Video Courses and Affinity Templates

Those who’ve been around here a while may remember that at one point I had Excel for Beginners, Intermediate Excel, and the Easy Excel Essentials content (Printing, Formatting, Pivot Tables, Charts, IF Functions, and Conditional Formatting) available as video courses through Udemy.

I pulled those courses when they introduced a nonsensical tax form that I couldn’t fill out. But I still had the videos. And when I went back and looked at them this week, they were actually good.

They use the whole “I will tell you, then I will show you” approach which is not my personal favorite, but it is theoretically the best way to present information for a large audience, so that’s why I did them that way.

Anyway. I have now added those videos to the Teachable store I set up. So if you prefer to learn visually that is now an option. Use code MLH50 on Excel for Beginners or Intermediate Excel to get those half off. The individual Easy Excel Essentials courses are also available for just $15 a pop.

I expect I will add more video courses. I’ve started prep for an Excel formulas and functions course and know I definitely want to do that one to complete that series of videos, but not sure what will come next. So if there’s some topic you’d really like to see covered, now is the time to let me know. No guarantees I’ll cover it, but if it was already on the list it may move higher.

Also, when I put together the Affinity Publisher for Fiction Layouts content, I decided to put templates that people could download up on Payhip. So if you want an Affinity Publisher file that already has the master pages and text styles created that’s where you can find them. It saves some time, for sure, but you still absolutely need to know the basics of working in Affinity Publisher for a print layout to effectively use them. They’re not for an absolute novice.

Alright then. That’s it. Hope you’re all doing well.

Affinity Publisher for Fiction Layouts

I mentioned my newest project the other day and it’s now done. Affinity Publisher for Fiction Layouts is available in ebook, print, AND video.

So what is this book about? Can you guess from the title?

Basically, it walks a new user through how to use Affinity Publisher, one of the Affinity suite of products, to format a fiction title.

I actually started using Affinity Publisher for my non-fiction because I ran into an issue with using Word where the resolution of the images that exported into PDF weren’t what I wanted them to be and the only way to fix it was to use a paid Adobe product.

I’d heard a lot of buzz about Affinity so decided to give it a try and loved it.

They have great instructional videos on their website which is what I used to learn the program, but for me the videos just weren’t in the order I needed them to be. So I was 80% of the way through them before I knew that they covered everything I needed. Also, there are just certain things that are specific to self-publishing (like exporting All Pages not All Spreads) that trip new users up.

So in my latest “I don’t know what to write next” funk, I sat down and started to write up how to use Affinity Publisher for a print layout.

175 pages and 100 screenshots later, I had a book and hadn’t even touched upon how to use it for non-fiction. And then I realized I should probably do videos as well.

Sixty-plus videos later…I now have three video courses listed in addition to the books.

The video courses can all be found on Teachable. And if you use code MLH50 you can get them for 50% off.

Affinity Publisher for Fiction Layouts is the video version of the books. There are about eighteen videos and about 90 minutes of content.

Affinity Publisher Quick Takes is basically a reference library for when you’ve forgotten how to do something and need a quick one-minute refresher. That one currently has fifty videos, but most are a minute or less.

And then there’s a bundle that lets you get them both at once.

I’m new to Teachable so if you see something that looks unfinished, please let me know. There were lots of moving parts on that one.

Anyway, hope this is something someone out there can use. I know I would’ve certainly appreciated having it when I was getting started with Affinity. (Not that I would’ve bought it because I’m that do-it-yourself-as-cheap-as-you-can sort of person, but ya know.)

Knowing me there’ll probably be a non-fiction supplement at some point as well as one for basic cover and ad image design. Hard to believe that there’s still that much content left to cover, but it really is an amazing and versatile program that I’ve found invaluable over the last year.

Learning Curves Are Time Consuming

In my infinite wisdom (not), I decided to create a video course to go along with my latest book. (Upcoming, more on that probably Tuesday.)

I figured I already knew how to do this. I had the software, I had the microphone, I’d created video courses before. Should be easy enough to record, edit, and get those puppies up and done.

Except…

I decided I’d post the videos to Teachable, a platform I hadn’t used before. And I’ve moved since I last recorded videos and my current location had more sound in the background than my last one. And with video you basically have to wait the length of the video each time you export the video.

So…

I edited the video. I exported the video. I watched to the video. I made edits to the video. I exported it again.

Then I uploaded to Teachable when all the videos were ready. Except when I listened to them on that site I didn’t like the sound.

So I tried to fix them. And then exported the videos again. And uploaded them again.

But some still didn’t work. So I edited them again. And exported them again. And uploaded them again.

But I still wasn’t happy. So I did some research and decided that the best option was to actually export the sound file, edit it in a different program, reimport it into the video program, and then export again. And while I was at it I decided to make some sound adjustments to all of the audio so they’d be consistent.

So I did that. For 75 videos. About three hours of content. Which I then had to reupload. That means five exports for most of the videos, or fifteen hours of export time alone.

I now have a process. I know what I’ll do for any videos going forward. I think it works. (I hope it works, because seriously…)

But that learning curve cost me about three extra days’ worth of effort to get to that point.

And then there was a couple more hours spent figuring out all the little issues with publishing on Teachable. Like I thought I’d published the course, but it didn’t publish. And I’d done images for the course page, but not my main page. Those sorts of things.

Lots of learning and trying and figuring it out. (Which as a Learner I kind of crave in the abstract. I like to master things. It’s just the wasted time that kills me)

But hopefully I’m good now and can finally publish the book that prompted the existence of that course.

(And hopefully when I go back to those older courses I don’t hate them so much I think they need to be redone…Hopefully…)

Sigh.

Let’s Talk Backstory and Flashbacks

I read A LOT. Probably five times as much as I write. Every day I spend at least an hour hanging out with my dog while I read. And I read at bedtime, too. But I’m not a pure reader, I’m a writer who reads.

And what I mean by that is that when I read a book, I not only see the story the author chose to put on the page, I see the story they could’ve written.

With really good authors, this generally doesn’t happen. I think I’ve read 50 JD Robb novels at this point and there was only one that made me wish she’d chosen to tell the story in a different way. For the rest of those books, I’m just along for the ride.

For pure readers, it’s always like that. The story is locked in cement. It is what it is and can’t be changed or fixed or improved.

If a pure reader reads a book they don’t like, they say it was boring. It wasn’t interesting enough. They didn’t like the ending. They were never able to get into the story. It’s too bad X happened.

They don’t see any of that as authorial choice. It’s just the story.

But underlying any of those types of reader comments is generally some sort of craft issue that could actually be fixed.

So I’m going to talk about one today that I ran into with the book I just finished reading. (A trade pub title from 2006.) And that’s the issue of backstory, flashbacks, and where to begin the novel.

This book I just read was 600 pages long. At page 180 I actually stopped reading it and swore I wouldn’t go back, but the characters were just interesting enough that I finally did. (I will not be reading the other three books in the series, though.)

So what made me stop reading?

In that first 180 pages, the story started probably six different times.

We had two prologues, one that was a straight info-dump, one that was a storyteller info dump. Then we had Character A. Then we had completely unrelated Character B who never actually shows up again even though it seems like this could be partially his story. (It’s actually Characters C and D who are in the background of Character B’s scenes who are a large part of the rest of the novel.)

Then we jumped ahead twenty years and had Character A again. And Character C. And Character E who never really needed any scenes at all. And then we jumped some more years and had more random, unrelated scenes.

Then the first part of the novel ended and the second part started. Literally, Part 2. And there was some whole introduction following a bird who flies all kinds of places which again read like the beginning of a novel not Part 2 150 pages into the novel.

That was about where I quit. Because I had nothing to hold onto. There was no story thread that connected everything that had happened in the first 150 pages. They were vignettes.

It turns out the author did have a story they wanted to tell. And that story was contained in the other 450 pages of the novel, pages that actually did hang together fairly well.

As I read those 450 pages I realized that what that first 150 pages represented was the backstory of the characters.

The author needed this information to write their novel, but instead of knowing this information and then doling it out during the main story as little snippets or flashbacks, the author had instead provided the reader with everything in straight chronological order.

So instead of a scene with two lines added to it that references that this character met that character when he saved their life, we got a chapter that showed them meeting and then the next chapter was a different character five years later.

When an author takes that approach they have to be damned good. Because for every break they insert in the story flow they have to be so compelling a writer that readers are willing to keep going. Each of those little vignettes needed to read like its own compelling short story.

But they didn’t. (And I checked reviews, there were a lot of DNFs on this book.)

Now, you might be thinking, but that backstory matters. It needs to be there.

And I’d agree. Backstory is what adds depth and layer to the present story. My reaction to X event is driven by my past. Someone else could experience X event and have the complete opposite reaction because of the life they’ve lived. So backstory matters a great deal.

But it doesn’t have to be on the page before the moment it matters. If it’s important enough, you can include a whole flashback scene at that moment. But until it then it’s just “oh great, I get to hear about that time you did something cool or stupid in college, please, tell me more.”

And usually you don’t even need a full flashback scene. A deft writer can drop backstory in a sentence or two at a time so the current story keeps flowing smoothly.

For example, this book had a whole convoluted history involving multiple races that was provided as an info dump in the prologue. It could have easily been dribbled out as part of the story when each race was introduced. And then we’d care. “Oh, it matters that this person is not like these people because of X, Y, and Z history between these peoples. Interesting.”

So it’s not that you shouldn’t include those details in your novel. It’s that you have to wait to include them until the reader wants them. Your primary goal at the beginning of your novel has to be to draw the reader into your story and make it so they want to continue. Just one more page, just one more chapter, what’s next. And you have to keep doing that for the entire length of the novel.

(As an aside, I’ve mentioned her books before and they’re fresh on my mind because I just read all of them, but someone who I think handles multiple points of view across an epic tale very well is Michelle West. Start with The Hidden City if you’re going to start reading her now, but then look up a reading order because you need to hop to a different series after book 3 in that series if you want to stay chronological.)

More Amazon A+ Content Thoughts

I just went through the process of updating some of my A+ content on Amazon so thought I’d share a few additional thoughts.

One, someone pointed out that on mobile the A+ content shows up above the blurb. So if you think you have a really powerful blurb and that’s what sells your books, you may not want to use it. Or may only want to use it on your print titles which may be more likely to be purchased by desktop users.

Two, I found out the hard way that you have to list all versions of the book separate for the content to show up on the product page. So I’d listed my ebook ASINs when I set up my content and had to go back and edit the ads to include my print ASINs.

Three, you can only put the content on books published via Amazon. For example, I have a couple of print books that I only publish through IngramSpark because I want them to have spine text and for those ones I couldn’t add A+ content.

Four, Amazon will automatically copy your U.S. content to the UK, DE, IN, CA, and AU stores for you. All you then have to do is go to each of those stores and click the “show auto-created content” button to show those ads. They’ll be in draft format so you have to go through and submit them for approval, but at least you won’t have to recreate them.

Five, if you do edit a U.S. ad the foreign copies will revert back to draft. This includes adding new books to the listing. So when I added my print books to my A+ content in the U.S. that put all of my foreign ads back to draft. (Good times.)

But, yeah, overall I like it. I’m sure readers that scroll for rank and reviews aren’t as happy, but that’s a very small subset of most readers and probably mostly author-types that do that I’d think.

Random Self vs. Trade Publishing Thoughts

I think I mentioned that earlier this year I had discovered Michelle West’s epic fantasy books, which span three different series but are all one large interconnected story. I devoured them. Sixteen books, most around 800 pages or so. I finished the last one in July. They were meaty and complex and had characters I liked without having any main characters I hated.

(I find that sometimes authors make choices about characters to “keep it interesting” that push me right out of a series. These books aren’t light and fluffy by any means, but they somehow manage to include brutal parts of the world without being brutal themselves.)

Anyway. After finding and loving those books I was then surprised to see that she basically had to part ways with her publisher on the remaining books in the story (a new series, but the continuation of the whole big arc) because the books were just going to be too long. And perhaps too numerous.

Good epic fantasy (not just alternate world fantasy, but actual epic fantasy) is so hard to find that it was really sad news for me as a reader. So when she mentioned that she was starting up a Patreon to let her write that final series, I decided I’d support it. (You can find it here: https://www.patreon.com/mswest)

For me as a writer it’s been worth my money so far because she’s been posting really interesting discussions about her writing process. And it also gives me good mental fodder when thinking about trade vs. self-publishing.

I hope she won’t mind my quoting from today’s post, because I think this is an important thing to understand for anyone considering the trade publishing path.

“The Patreon has been enormously freeing. It’s been — I don’t think I can put into words just how much of a difference it’s made to the writing. I’m not terrified, at the moment, of writing these books. I’m not afraid of allowing the story to breathe and grow from the roots that have existed since┬áBroken Crown.”

From what I understand of what she’s discussed, she was finding herself constrained by the requirements of her trade publisher. They wanted the books to be under a certain word count. And they’d bought four books when the series was likely going to be six and if I had to guess may ultimately be eight to ten books.

And so the author was feeling like she couldn’t write the story she wanted. She couldn’t include certain characters or plot lines. She was trying to tell a full, living, breathing story with one hand tied behind her back because of publisher requirements and it was interfering with her process.

(To be fair to the publisher and her editor, it sounds like over the years they’ve really worked hard to let this series continue and be what it needed to be. But they just hit a point where that couldn’t happen anymore.)

I think this issue she raises is probably the biggest trade-off that authors need to recognize if they want to be trade published.

As a self-publisher I can faff around all I want and the only one I’m harming is myself. So I can write a book or not write a book, or write a book that’s three times longer than I planned or half the length I planned, and it doesn’t matter.

But if you go the trade publishing route, you need to meet the expectations of your publisher. That includes length of book, length of series, timing, etc. And if X does well, you better be prepared to provide more of X. If Y doesn’t do well, you better be prepared to start writing Z instead, assuming they give you another chance and don’t just show you the door.

Which can make self-publishing sound really appealing, right? Freedom! Creative control! Telling YOUR story!

But there’s the discoverability issue for new authors who self-publish. I know that if I hadn’t discovered this author’s works through her trade published series I wouldn’t be supporting her Patreon right now. (I also know if I hadn’t been able to read those books in a mass market paperback size that I would’ve never started the series either.)

The reality is that if some unknown writer said, “Hey I want to write an epic fantasy series, give me money to let me do that,” I’d laugh and say, “No.” I’d have no guarantee that they could write one nor that they could do so in any sort of timely manner. And I’d definitely have no reason to believe that it would be good if they did manage to write it.

Which means for a brand new author with no trade publishing track record to write a series like this one on the self-publishing side they basically have to self-fund and go all in and write the first story arc at least before they can expect any sort of traction. That’s a good million words probably.

Too many readers have been burned by unfinished series at this point for an epic fantasy book one to really take off, IMO. (I could be wrong on that, I mean I have started other epic fantasy series that were unfinished even though Melanie Rawn never finished what at the time I thought was the best epic fantasy series I’d ever read, but that was also long before some other unfinished or not-yet-finished series that have really put out readers.)

Writing a million words up front is a hard ask. And most self-publishers won’t hold back the books until the series arc is done. Which means they’ll put out Book 1 to crickets. Or friends and family sales.

And then…Do you keep writing 300K-word novels? Or do you write shorter novels that you can write faster? To get traction. To make money. To justify how you spend your free time to everyone who thinks you just publish a novel and start printing money.

Honestly, as someone who loves character-driven epic fantasy it worries me. Because if publishers AND self-publishers both focus too much on the short-term bottom-line profit, the trend is going to be toward more simple or constrained stories. Which means I as a reader am not going to get those great, sprawling, complex, intriguing fantasies I love so much.

Or I’m only going to get them from already-established authors. (Which I am grateful for and will read.)

I don’t know the answers on this one. I suspect if I myself were writing an epic fantasy series I’d try trade pub with it, even knowing how hard a sell it would be. But that’s also because I don’t think self-publishing print costs can compete with trade publishing print costs and I think print is still a strong part of that particular market.

Anyway. Just my random thoughts for the day.

Amazon A+ Content

Of course the day after I made my post that mentioned A+ Content and said I didn’t have any of my own to show, my content was approved. So thought I’d circle back here to show what I did. Obviously it’s not perfect, because it usually takes me a dozen tries to get advertising-type content where I want it, but just to give a few more ideas.

So for the non-fiction, here’s what I put together for my Excel Essentials series:

I love this. Because it lets me show on one page how the three series work together. So people can see that there’s a quiz book to support each of the main titles and also which of the main titles each of my Easy Excel titles are derived from.

Also, at least as of this moment, my product page shows the main product description, the series listing, an also-bought carousel, an also-read carousel, and then this. The first sponsored ads carousel is below the about the author section. Amazon is constantly changing things so no guarantee that will hold, but yay for owning more of my product page and with useful information for potential customers.

On the fiction side, with my fantasy series I changed out the cover last year for something more symbol-based than character-based but I’ve noticed that with FB ads the ones that perform the best are the ones with the original character in the background, so I figured I’d use A+ Content to get that on the Amazon product page.

I included the also read carousel just above so you can see an example of what the series covers now look like. Books 2 and 3 are the first two entries listed there (Rider’s Rescue and Rider’s Resolve).

For my cozies I went in a different direction.

Already I think that comparison chart there that shows the two collections generated a sale this morning since that comparison chart links right to the collection pages and usually I see sales of the books 4-6 collection but not the books 1-3 collection.

So there you have it. A few ways to use A+ Content. I’m very pleased with it, but will likely be fiddling and changing things around as I usually do. I may not get things right the first go round, but the key is to keep improving as you learn more, right? Right.

New Releases and Random Writing Thoughts

First, I had a few new releases recently. Between moving and unpacking (how many books can one person own??), I didn’t post about them here because they were compilations of the Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and Access titles I released earlier this year.

But here you go: Excel Essentials 2019, Word Essentials 2019, PowerPoint Essentials 2019, and Access Essentials 2019. These are perfect choices for anyone who knows they want to go as far as I can take them with learning one of the above programs. Otherwise I recommend starting with the beginner title in each series because often that’s all someone needs to learn when they’re just getting started.


Now on to the writerly thoughts…

First, I had to work on these books a little earlier than I wanted to because of the lovely changes that IngramSpark (“IS”) has made recently. If you’re not aware of them, then settle in for a quick rant.

IS charges about $50 for every new title that’s uploaded to them and then they charge $25 to change a cover or change the interior. But there have always been promo codes floating around. Participate in NaNoWriMo, get a code for the next six months. Go to a conference, get a code for the next six months. Join a member organization like ALLI or IBPA get a code for however long it last until they decide to change it.

I joined IBPA and had a code from them that I happily used for all of my uploads and updates. But then suddenly this year IS decided that you could only use that code 50 times in a year. Which seems like a lot. 50 times. Who would need more than 50 uses?

Well, let’s look at my year-to-date. I published 22 titles so far. The four main Excel 2019 titles, three Word 2019 titles, three Access 2019 titles, three PowerPoint 2019 titles, and the Microsoft Office for Beginners 2019 title were all in paperback and hardcover. So that’s 28 uses of a code right there. Plus the other 8 titles that in this case were just paperback. So 36 uses for new titles.

Normally I might do something like update other titles I already had out to change the Also By page to reflect my new releases. If I did that for my cozies at this point I have 9 titles in paperback, paperback large print, and hard cover large print. That right there is 27 code uses and we’re not even touching on the new title which would be another three uses. So for one new release of my cozy mystery series I’d need 30 code uses.

Well, imagine how unhappy I was when IS decided that limiting codes to 50 uses per year wasn’t enough and instead decided that you could only use a code five times in a month. More uses per year (60), but it would take me six months to get all of my cozy titles updated for a new release under that scenario and wouldn’t be able to publish or update any other titles in the interim.

What makes it even worse is that they seem to have an automated process for interior updates once a book is published. So they’re literally charging $25 for a process that doesn’t involve a person. And they’re changing their rules to try and get that money out of authors who’ve been publishing with them for years who didn’t sign up for that kind of b.s.

(Their stated reason is because they want to support legitimate publishers only and not scammers, which…well. Way to throw the baby out with the bath water.)

So anyway. This latest release of four titles involved eight books, one paperback and one hard cover of each title. So to avoid paying $50 for books that might not make that money back (I do the hard covers for libraries but there’s no guarantee they’ll want the collections), I had to start the process in July and use my five codes in July and then finish it in August to do the last three titles.

Good times. Love me some self-publishing fuckery. (And there is always self-publishing fuckery.)

What else? If you haven’t yet heard about A+ Content on Amazon, it’s worth taking a look now that they’ve opened it up to all self-published authors. I’ve submitted some content for some of my titles, but it takes about a week to get approved from what I’ve heard so I don’t have examples of my own yet, but here is a link to what an author I know has done and I think it looks really good.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08NJLC6R1

Scroll down to the From the Publisher section to see what she did.

One of the advantages with adding this content is that it can push an entire carousel of Sponsored Product ads down below that section, allowing authors to own more of their product page. (Not always, but sometimes.) Also, it’s pretty if done well. I think each of the images she’s added to her page there make a reader more likely to buy the book. For example, it takes what was already a strong image from the cover and makes it much larger and more engaging.

To add A+ Content, click on Promote and Advertise for one of your books and then scroll down to the A+ Content section. Next, choose a marketplace and click on Manage A+ Content. That takes you to a separate dashboard where you can create your content.

You can add the same content across books by listing multiple ASINs. (If you have a lot of books you should really have a list of these as I discussed ages ago in Excel for Self-Publishers which is no longer widely available but still available on my Payhip store.)

Content has to be added for each country, but there’s a note that they’ll let you know which other countries would accept content in that language and let you carry it across. I won’t know how well that works until my content is approved and I can test it out, but basically if you’re adding new content, just do it for one country and wait for it to get approved before you try to do all of the countries.

Also, if you use the comparison chart option it’s not well-sized for cover images, but you can do a white background and have your cover only take up part of the allowed space and that seems to work.

What else? I’m sure there were some other writerly thoughts I’ve been having lately but I’m still in post-move malaise so don’t ask me what they were. If I remember, I’ll post again.

10 Years/3 Million Words

In early July I finished my 10th year of writing towards publication. Ten years ago I was in New Zealand with some downtime between consulting projects and an injured knee that led me to stop skydiving so I decided it was time to finally try to write a novel. And I did.

Took six weeks. It was awful. Glad I set it aside for another six weeks before I went back to read it so I could understand just how much work it needed. (I tend to under-write, so that novel which eventually was 90K words ended its first draft at 45K words.)

Fast forward to ten years later and I’ve now written 3 million words. Not all of that is fiction, though. About 1.2 million words of that is various non-fiction. And only 1.3 million of that is novels, the other 500K words is short stories.

I hadn’t initially planned on the self-publishing route. Even when I self-published my first non-fiction title, I still expected I’d go the trade pub route for novels.

And, who knows, I may still end up hybrid at some point. But I don’t know. I don’t have the patience it seems is required for the trade published route. The idea that it’s acceptable in the industry for you to submit a query to an agent and wait a year for them to respond just floors me.

And the idea of having someone that non-responsive handle my business interests goes against everything I ever learned in the corporate world. If I am paying them a fee to sell my product, you’d think I’d have more standing with them than it seems most authors do with their agents.

Plus, I’m a control freak. I was recently negotiating a potential publishing contract for non-fiction with a decent publisher I’d be willing to work with, but the clause where they get all my rights and then can enter into any contract on my behalf without any input from me just stops me cold each time. That’s my name and reputation, you’d think I could have a veto on a disastrous contract.

So I don’t know. We’ll see. There are definitely opportunities that I don’t have access to as myself that I would through a publisher, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to negotiate a contract that makes it work for both me and them.

Which leaves me with the self-publishing. I love the freedom to do what I want when I want. And the flexibility to write the stories I want how I want to write them. But those are probably also my biggest dangers with self-publishing, too. Because I don’t do what you need to do to succeed even when I know at least one of the formulas.

(Write in a series that appeals to readers, release on a consistent and regular schedule, brand well for the genre.)

I’ve been lucky. Despite my writing whatever whenever and self-editing and mostly doing my own covers I’m still closing in on a quarter million dollars in revenue and have made over six figures in profit at this point with just about 70,000 paid sales across all my titles.

It’s a lot more than many authors manage. But it’s also piddling compared to some of the others I know who “do it right” and I’m self-aware enough to realize that if I worked longer hours and with more focus that I could probably have done exponentially better. (Because publishing is one of those industries that is very much winner-takes-all. The top titles do very, very well while the majority of titles sell next to nothing.)

Across those ten years I only spent 3,100 hours writing and editing. (Compare that to when I was a full-time consultant and probably worked 60 hour weeks which with 50 weeks a year of work over ten years would’ve come out to 30,000 hours spent working. Obviously there was some administrative time in there for the consulting and the writing and editing is not all I do on the publishing side, but I definitely am nowhere close to working as hard as I did as a full-time consultant.)

So what to do now? Keep going? My profit has gone up every year so there’s indication that if I keep writing and publishing I can keep growing that profit.

Try to focus and do it “right” this time using everything I now know? Even though I’ve done better in non-fiction I’m still firmly convinced that fiction is where the true upside potential lies.

Or step back, let writing be what I do when I have downtime, and take the easier route and pursue consulting again? I’m not one of those people who must write or I’ll die. I’m certainly not one of those people who must publish. And for hour of effort put in the consulting is going to be more financially rewarding 99 times out of 100 for me.

I don’t know. It’s not a simple question. I’ve never been one of those people who wanted one thing in life. And the things I do want–time to read and spend with my dog, family, and friends–can’t be the number one priority or I’ll eventually lose them.

I could spend two years just hanging out reading and walking my dog, but then I’d be broke and two years further away from any skills that would let me not be broke, right? So it’s always a balancing act. And sometimes the repercussions of those choices can’t be seen for years. There are life paths that you step off of that are almost impossible to step back onto later.

But I digress. Anyway. Ten years in. Not bad, not great. No regrets for spending the last decade of my life the way I have, but not sure if I’ll spend the next ten years the same way.

(Actually, I know myself. There’s no chance the next ten years will be like the last ten even if I do keep my focus on the writing. I am simply not one of those people who settles in.)

Thoughts On Atlas Shrugged

Back when I was still in corporate America one of my co-workers recommended that I read Atlas Shrugged. She thought I’d like it. And I did. It resonated for me. It’s part of why I left the job I was in at the time.

But I hadn’t been a writer long before I learned that liking Atlas Shrugged was short-hand to some of my fellow writers for being a cruel, uncaring asshole who is completely self-centered and willing to watch the world burn as long as they get ahead.

Which is why I’ve never talked about why I liked that book and why it resonated with me even though it’s a large part of what led me to where I am today.

But I think there’s finally a real-world example of what I found in that book that I can point to for others to understand what that book said to me.

(And I think it’s important to stop here for a moment and explain that what readers find in a book is not always what authors put into that book. So people who know Ayn Rand and her philosophies may have seen very different things in that book than I did because they came to that book with a different background. I knew nothing about her before I read the book so I took from that book the parts of the story that resonated for me.)

This is how I would summarize that book (bearing in mind it’s been about ten years since I read it and this is what I took from the book): A woman is trying to hold a business together and giving everything she has to do so while the people around her are not. And even worse, some of those people who are not putting in the effort to hold things together are demanding more and more and more for themselves. As this trend progresses there are fewer and fewer people keeping things together until it finally becomes too much and things start to fall apart. Planes crash. Train tracks fail. Finally, at the end, that woman who was trying so hard to keep her part of things together, stops trying. She leaves. She retreats to somewhere where other people who went through what she did have created an enclave. And yes, she leaves the world to burn. Because she just can’t carry the burden for everyone else anymore.

The modern-day equivalent of this would be nursing in the United States right now.

I follow a number of nurses on Twitter to keep informed of the current state of COVID and they are incredibly burnt out. They keep showing up to work because they know if they walk away people will die, the system will collapse without them. But they are underpaid and understaffed and showing up to work now to care for people who call them names and tell them that the disease they’ve dealt with for the last fifteen months is a hoax. People who didn’t have to be there in that hospital room dying because there’s a fricking vaccine they could’ve taken for free.

These nurses are trying to make an unfair system work because they are the type of people who step up when the times are hard.

But at some point in time things get so out of balance that it just isn’t sustainable anymore. When that happens Atlas shrugs.

These nurses give and give and give and instead of someone saying “thank you” the hospital management says, “We need more” while collecting massive profits off of their backs. Or says, “Great, you can do that with X resources, now do it with 1/2X.”

And as each individual nurse finally collapses and leaves, the burden on the remaining nurses becomes that much worse and it takes out more and more nurses until there’s no one left standing.

The U.S. healthcare system is at very real risk of this happening in the next six to nine months. Because you cannot take and take and take from people forever.

Which brings us back to the lesson I took from Atlas Shrugged. That as long as I was willing to stand there and carry the burden and be the one that picked up the slack when others didn’t do their part that my management would continue to add to the burden I was carrying while enjoying the results of my efforts and paying everyone else the same (or better) than me.

Because why should everyone pull their weight and why should management make things fair if I was going to step in and make it work every time regardless?

I finally realized that my only choices were to live under that incredible crushing burden or to leave. Because when you’re the type of person who steps up you can’t just stay where you are and decide not to care anymore, that’s as painful as taking on all the burden yourself. So I shrugged, I walked away. Not because I didn’t care, but because I cared far too much and it was going to crush me if I stayed.