Choices, Choices

I have been wanting to write another fantasy novel for a couple years now. The last one I published was in 2017 and that series still makes me money with new readers but I have nothing for the folks who’ve already finished the series. Plus, fantasy is my first love and what I as a reader spend most of my time reading.

But I keep not doing that.

When I stop and think about this fact, those are the days when I really envy those people who have one direction in life that they’ve always wanted to go. That one story they’ve always wanted to tell. That one person they’ve always wanted to be.

I am not that person. I am the person who has eight zillion possibilities I can see at any given moment, about half of which seem really interesting.

At this point I have published over 2 million words: close to a million non-fiction across about ten broad categories, about half a million in speculative fiction, about 350K in romance, and about 320K in mystery.

And I have books I want to write that would not fit with anything I’ve already published. (*head desk*)

Just imagine if I’d published 2 million words of just one type of fiction…That would be about 20 fantasy novels. Or 50 cozies. If you can’t find an audience with twenty novels, then, hm, maybe time to move on to something else.

Alas. I would’ve died of boredom before I wrote 20 fantasy novels in a row.

So I bounce around and pay the consequences which is slower build-up and lost momentum sometimes.

Now, ironically, the reason I haven’t written a new fantasy is because I’ve paid enough attention to numbers to know it’s a huge risk to take to do so and I’ve been trying to focus better the last couple years.

It takes me X hours to write most non-fiction titles. A cozy mystery takes about 2X. But a fantasy takes 6X. At least the last one I wrote did.

And right now my overall profit per writing/editing hour for non-fiction is 20x my profit per hour for writing/editing fantasy.

So, of course I keep choosing the thing that takes 1/6 the time and pays 20x the profit.

But…

Fiction is a tricky beast. Because it’s hard to see the potential before it takes off. Non-fiction you can have a single standalone title that does well on its own so if you hit with a title you can immediately see the potential. But fiction can be one of those situations where nothing, nothing, nothing, and then BOOM all of it moves at once.

I know of more than one author whose earlier series didn’t start to sell well until their second or even their third series caught on with readers.

Fiction also has more potential for additional titles.

You might find this hard to believe given the number of titles I’ve written on certain subjects, but there are only so many books you can write about each non-fiction topic before you run out of new things to say.

With fiction, though, if you create an interesting world or an interesting character the number of potential titles is limitless as long as your readers stay with you and you can keep it fresh for yourself.

So with fiction it doesn’t always come down to the numbers you already have. Sometimes it comes down to that gut instinct that you’re leaving potential on the table.

Of course, sadly, the only way to test that you’re doing so is to put in the hours to get that next title out and see how it does. (I mean obviously if you’re getting unending fan letters asking for more that’s a pretty solid indicator. But for those of us who are not getting those letters, putting in the work and seeing what happens is pretty much the only choice.)

And I swear I am going to do that this year with a fantasy novel.

And maybe a romance, too, since the last couple sold thousands of copies.

I’m going to do it.

Right after I write these next three non-fiction titles. And maybe another cozy. And then…yeah. Sigh.

Damn it. Where did my workaholic tendencies go? If only I didn’t want downtime to read other people’s books and walk my dog and see my family and veg out on silly TV shows like Cake Wars.

Ah well.

What I do know is that even if I still don’t publish that fantasy novel this year I will keep moving forward in some direction or other so that by the end of the year I have another 300K words out there of some sort.

Because I may be foolishly building a barn, a house, and a fence around my property all at the same time, but at least if I keep working at it one of them will eventually turn into something useful. (I hope.)

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. You can contact M.L. at mlhumphreywriter [at] gmail.com.

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