and paper. Or typewriter, if I could get my hands on one. But I rather like not accidentally jamming my slender little fingers between the keys of a typewriter keyboard, and I rather like the ability to use bold and italics.

        2. Erm, I’m still running 8-bit DOS under DOSEmu. DR5/FreeDOS with the 4DOS command shell. Besides some tools that there are no Linux equivalents for, my text editor runs under DOS, and after thirty years, the jump from my brain to the screen is seamless. I settled on that particular editor because it was stupid fast and required a minimum number of keystrokes to get things done; every now and then I check to see if there’s something out there that can match it, but so far, nothing. What it does with a single function key takes far too many keystrokes in vi or emacs, and generally isn’t even possible in a GUI editor unless you stop typing and go for the mouse.

      3. More seriously, ideal writing tools are fairly individual. I’m not sure how to do a system agnostic set of instructions that would work for people of all experience levels and would not have severe problems over time.

        Like if I just said “Do a data back up, and keep one copy offsite. Every time you install a tool, save a copy of the installation file and any software keys to another set of back ups, with one offsite.” The installers would only be most likely to work if you have the same version OS on the backup machine, which may need similar hardware, and you are in trouble if it is no longer available.

        Or if I got out of my depth talking about installation images, it wouldn’t serve people even more ignorant than I am.

        (Plus, I don’t know how much is installed over the internet these days, or if people can still ‘ghost’ machines.)

        1. I’m aware of the ideal writing tools (and art tools) being individual, which is why, despite my own use of Debian, I am not a FOSS fanatic screeching everyone should go Debian. (I think the attitude is stupid, especially since one of the nice things about FOSS forks is those forks happen because someone needed a particularly personalized method of Things Happening.)

          There are people who will do WONDERFUL things with GIMP; while I am one of the folks who am very used to Photoshop and haven’t found the time to play with Krita enough to be able to transfer across. (I also bought Clip Studio / aka Manga Studio on a sale some time ago, and haven’t had the free time to play with it, though I can say that it’s utterly awesome for lineart work and certain formats, and is very friendly to hopping back and forth between ClS and PS.) I will say though that Krita is probably the best thing to use if you’d like something that is very similar in feel and appearance to Photoshop, as well as flexibility if you’d like a free option.

          That said, Libreoffice works across Windows/MacOS/’Nix flavour, and I rather like it’s auto-backup thing where, “oh crap laptop ran out of battery and I didn’t notice, oh, phew recovery saved everything except the last paragraph, which I still remember! ”

          I will also admit that Debian (which is the Linux flavor I’m most familiar with) is a lot more forgiving of out-of-dateness than other OSes. A well maintained and planned Debian box built for the purpose intended will last you a very long time (I think the oldest box we have is over twelve years old, hardware component wise, the longevity of which was helped by setting aside money for liquid cooling, because Aussie weather considerations needed to be done) and we are only now looking at setting aside money for new machines with the view of putting those machines together in X years. However, Housemate has met people who have run nothing but Windows NT and still had working machines at 2015, and were being forced to upgrade only because they needed to modernize. (I recall one customer; the end result was a mix of FOSS programs and paid for software because it’s what best suited that particular customer.)

          There have been hardware advances that will allow more flexibility in computer builds and purpose, but may also require a greater initial financial outlay depending on the need (A writing-and-online-research machine will cost far less than a machine planned for 3D graphics rendering, for example; laptops will cost more versus desktops, but there’s portability to consider, etc.)

          Which, I guess, brings up another thing to the ‘list’ – start an IT budget, and find an IT guy whose email address/contact you can keep and you know can fix problems and is able to work with what you need, and will make software, hardware, and OS recommendations based on that, and your budget.

          Also, set aside an IT emergency budget as well as “will likely need to upgrade hardware in 7 years” budget, because that’s a good rough estimate of how long/frequently the high-cost hardware should be replaced, ideally. (hard drives, graphics cards, motherboards, etc) Things like internal cables like SATA cables may need more frequent replacement.

          1. I’ve got to admit to some interest in learning to use virtual machines to make obsolete versions of windows work on modern hardware.

            1. Try running virtual machines off a phone. Aff was telling me how, for giggles, they (there being a group of people who did this) did a virtual machine of Win10 off an ASUS phone, and played Nier: Automata off it. In high detail.

              That said, you might wanna ask him about that, because I still can’t imagine this stuff, myself.

              1. You’d have to make sure it was a newer phone with an Intel chip inside, since many of the older phones have ARM chips rather than Intel, and I don’t imagine many modern games are ever built for the ARM architecture.

                But as long as the processor in the phone is an Intel processor… yeah, in theory you could run any modern game on a phone these days, in a virtual machine. I wouldn’t have considered it, but I’m not surprised that Aff and his buddies were able to make it work.

            2. VirtualBox works pretty well. Other than the instructions not bothering to tell you that you need the C compiler and kernel libraries to do the install on Linux. Modern distributions mostly don’t include those on a default install any more. For a Windows host, just download the installer from Oracle and run it.

              I have a couple of Windows VMs, one for my CAD software and one for Windows software development. Unfortunately ReactOS still isn’t stable enough for either.

              I used to use VMWare, but their support for Linux hosts got to the point where I got tired of picking through their forums looking for unsupported kernel patches to make the stupid thing work again. Maybe they’re better now, but VirtualBox has been trouble-free and runs faster.

  6. “Seventh… I know I’m missing some. What problems of success have you seen or dealt with? How do you mitigate these?”

    Well, there’s that awkward moment at the end of your contract where Beelzebub shows up for his cut…

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