Random Thoughts and Comments 20230316

I just submitted audio files for four more short stories and a short story collection this week. And it made me happy, because two of the short stories I did this week were ones I tried to do last year and didn’t like how they turned out.

I think both were emotional stories and I overplayed them the first time I tried to record them. I don’t know whether I’ve grown as a narrator enough at this point to do them justice or if it was because some part of my unconscious mind was puzzling through how to present those stories effectively. Whatever the reason, I think I pulled them off this time around.

So, yay, for incremental improvements and finished projects.

I assume by now most have seen the news that a SFF author signed an eight-figure publishing contract for a dozen books on the trade publishing side of the business.

I think it’s important to know that if you do very well for trade publishers you can in fact be paid very well on that side of the business.

But it’s also important to understand that this was a proven author with a successful TV series based on their books, so it’s not a normal author who signs a deal like that. And it took a decade of steady success to get that.

(Just like Scalzi’s deal a while back which I think was 3.something million. These deals are for long-term successful, reliable authors who’ve shown they can produce steadily and have a solid audience base. It’s also I’d say for an author who is comfortable making a long-term commitment to a publisher, which not all are.)

I think it’s also important for authors to understand that this is actually a good thing for other authors who want to publish at that publisher. I’ve mentioned before that everything I’ve seen about publishing is that it’s very much like venture capital, or at least how VC was explained to me in business school.

Essentially, you invest in ten targets that you think will do well. Two knock it out of the park. Two fail miserably. The rest, eh, they’re okay. But the business is built on the profits of the two that knock it out of the park. So if you take that to publishing, a publisher locking down a high-performing author gives them the profits to invest in that next group of ten new authors.

It’s a repetitive process of trying to find the two out of the ten. And they just sort of ditch the other eight.

If you’re going to publish, self or trade, you need to come to terms with the reality that the top authors take in the majority of the money. It’s the 80/20 principle. 80% of the money is earned by 20% of the authors. And the more popular an author, the more stable sales are long-term.

Think of it like a ramp that you’re building to launch off of and the higher you launch the longer you stay up.

Sometime recently I was listening to a new podcast that was pretty good that’s by two newer authors, one who did well and one who did not. Both with the same publisher.

I’m not linking to it here, because…I think the author who didn’t do well is shooting themselves in the foot with that podcast. They are very much putting all of their sour grapes about their experience on display.

And, yeah, it sucks to be one of the eight out of ten who don’t knock it out of the park. Or one of those bottom two. But if you want another at bat…don’t publicly drag your publisher like that. You’d have to be ten times as brilliant as anyone else to get that second chance if you’re known as a person who airs dirty laundry.

(Look at me, using all the cliches today. And I call myself a writer.)

It’s the same in the business world. I have at times very deliberately chosen to burn a bridge because I viewed it as more important that X happen than that I keep that person I burned the bridge with happy.

But that needs to be a deliberate choice. Too often I see people do it in a fit of pique without thinking about the consequences of what they’re doing, which is what I think is happening with that very interesting, very honest podcast. Someone thought they could write a book and be successful and then weren’t and they’re not handling it well.

(It’s possible I’ve been there myself. I’m twelve years in at this point from writing that first novel and I was convinced early on that I was not going to need that 12-15 years to find success. Haha. Oops.)

Whatever side of this business you choose, it’s not an easy path.

(There is one author in a couple of groups I’m in who swears up and down that self-pub is. That all you have to do is get everything right and it’s like printing money. He’s I think the equivalent of the nepo baby who’s like “it’s easy to be an entrepreneur, just borrow a million from your parents to start a business and then…” Mmhm. Okay. But for us mere mortals…)

I don’t know where I saw it, but I actually saw someone with a good analogy about entrepreneurship who was like middle class people get one try to hit the bullseye, rich people get unlimited tries, and the poor people don’t get any tries at all. I don’t think it’s quite that extreme, but there is a valid point to be made there.

I had a friend who won a prestigous creative award after twenty years or so of working at it, but it helped that this friend had a trust fund that paid their expenses while they were working on their creative projects. Top of the line equipment, time, mental space. It all helps.

But especially with writing, though, it’s not essential that you have everything to succeed. One of my favorite non-fiction authors is/was Barbara Sher who at one point was living in her car before she published her successful books. And of course she-who-shall-not-be-named was also not in a good place financially when she hit as an author.

I think sometimes living a hard life can actually be a stimulus to writing. I only write poetry when life is really shitty, for example. Which is why I haven’t written it since my early 20’s. It’s the whole splinter idea that was discussed in Wonderbook. That we all write from some sort of pain or wound.


Enough rambling for the day. Yay to new audiobooks. Yay to authors showing you can make money as an author. And don’t forget, especially on the trade pub side of things, that this is still a business and business rules apply. If you’re going to be difficult in some way, you better be brilliant in all the other ways.

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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