Thursday, May 03, 2018

Surviving the Gold Rush as a Writer

The latest issue of RWR (the members' magazine of Romance Writers of America) includes an article titled "The Key to a Lifelong Career" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, whose online articles on the business of writing can be found here:

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Her essay in the May RWR focuses on how to avoid burnout but ranges over a number of related topics—handling success (some writers try to replicate the process that led to their success without really understanding it and end up "working harder" without working "smarter"), reasons for burnout (e.g., pushing oneself to churn out too many books in a year), diminishing returns in income, what it means to find oneself in a mature market instead of a new one that's expanding at an exponential rate, overextending oneself in terms of expenses and how to reduce them, and switching one's writing business from a "manufacturing model" to an "artisanal model."

One section of this article is headed "Surviving the Gold Rush." The "gold rush" designates the exponentially expanding phase of a new market when it seems easy to get into the field and make bushels of money. Rusch writes in insightful detail about the rise of e-books and the early boom in independent publishing, followed by the leveling-off phase. She discusses the three stages in the typical way "markets develop over time": (1) The gold rush, when growth doubles, quadruples, or more each year. (2) The plateau, with large but not exponential growth. (3) The mature market, when growth still occurs, but it's slow and steady.

Personally, I never experienced the gold rush, at least nowhere near the extent Rusch describes. The closest I came to it happened in the early years with Ellora's Cave (now closed), when e-books were still an exciting novelty and EC was, although not the only game in town for that subgenre, the highest-profile and biggest-selling publisher of erotic romance for women. I was lucky enough to get in at a stage when, by publishing with EC regularly, I could count on a nice check each month. But the levels of success Rusch writes about—authors who earned royalties in the tens of thousands of dollars per month at the height of the "gold rush"—boggle my mind. Likewise, the allusions to authors becoming discouraged because their incomes dropped to half of that—still more per month than I made annually in my best years. In that respect, the indie superstars inhabit a different world from mine!

The priorities she recommends for hard-working writers concerned about potential burnout, however, apply to everyone. In order of descending importance, they are: self-care; spending time with loved ones; writing new words; publishing new words; whatever keeps you healthy and happy. While I can't point you to this particular article because it's in a members-only publication, you can find lots of related useful information and counsel in Rusch's posts at the link cited above. She provides plenty of specific details and hard facts, with numbers.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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