I finished my first novel in 1996, but I considered that tome practice (and that’s just as well). It wasn’t until 2000, after I’d written four books, that I decided that it was time to embark on my planned career as a writer. That was the year I sold my first short fiction, the year I qualified for SFWA, the year Alysha’s Fall came out from Cornwuff Press, and the year I started hunting for publishers for my novels. With typical bloody-minded determination, I continued to produce at least a novel a year and several short stories. That placing them was almost impossible didn’t matter: by my standards, I was a professional writer, with a goal of producing enough material to live on if I could get it distributed—and I succeeded… on my half of the deal, anyway.
So as far as my head is concerned, I’ve been “working on my career” for thirteen years.
My first self-published e-book was the short story In the Line of Duty. That was late 2010. I didn’t really start gearing up on the self-publishing until well into the following year, and that was just with e-books. My print book production didn’t start seriously revving up until late last year, which is also around the time I started audiobook production.
As far as my actual product is concerned, I’ve only been “working on my career” for less than three years.
The expectations you have when you’ve been in business for over a decade are very different from those when you’ve only had three. A ten-year-old business has been through two five-year plans and reaped the harvest of those initiatives. If you’re assuming one adult is running it (and started doing so as an adult, who also plans to retire), then it’s already 20% into its lifespan. It has some maturity, some heft, some stability from which to pursue new opportunities.
But a business that’s only three years old rarely is at the point of making more money than its owner’s investing in it. It hasn’t lived through a single five-year plan; it’s still in the groundwork stage.
I often find myself highly frustrated because I’ve been writing for so long but I’m not where I want to be, business-wise. It’s in those moments that I have to remind myself that I’ve only been issuing products people can buy for less than three years. I tell myself that what I’m doing now—investing over half what I make back into the business—is natural and necessary, that it’s laying groundwork for a future when I’m more comfortable, more capable of exploring opportunities without clawing up my account books looking for the cash. That I’ve done well for where I am, but that you can’t force a three-year-old business to be as successful as a ten-year-old one… even when you work yourself to the threadbare bone, like some jaguars are guilty of doing. That being in the black—that making enough money as a writer to already make most part-time jobs a losing proposition—is already pretty astonishing for where I actually am in the life cycle of my business.
I also remind myself that being upset over lost time isn’t productive, and that instead I should be grateful that self-publishing freed me from having to wait on someone else to do something with the stories I want to share.
And I am.
But I am still only three years into this. Even if I wrote “THE END” on my first book in 1996.
Having the right expectations can make a big, big difference in your mindset. My goal for the next few years is to remember where I actually am, rather than where I think I should be.