Moira here. Susan Kaye Quinn is one of my inspirations as an author. Not only does she have a super cool career history (she was a rocket scientist, y’all!), she’s rocking it in the indie publishing circuit. Not only that, she’s helped out other authors inestimably by publishing the Indie Author Survival Guide and, most recently, For Love or Money. She has a clear-eyed, remarkable vision of the balance between art and business, a vision that affirms both sides of the “why we do art” debate. Enjoy this excerpt of For Love or Money, and I hope you come away inspired to create a perfect life from your art!
This blog post is an excerpt from
by Susan Kaye Quinn
Should You Write for Love or Money?
by Susan Kaye Quinn
Parking Your Biases At The Curb…
… so you can open your mind and learn.
The reason why the “writing for love” vs. “writing for money” controversy elicits a mud fight among writers is because it’s crossing the visceral streams of why we write (passion, love of art, a personal connection to our work) with our somewhat irritating need to put food on the table. Add in the fact that our society judges success by how many dollars you earn, and it’s a powderkeg of emotional content just waiting for a match.
Let’s diffuse the bomb so we can get to work.
It’s easy to point at the “fool” who is toiling away on his “art,” writing for love alone, and say, “C’mon, man, you have to treat this as a business. I would never write something as silly as a spaghetti Western with aliens.”
(Never mind that Cowboys vs. Aliens
It’s also easy to point at the “sell outs” who crank out horrifying dino-porn, writing for money alone, and say, “That stuff is just trash. Worse, it’s probably emblematic of everything that’s wrong with the world. I would never write something like that!”
(Never mind that authors like Chuck Tingle
have a comic-genius level of art going on with those books.)
As a human race, we like to feel better than those other people… the ones not doing this writing thing the right way. The way we think it should be done. But we’re writing books here, people, not killing puppies. The moral dimension is much less than we often feel, in the height of our dudgeon.
You are welcome to keep all your opinions intact – I’m not here to tell you what to think – but I want you to realize those are entrenched biases that will interfere with the clear-eyed view you need to have of your business. You need to recognize your biases as exactly that (even if you want to keep them, at least recognize what they are) and not dismiss every high-selling author as someone who writes “trash” and therefore has nothing to teach you. They do. You absolutely can (and should) set boundaries as to what kinds of books you actually want to write – and you absolutely do not have to write dino porn to make money (most of us would be no good at it anyway). What you have to do is open your mind to the fact that those books have sold for a reason… and it’s not always the reason you think.
You need to park your biases at the curb so you can learn how your business works.
Learning why some novels sell and why others don’t is the essence of understanding your business. Publishers do a demonstrably bad job of understanding their business in many ways… but at least they’re trying. As an indie author, you are the publisher. And you get to decide what kind of publisher you want to be. But before you dismiss out-of-hand a whole host of options, take time to learn the secrets that publishers know about what sells and why.
A Little Historical Perspective
In the past, writers were lucky to have anything published, never mind whether they wrote it for love or money. But once published, writers were often trapped into only writing whatever sold – after all, they didn’t have the luxury of publishing something that didn’t have the potential to return a profit for the publisher. If they wanted to write something different – well, that was fine, but good luck getting it published.
With the advent of indie publishing, writers can publish anything they like.
The downside: writers have to take on the role of publisher, deciding which series are profitable, which can be underwritten by the profits from others, and which should be discontinued. Being your own publisher means managing your own career – and with that great freedom comes great responsibility.
Writing For Money
You are not a “sell out” if you chase a trend, write tightly to genre expectations, or generally write to the market. You are giving readers what they want – and they will love you for it, paying you in fandoms and cash. But just because you can write to market, doesn’t mean you have to write to the market… for any or all your books. Even if those deposits to your checking account are oh-so-tempting. (But do be warned that once you write a well-selling series, it will be hard to justify spending time on other things.)
Writing For Love
You are not a “fool” if you write the books of your heart, write obscure niches that don’t sell, or write a children’s book (a market that still hasn’t arrived for indie publishing). Writing for your heart replenishes your soul, inspires your craft, and those books will likely be your best work – independent of whether they sell or not. And it’s quite possible to make a living writing books of your heart. You may not get rich, but it’s very likely you can pay some of the bills – maybe all of them. Crafting a career from stories you love is absolutely possible.
Writing to the market and writing for your heart are not mutually exclusive – they can even co-exist in the same book. If you’re lucky, your heart writing with be tuned to the market or your to-the-market writing will satisfy your soul. Bravo for you!
Open your mind to this spectrum of choice… and embrace the freedom you have as an indie author to choose where along that spectrum you want to play the writing game.
Susan Kaye Quinn is a rocket scientist turned speculative fiction author who now uses her PhD to invent cool stuff in books. Her bestselling novels and short stories have been optioned for Virtual Reality, translated into German, and featured in several anthologies. Susan has been indie publishing since 2011, but she’s not an indie rockstar or a breakout success–she’s one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. Her self-publishing books are based on her personal experience in self-publishing genre fiction–she hopes they will help her writer-friends take their own leaps into the wild (and wonderful) world of indie publishing…and not only survive, but thrive.