Nine Years

Nine years ago today I decided to try to write my first novel and get it published. My goal at the time was to be traditionally published, so I wrote that novel and queried it and found out I should write short stories so did that for a bit and submitted those and got some “send more”/”almost there” type of rejections before I turned back to novels which is what I really wanted to write. And I attended some conferences here or there.

And then I wrote a non-fiction book that I had no hope of getting published through a publisher because I had no platform and no reason that I had written that book other than having a very strong opinion about the matter. So I self-published it. And I self-published some of those rejected short stories.

My results were…underwhelming.

My covers were horrible, SFF short stories are not where the money is in self-publishing, and then I got derailed by taking a consulting project that kept me from writing for eight months. (But did pay very well and let me qualify for the mortgage on my current house.)

After that project, I gave it another try.

I got sucked into the “just write a bunch of short sexy stories” thing that was going around at the time. Those did sell better. The billionaire story I wrote in one day on a whim sold the best. So I went ahead and threw the romance novel I’d written as therapy up and it sold well (for me at the time), too.

But I didn’t follow-up well on those little nibbles of success. It took me three more years to write a follow-up to the romance novel.

I kept throwing whatever I thought of at the wall. Lots of it failed because I was still writing short stories and non-fiction not many people wanted.

Then I realized I didn’t want to go back to consulting so I finally published one of my fantasy novels with a gorgeous cover and real advertising spend behind it.

The results were…not so good. It was depressing. I’d finally done what everyone said to do and no one wanted my book. (I did launch at full price which didn’t help, but still. I’d bought a pretty cover! I’d paid for ads!)

I kept pushing, though. I kept trying.

I eventually finished the trilogy, but it took me a year to get out each of the other two titles which was not good.

Then I went to a writing workshop and let it get in my head. Was my writing too emotional? Too angsty? Was it too cliched? Me and my European settings and white people. (Although the first series was actually neither of those things. But when you let the doubt creep in…)

So I turned to non-fiction. And saw some success. Not immediately. Four months after publication a couple of those titles took off. And they’ve sold steadily for three-plus years now.

I added what I could to extend that success. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t.

Rather than go back to fantasy, I branched out into cozy mystery. I still wanted to do well with fiction and I had a contemporary story idea I thought would work. I also promoted the fantasy trilogy that hadn’t done well initially and finally got it profitable. Ironically the year I priced it at $7.99 per title was my best year profit-wise for that title. But that could be in part thanks to a Bookbub feature.

And so now here I am. Thirteen novels later, eleven of those still published. Too many short stories to count. Too many non-fiction titles to count. Nine years in. 2.65 million words written. 2,800 hours spent writing/editing. Over $150K in revenue. Over $70K in profit.

I’m proud of where I am, but I’m still a hot mess.

Do the math on those numbers and you’ll find that I only spend about six hours a week on writing/editing, which is pathetically low for someone who does this full-time. (And probably a good part of the reason I’m not further along with this whole thing. That and splitting my efforts in so many different directions.)

My top-earning pen name has almost 600K words of published material out and it’s 20x as profitable as the next-highest-earning pen name which only has 270K words published. For my top three pen names, profit and word count are in the exact same order. The one with the most published material is the one that’s made the most. The one with the second-most number of words has made the second-most, etc.

Number four breaks that pattern, but it’s also my only written-to-market pen name.

I know what I need to do. I need to focus better and produce more work. More cozies, more fantasy novels. New material that leads back to what I’ve already done. Without a deep enough bench of material it’s hard to advertise effectively.

I’ve never done a 99 cent promo on the boxset of my fantasy trilogy because there’s nowhere for those readers to go after that. Also, I know that the more related titles someone has, the better able they are to make a profit off of ads on a first book. Assuming they write well enough to pull people through the entire series that is.

I looked a few years ago and figured it would take 8-12 novels to really be firmly established in a genre. I have 3 fantasies and 6 cozies. I need at least double what I already have for both.

That’s what Year 10 is going to be about for me. Trying to fill that in. Trying to push myself to write enough that I can add a new fantasy trilogy and at least four more cozies to my catalog.

I have a few non-fiction titles I might add as well. Non-fiction writes easier for me than fiction because it’s just a data dump for the most part and not creation of something brand new. So non-fiction fits well between drafts or fiction projects. But my focus will be on the fiction.

I want to write/edit for 10 hours a week instead of 6. Or even 20 hours a week. Imagine that…

It’s not going to be easy. Internal motivation is not as easy to generate as the responsibility that comes with an external deadline. I can easily work sixty-plus hours for someone else, but not for myself.

I figure I have one more year to make this sustainable. I’m close. But I’m not there yet. Not unless I want to live in a dingy apartment with a bunch of weird roommates and eat canned tuna fish for every meal.

So. One more year. 500K more words. With focus.

Here we go. Wish me luck. Haha.

 

Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is a former securities regulator, registered stockbroker (although only briefly), and consultant on regulatory and risk-related matters for large financial institutions with expertise in the areas of anti-money laundering regulation, mutual funds, and credit rating agencies. Since 2013 M.L. has also been a published author under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres.

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