Is Writing Full Time a Viable Option?

Is writing full time a viable option?Note: this originally was run in my newsletter, but given the responses, I thought I’d post it here on the blog as well.

Is writing full time a viable option?

Around 80% of the people I work with have mentioned that, ideally,eventually,  they want to be able to write full time.

At the same time, all over the internet and among the publishing community, they talk about how publishing has to be a labor of love, because nobody’s making money except the old school publishing heavy weights, the six figure debut gambles, and the self-publishing outliers like Bella Andre or Hugh Howey.

Let’s face it: it’s discouraging.

I’ve already blogged about approaching your writing career like a business if you ever hope to make a living.  That said, let’s look at some actual numbers and see what the likelihood is of “making a living.”

*Trigger warning: I will be using math.*

What would it take to make a gross income of $30,000 USD in a year?

Notice I did not pick an opulent “six figure” income.  What would it take to make $30,000?

The traditional route:

The first time advance is, on average, around $5,000 to $15,000.

Since an advance is against earnings, you won’t see another cent until after publication… which, in traditional, can be up to a year or more after you sign the contract.

Then, they need to do accounting  They hold what’s called “reserves against returns”, which means “yeah, you made $1,000, but we’re going to hold onto it, because we have to give some of that money back if copies get returned.”

You don’t generally see any money until the book has been out for a year or so, which could be two years after you’ve signed the contract and gotten that advance.

You also need to “earn out” — meaning you don’t get any more money until you’ve sold enough copies, and made enough royalties, to “pay off” the money they fronted you.

Let’s say you made 7% royalty on a $14.99 trade paperback.  That’s around $1/book.  So you’d need to sell anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 copies before you saw any additional earnings.

Granted, there’s a higher royalty rate for digital, around 25% at least and as high as 40%, but the cost would (should) be a bit lower, as well. In this case, say $9.99 at 25%. That’s $2.50 a book. You’d only need to sell 6,000 digital copies to earn out a $15,000 advance.

Basically, you’ve been paid $15,000 at the top end of the scale, and you won’t see any more for two more years. If at all.

Oh, and with traditional, you’re probably working with an agent who helped land the deal (and hopefully negotiated for the best advance possible), who will take 15% of the advance and any future earnings.  So that $15,000 advance is really $12,750.  And the $1 per book is only 85 cents.

The other thing — if you don’t earn out in around 12 months from publication, the publisher is going to have serious qualms about offering you another contract. They can’t afford to shell out the up front costs of editorial, publishing and marketing on a low earner.

The self-publishing route:

Compared to the “sad 7” of traditional publishing, you’re making 70% of royalty digitally self-publishing. Even if you’re selling your digital copies for only $2.99 a book, that means $2 per copy — double what you’d be making with a traditional publisher at $14.99 a book.

And you get paid monthly (on a two month lag), not quarterly or twice a year like traditional authors. There’s no wait on returns.  Best of all, you don’t have to worry about earning out to keep publishing. You can publish as often as your heart desires (and your output allows.)

That said, you’re no longer just a writer. You’re a publisher.

That means you’re now responsible for editorial, including developmental editing, line editing, proofreading. You need formatting. You need to get a cover.  You need to create a marketing plan, you need to figure out pricing, you need to write the book description and choose the categories and keywords.

Some average costs:  developmental editing can be anywhere from $3-10 per page, and substantive or line editing is higher (because of the degree of detail and increased time necessary), so $5-25 page.  Formatting, if you outsource it, can cost around $25-50 per book. A cover can cost $100-500, depending.

So for an 85,000 word novel — around 340 pages — the cost at the low end of the scale would be would be:

Developmental editing —  $1,020
Copy editing — $1,700
Formatting — $25
Cover — $100

Total cost:  $2,845

(Before anybody jumps on me and says “that’s ludicrous!”, these are ballpark averages. I’m sure there are plenty cheaper places out there… although many may be overcharging at a cut-rate, if you get what I mean, so be wary.)

Many authors forgo this, simply because they can’t afford it.  Self-publishing is a bastion of DIY (Do It Yourself) and, alas, it often shows.  Many times, this is due to cost-cutting (“I don’t need an editor, I was a proofreader in college”), rush to publication (“I want to make money now“), as well as a lack of perspective (“my book is brilliant the way it is — why would I pay somebody to tell me to make it different?”)

While I feel it’s definitely been improving, it is a large reason why self publishing still carries a stigma, reasonable or not.

If you’re making $2 per copy, then you would need to sell 15,000 copies to make that goal number of $30,000.  Another often quoted statistic:  93% of all self published books sell less than 100 copies a year, and make less than $500.

At that rate,it would take you 60 years to earn your target amount.

So should we all just pack it in?

In my opinion…. no.

Not if you’ve got an entrepreneurial mindset, and you’re open to risk.  There are authors who are making this humble average, just from writing.  They don’t make headlines, but they are making money.

What we do need to stop doing is idealizing publishing,or maintaining an artist’s mindset to make a financial goal.

If these numbers made you blanch, then really consider what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it.  It’s okay to write out of pure passion, with a more relaxed pace, only because this book must get out or it’ll kill you. In fact, that’s why most of us started writing in the first place.  It’s perfectly acceptable to approach it as a pursuit that might bring you money, but that’s not the reason you’re in it.

If you know this, if you accept it, it will save you heartache. It will also buffer you against the clamoring “but you have to make money!” talking heads that will batter against you with well-meaning but otherwise stressful advice.

But if you do want to make a living, you’re going to have to work your ass off.  That’s a given.  It’s more than just the writing itself. It’s going to be your attitude, learning the business, making strategic decisions.

It means looking at things like series potential. It could mean going for traditional publishing on a multi-book contract.  Right now, publishers are leery of this, so it may take a while for you to earn your keep and prove your credibility.

It means considering “hybrid” publishing — working with a publisher on some titles, self-publishing others.

It means learning all the ins-and-outs of self-publishing.

It means looking seriously at your writing speed: the more books you produce, the more the risk is spread out, and the fewer copies per title you have to sell to hit your target.  It also gives new readers a back list to purchase, making more sales with less effort.

If you write slowly, then it means working with someone to create not just great, but stellar, unusual, and marketable books, and working with a top-line agent who will get you the biggest advances possible.  It also means accepting the fact that you’re playing roulette — you could win big, but the odds are slim.

It also means looking at the long game. It will take years of consistent effort, with little to no pay out, before you create a long-tail back list that will help generate enough passive income to generate momentum.  Also, you’re going to have some out-and-out failures, and it’ll probably take a while to settle into your groove.

Finally: don’t do it alone.

I’ve been a traditionally published author since 2000, putting out eighteen novels with Big 6 publishers.  I shifted to self-publishing when I started up Rock Your Writing, putting out my own titles, Rock Your Plot, Rock Your Revisions, and Write Every Day, among others.  There was definitely a learning curve.

Now, I’m putting this all to use, self-publishing my own fiction series starting in December.  I’ve spent the past two years building up RYW, and now I’m going to turn my attention back to my own fiction.

That said, I’d love some company on the way, as I experiment with my own work in what I’ve usually only done with other clients.

I’m thinking of opening up a private membership group for writers interested in self-publishing or hybrid publishing, and definitely in writing full time.  I was wondering — would anyone be interested in that?  If you could email me, I’d appreciate it.

Writers, suit up. Your game is on.

Writers, suit up. Your game is on. | Rock Your WritingMany authors I meet are in what I call practice mode.

What does practice mode look like?

It can be the writer who is endlessly polishing his writing skills, but hasn’t completed a draft.

Or the author who is plotting an intricate series, but hasn’t written a word.

Or even the novelist who abandons her third partial draft, seduced by the next idea, certain that this one, this one finally, will be the one that takes her from obscurity to the pantheon of writing greatness.

All of them are preparing, so when their time comes — when they’re finally on stage, presenting a finished work to the world — they will be ready. They’re not sure when that moment will be, but they’re fairly certain they will know it when they see it.

You know you’re in practice mode when…

  • You don’t let anyone see your work.  This doesn’t mean you’re not querying, or self-publishing. It means just that: you’re not sharing your work with anyone. If it’s a rough draft, that makes sense. But if you’re on your third revision and you’ve gotten no feedback — you’re probably in practice mode.
  • You don’t complete a single project.  If you’re on your third or fourth manuscript, and you’ve never completed one draft and one revision on any of them, you may be in practice mode. Or you may have technically completed a project, but you keep fiddling with it, polishing it, revising it, rewriting it, with no subconscious intention of letting it go.
  • You have a grand plan, but not an action plan.  If you’ve got a double-trilogy in your head that you’d love to write, but you aren’t carving out time in your schedule to write it beyond “I’ll write every day!” –then you’ve got the dream, but no practical way of executing it. That’s practice.

Sometimes, it makes sense to be in practice mode.

I took a year-long sabbatical from fiction writing last year, because I knew I was burned out. How’d I know? Because I was in a year-long “practice mode” plateau the year prior. I’d start things, then decide they weren’t working.  I’d fiddle endlessly with plot outlines. I’d develop whole series arcs and backstories and then ditch the lot.

I was the Queen of Waffling, the Princess of Practice Mode.  I was also tapped out, completely drained. I needed to shift focus — and more importantly, I needed to give myself specific and clear permission to shift from practice mode into replenishment hibernation. Otherwise, I was going to keep plugging away ineffectively, doomed to failure because I lacked the fuel to get to my goal — and resenting myself for failing, because I didn’t recognize that fact.

Other valid reasons to be in practice mode:

1.  You have no idea what you’re doing.  You’ve just started this whole writing thing, and you’re still  raw and vulnerable.  Practice is just what you need, so that tiny seed of an idea doesn’t get stomped to death by well meaning professionals.

2. You have your own issues to work through beyond writing. This could mean big personal stress factors (death in the family, illness, move, or other major life changes) or it could mean massive writing factors (you’ve been dropped by your publisher, you are trying to change genres, you’re feeling insecure and confused).  Practice mode is your re-training and rehabilitation ground. (Extreme cases can require rehabilitation mode.)

3. You’re scared.  For any reason.  Fear needs to be acknowledged and treated with care.

Everybody’s ready at different times, at their own pace. The trick is to be aware of where you are — and why you’re there.

The problem most authors have: they’re in practice mode, but they think they’re not.  They think they’re “in it to win it” when, in actuality, they haven’t even left the locker room.

Successful authors take the field.

It’s not that they aren’t honing their craft, or plotting larger projects, or deciding which project will best suit their careers.  They may still have plenty to learn. Big issues.  And, yes, they still have fears.

But they’re in motion. Their game is on. The clock is ticking, and they’ve got to play or forfeit their dreams.

They are willing to make mistakes in front of other people. They put their entire hearts into their pursuit. They might be scared, but it’s a bit late for that. They’re in it until the game’s over.

For some, that might be a period of a year. Or a novel, however long that takes. But they know that the time for waffling is over. Whatever their objective is, they’ve burned their boats: there’s no going back.

What would you do if you were totally committed?

I don’t mean “I’d quit my job, move to a shack in Montana and write twenty hours a day, subsisting on only dandelion greens and spring water” committed.  Generally speaking, that’s not commitment, that’s fantasy.  (Or insanity.)

I mean, given the other obstacles you’re facing — negotiating the needs of a day job and a family and your own personal well-being — if you were told “if you write your book this year, there’s a good chance we’ll publish it”, what would you do?

Or what if you were told, “if you promote yourself, build your platform a bit, there’s an excellent chance you’ll have a shot at a life-long career”, what would you do?

Would you go for it? Or would you let it pass you by, think “maybe next year?”

Showing up doesn’t mean winning.

Some might argue that they wouldn’t unless “good chance” got bumped up to “guarantee.”

Sure, if they absolutely knew that there was no way they could fail, they would somehow carve out time to write every day. They’d figure out a strategy for promoting themselves, and diligently, day by day, build up their platform. They’d go to superhuman lengths — if they knew there was no way they could fail.

Successful authors know there are no guarantees. They make the commitment anyway. They create the plan, set aside the time, get the training and support, and go for it.

Sometimes, they pay a harsh price. Rejection, criticism, financial hardship.  Some drop back into practice mode for a while.

They also know one thing that unsuccessful authors don’t:  there is always another season.  They just need to keep playing.

So tell me, in the comments: are you in practice mode? Or are you in the game?




How to Achieve Your Writing Goals This Year

How to Achieve Your Writing Goals This YearThis is the year. The year you’re finally going to:

  • Finish that book.
  • Write that book.
  • Stick to a writing schedule.
  • Get an agent.
  • Self publish.
  • (Fill in the blank.)

You get the idea. It’s New Year’s, the time of resolutions. We resolve that this year will be different — not like last year, where we made up a list and didn’t follow through.

Or the year before that. Or the few years before that, really. 

The definition of insanity.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing, but expecting different results.  In other words, saying this year will be different, but approaching it the exact same way (with a list and a lot of resolve)… which has almost no chance of succeeding, because the process itself is flawed.

That doesn’t mean “don’t make resolutions”, mind you.

It means change your approach. 

What do you want?

First off, you’ll want to tighten your resolution up and create a specific goal, one with a clear marker of accomplishment.  Saying you’ll finally write a book this year is good, but also vague.  Pick a project. If you don’t have a project, might say you’ll want to write one type of book, in rough draft, by the end of the year.  So instead of “I’ll write a book this year” you can say “I will write one Epic Fantasy novel, in rough draft, by December 31, 2015.”


Seriously. Written plans are twice as likely to succeed as unwritten ones. Putting it somewhere you’ll see it (and actually register it and refer to it) would be even more helpful, but the act of writing it down is a crucial first step. 

Why do you want it?

The next question (the Motivation to your Goal, for my fellow GMC fans!) is:  why do you want it?  And what’s the why behind the why?

Knowing what motivates you — why the goal is truly important — is often the key to what’s standing in your way. The more important it is to you, the scarier it is. The more afraid you are, the more you’ll find yourself sabotaging yourself, actively or passively, to try and escape the perceived pain of the achievement (or failure).  On the other hand, if it isn’t that important to you (or if you haven’t identified why it is), the more likely you are to get sidetracked by other shiny objects.

So why do you want to write?  Don’t just think about it.  Write that down, as well.

What are your pain points and obstacles?

You don’t sit down and write a book in one clip. (At least, no writer I know does!)  Books are made of chapters, which are made of scenes, which are made of sentences, which are made of words. It’s a cumulative effort. If you’re the planning sort, outline. If you’re not, at least have a rough idea of how many words you’ll need to complete by the end of the year to get a ballpark estimate. (I would also strongly recommend at least sketching out preliminary plot points, so you know where you’re heading.)

Then, look at the last year. What stopped you from writing? What do you know is a stumbling block? For me, writing fiction after lunch is a crap shoot: my natural energy is low until about 5 pm. I’m more likely to get that scene written first thing in the morning or after 8 pm.  Also, if I’ve got more than three calls scheduled in a day, I’m usually too brain dead to accomplish anything… so if I didn’t get writing done first thing in the morning, it just isn’t getting done.

What’s stopping you?  Lack of plans?  Lack of energy?  The dreaded inertia, where you know you “should” write but you either find something more fun to do, or convince yourself that something unimportant “must happen now”? 

What’s your plan?

If you know you self-sabotage, for example, when you’re about to say “yes” to a pointless project in order to avoid writing, make sure you say NO. Write down: “if so-and-so asks me to run the PTA walkathon, I will say no.  If Carol Sueann says they need me to be treasurer for the RWA chapter, I will say thank you, but I can’t this year.  If Bob from accounting asks me to join the bowling league, I will say I’m already booked evenings.”  Writing down your plan, again, will make you more likely to actually pull it off when the moment arises.

More than how you’ll avoid problems, write down your plan to actually execute your resolution.  Want to write a book this year?  What will that take?  Let’s say you’re writing a 100,000 word high fantasy novel rough draft.  Will you need to write an outline or do research?  How long will that take?  You’re looking at around 400 pages of rough draft.  Will you have a daily word count?  Do you have time to rest and replenish?  When and where will you get writing (and rest! Don’t forget to schedule rest!) done?

Who is on your team?

I know, I know… I always say this. But I will keep saying it until it’s etched in your brain.

All writers write alone. No writer succeeds that way.

If you really want to pull off your writing resolution, you need a support network.  That can mean a critique partner, or group.  Beta readers, if need be. But most importantly, it means people who believe in you, and who hold you accountable.  These do not need to be the same people, but it helps if they are.

In Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habitthey discuss the need for belief.  That does not mean faith or metaphysics. It simply means that you accomplish the habit because you believe that it can be accomplished, and that you have what it takes to do so.  If you don’t, you can establish the routine, and then keep it up if you’ve surrounded yourself with key people that you trust who do believe.  In essence, they believe in you until you do.  These are people whose opinions you trust. Much as you may love your mother, if she says “well, of course you can write a book!” and you feel like she’s just saying that because she has to, the belief will have a lot less weight with your subconscious than a fellow writer whose work you admire, even if she is unpublished.  Find online writers or face-to-face meet ups, but be sure you have a network. 

When will you reach out?

Having the team won’t help if you’re not communicating.

Since many writers are introverts, what often happens is, the writing will get rough, we’ll suddenly become convinced that what we’ve got is utter crap, and by God, we’ll just retreat into our hamster balls and isolate.  Telling someone we’re in trouble is tantamount to admitting we’re impostors: that our writing truly is crap, and the people who we admire and respect will suddenly realize that, as well.

Write down a list of “I have lost complete perspective when…” signs.  Set regular check-in dates with your support network.  And show someone your work sooner than you think you should if you find yourself getting stuck and falling way off track.

Which leads us to the final point… 

If you want to change it, you have to track it.

If you want to write that book by the end of the year, then you need milestones.  You need to set some smaller goals — those “one bite at a time” chunks that time management pros keep nattering on about — and then set some deadlines.  You’ll also want to check in every week.  (Yes, every week.)  Avoid the very nasty habit of falling behind for a week, and then saying “I’ll write twice as much next week.”  Give yourself plenty of buffer room, and make the goals manageable (and then maybe double the time, especially if this is your first book.)

The key is to start giving your subconscious some “wins.”  Meet your admittedly easy goal a few weeks in a row, and suddenly, your subconscious will start thinking “I am a person who meets her goals.”  It generates momentum.

If you aren’t meeting your goals, checking in weekly will help you figure out how you got off course. That examination will also help you discover how to get back on course: whether it’s talking to a mentor or critique partner, doing a little more research, or getting a little more replenishment (and adjusting your timelines accordingly.) 

You can do it.

Count me among those who believe in you.  I think next year is going to be an amazing year for writers.

So… what’s your resolution for the upcoming year — and what are you going to do about it?

Do you want to make money writing — or do you need to?

Note:  this was published in a newsletter on August 11th, 2014.  In light of Robin Williams’ tragic suicide, I thought it might be best to share it here, as well.

Do you want to make money writing – or do you need to?

This may seem like a strange question. If you’re subscribing to this blog, I’m assuming you at least want to make some money with your writing. (Many of my clients have an eventual goal of writing full time, and that plan doesn’t include winning the lottery or landing a filthy rich spouse with a conveniently steep flight of stairs.)

But do you want to make money with your writing – or do you need to?

First, a story.

Once upon a time, there was a writer who needed to make money.

Not wanted. Needed.

She and her husband had purchased their dream house shortly before a perfect storm hit: she found herself unexpectedly pregnant; the construction industry in their area collapsed, taking the husband’s business with it; her freelance work dried up.

She’d managed to write several novels while working a forty hour a week job, so she thought that it would be no different now. She could manage multi-tasking like a boss.

Besides – then, it was because she wanted to. Now, failure wasn’t an option. She would handle it.

Then the baby arrived… and all hell broke loose.

She was under contract, since she’d begged every editor she knew and sent out proposals like a madwoman prior to the birth. Now, she was sleep deprived, and found herself unable to write a usable page. Bills were piling up, yet she couldn’t seem to get her act together and write the books – even though she desperately, desperately needed to.

The darkest point: she stood by her son’s crib, thinking – I’m going to kill myself. I just need to find somebody to watch the baby.

Hungry vs. starving.

Naomi Dunford of Ittybiz writes about the difference between hungry, and starving.

Being hungry means you want it.

Starving, on the other hand, means you’re desperate. You need it.

Seeing someone who’s hungry makes us feel admiration. It has a roguish, heroic quality about it. We admire people who are proactive, who have hustle, who work for what they desire.

Seeing someone who’s starving makes us feel frightened. Because it makes us afraid that “there but for the grace of God go I” – it’s too real, too stark.

Hungry people remind us that you can work and achieve success. Starving people remind us that there is immense pain if you fail.

A hungry person is someone who will challenge you to a swimming race across a pool.

A starving person is someone who is clinging desperately to anything to try and survive – and who you’re afraid will drag you down and drown you, too.

Again: do you want to make money writing – or do you need to?

Hunger can be the thing that pushes you to write. It’s the glue that keeps your butt in the seat and your hands on the keyboard.

Starvation can be the thing that strangles your creativity. When you can’t afford to fail, it’s hard to quiet your internal editor and take the risks that are so necessary to what we do as novelists.

So what is the solution, when you need rather than want?

In case you hadn’t guessed… yeah. I’m the woman in the story.

I started thinking of the combination to my husband’s gun safe and then thought – oh, fuck. This is not good. I can’t do this.

Crying and grabbing the phone, I called my medical provider, told them I was thinking of killing myself, and got an appointment for treatment. After a diagnosis of post-partum depression and some anti-depressants, I started talking to people. From there, I was able to start getting back on track.

(As an aside: this was not my first rodeo when it came to suicidal thoughts.  I made an attempt when I was 14, and I’d been on medication on and off at various points.  Which is why it finally sunk in, just how far I’d gone, and I knew what to do.)

It took a while to climb back out, but I did climb out. The thing is, I didn’t do it alone. And I have moved my fiction from need back to want.

  1. Get support. When things start to go sideways, it’s easy to isolate. We blame ourselves. We don’t want to let anyone know the depths of our problems, out of shame, out of fear. We try to fake it till we make it, and think if we press harder, something will finally work. But it won’t. Not alone. Lean on your friends – tell them what’s wrong. Look for ways to get financial help, if you need to. If you’re in the same position I was in, you need to get some medical help. Even if you’re broke, there are resources, believe me. Start with friends – not for money, but for the emotional strength to reach out in other areas.
  2. Create temporary stability. If you’re lost in the wilderness, the very first thing you need to do is think survival… and keep your head. If you’ve gotten support, the “keeping your head” bit will be a lot easier. So now, you’re going to think about what you need to do to keep the lights on. That may or may not be your fiction. In fact, if you’re really in dire straits, FICTION IS NOT THE ANSWER. Why? Because writing novels and making a living with it is a long game: the proverbial marathon, not a sprint. You’ve got to get a short game in place before you can write full time. (Note: if you’re really stuck with this, I strongly recommend getting Ittybiz’s Emergency Turnaround Clinic:
    It’s pay-what-you-can… you can literally pay $1 for it if that’s all you can spare. Trust me on this. It’s a game-changer.)
  3. Start replenishing. It may seem completely counter-intuitive. I am completely screwed, and you’re telling me to take a bubble bath? But, again, it’s a matter of getting yourself stable. If taking a bubble bath or even a nap seems impossible because you’re too anxious, start taking ten minute breaks to breathe deeply. Go for a walk. Drink a glass of water. Start thinking “I am doing this to help my situation.” Think of it as a proactive solution. You need to give yourself a little gap between pain and reaction. Also, you can’t grow a crop in depleted soil. It’s important.
  4. Create a game plan. When you’re panicked, and starving, you probably will find yourself flitting from one “solution” to another, desperately trying to get something going somewhere. This frenetic energy tends to dissipate, leaving you exhausted and giving you no evidence of progress. Once you’ve got some support, some stability, and you’ve replenished yourself, it’s time to think game plan. It took time to get you into the situation you’re in – it’ll take some time to get out. I’ll repeat: building a fiction career is a long game. At least sketch out some major plot points in your writing journey – where you want to go, what that looks like, how you might get there, and what you’ll try in the next week, or month, or year.


Why I got involved with WriterMamas.

When the opportunity to help mothers with young children get to a writing conference, I knew I was going to help. That’s why I’m sharing my story. I know intimately what it’s like, to juggle writing and motherhood and just plain surviving.

We’re still short on bundle sales, and the fund raiser is closing at the end of August, whether we’ve funded or not. If you purchase a bundle, you’ll get a 50% discount on my editing services for one project — $1.50 per page, when it’s usually $3. If you don’t have any projects ready, this offer is good with proof or purchase all the way through next July. And if that’s still steep, I’m offering payment plans.

If you don’t want the bundle, we are accepting donations of any size – there’s a donate button on the page.

I started Rock Your Writing because I want to help writers do what they love full time. I know how hard that transition can be. I can help with the game plan. I’ve been in the trenches – and I know the way out.

And if you’ve been in the same position – if you are in the same position, feeling a clawing, desperate hopelessness – and if you feel like doing something drastic… please, please email me. I know how you feel. Sometimes, it just takes reaching out to one person to start getting back to balance.


Please share this with anyone you think might need help, and thanks.  I love you guys.

How to cure the pain of criticism, bad reviews, and rejection.

Have you ever experienced the sting of someone expressing they didn’t like what you wrote?

Unless you’ve been writing in a cave and refusing to let anyone look at your stories (or only giving it to people who will mouth platitudes and “adore” everything you put to paper) then you probably answered “yes.”

No matter what stage in the writing tournament you reach, it still hurts.  It hurts to get a hard critique.  It stings like hell to get even a nice or “helpful” rejection letter.

And the moment you get your first “this book is so stupid I wanted to fling it against the wall” styled unfair review, especially on a public forum like Amazon? Hello, kick in the gut.

So what if I told you there’s a way to lessen that pain… maybe even eliminate it?

No, it does not involve a lobotomy, or even copious amounts of alcohol.

It also doesn’t include a Fight-Club styled plan to destroy Amazon, Goodreads, and all similar review sites.

The trick to detaching from the pain of rejection is to be able to think objectively.  To stop taking it personally by being able to look at any potentially helpful element, and then reiterating to yourself that “this is an opinion.  This is one person’s opinion.”

Or, my personal favorite:

There is no absolute, objective measurement for ‘suck.'”

Sounds nice and zen.  But how do you do that?

Here’s the catch.  To be able to detach from other people’s opinions, you need to detach from your own.

What does that mean?

It means no more slamming on the the latest book you “hated” because it was “trash,” even though you didn’t read it because you “couldn’t get through the first five pages.”

It means no more pronouncing the reading class as “stupid” because they enjoy things you can’t even imagine stomaching.

It means giving up the delicious, snarky feeling of self-righteousness and, let’s face it, superiority, when we judge someone else’s work.

That doesn’t mean we can’t offer our opinion or input, especially if it’s requested.  I’m not suggesting a world-wide gag on saying anything about anything.  But if you’re going to offer your opinion, try to be helpful — and let go of the idea that you’re right.

The hidden, barbed trap of judgment.

Here’s why it’s dangerous to say things like “that is hideous/stupid/whatever.”

When you say it, and really believe it… then you feel, on some level, that there are things that are good and things that are bad.

That’s why it hurts so incredibly much when someone criticizes our work, even unfairly.  We worry:  “if someone who doesn’t know me reads this, they are going to believe that my work is bad!  That I am bad!

Which is going to lead to any number of unpleasant possibilities:  loss of prestige, loss of friends, loss of emotional support.  Which can also lead to damaged self-esteem (yes, a loaded word.)

And we tend to give more weight to the negative.  Fifty positive reviews can be written off — especially if they’re from “people who are predisposed to like me” or, worse… people whose opinions “don’t actually matter/carry weight.”

When we criticize, our opinions have that weight.  When we slam someone else’s work, we are reinforcing the belief system:  we know that not only is there a land where terrible, stupid, objectively sucktastic things exist that deserve our ridicule… but we could somehow wind up there, deservedly, or not.

This is what leads us to fear submitting, or even writing.

This is what leads us to terrible depressions and the inability to look at reviews.

This is what turns us bitter and defensive, attacking the critic in turn — “well, that person is obviously an idiot, a bitter, jealous, total douchebag.”  It’s an attempt to defuse the problem, and one that only leads to more negativity, more judgment, and more fear.

The solution.

Remember, I promised you a cure.

I warn you, this is not easy.

The next time you see a book doing well that you absolutely loathe, on a conceptual level — one that you wouldn’t read with a gun to your head — silently close your eyes, and wish that author well.

Silently.  (I have friends from the South who say “bless his heart,” which apparently means something along the lines of “what an asshole.”  This isn’t that.)

Being realistic, you are not going to even remotely mean it the first, say, one hundred times.

Keep doing it.

It works if you work it.

Slowly, you’re going to find yourself feeling less injured by other people’s criticism.  You’re going to find yourself on the whole more calm, more relaxed, and more cushioned against rejection, reviews, and bad opinions.

There will be times when it slips — when you’ll go “Sasquatch Erotica?  Really?” with a disparaging roll of the eyes.  But it will be done in a blink.  It won’t be something that preys on you.  And you’ll be able to let it go without judging the work, the author, or the audience who enjoys it.

You don’t graduate.  It’s not like one day you will be the Dalai Lama.  But it will get better, every day.  And trust me, it’s worth it.

At least… that’s my opinion.

If you liked this article, you might also like:

3 Ways to Prevent Publishing Agony

What if you couldn’t screw it up?

5 things I learned by failing.