Wagging the Tail

Sarah talked earlier this week about docking the tail of the writer. The long tail – the backlist of your books, that in theory will continue to sell forever, in the current publishing world – is something that as a writer, I intend to cultivate. For one thing, I don’t have a huge fanbase. So there is the potential to be discovered by new readers who then (theoretically) will go back and read the stories extant.

Earlier this year I came very close to giving up writing. The Indie world is a demanding one, and I was facing the facts. I am only one person, the day job is the only thing paying the bills around here, and I can’t possibly write enough to contribute significantly… I certainly can’t churn out a half-dozen novels a year as many Indie have to, in order to support the method of marketing they are using to make a living. I just could not. Full stop, why am I bothering to write at all?

Only… I can’t really not write. It is just part of me. So after a few tearful conversations with my husband, and chats with friends who believe in my work and supported me, telling me I write Good Stuff, and I should keep going as long as it made me happy. With POD and never-out-of-print ebooks, I can have that long tail, and keep wagging it happily until such time as I can devote my life to a writing career. With that encouragement, I kept on. And this year has been my best writing year since I graduated and switched focus to career. I have a novel that should appear in a couple of months, it’s been the year of the anthology with short stories coming out every couple of months, I have some projects just simmering along on back burners… Giving up and letting go of the idea of being marketable has made me so much more productive.

The daily writing helps. Doing it day in, and day out, creates a momentum that cannot be denied. Yesterday I wasn’t feeling well, and contemplated taking a ‘sick day’ and skipping the writing. I’m jammed up on the three big projects I’m working on (I’ll have a session with the Evil Muse today and shake that loose I think) so I just sat down and thought ‘I’ll write a flash.’

So I did. It took me less than an hour, from the first words on the page, and some of that was thinking through what I was doing, and how to structure it. You can read Rusalka over on my blog. It’s a funny thing, how I can do that, and most of the time when I am trying to write a short it wants to grow up to be a novel. I’ve mixed mythos in that, too. But I do that a lot.

So the blog is, still, a marketing tool, if not the fad fashionable one (that seems to be newsletters for authors right now. I have administered newsletters in the past. Nothankyouverymuch). The blog works, although I may have to retrain people to click the ‘subscribe’ button for easy delivery of posts to their email boxes. Heh. I don’t do a daily post. At one point I did, and I was trying multiple short posts a day (do not recommend, by the way. Unless you’re doing this full time, or you have a ‘team’ writing ‘content) and I got a complaint from a subscriber that I was spamming their email box. You can’t win! And to circle back to the team writing. I once had an exchange with a balloon twister who wanted to start up a blog, and they were soliciting paid writing. Since I am peculiarly qualified on both sides of that, I wanted to know how much he was paying? He wanted to pay out 0.0085$ a word. He got a writer, too, from somewhere across the globe, who could write passable English but had no idea what he was writing about. Which is why you’ll find large website content weird and stilted at times, and heaven knows you have to be careful about ‘how-to’ blogs that are promo pieces rather than a real person doing authentic things (and here’s an example of a useless blog written by someone who didn’t know what they were talking about).

Where did that soap box come from? Steps off and kicks it under the bench. Ahem. 

To come back to the long tail. My plan is long-term. I am going to be writing for 20 years into the future, not the ‘now’. This means I really do need to keep up with cover trends (and I just re-covered the Pixie series) and I need to figure out how to trickle-charge my books with a small amount of marketing. I have faith this is going to work. For one thing, since I am not pushing myself to keep up with full time writers, I’ll not run out of ideas any time soon. Nor, a much more real concern, will I burn myself out. I can and do see sales on ebooks that have been out for years. Paper? waggles hand. Not so much, unless I am selling out of hand at a con, and I really don’t do those much. My friend James Young had just about convinced me last year to do more of it, and then 2020 happened.

So you never know. But I can say that I have 100% control over my work, so I can cultivate it like a garden and I intend to do so. Mixing my metaphors happily as I go along. Garden dragon with a really long tail? Oh, yeah, I can do that!

(Header Image: art by Cedar. To digress again, the art is another thing I am ramping up into production… there will be magnets with this art available soon, along with several other designs that my fans helped choose).

25 comments

  1. >> I certainly can’t churn out a half-dozen novels a year as

    Given how rife ghosting is in certain genres, well, WRT those authors and their production, what’s the meme the kid’s like? “Press X to Doubt?” Seems like the algorithm on Amazon approves though, doesn’t it?

    1. Part of that is how long the novels are. If you’re putting out five to six hundred page doorstoppers, then yes, six novels a year is impossible without ghostwriting. However, if your novels run to the short side (say, 250-300 pages), it’s quite doable.

      1. That, and it feels like certain genres still incline toward “door stop” tomes, even indie, while others are pulp-length or close to it. Urban fantasy seems to lean toward no more than 120K words (tradpub), while high fantasy and epic fantasy are still a lot longer (indie and tradpub both). Space opera? Between the two, although what the Big 5 are calling “space opera” these days might be dragging the average toward the high end of the word count.
        (I’m sorry, but diplomatic games of imperial politics are not space opera. No spaceships except for transport, no ship-to-ship fighting, space only as something to discuss, not see . . . Not space opera as I understand it.) *chases soap box back off stage*

        1. There is definitely a genre expectation in terms of length. Which may be why mine are usually longer, because it feels right based on my reading in those genres (UF and Space Opera, but not the political kind *spits*).

        2. Y’all ain’t seen nuthin’. Friend is into modern Chinese fantasy novels… the official length categories are like this:

          Word count:
          Less than 300,000 words.
          300-500 thousand words
          500,000-1 million words
          1 to 2 million words
          2 million words or more

          Right now she’s reading one that’s at Chapter 772 and counting (they do eventually reach a conclusion) and that’s merely how far the translator has gotten.

          1. *tries to imagine thickness of 300,000 or 1,000,000 word German fantasy novel. Imagines wagon needed to bring said book home from bookstore* OK, I take back what I said about GRRM and door-stopper tomes.

          2. Yeah, those can be quite long. Though, it isn’t sort of plotting issues as the big fat fantasy epic.

            One of my favorite fanfics is incomplete, and a couple of the major sections clock in at something like that 1.5 million word point.

        3. Oh, I don’t know. The Outer Space Treaty includes other planets as being in outer space. So, space opera. 🙂

  2. I have always had a special fondness for your Pixie stories.
    Kudos to your first reader for convincing you not to give up.
    Good lord woman, working a day job while writing whenever you can fit it in has more often than not been the default for some of the best authors. Or take J.K. Rowling who as I understand it was on the dole when she wrote the first Potter book. Which admittedly would have given her much more time to write.

    1. I know that most authors must work a day job while writing. I am fine with this, other than my output having dropped to virtually nil. What I was struggling with was the idea that I cannot compete in a crowded market while I’m putting out at a snail’s pace. I have to grit my teeth and just outlast the flashes in the pan. Never give up! Never surrender!

      The Pixie tales were and are special. I don’t know that I’ll ever catch that lightning in a bottle again.

  3. “I can’t really not write.” — Cedar

    There are precedents:

    — “I did not explain to you the other insidious aspect of writing. There is no way to stop. Writers go on writing long after it becomes financially unnecessary…because it hurts less to write than it does not to write.”
    “I don’t understand.”
    “I didn’t either, when I took that first fatal step-a short story, it was, and I honestly thought I could quit anytime. Never mind, dear. In another ten years you will understand. Just pay no attention to me when I whimper. Doesn’t mean anything- just the monkey on my back.”
    “Richard? Would psychoanalysis help?”
    “Can’t risk it. I once knew a writer who tried that route. Cured him of writing all right. But did not cure him of the need to write. The last I saw of him he was crouching in a comer, trembling. That was his good phase. But the mere sight of a wordprocessor would throw him into a fit.” —

    (From The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, by You-Know-Who)

        1. (chuckle) Well, yes. Though reluctantly, in my case. The godlike power of Authority has never rested comfortably in these hands. Someday, I fear, I’ll kill off the wrong character, and have to answer for it at the Particular Judgment.

          Funny that it doesn’t seem to trouble George R. R. Martin at all, eh?

  4. These soapboxes! Sounds like they’re related to a certain hatrack I’ve recently become aware of …

  5. Writing is a good hobby for someone who can’t have a lot of materials, and you can maybe make money! Eventually!

    *looks at own scribbles* Very eventually, but it’s fun, and I get to make stuff, and I can figure out WHY I like stuff I run into, plus lots of chances to find more. 😀

  6. I am not fast either. Finally finished my first series at the end of last month. Four books since 2014. This last one took about a year and a half to get out. But it’s out and I like it and now I’m going to try writing some shorter stuff. 300-500 page epic fantasies take a lot of time, but perhaps some novellas with simpler plots? That’s what I’m hoping for at this point.

    1. The novella is a form with some under-appreciated attractions. It provides enough space for solid plot development and characterization, but doesn’t demand the reading commitment of a full-length novel. And you can price it low without feeling that you’re “giving it away.” However, it’s also a tough length to aim for and hit deliberately; in many a case, what was intended to be a 20,000 to 25,000 word novella gets extended into a 40,000 to 50,000 word novel, on the grounds of “why not?”

      Who here has written and released novellas? (I have not.) Have you received good feedback (and / or revenue) for your efforts?

      1. I have a 30,000 word Oh My Goddess! story on FanFiction.net. I think it turned out well, and a number of people have agreed.

      2. I’m not sure Pam classifies them as “novellas”, but some of the Wine of the God’s books are quite short. I usually just get them without paying attention to the price. (MGC folks, “buy with 1-click” is your friend, especially with a New Release link from here.) A couple of times I’ve thought to myself, I’ve thought, “that seemed awfully short” and then go look. At $2.99, they’re priced fairly.
        As “I’ve caught up to the author, when is the next book out?!?!” pacification, I think they’re great.

  7. The daily writing helps. Doing it day in, and day out, creates a momentum that cannot be denied.so

    True for visual storytelling also

    Re: Paperbacks – What is the downside for the Kindle POD versions? They’re pricy for what you get, but I’d pay the extra to get Tanager’s Fledgling for Chrismas presents to the nieces and nephews. That’s got to be a market for decent novels that aren’t dumbed down for teens.

    Books like Tanagers, Take the Star Road, et al.

    There’s also the “available for a limited time” …

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