Saturday, February 28, 2009

Making a living writing

They are the favored few. Only a small number of people are able to make a living just writing books. So why do so many as soon as they get a book contract immediately want to quit their day job? They don’t realize that most of the people making a living writing are not doing so strictly on book income. What writers really want is to get a big advance and live on it while they write their book, then live off royalties and off the advance for the next book. For most of us its not going to happen if in fact it happens for anybody.

Most do freelance work as well, maybe editing, but they do more than one thing. Does that include me? Yes, I’m afraid it does. I’ve done a couple of dozen book deals in the past year but that wouldn’t sustain me full time as an agent. I have a book out and another on the way but that wouldn’t sustain me full time as a writer. I’ve written some short things and did a ghostwriting gig on a novel for a publisher but that wouldn’t sustain me full time as a freelancer. I’ve done workshops and programs somewhere every month but that wouldn’t sustain me full time as a speaker.

But together they work. Together I make a living full time in this business. I have writing friends that tell me they do these other forms of writing in order to pay for their novel writing habit. There’s a lot of truth to that.

So when can a writer quit the day job? Most forms of writing income is not dependable. By that I mean we don’t know when the next contract is coming up, they may involve differing payment schedules, and the money is often slow coming in. The smart writer has a pool of money to live on in the bank and pays all the bills and living expenses from it, a dependable flow. As money comes in it goes into the pool and hopefully keeps the level of the pool where it needs to be. How much of a pool? A very bare minimum of six months to a year.

Just like a swimming pool, if the level of the pool starts going down we better quit diving in, and if it gets too low we better figure out a way to fill it up even if it means a day job again. And if there’s nothing in the pool? Really, be serious now, would you dive into a pool that had nothing in it?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Library cat

I’ve recently been working on a project that has had me visiting a large number of library sites. In the process I’ve discovered many of the sites include a picture of the ‘library cat.’ Library cat? What’s up with that? I do know a couple of bookstores that I’ve been in that I was quite likely to be visited by the resident feline who came by to survey my reading preferences.

One library said their particular cat was one of 640 known library cats in the country. I don’t know how valid that number is but from the number of sites where I saw one posted I am inclined to believe it. It caused me to wonder, why cats? In all of my wanderings I did not run across the library poodle. I saw no library parrot. If they had a relaxing tank of fish they didn’t say anything about it. Maybe some of them might have had a rat or two in the musty portions of the basement and I understand no mention of that.

Is it because cats are quiet, tiptoe around on padded feet? Because they eat little and are economical to keep? Not all cats befriend people easily but the ones posted look as if they enjoy greeting and welcoming visitors. Is it because they don’t have to be ‘taken out’, but will go do their business in a litter box hidden in some dark corner? Whatever the reason books and cats seem to go together, or is it just libraries and cats?

Whatever the reason I have no problem with it. Personally, my writing assistant is a Brittany Spaniel that my family felt would keep me from staying in my chair too much at a time but I found that installing a doggie door and keeping a sack of doggie treats on my side table will forestall that strategy nicely.

While I’m on the subject, I love libraries. I consumed more books as a kid than we could afford and the library became a stop on the way home from school most days. I read, I hung out, I played chess, sometimes I even helped them re-shelve books and did some chores there. There is a very special place in my heart for libraries.

As a result the project I referred to is visiting them. I think I’ve been to every library in the US that can be visited online. Those that have online catalogs I look to see if any of my books are shelved. For a genuine library person being shelved in a library is the utmost honor, and I know it helps bring name visibility for a writer in a community. I actually have a list on my site where I have confirmed they can find me in a library. I encourage my friends to recommend my books for shelving. I’m running a library promotion for my new YA aimed at getting kids to read and discuss it, but focusing on doing it through libraries.

Do you suppose I should get rid of this dog and get a cat for my library? If I did who would alert me when neighbors come home or the UPS guy is here? Who would protect me from fierce neighborhood cats and the roadrunner that runs amuck outside? I suppose I’ll just interface with library cats when I venture into their domain,

Thursday, February 19, 2009

How can I not take this one?

I just talked on the phone to a very intelligent young man who realizes how badly change is needed in this world. Can’t argue with him there. He has the outline for a book that lays out just how such change can be achieved. Great, sure to be a best-seller. Send me a proposal on it and let me look at it. What’s a proposal?

Hmm, I see where this is going. I referred him to our website which lays out what we like to see in a proposal and what each portion of it entails. I told him it includes three chapters. Well, I don’t have three chapters, I’m not really a writer, I have the outline and I have all of these great notes that will explain just what needs to go into the book and it is world-changing.

I see, let me see if I can explain it this way. I’m not in the business of putting your book together for you. There are professional editors you can hire that will do that. I even have a list of a bunch of them on my website if you need to talk to some and see what it would cost.

I guess the best way to explain it is this: as a literary agent I’m like a used car salesman. My job is to take your car and sell it to a buyer, who in this case happens to be a publisher. So I tell you to bring it by so I can test-drive it, look at the sales literature for it (the proposal), put it on my lot, and have it available so a publisher can see it and drive it. The only problem is the car is in pieces in your back yard. It isn’t up to the salesman to put it together, nor is it the job of the buyer. No editor is going to sit down with you and help you turn all of your notes into a book.
It’s the job of a mechanic to put it together. Either the home mechanic (writer) who puts it together maybe with the help of friends in a critique group, or hiring a professional (editor or ghostwriter) to help. But an agent can’t do anything until we see the car because we see hundreds of cars each month with great sales literature and they are ready to drive off the lot.

Then I said on a nonfiction like this to make sure the proposal has your credentials for writing the book. What will give the reader confidence that you know what you are talking about. Lack of credentials? Only 21? That’s a bit of a problem, it had better be a really good book.
That’s like telling me your car is not from a major car manufacturer that you made it in your back yard. A custom car made by someone who is an awesome mechanic would be terrific but I’d sure want to know something about how good of a car you make. Where can I see some of your other cars? Oh, sure, this is your first. Well, a guy has to start somewhere.

Get it built and get back to me, we’ll go from there.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What will the stimulus package do for writers?

For starters I haven’t seen any bailout plans aimed at the publishing industry that has been laying off and cutting jobs. Nor do I expect to. And I fear I’m one that thinks the highly touted stimulus package is mostly aimed at things congress wanted to do anyway and there is very little real stimulus about it. As with a lot of political things I hope that I’m wrong.

What it will do no matter where it is aimed will put a lot of money into circulation and if that money starts circulating hopefully it will trickle down and start to manifest itself in book buying. In other words I don’t see it stimulating the book business directly but I am very much hoping for an indirect benefit. Books and other forms of entertainment fall on the list of non-essentials that are so easy to trim when people become nervous about the economy or more so if they have lost their jobs and are in spending shut-down mode.

Since they are a relatively small expense and since people need entertainment even more in hard times I see people who like to read making a place in their budget for books. I see libraries becoming more important, but unfortunately at the same time more people are turning to libraries and the demand there is higher, they face budget issues as well making acquiring the necessary books a problem. There’s just no easy answer for anything, is there?

But the tendency of Americans is to immediately return to whatever rut they are most comfortable in as early as possible. As money begins to circulate perhaps that return will be faster than we think. I certainly hope that’s true. Some publishers are moving ahead with projects and staking out market position betting on increased sales. Some are in a wait and see mode.

For the writer it means we write, period. And as we do we keep an eye open for opportunities, and they are present, because the book industry is in the business of selling books and to stop selling books is to go out of business.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My key to a happy valentine

When you’re laid up as I am, the fact that you can reach your florist online and pick out what you want is a real lifesaver. A very pretty arrangement is now sitting on top of the television and a happy wife is puttering around the house. The surprise was marred a little by the dog trying to eat the delivery man, but what can I say?

Valentines Day is a warm, fuzzy holiday despite attempts to commercialize it is we do all holidays. It’s a day when we are reminded how much we love the ladies in our lives and they are reciprocating. It’s something that should happen more day-by-day during the year.

I remember back in grade school when we went to school armed with a bag full of valentines for those in our class and of course for the teacher. I remember the warm feeling opening all of those that I got, the shy smiles from the girls and the self-conscious embarrassment of the boys. Watching my grandkids I don’t think the reactions are quite the same thing today.

I also gave Saundra a gift for Valentine’s Day and letting her pick out the specific one herself. But it isn’t the gift that is important. What’s important is the fact that I knew what would make her happy without being told, as I did Christmas, and on occasions before that. That’s the real gift, and making her happy is what makes me happy.

Happy Valentines Day all.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Check out the good news!

The “Good News” tab on my website has changed. It has now become the place where I not only announce awards and book sales, but now show the book covers and offer sales links where they can be purchased. I really work with a fine group of people. You can go directly to the page at . I do show the author’s picture on an announcement until the cover art and the purchase link are available.

I do blog at the website as I can, hopefully several times a week, and take on writing issues, agent questions, faith and religion and whatever comes across my crowded little mind. The blog is actually on but echos on my website and on my site at

The website features a writing link library that a lot of people return to often looking for tips and answers to writing questions. The site is over 3 million hits and almost 450,000 unique visitors coming mostly from the US, but I do have visitors from all over the world as well. I am indebted to Bonnie Calhoun, one of my clients and the publisher of Christian Fiction Online Magazine who helps me a lot with my website and who gave a facelift to the front page on the website.

I am running a contest for libraries and through those libraries and home-schoolers for teen readers. The contest details are at a link on the front page of the website and I hope it is going to bring in some input from young readers. Input that I will run in my blog when it is appropriate. If you know some young readers who would like the chance to win 100 bucks and be featured on my blog, hook ‘em up on the contest.

I’m in the process of making this contest known to libraries all over the country and when the library does participate I add them to the directory of libraries where my books are shelved also posted on the website. Now to post my blog for on “It’s Only a First Draft”which is now up, and I have an interview at of all places which should post tomorrow.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Forsaking fellowship

I remember when it used to be so easy to find a reason where it made sense to skip church. I also remember that when such a perfectly logical excuse came along the next time it was much easier to find. Finally I came along to discover they were coming along all the time.

I was absolutely mortified when I saw what had happened and got right with the Lord again. We’re told we are not to forsake fellowship, to seek the company of fellow believers. But not out of duty. We should do it because we need the support, where we need the spiritual renewal that comes from being in the company of believers.

Then we find we really miss it when we can’t be there. We miss the people, the experience, we feel lost because something is missing. Here I am now, foot poked up in the air as if it doesn’t really belong to me. Best excuse in the world, the doctor said stay off of it. But I don’t need an excuse, I miss it. I attended by TV today but it wasn’t the same.

The Bible knows what it is talking about when it says not to forsake fellowship. And I’m looking at three months of this. Hopefully before long I can get there on crutches or on mom’s scooter or something. I can’t do three months of this.