Category Archive: Money

Writers: Should You Quit Your Day Job?

Quit day job and pursue dreamOriginally posted on Jan. 27, 2014. Updated and reposted on Jan. 18, 2016.

This question has been on my mind a lot considering that over the past year I’ve gone from no day job to two concurrent part-time jobs. How much to work while pursuing a creative dream is a common dilemma. There’s no easy answer and the approach you take depends on your writing habits and where you’re at in your life and your career. However, if you’re considering quitting your day job, or reducing your hours to part-time, or even going back to work full-time, maybe I can help by sharing what I’ve learned over the last decade pursuing my dream while working part-time, full-time, overtime, and not at all.

Writing While Working Part-Time

When I first decided to write a book, this was the option I picked. Since I was already living like a starving artist (click here for my 10 Tips to Survive the Starving Artist Lifestyle), I knew I could pay my bills with part-time work. If you can afford to live on less and have a job where you can cut back your hours, perfect! Give it a shot. This is the most low-risk option. But sometimes you don’t have that luxury and might need to pursue part-time work on top of your full-time career before you can quit the day job. Fair warning: this is a brutal, exhausting phase, but remind yourself it will be worth it when you have the extra time to write!

Working part-time is best for those who write in short bursts or need daily breaks from writing. Not everyone can sit at their computer and write for 8 hours straight. If you get burnt out after 4 hours, then you might as well go to a part-time job, right? I also find that a part-time job is like having a bunch of mini-deadlines. If I only have three hours to write before starting work, I’m less likely to procrastinate.

Writing while Working PartTimeBut my first part-time experiment had a downside because I worked freelance. Instead of having just one part-time job, I had a multiple clients who would give me tiny jobs that all together were supposed to equate to part-time hours. But it’s hard to say no when you’re freelance, and soon I had so many little jobs I was working full-time…

Writing While Working Full-Time

Lots and lots of people work full-time and write. If you do, you need to be dedicated to the measly hour or two a day you have to write. You can’t procrastinate or wait for inspiration. This option takes a huge amount of discipline. It’s so tempting at the end of a long work day to just relax and not write, but if you’re serious about finishing that novel, you must write! The other option is waking up and writing for a couple hours before starting your day job.

The type of full-time job you have also influences your writing. Is your job creative? If so, are you creatively burnt out by the end of day, or inspired to create more? Will your job help your writing career? Or would you rather have a job that’s completely separate from your creative side?

Writing while Working FullTimeMy full-time job was writing television shows. I liked doing something creative all day, but often had nothing left in the well for my own projects. Plus, TV is never 40hrs/wk. It’s more like 60 or 70 hours. So when I had enough money saved, I quit to write my book.

Writing While Not Working

When I quit my day job, I was already an experienced screenwriter and had a novel idea I’d been working on for a year. I was ready to write with no distractions, or so I thought. Turns out my idea still needed a lot more development, and in fact I got so frustrated that a few months in I scrapped it for a whole new idea, which took more months of development. By the end of my year off, I was finally ready to start writing. Not that I regret it. I needed the time to immerse myself in the process and experience what it’s like to write a novel full-time.

So what is writing full-time like? Well, it can be lonely. I missed my co-workers. But if you hate your co-workers, that won’t be a problem. Writing full-time is awesome when the words are coming fast, but demoralizing when you hit a slump and have nothing else to do. This option is best if you already have a lot of writing experience and know how to handle those highs and lows.

Writing While Not WorkingSo with that in mind, before you quit your day job make sure you: 1) have a few years of writing experience under your belt, 2) have a solid novel idea that is ready to write, and 3) have a backup plan for when your money runs out. My backup was keeping in contact with people in the TV business, and whenever I was a couple months from being flat broke, I picked up a gig with them.

After living all three options, I learned the best one for me is to write while working a part-time job. It helps with my motivation. I procrastinate less. And I need breaks away from my novel (especially during the development phase) to help me recognize and solve story problems. Though if I’m ever lucky enough to be a full-time novelist, I’ll deal with this by having two projects on the go, so when I need a break from one novel, I’ll work on the other.

Deciding what’s right for you might take some trial and error. It did for me. And if you’re pondering the question of whether to quit your day job, hopefully this post gave you some insight about the options.

Anyone else have tips for choosing a happy working-writing balance? Please share in the comments!

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Weekend Coffee Share – The Month of New Beginnings

LeCoffee-1If we were having coffee, I might actually be drinking coffee instead of tea because I need the extra boost after a hectic week! You sip your hot beverage of choice and look at me quizzically. What happened? You thought I was pretty much done the video game script and I’d be focusing on my novel this month. Why am I so busy? Well, it all started with my yearly beginning-of-September panic…

September has always been the month of new beginnings, the month I take stock of the last year, the month I look at my life and ask, “What the hell am I doing?” I wrote a bit about this in last week’s post (Deadlines: Harmful or Helpful?), where I lamented again how much longer writing a novel is taking and came up with some ideas to do better. What I didn’t reveal in that post is my bank account is dangerously low. This is nothing new since I’ve been a freelancer for well over a decade, saving my pennies between gigs so I can buy myself time to work on my personal projects. I always seem to get more work just when I need it. However, I came to the conclusion that I’m totally sick of living like this.

Now don’t spit-take your coffee – I am not trading in my freelance freedom for a 9-to-5 job. Hells no! You know I’m not a morning person. 😉 But I decided I need a part-time job that’s a little more regular. I also decided this part-time job should have nothing to do with writing. Instead, it should be something that gives me a break from the voices in my head, something active, something I’ve been pondering for a couple years now, something I love so much that it doesn’t matter that the pay isn’t great because I’ll have fun doing it…

Gymnastics Coach!

Now, if we’ve been having coffee for a while, this comes as no surprise. You’re probably nodding your head like that was the most natural transition in the world. You might even ask what took me so long. But if we’re new friends, you might think this is a weird part-time gig for a writer. For the full explanation, check out this post: What Gymnastics Taught Me About Writing.

23 I get my first certOnce I made this decision, I casually mentioned it to the woman who owns the gymnastics academy where I train, expecting that I’d take my coaching courses over the next couple months and start shadow coaching in the winter session, but she wanted me to start ASAP! So within the week, I’ve taken my first coaching course and shadowed two classes. That’s on top of the three times a week I take gymnastics classes for myself. AND to make this week even busier, I’m Quality Assurance testing my episode of LongStory, the video game I wrote this summer. For more on that, read this. And somehow in the midst of everything, I still managed to eke out an hour a day on the novel.

Oh, and I almost forgot – the in-laws are in town this week and at our house every day.

So yeah, I’ve been busy. But super excited! The only real downside is that I have ZERO brain power to come up with a fresh blog post for this Monday, so I’ll be reposting an old favourite from the Writing Craft Archives.

How have you been? Do you take stock of your life in September too? Did you embark on any new beginnings this month?

WeekendCoffeeShare logo



If We Were Having Coffee is a blog hop inspired and run by the lovely and talented Diana at Part Time Monster. Please drop by her place for coffee. You can also see what other bloggers are up to by checking out the hashtag #WeekendCoffeeShare on Twitter.

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Kindle Unlimited Update

Kindle-UnlimitedAs promised back in July, I’m revisiting the topic of the ongoing developments in the Amazon Kindle Unlimited program, or KU2 as some people are calling it. Now that the actual first per-page rates have been revealed (this came out on Aug. 15th) everyone knows exactly how much royalties they’ve earned in July. The numbers led to some giddy delight from some authors and despair from others writers. More on that in just a bit.

For those of you not up to speed on the KU2 program and how these changes impacted what authors are paid might want to start reading here. This will give you some background information.

First recapping some of the developments we saw crop up during the last month and a half since the program launched.

Page count changes:

The first thing everyone noticed was the recalculation of the official Amazon page count, what is called the KENPC. Amazon made their intentions clear up front, they wanted to create a page count baseline and convert all eligible e-books into their new page configuration. However, they didn’t disclose how they planned to recalculate, leaving many confused and worried. In the end many books experience huge page count bumps using the new formula. I don’t think anyone is upset about the page count changes and it’s possible the KENPC formatting is leveling the paying field, removing extra white space and overly large fonts or margins just as Amazon intended. However, I think most authors would still like to know how the KENPC is created so they will have a better idea of what their book number is before publishing.

System bugs and new information:

It was a new program, no one expected it to run perfectly and it didn’t. But the one major glitch only dropped everyone’s data for about two days. In addition some authors have also reported something called phantom borrows. Otherwise things ran fairly smoothly.

* Please Note: I am still looking for some official data on Phantom borrows. If anyone has an Amazon link to an explanation, please share in the comments area.*

Whereas many authors knew how closely Amazon monitors each user’s preferences, most readers didn’t think about it. Now everyone knows Amazon has the ability to count and keep track of every single page a person reads in their e-reader. To some readers the Big Brother tactics are too invasive. Savvy Kindle users have learned how to turn off their updates, effectively blocking Amazon from collecting real-time data from their devices. Of course the next time the user connects; Amazon will play catch-up and download their full history anyway. Users choosing to limit Amazon’s 24/7 access to their data stream, means some KU authors have seen some wild fluctuations in their data. It’s rather a minor inconvenience, the pages will get credited eventually.

The July rate released:

Hopefully people paid close attention to my predictions on the page rate back in June. I knew it was a mathematical improbability that Amazon would pay a penny a page. It just wasn’t realistic. However, at least for the first month the rate exceeded my expectations. The August rate was about .005789 per page read. If KU payout history repeats itself in KU2, this will be the highest rate authors will ever receive. Meaning writers should expect a dip in the rate come September. Response to the rates seems mixed. Some high-ranking authors with large fan bases are thrilled with their numbers, calling KU2 a huge success. Other authors are disappointed and looking to pull some or all their titles as soon as they can.

Places KU2 need improvements:

One of the big complaints I’ve been seeing is in the reporting. Authors want to know how many books were borrowed and not just how many total pages of each book were read. Currently 15 books borrowed and each read half way through looks the same as 7 of the same book borrowed and read cover to cover. Revamping the reporting would make it possible for writers to understand their reader demographics better. They might even be able to use that information to write more successful books.

The current hope is KU2 help drive up the highest quality indie books, while also diving out the lowest quality. Will it work, who knows. I think it’s still too early to say, there just isn’t enough information at this point.

I’m interested in hearing about other author’s experiences. How did you all fair in the latest reports?


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How To Get Work as a Writer

I have worked as a television screenwriter for most of my adult life, and currently I’m working as a video game writer. Some of WOS’s readers have asked me how to get work as a writer, and I was reluctant to write a post about that because it’s such an individual question. My story is specific to my education, location and vocation (though if you’re curious, I’ll include my story at the end of this post). But, I do know a lot of writers of various disciplines (screenwriters, journalists, magazine editors, game writers, copy editors), so I decided to put that combined knowledge into a general post on how to get work as a writer. Here goes…

Work as a Writer

1. Education

Professional writers, myself included, have all met aspiring writers who say, “Oh, I already know how to write. I got A’s in English class. I just need someone to hire me!” Or, even worse, “I don’t need to go to school for writing because creativity can’t be taught.” But regardless of your stance on creativity (born with it or learned), everyone must educate themselves on the craft of writing. Why? Because each writing discipline is a little bit different and has its own format, structure and rules.

Acquiring a writing education doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get a degree or a masters, though those things may very well help. If full-time school doesn’t fit into your life right now, there are lots of continuing education courses you can take. Also, if you are good at teaching yourself, the plethora of writing craft books out there are a fantastic resource.

However, take note that the one big advantage of formal education, be it full-time or part-time, is connections. When looking at schools, choose one where the professors are working writers. Not only will your professor be a good connection when you graduate, they will know people in the business to introduce you to. Even better, befriend your classmates because they may very well be in a position to hire you or let you know of job opportunities in the future.

2. Writing Samples

To get a job as a writer, you need writing samples of the type of writing you want to be paid for. I stress that point because I’ve met people who have short stories and want to get a TV gig. Well, you can’t get a job writing television without a television spec script. If you followed step one and got an education in the type of writing you want to do, you should have writing samples from class assignments. Even so, you should write more and continuously improve your craft. Education is the step that never really stops.

3. Contacts

Next, make connections with people who can hire you. This is the step that frustrates most people. I bemoaned this myself when I was young and inexperienced, because it seemed as if people got jobs because of who they knew. And guess what? That’s absolutely true! So get out there and meet people. Again, if you went to school or took some writing classes, you’ve already got a few contacts. But the best way to make more is to simply approach people, either writers you admire or people you’d like to work for. You can find these people at industry events, conferences or online. Then ask if you can take them out for coffee and ask questions about the industry and their line of work. Do NOT ask for a job. This is not the time for that. If you’ve met a really generous person, they may request your writing samples, but don’t hand them a stack of paper on the spot. It’s the 21st century; email it. Afterwards follow up with a thank you. If you’re really lucky and you two hit it off, the other person may add you to their social network. Congrats! You’ve made a connection.

But what about the introverts? Some writers don’t feel comfortable talking to strangers. Well, luckily it is the Age of Internet and many connections can be made online via Twitter and blogging. Though I would still recommend meeting in person if possible.

4. Patience and Persistence

Finally, it’s important to note that once you finish the first three steps, the job offers won’t come promptly rolling in. And this seems like the appropriate time to tell my story…

> My Story

RyersonUniI attended Ryerson University for Radio & Television Arts and focused on screenwriting. Ryerson has a great program with professors who work in the industry. And I made even more contacts by interning at a small production company that produced great kids shows. I also went to some industry events Ryerson hosted where I met a writer who grew up in the same area of rural Ontario that I did. And I graduated with a television spec script that was okay but not great (as is to be expected from a 22-year-old newbie).

Then for the next four years I worked grunt jobs in the television and film industry (production assistant, driver, security – aka guarding pylons, etc.). During that time I read more screenwriting books and wrote another script, one that was much better than the one I wrote at Ryerson. I asked a few of my writer contacts if they could give me feedback on it. One of them was the writer I mentioned above. Another was a former professor at Ryerson who was now a full-time screenwriter. They both agreed it was a very good sample script.

Soon after that, I applied to the Canadian Film Centre for the Television Writing program. I don’t remember how I heard about it. My former professor might have told me. Either way, the deadline was that month and I had a spec script and letters of recommendation from my mentors, so I sent in the application. After paying off university, I had no plans to pay for more education (didn’t I already know how to write?), but the CFC program is prestigious and responsible for launching many screenwriting careers, so I gave it a shot.

And I got in. It was a six-month, full-time program. I quit my job and went back to school. I learned some stuff about writing, but the most important thing I got from that program was that our tiny class of eight was introduced to everybody in the entire TV industry in Toronto. We met all the agents, all the producers, and all the broadcasters.

So when we graduated, we all got jobs right away, right? Not exactly. This is where the patience comes in. I was actually the first person to get a writing job in my class, but it wasn’t from a connection I made at the CFC, it was from that writer I met years ago. He finally got his own show greenlit! Which meant he could hire who he wanted, and he wanted to give me a shot at my first writing credit. Yippee! And my second job also came from a contact made years ago while interning at that small production company that was quickly getting much bigger. Now, this is not to say the CFC didn’t have a big impact on my career because it certainly did. Graduating from the CFC  gave me more credibility in the eyes of the contacts I made years earlier.

And then the ball just started rolling. One writing job led to another job which led to another. But that only happened because I had the education, the writing samples, the contacts, and the patience and persistence not to give up during those years working grunt jobs.

And now you all know my story! And even though I quit my career years ago, the contacts I made while I was a full-time screenwriter continue to come through with part-time writing gigs here and there. That’s how I ended up writing a video game this summer.

What about the rest of you? Are you paid to write stuff? How did you get that work? Share in the comments if you feel so inclined.


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3 Book Categories that Should Benefit Under the New KU

Reader KUToday starts the first day of the new Kindle Unlimited royalty program. As with so many things in life, there will be winners and losers. I gave my thoughts on the biggest KU losers last week and now I have the winners. Remember, this is just my prediction for the books that will fare the best under the new Kindle Unlimited per-page royalty system. Only time will tell if I’m right or I’m wrong.

Young Adult can do no wrong. I suspect this will not hurt young adult and longer length middle grade writers. Teens who read, read constantly! And if they’re paying for any portion of those books themselves they are going to be budget minded. That makes KU ($9.99 a month for all the books they can read) a good choice for them. Younger readers are open to new writers, and they like discovering something their friends don’t know about. Teens are also great at creating the next big book wave out of otherwise unheard of titles. Teen readers know what they like, and if a writer can deliver the goods, they will read a whole series of books cover to cover. In other words they are loyal and steadfast fans. Plus it’s summer. Teens in the zone between summer camps and summer jobs will spend some of those too hot days reading in the shade.


Romance should come out ahead. Let’s face it; romance is a publishing super star. They have devout and hungry readers and they exist in numbers too vast to ignore. Of course, the biggest winner in the romance category is going to be the historical romances. Those fat books packed with descriptions of castles and gorgeous gowns really plump up the page counts. It’s not uncommon for a historical romance to top 150,000 words. Although shorter than historical romance, new adult (NA) romance should also thrive. They were an e-book smash already and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

Mystery seems like the leader. Mystery titles have an advantage because once you start one, it’s hard to turn back. You want to know who the murderer is, or why they did it. Even if the book is a bit lackluster in the middle, you will keep going just to find out the ending, unlike a romance, where a reader might skip the last 50 pages since they know the couple is going to end up together in a happily-ever-after moment. Mystery is by nature a full book commitment, crime in the front, clues in the middle, solution in the back. Aside from some odd skimming, or too much gore making the reader set the book down, I think mystery writers can expect a book started under KU is a book most likely finished.

If you’re not an e-book author, you still need to pay attention to these changes. Book sales are about supply and demand. Since the e-book explosion took off, the supply has been growing. The market groans under the weight of all the new titles. Today the seeds of a whole new crop of indie writers gets planted. And these writers are going to know if their readers stopped reading. By necessity, many of these writers will adapt. They will rewrite those slow starts and mushy middle. Their readers, by the act of putting the book aside unfinished, will become the harshest gatekeepers of all. Indie writers will learn what it takes to keep readers riveted to the pages because it’s going to pack a monetary punch they can’t afford to ignore. It means everyone will need to write stronger books, or they should expect to get left in the dust by the writers who chose to step up their game.

What do you think? Will this change the overall quality of indies? Will KU readers become the next publishing gatekeepers?

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4 Book Categories that may Suffer under Restructured KU

Kindle-UnlimitedLast week I wrote about the royalty restructuring of the Kindle Unlimited program. The new system goes into effect July 1, 2015 and it’s going to drastically change how authors are paid when a program subscriber borrows their participating book. This new system only affects writers in the Kindle Unlimited program and authors are given the option of taking their books out of the program should they choose. Currently everyone is arguing over how these changes will effect participating authors. Some writers are convinced every author will benefit under the new system. They believe the new royalty split will help remove some of the authors currently manipulating the system for higher gains, thereby leaving more funds for the remaining authors to share.

I’m less convinced and I’ve picked four groups of authors I predict will suffer under the new system. However, in the interest of fairness, there are some groups I think stand to gain, and I will have my predictions for that group next week.

Now my best calculated guesses for the writers that stand to lose under the new system.

  1. It will hurt anthologies: Prior to these changes, if a small press (or indie author group) talked one hugely popular author into contributing a story, everyone benefited from a KU loan. The anthology creator could count on the full loan revenue from every rental as long as the readers read past the 10% mark. Under the new system anthology editors looking to take part in KU are more likely to skew page counts toward the most popular writers, if for no other reason than to help recover their production costs. However, this sort of defeats the egalitarianism of making an anthology, the whole point in the past was to give unknown writers a leg up by using the star power of one or two respected authors as bait to entice readers to buy the book. I’m sure anthologies will still be made, but now the organizer behind the anthologies are bound to perceive unknown writers as an even greater liability, especially if they’re under pressure to earn back costs or turn a profit. It also might shove anthologies out of the the KU program altogether.

  2. It will weaken payouts for children’s ebooks. This one upsets the mom in me the most. School is out so the kids are home and bored. Summer is when they can and should power down some books. Yet younger kid’s books from picture book to beginning chapter books are (in deference to their fledgling readers) shorter, often just 16 to 50 pages long. Also the cost associated with image heavy books in all forms are fairly high, and these books get the double whammy of paying higher Amazon downloading fees, something that comes out of the author/publishing side during a sale. They didn’t need to pay the downloading fee on a KU loan, letting those authors keep a bit extra with each unit borrowed under the old system. I’m also concerned that under the new KU universal page count system, a 16 page picture book might end up counting as only a few pages. The current Unlimited picking for younger kid’s books has never been fantastically large, I can’t see how reducing these author’s payouts is going to help that situation.

  3. Nonfiction of every kind stands to lose out. It’s hard to know how the page count system will effect image-heavy books. Will a graph or table count as a full page? What about an illustration or photo? As I mentioned above in kid’s books, image heavy books get charged a different download rate, making the KU loan program attractive to both fiction and non-fiction authors with larger graphic loads. However, non-fiction books are notoriously under-read or skimmed. It’s not uncommon for me to get a cookbook and only look at a few recipe categories. Other readers might read only one or two chapters of interest. Granted, as other bloggers have mentioned, nonfiction has seen some heavy abuse from writers trying to game the old KU system. Reports of repackaged Wikipedia pages or books (where only the first 10% of the book is legibly written) show up as common complaints. Obviously, everyone wants to see KU abusers weeded out, but even if the new official page count system fairly takes into account images, this change could adversely impact many nonfiction writers.

  4. We may witness the end of the serial fiction boom. Readers will still want serials, they’re hooked. But writers who relied on the profitability of serial installment are in for a big shock. Before the Amazon loan program, serials (and most short stories) grew in popularity because of their sale price, usually under one US dollar. It was easy for readers to sample unknown writers without a huge financial commitment. For authors, that under-a-dollar sales price means about .35 US cents for each copy sold. Not great unless you sold a ton of books. Under the old KU payment structure, that number skyrocketed to over a US dollar per title borrowed. Remember, short stories were getting the same pay rate per title as a full length writer was getting on each book. Writers jumped into the format, creating a boom in short works. The profitability of short fiction created resentment with longer fiction writers and led to claims of widespread abuse, namely writers carving up single novels into parts in order to create more borrows. I think it’s safe to say popular short format fiction writers will still do okay under the new pay structure, but only if they don’t lament the advantages they’ve lost. If you are one of those people who thinks longer books should have the royalty advantage, you might not be too worried about this one. But I enjoy reading a tightly constructed short story or serial and I would hate to see the format lose all its steam.

So what does this all mean to you?

If you’re currently publishing (or planning on an ebook career) in one of these areas and counting on the Kindle Unlimited program to power the bulk of your revenue, you might want to rethink that! I don’t see any of these types of books doing particularly well under the new system. Come back next week when I’ll announce the 3 types of books I predict will be big winners under the new system.

What do you think? Will some authors take a larger hit with the new KU royalty rate? Will it drive some authors out? And if so is this still an acceptable loss so that book length writers can enjoy a better royalty ratio from the program?

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The New Kindle Unlimited Royalty Scale

Kindle-UnlimitedMonday morning, June 15th, the self publishing world absorbed the shock wave from the latest Amazon announcement. In case you haven’t heard, Amazon revealed a major monetary restructuring of the royalty calculations on their Kindle Unlimited program. Unlimited is the program that allows Amazon shoppers to pay a subscription fee to borrow an unlimited number of books from a list of over 600,000 titles. In the past, authors of ebooks in the Kindle Select program received a flat rental fee once the borrower read past the 10% mark of the total pages. The new system, effective July 1st, will create a per-page-actually-read pay scale. That means each author will only get paid for the number of pages a borrower actually reads in their book.

Feel free to pause and have a Big Brother Is Watching moment if you didn’t already know Amazon was keeping such a close eye on your page counts.

First some history: Amazon launched a rental program about two years ago, revising it to the current Unlimited system last year. At the launch, there were a lot of upset publishers and authors. They didn’t want the program tied to KDP Select. They were doing fine and they didn’t want any changes at all. Almost everyone hated the idea of a fixed payment rate set by Amazon. And that the amount had no relationship to the book’s sale price, or the length of the book. Many authors found their sales and their revenues plummeting after the loan program launched. Avid readers, the backbone of all book sales, loved the Unlimited program. For the cost of buying one or two e-books they could read as many books are they wanted each month for $9. 99 US dollars.

Amazon Ad

Once the uproar died down, some authors embraced the system and tried to create higher profitability by shifting away from book-length fiction, the superstar of the first indie boom, and moving into creating novellas, short stories and serials. The growth of short fiction offerings in the last two years was exponential. However, since readers could consume four times as many 50 page titles as they could 200 page titles, the pool of money being used to pay the authors had to spread to more titles, and the amount paid out per title started to fluctuate and shrink. Amazon pumped money into the pool to inflate the payout, but many established writers still pulled out of the KDP Select program so their books would not be part of the loan system. The remaining book length fiction writes have been upset about the system ever since.

Although Amazon hasn’t released too much information, they did say the new payment rate will continue to change month to month based on how much money is in the payment pool and how many pages the borrowers read. Currently a number of self publishing bloggers are wildly overestimating how much that per page payment will be, perhaps their optimism comes from Amazon’s own press release. Capture

I suggest you run these numbers. Do the payouts represented here look remotely plausible? They don’t to me. And they don’t take into account the vast number of books that are put aside without finishing. Or that readers may take several months to finish a book. Although there are too many unknown variable, like what Amazon considers a page, I think it’s pretty safe to say the payout for many authors will go down. However, we will not know the facts on how this development will effect indie writer’s bottom lines until we see the August 15th KDP sales reports.

Before you wipe your brow and happily dismiss these changes as irrelevant to you, think again. These changes could affect all of us in one way or another. This isn’t just a monetary restructuring of the Kindle Unlimited program, but a publishing development that might cause some serous ripple effects. We have never seen book royalties tied to the number of read pages before. It’s truly shocking.

Next week I’ll be talking about how these changes will affect all fiction writers. And giving my predictions for the types of books that will suffer the most under the new program.

What are your thoughts? If you write indie books and have them included in the Unlimited program, are you concerned? Or are you optimistic?

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10 Tips for Winning Author Grants and Fee Wavers


Photo By DodgertonSkillhause

This is another installment in our “financial tips for writers” series. You can read our last post on crowdfunding here. This post features practical tips for winning grants and writer-in-residency scholarships.

There are few revenue streams open to unpublished writers. Grants and fee wavers should be one of the first lines of inquiry for struggling writers. Are art grants easy to get? No! However, some major authors have used them as a springboard to writing careers. Most notably J.K. Rowling, who received a grant from The Scottish Arts Council to finish the first Harry Potter book.

Finding a prospective granting agency is only half the battle. You need to win the grant, and that means completing against thousands of other writers.

The good news is, writing a grant or project proposal application isn’t hard; it’s more or less just common sense.

  1. Read the directions.

    Wow, you would think that one needs no mentioning, but trustees of some major foundations have confided in me just how many grants are rejected because of this single factor. The directions are not guidelines. You can’t submit late, forget to include requested documents, or get letters of recommendation from your mom. How awful would you feel knowing some simple mistake, like signing in blue ink and not black ink, cost you that grant? Read each page carefully.

  2. Answer every question.

    Again you might wonder why this needs to be said, but people miss things. Also some people don’t feel comfortable giving out too much personal data. I understand the concerns, but if you’re applying to a credible organization (something to research first) you need to put those fears behind you.

  3. Don’t fudge the numbers.

    Mistakes make you look careless with money, or dishonest. Both are huge red flags for any funding agency. The group offering the cash worked hard to earn that money, and there’s a good chance they’ll want a closing financial report detailing how you spent the money. How can they expect someone to create an accurate closing report if they can’t be bothered to find a calculator while applying for the grant in the first place? They can’t, so they will pass you over for the next application.

  4. Don’t propose anything you don’t plan to deliver.

    Sometimes people think they can outsmart the grant process, and they will customize a proposal to fit the grant perfectly. The problem is many grants can’t be changed, they come with what are called restricted funds. If you use the money for another purpose you will need to pay the money back, with a penalty at best, or with potential jail time at worst. Find a grant that fits your project, don’t change your project to fit the grant.

  5. Line up the best references you can find.

    You are much better off with a pleasant letter from a recognized authority, then a gushing letter from a nobody. Sure this sounds unfair, but it’s true. Grants are competitive. You’re trying to stand out from a crowd, and you need to give yourself every advantage. Talk to old university professors or track down some well-known writers to sponsor you. Find someone who sponsored a previous winner and ask them to endorse you.

  6. Don’t get creative with your writing.
    I know you’re a writer, so when the grant asks for a personal statement your suppressed Tolstoy bubbles to the surface. You want to write about your personal demons and love of the color green. In rhyming couplets! Well, don’t. After looking over fifty or sixty application packages in one day, those poor readers don’t have braincells to decipher your prose. Be clear, be forthright and use normal language. Remember I’m talking about documents here, letters of intent, bios, etc. If you need to submit a writing sample that’s different – submit a well-proofed example of your normal writing style.

  7. Hand a copy (never the original) of your documents package to an editor, or two.

    Make sure every bit of the grant is legible, clean and correct. Do this early so if someone catches a mistake you have time to fix it. Never make a correction on your paperwork, create a fresh application. You should always ask for two sets of the funding forms for just this specifically. If you can’t get a spare set of forms, make your own working copies of the forms and transfer the information to the real forms at the end.

  8. Never spontaneously fill out online proposals.

    If online is the only filing option, print out the forms and work over the copies first. Once you have your answers figured out, log on and fill out the application. Have a friend standing by to watch for errors while you’re entering the data. Never fill out online forms at the last moments on the filing clock. You will mess up.

  9. Navigate the process correctly or don’t do it at all.

    You’re better off missing the filing window and applying the next time than you are submitting something full of  mistakes, or so ill-conceived that you find yourself on the group’s automatic rejection list. Yes, they have those, and you don’t want to be on that list.

  10. Once you file, don’t pester them.

    It’s hard waiting for news, but you need to. The person making the decisions might have thousands (if not tens of thousands) of applications to process. They want to find the best person to give their money to, but they also want someone they’ll find easy to work with. If you come off like a pushy, rude, know-it-all they will throw your file away and never lose a wink of sleep over it. They don’t need you. You need them. Stay professional even in the face of rejection and there is a much better chance you and your fantastic project will get noticed by the right people.

I hope these tips help you put together a nice clean funding package.Good luck and please let me know if you found funding. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.

For more information on writer funding programs:

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6 Tips for Author Crowdfunding

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Lulupinney

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Lulupinney

As we head into Week three of 2015, I’ve seen many writers talking about their yearly goals and most have included a publishing benchmark on the list. Some are looking to become the next big Indie success story and chasing that publishing dream may require more money than these writers initially expected. Believe it or not, there is a cost to self-publishing. In a tight marketplace, it often takes a successful looking product to be a successful product. That means new authors may need to cover the costs of editing, buying an ISBN number, acquiring cover images, hiring someone to design and layout the cover. And lastly, one really should have the EPUB professionally formatted, an expense too many new writers try to skip with mixed results. And that is not addressing the costs associated with print books, especially those with lots of color images. Even if the author manages the production expenses, they will still need money for marketing to sell at books.

So where will all that money come from? Well, many authors are turning to Kickstarter, Pubslush, IndieGoGo or one of the other crowdfunding facilitators to pay for it all.

If you don’t know what crowdfunding is you can learn more here. In short it’s a way for anyone to raise capital through organized social media campaigns.

According to a recent Publisher’s Weekly article, in 2014 the publishing category at Kickstarter had 2,064 successfully funded campaigns and they raised $21.9 million in pledges. That may sound like a lot, but the number of winning campaigns was on the low side, only about 28% of projects found funding. The numbers are higher for comic book writers and lower for journalists, but you can read more about that here.

There are advantages and disadvantages to going this route and the results for each author are going to vary. This is considered a controversial alternative. You are asking friends, family and total strangers to help get you started as an author. Is this option right for you? That’s for you to decide, but if you are considering crowdfunding, here are six tips to help you prepare.

  1. Do your homework.
    Spend time learning about the crowdfunding process. Look over the site facilitator options. Kickstarter is one of the biggest and best known crowdfunders, but it’s not the only game in town. Do your due diligence. Know how the site will handle the money, and what they will expect in terms of a percentage of your take. Learn the tax issues, and plan accordingly for those extra costs. Ask questions before you sign up. Think about how easy (or hard) the site is to use, and if it has technical support features to help you.
  2. Look at other author’s appeals.
    Read some author success stories. Figure out what you like and don’t like about how other book projects were presented. You may start to notice the well-funded appeals are carefully created pages. They’re well-written, error free and easy to understand. The author has clearly shared and sold their story idea in a few paragraphs. Good campaigns often feature quality images and video elements to help the potential backers get to know the writer and their work. Data suggests campaigns with videos are more likely to get funded than those without. Of course, creating a video adds extra work. More info about adding videos here.
  3. Review your assets.
    Establish which aspects of your background, social media platform, personal contacts and portfolio of work represent your strengths. If you have no social media platform, you’re in for a challenging campaign. Think about your negative aspects and weaknesses. If you see any red flags, fix them before you launch the campaign. This is the time to redo the old author photos, update that glitchy website, and write a new fact-filled, yet fun bio. Think about how you want to present yourself to the public. Revamp anything old, tired or ugly and make it shine.
  4. Figure out the bottom line.
    Create a project budget and don’t leave anything out. Remember some sites require you meet the minimum funding goal, or you don’t get any of the money. Set realistic goals. You don’t want a budget that looks bloated, but you’ll need enough resources to finish the project. Talk to people with experience, and get help if you’re math challenged. A good campaign should include the budget in the appeal. You’ll need numbers you can stand behind.
  5. Start planning incentive.
    Never overlook the power of prizes. I attended a charity action where someone paid $10,000.00 (US dollars) for the opportunity of naming the villain in an author’s next book. And when the winner’s friend complained about the bidding ending too soon, the author gave away a second character naming and earned the charity another $10,000.00 dollars. Granted, this was a big time author, but the theory is the same. Unique prizes trigger something chemical in the human brain; people get a high off getting a goodie no one else has. Arrange for a large number of small prizes for pleaders at the lower pledge levels, but have something fantastic at the top levels too.
  6. Clear your calendar.
    Really clear that sucker back to the bones. You need a huge amount of time and energy to manage a crowdfunding campaign. You may need weeks of advance planning just to get the word out, and gather commitments from your friends to help promote the project. Once you launch the appeal, you will need to keep it running with email updates, promoting on social media, answering silly (or serious) questions, and cooling off any nasty trolls. Once the campaign ends, you’ll need to keep your backers updated on your progress, prepare reports for your crowdfunding partner company, and most important of all, deliver the finished project and incentives by the date you’ve promised. The campaign will be your whole universe for a while. (On that note, leave yourself extra time to complete each phase of the process.)

Every hour you spend preparing for your crowdfunding appeal will be time well spent.

More resources and links:

Publish Your Next Book with Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding Books

4 Top Tips on Crowdfunding for Authors 

How to Make a Successful Kickstarter Campaign

Pubslush: Crowdfunding Just for Books

Five Essential Tips For-a-Successful Kickstarter Campaign

Kicking Ass Taking Donations 9 Tips on Funding Your Kickstarter Project

Next Up from Robin… I’ll be giving some tips on landing grants, fellowships and residence programs.


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Freelancing (aka “Pantsing” Your Livelihood)

When it comes to writing, I am definitely a plotter. I love knowing where my story is going and filling in the details on scene index cards before I start writing prose. But when it comes to making money, I am a pantser. I have no idea what my next job will be or when I’ll get another paycheck. dont-panic-man-and-towel

The upside of freelancing is I’m not tied down to a full-time job and can take time off whenever I want (i.e. turn down freelance jobs) in order to work on my own projects. The downside of freelancing is, after taking those months off, I run out of money and need to replenish the bank account.

Currently, I estimate I have seven months until my bank balance hits zero as long as I’m extremely frugal: no shopping, no eating out (hey, friends, I can’t afford brunch, but let’s meet for coffee – I’ll bring my travel mug!), no extra anything. I’m following my own 10 Tips to Survive the Starving Artist Lifestyle to the letter. But soon even those tips won’t be able to save me from homelessness.

So I must be panicking, right? Nah. After almost two decades of freelancing, I’m confident I can find work when I need it. But how does one get to that place?

*Note: I’m not referring only to freelance writing jobs. Lots of professions (accountant, music teacher, event organizer, electrician, etc) can be freelance too. The following list is more about life skills that help one be a freelancer, no matter the trade, craft or vocation.

6 Tips to Thrive as a Freelancer

  1. Up your tolerance for uncertainty. A fluctuating and unstable income makes most people uncomfortable, so treat freelancing like spicy food – start with a little on the side and add more as you get used to it. Over time, you’ll become more confident in your ability to secure gigs, and freelancing won’t feel so risky.
  2. Be flexible. Especially when you’re just starting out, freelancing is very unpredictable. There’s no such thing as 9 to 5. One week you’ll work 70 hours, the next week 15. Prepare yourself for this by making a list of what you need to accomplish each month and check those tasks off as soon as you have a spare second, because at any moment you could get a call for another gig. Also, make sure your friends and family understand that as a freelancer you’ll sometimes have to cancel and/or reschedule plans.
  3. Communicate. Be upfront with your clients about timelines and whether you’re working on other jobs simultaneously. And always be reachable. Nothing freaks clients out more than a freelancer they can’t get a hold of, especially if the deadline is looming. If you’re honest, accessible and dependable, you’ll be hired again.
  4. Learn to say no. When I first started freelancing, I never said “no.” I took every job offered to me and worked my fingers to the bone because I was scared that the next job wasn’t coming. But it always did. Eventually I gained the confidence to turn down gigs I was too busy to do (if I wanted to sleep, after all) or turn down the ones that didn’t pay enough.
  5. Stay in touch. It’s a good idea to touch base with old clients and remind them that you’re still in the business. Even if they don’t have work for you, they probably know of someone who does, and now that you’ve reconnected you’re top of mind.
  6. Don’t panic and always carry a towel. Yes, that is advice from a sci-fi book, but freelancing is a lot like being a hitchhiker of the galaxy: things can change in seconds and you could be whisked away somewhere totally new. Just keep calm and enjoy the adventure!

Speaking of, I just got a job. I wasn’t even looking, but such is the way of the freelancer. A friend of a friend needed someone who does what I do, contact info was passed on, a call was made, a meeting set up, and bam! Another job. Looks like I won’t be dead broke in seven months after all.

Next Up from Heather… We’ll see what happens – it’ll be a busy week working this new gig, fitting in my own writing, and {drum roll} getting a NEW COMPUTER! Though I can’t blog about how much I love my new MacBook Air. Can I?


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