5 Hard Truths About Being a Published Writer

You’ve dreamed of being a writer, getting published, and finally – you’ve succeeded. Someone has paid money for your words, and they’re out in the world for people to read! Or, maybe you haven’t yet sold a story or novel, or you’re still writing for free on blogs and hoping that’s going to get you noticed. Either way, you aspire to greatness with your ability to turn a phrase. Here’s five things you definitely need to know, but probably no one has told you:

  1. You’re still going to be rejected. No matter how many sales or awards or accolades you have, you will still not have them all. You’ll submit work that won’t be purchased. You’ll write beautiful prose that doesn’t get nominated for an award, or doesn’t win even if you make it onto the ballot. You’ll be left out of articles talking about the books to read this summer, or you won’t be invited to attend a conference, or be on a panel. You will always be striving for acknowledgement you don’t consistently get.
  2. You will have fans who care more about being able to say you’ve talked to them than your writing. If you’re active online at all, you’ve seen the superfans: folks that make a point to say hello to their favorite writers each day, or buy them gifts, or take photos at conventions and post them around everywhere. Often they’re tangentially related to the publishing industry (reviewers and bloggers are easy positions for these people to get into, which gives them access to authors). The circle of authors they cultivate can be large or small, but changes based on who’s popular at the moment. These aren’t the people who buy and read everything you’ve ever written (that’s the kind of fan we all want); the superfan wants to be seen with you, in person or online, because “knowing” you gives them legitimacy. Instead of focusing on their own writing career, they get their name out their by attaching it to yours.
  3. Other writers will find success that has nothing to do with their writing. An activist working in a certain community may find a strong base of readers from that community who are buying their books more for the person who wrote them than the quality of the work. A short story author may be getting nominated for awards because they’re super adorable and check off the “social justice” box of the week. A blogger-turned-author may have riled up a group of angry readers who will buy their books as a form of protest against another writer or type of people. A writer with a shtick that is cute or fun or bizarre will momentarily get all the buzz, even if their writing kind of sucks.
  4. How you look matters. White men sell more than anyone. Period. For everyone else, you need to be a good writer, but you also kind of need to be attractive. It’s a fact that publishers look at the quality of work but also look at whether they can sell you as a person. If you’re a woman, it helps to be thin, pretty, and young (unless the sort of writing you do appeals to readers who want to see you as a wise crone, in which case, you need to be older). If you’re a person of color, you need to either be sexy or more often, if you’re a man, charming but non-threatening. Unless they’re marketing you to an “ethnic” audience, it helps to have a white partner if you’re a person of color. Unless you’re primarily writing gay fiction, queer men are okay – if they’re attractive – but queer women should have a male partner. Trans people should be single. White women can be overweight if they write fantasy or romance or YA, but not SF or other genres. Women of color who are overweight will usually only find success in lit, and only if they’re writing about their weight, or being a woman, or being a fat woman. (You can become overweight after you gain popularity, but you need to start out thin.) All of this to make you palatable to a wider audience of readers who might be uncomfortable with the idea that queer and trans folk have sex, or that people of color might want to talk about something other than being a person of color, or that fat women might still be sexy or smart or great writers. And this isn’t just something that publishing companies enforce – society does it, too. (See above about who gets fans/awards.)
  5. Nearly all writers get paid less than minimum wage for writing, and you have to spend money to enjoy the benefits of writing successfully. The majority of people who write will never sell their writing. The ones who do often don’t sell all of it. What sells almost never makes enough to compensate you more than a few dollars for every hour you put into writing it. (Often, it’s a few cents for each hour.) Even when you sell a story to a pro market, for example, that couple of hundred dollars for that 5000 words may represent weeks, months, or years of writing and revisions. If you got lucky, and sold a story that you wrote all at once, in a day, it still doesn’t compensate you for all the stories you didn’t sell, and the years or decades that you spent learning to write in the first place. With a very few exceptions – writers who have been working for years and finally making decent money at it – everyone who writes for themselves for more than a few hours a week has a spouse/family who supports them. Once you do sell your work, start getting nominated for awards or invited to conventions, you need to spend your own money to attend those events. Sometimes, you’re given free admittance to the event, but even at awards ceremonies that’s not always true. You’ll definitely have to pay for your transportation, which can mean traveling to another state or another country. You’ll have to pay for your hotel and food and socializing once you’re there, because what’s the point of going if you don’t interact? Even if you are a guest of honor at a major convention, with your hotel and food covered (which, sorry, happens to only a few people a year) you have to pay in another way: you’re expected to work the convention, by attending panels and events that the con decides for you, and you’re expected to go to dinner with con runners, who you may not know or like, because they’ve essentially paid you to be there. Of course, you’re not actually paid, but even at the highest levels of being a successful author, a convention will treat you like an employee if they have to pay for you to be there, regardless of whether you’d have attended without their invitation. They won’t say it, though. It’ll just be that they want you everywhere they tell you to be because they’re such big fans.

If you read all of this an immediately think, “That’s it, I’ll never be successful, I want to quit writing,” then you should. If you’re in it primarily for the fame and the fans, because you think being a “successful” writer validates you in some way, or it’s how you think you’ll finally have friends and a girlfriend who adore you, there’s a good chance you’re not going to get what you want. Being a writer for the accolades is fine if you are honest with yourself – lots of people do things more to get attention than because they love the thing. I’m not judging you. But it’s hard to get anywhere as a writer if you’re starting out with anything less than all the privilege possible. If you’re a woman, a person of color, queer, trans, or non-binary; if you’re insecure or overweight or poor, it’s hard. Unbelievably hard. There are so many easier ways to get recognition and respect. If you think writing will finally make you cool, you need to quit.

If you read all of this and think, “Fuck that, I’m going to write because I’m going to write even if no one reads it,” then don’t quit. Don’t give up. Go into writing as a career with your eyes open. Learn about the community and how publishing works and if you need to agitate for change, do that. Show the world that you’re so talented and brilliant that they’ll have to pay attention. But don’t blame anyone else if you don’t feel welcomed to the table, or if Cute Girl X has a bunch of twitter followers and you don’t. Do the work anyway. Yes, it’s hard and expensive and depressing and your popularity will wax and wane, but you knew that going in. Yes, it’s difficult to find time to write and when you have to work a day job and maintain relationships and write as well, it’s nearly impossible at times. You will feel like a failure. You will actually fail at times. Like with a lot of art, you may only find popularity after you’re dead. But you knew that going in

Here’s a secret truth: If you can look at the minefield that is trying to be a successful writer and know you’ll get hurt traveling through it, it’s easier. It’s not personal, even when it feels personal. It’s hard, but it’s hard for everyone. You’ll probably need to change things from where you are to get to where you want to be, or you’ll need to fight to change the world to fit you, but that’s true of everything. If you think it’ll be easy and straightforward, you’ll be horribly let down. But if you know how hard it is and you put in the work anyway, the success you do have can feel amazing, and earned.

Because it will be.

Using Scrivener for NonFiction (with links)

I got Scrivener as a birthday present last year, and up until this week I’d been using it to work on a couple of novels. The workflow suits my note-taking style: I jot things down wherever I can, whenever I’m thinking of it, and then have to assemble the pieces when I have a bigger chunk of time to do so. As I’ve gotten used to Scrivener, gotten into the habit of collecting my various bits of writing this way, I’ve expanded how I use it. First, I started putting together a new short story collection (though I’m still writing the stories in a separate text document and copying them over). Today, I started porting my notes over from a nonfiction project I’ve been kinda sorta working on the the last two years.

I mean that in the sense that I maybe worked on it a few days a month, but enough that over time I’ve got a good idea in my head of the book’s structure, contents, and style. I know this book. I know the point of it. I know how to write it. All that’s left is the research to back up what I’m saying. Well, and a lot of writing things down.

It turns out, there’s less of that to do than I thought. Once I got everything imported into Scrivener, I discovered my disparate notes actually make up a solid framework. If I can find the time to devote to more research, I think I can have a complete draft done in a few months.

What’s great about writing nonfiction in Scrivener? In addition to the ease of simply writing out of order, as you think of whatever you’re writing that day, I like:

  • Using the split screen, or a QuickReference panel, to keep a separate file open to compile a glossary as I write.
  • References! Citations! Keeping track of every title I used for research! It’s a bit complex to set up, but this is a great explanation.

I also found some links that might help you if you’re writing any flavor of nonfiction with Scrivener:

First reviews of my latest story, “That Lucky Old Sun”

In January, Apex Magazine published my short story, “That Lucky Old Sun”, to my great delight. You can read it online for free, here. (You can also buy the whole issue for Kindle here.) If you haven’t read it yet, be warned that there are minor spoilers below.

I was nervous before “That Lucky Old Sun” came out; it’s the longest short story I’ve published to date, and it plays with an old SF trope in a way that readers might either love, or hate, or not notice at all. You can never tell until a story ends up in the world and out of your hands. I was more nervous because this story is important to me. They all are, of course, though some of what I write is fun, some is dark, some is about projecting the future – I’m usually pushing at the edges of what I can do in a story, but the boundaries I’m pushing aren’t always the same.

In classic, golden age SF, we have these grand stories about building rockets, escaping doomed worlds, blasting off into space with limitless potential in front of us. I could write that again a hundred times, and who would question it? We know that tale. We’ve all read it. With this story, I wanted to talk about the people who get left behind. Not the rocket scientists or astronauts or the child looking out the porthole at a dwindling blue marble that used to be his home. Just regular, everyday people. Families. Neighbors. Small town folks, faced with things much bigger than themselves.

I am so happy with how it’s been received.

Amelia Crowly said:

This really gave me chills.
I love the way it *seems* to set the scene at once, only to become darker and more intriguing as the story progressed.

On Twitter, @robertired said:

It’s amazing. Subverting old school sci-fi is something that should be done more. Congratulations.

@ScottMBeggs said:

Beautiful short story from (via ). Uses the familiar to deliver the unexpected.

@MariaHaskins called it:

Wonderful, creeping-up-on-you #scifi

And @LaurenLykke said:

Just read and LOVED your story in !! Got me all teary-eyed!

Over at Tangent Online, Kevin P. Halett said:

Carrie’s “end of the world” science fiction story is time and world ambiguous, telling this often-told story from a new perspective. The protagonist is a small girl, innocuously spending what could be her last day with her loving mother, who knows what’s coming. The author touchingly portrays the mother’s loving patience and the girl’s innocence in this easy to read tale.

Telling the story from the little girl’s perspective made it darker and more compelling. I found the writing engaging from the very beginning and it continued to hold me even though I could guess where it might end; a pleasing new variation on an old theme.

Lastly, and with the most spoilers… At Quick Sip Reviews, Charles Payseur said:

………….okay then. Yeah, this story is a bit dark, a bit…well, a bit very dark, about a child, Melanie, and her mother as they sort-of wait for the end of the world. The setting is vaguely futuristic and also rather dystopian, a place where people are judged based on their skin but not exactly the way that they are now. Here it’s not exactly race it seems but something in the blood that changes the skin’s color and might do other things to it. Whatever the case, it means that there are vast systems in place to try and “contain” it, mostly by reporting on neighbors and living in a police state and it’s an all around not-good scene. And yet the “problem” persists and so the government decided to just bomb everything. Bomb it all and then return to reclaim the wiped slate. And that the story follows a mother and her daughter on this day is bleak as fuck, but also I rather enjoyed it. There is something to be said about this, that this is where fascism leads, that this is where intolerance and bigotry lead. That there are “understanding” people who are just part of the problem and that everything is built on hate without reason, hate because that’s all it is, and in the end it tears everything apart, tears families apart and lets the central lie of the story fester and burn like the fires of the bombs being dropped. Because a large part of the story is the absence of the father, who is “pure” and who has the chance to survive. It’s a wrenching story and a sad one, very much worth reading but maybe prepare some cat videos for the aftermath. Indeed.

What I’m Writing: October 2015

I spent most of September sick and sleeping. The couple of months before had been so hectic, with such big life changes – leaving my day job, going back to college, DragonCon. When I came home from D*C exhausted, then realized I had a cold, and then watched it develop into bronchitis, I had to put aside everything but the bare minimum for survival. I spent a couple of weeks on my couch. I’m just now starting to feel better, though I’m certainly not caught up yet. (I shudder to think what my multiple inboxes look like.)

The one thing I was able to do consistently in September wasn’t sleeping, or working. It was thinking. I thought about me. I thought about writing. I have a million reasons for why I don’t write as often as I want to but they basically boil down to feeling selfish when I write. That time could be spent trying to earn money for my family. (Yes, writing pays, but my fiction takes six months to a year, or more, to see a return, and freelancing money helps with the bills I have now.) That time could be used washing dishes, folding laundry, cooking dinner, helping my son with his homework, doing my own homework, filling out forms, buying groceries… Writing time is stolen time, and I never quite believe I deserve to take it.

But writing is glorious, isn’t it? It’s a joy and a challenge. I feel a little empty, sometimes, when I’m not writing. I’m not wasting every day but I’m wasting a part of it, nearly every day that I don’t write, because I’m keeping myself from setting these stories loose. All I’m really doing is making myself sadder and isolating myself from the parts of me I like best. So… Fine. Okay. You win, little words. Fly.

Be free.

I am going to write now. I’m going to tell you about it. And if you catch me not writing for long periods of time again, you get to call me on it. Deal?

My current writing in progress:

FOOTSTEPS – the working title of my new novel. Status: Fully outlined. Researched. World built. Ready to write. 3000 words so far. Needs 97,000 more on the first draft. (2015)

The cookbook – a companion to the novel. Yes, it’s an actual cookbook. I’m not sure anyone will see it, but it’s where I’m collecting the recipes that I’m writing for the novel, info on foods, growing advice, etc.

“Last Bus” – short story. 1400 words. Written, needs to be revised/expanded. (2015)

“Lucky Old Sun” – short story. 3500 words. Written, needs to be revised. (2014)

“Space Squid” – short story. Okay, that’s not really the title, but it’s not finished yet. 800 words, needs first draft finished. (2014)

“Bug Jar” – short story, 1100 words, needs first draft finished. (2012)

“Dream of Houses” – short story, 650 words, needs first draft finished. (2011)

“Swamp Music” – short story, 800 words, needs first draft finished. (2011)

Some of those start dates are from years ago! (Yes, I know I’ve written, sold, and published other work since, but we’re talking about the unfinished stuff today.) I’ve got more, notes and ideas and stories started but stopped and then maybe reconsidered, once in a while, but these are the ones I’m most confident about being able to finish, if I put my mind to it.

I just need to convince myself that it’s okay to be selfish, a little bit, just for this. I can write and still find a way to pay my bills. (You can help with that, if you’d like.) If I can believe that I can write without ruining everything else I’m trying to accomplish, at least not the most important parts, then I can allow myself the time I need. Not much time. An hour a day, maybe? That’s more than I’ve let myself have in a long time.

Hello, October. Let’s see how well I do.

Yes, I Will Write For You!

This week, I got an email from a publisher who wanted me to submit to his new magazine, but wasn’t sure if I did that sort of thing. I realized that I don’t often talk about the writing I do by request… But I am a freelance writer, and I’m always open to doing more work on spec. So, if you want me to write a story for your anthology or magazine? Just ask! I’m happy to write fiction and nonfiction, provided the market pays above a token rate. I will prioritize writing projects to favor those which pay on acceptance first because writing takes time and I have bills to pay, but if your project pays on or after publication, please still feel free to contact me about it.

If you’re not familiar with my work, you can start here. My list of fiction publications is here, and my nonfiction publications are here.

Please use the contact form below to tell me about your project:







Thank you!

#sfwapro