Two articles about the writing and self-publishing process

This post was originally sent to my TinyLetter subscribers.

It’s been over a month since The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2: 2004–2016 launched, and since then I have gone on a mini-book tour, taught two classes related to writing and self-publishing (with more to come), spent a long weekend at Disneyland, and, most recently, published two articles about the writing and self-publishing process.

The first article is at Longreads, and it’s titled How the Self-Publishing Industry Changed, Between My First and Second Novels. If you’re interested in numbers, earnings, expenses, and (for obvious reasons) politics, you’ll want to go read that one.

If you’re more interested in the process of writing, you should read my Draft Journal essay titled The Five Times I Tried Writing My Novel. It took me roughly two years to write the draft that became The Biographies of Ordinary People, but that was not my first attempt at telling this story.

It’s interesting to think about the ways in which “all the books that were not Biographies” changed, over the years. My first draft, which I started (and quickly abandoned) when I was in college, focused entirely on a college-aged woman — there wasn’t any family in it, just ambition.

In the version I started drafting while I was a receptionist in Washington, DC, the Meredith character was named Therese Gorrell, and she had been born in the rural Midwest — she wasn’t a transplant from a larger city, like I had been as a child. (In Biographies, the Grubers’ move is a natural starting point for the story; not to misquote Tolstoy, but you could easily say that Vol. 1 is “a stranger comes to town” and Vol. 2 is “a woman goes on a journey.”)

In the version I worked on in Los Angeles, which was the most fully-formed of any of the drafts, there were four Grubers: Rosemary, Jack, Meredith, and Natalie. That was the draft that was too much like autobiography, and it wasn’t until I added Jackie to the story that it began to come together as a novel instead of a retelling of my own childhood. I created Jackie to force a different set of family dynamics and ensure I wouldn’t just write what I’d grown up with, but she ended up becoming this character that I intensely admire (and in some ways envy), and she allowed me the ability to branch the whole “how do ordinary people make art” question down a different path.

There’s also a version where Meredith is grown up and is asking Rosemary questions about her life, and the whole thing is a framing device for flashbacks to both the 1990s and the 1960s, and I’m really glad I got bored with that idea because I’m already bored just explaining it to you. (Plus I would have had to do a lot of research about the ’60s.)

So. What I mean to say is that you should read the Longreads piece and the Draft Journal piece, and be grateful that you got the current version of The Biographies of Ordinary People, instead of all the other versions I discarded along the way.

Photo by Dana Marin on Unsplash.

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Self-Publishing Update: How Long Until I’m Back in the Black?

Sales/Expenses Since May 29

Books sold: 31 ebooks, 40 paperbacks

Money earned: $291.60

Money spent: $678.85

Total

Books sold: 481 ebooks, 226 paperbacks

Money earned (book sales): $2,186.55

Money earned (Patreon): $6,909

Money spent: $10,512.51


Right now I’m $1,416.96 in the red, which represents roughly 500 book sales. Considering that Biographies Vol. 1 sold more than 500 copies in its first year, I could very easily assume that Biographies Vol. 2 will hit the 500 mark — which, when combined with any additional Biographies Vol. 1 sales, would clear out that debt and help me break even by, say, May 2019.

I don’t anticipate any other major expenses for either Vol. 1 or Vol. 2, now that the mini-tour is done. Any additional readings or classes will either be local or combined with other travel (e.g. visiting my nephew and doing a reading in Washington, DC). I’m not submitting Vol. 2 to any awards, since it doesn’t really stand on its own the way Vol. 1 does. All I have left, in terms of costs, are the upcoming promotions on BargainBooksy, Fussy Librarian, etc. — and those are, like, $25 each.

So here we are. I need to earn back the costs of this recent tour, and then anything after that will be pure profit. (I could get to the “profit” stage a little faster by separating out the “reading” and “teaching” costs — I counted all of my non-vacation travel expenses as Biographies expenses, but my hotel and food expenses on the day I taught at Hugo House might belong in a different category. That’s worth considering, actually, and maybe I should redo my math.)


I don’t know if you read Longreads, but last week they published my essay “How the Publishing Industry Changed, Between My First and Second Novels.” I absolutely recommend reading it, because it’s got all of the analysis of these blog posts plus extra research and more polished writing. Here’s an excerpt:

Even if Facebook weren’t force-choking our posts (and we don’t exactly have proof that it is, aside from all of the evidence), we’d still have to deal with the ways in which social media both amplifies and dilutes any message we try to share. Everyone is asking you to read their thing, whether it’s a Twitter thread or a debut novel. Nobody has time to read everything, and the novel is longer and costs money (or a trip to the library).

“Social media and the internet have been instrumental in destroying the economics of writing,” Bradley Babendir told LitHub. He’s specifically referring to book criticism, which used to be a valued, paying gig but is now dominated by crowdsourced reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Book critics still get work the same way that authors still get sales, but … no, I think that comparison stands.

I’ll leave you with that, so you can go read the whole thing. More news when I have news to share! ❤

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash.