The title feels like an oxymoron for me, at least at first glance. My productivity over the past year definitely hasn’t been up to my normal standards. But of course, very little about the past year has been normal.
Exercise: I’ve been trying to use the new year as a kind of mental soft reboot. I’d slipped some in terms of exercise. Since I have a handy little tracker for steps, standing time, and exercise, I tried to focus on closing those three rings every day. Some days I got a better workout than others. Some days I barely squeaked by. But check it out:
This streak is unlikely to continue. I wasn’t aiming for a perfect 2021. The goal was to try to create some momentum, and rebuild old habits that had slipped over the past year.
In terms of health, I should probably take a closer look at my diet as well. But one thing at a time.
Writing: I’ve been a bit frustrated and discouraged on the writing front. My wife’s cancer in 2019 followed by the effects of the pandemic in 2020 have resulted in Terminal Peace being very late to my editor, and now we’re looking at a longer-than-usual delay to the actual release date. And another project I’d been hopeful for has not gone anywhere.
I hate the fact that there’s a good chance I won’t have a new book out in 2021. It feels like failure, even though I know better.
I spent the last few months of 2020 not really knowing what to focus on. Should I start a new book while I waited for revisions to come back from my editor? Should it be an adult book for DAW or something new and potentially riskier?
After trying a few things and chatting with my agent, I started 2021 with a better idea what I wanted to focus on. I haven’t been doing the 1000+ words/day I sometimes managed in the Before Times, and I haven’t written every single day, but I averaged about 600-700 words a day for January, and the result is about half of a first novel draft.
This is the new and riskier path. There’s a chance that this could be another project that doesn’t sell. But I’m making decent progress, and despite all the usual first-draft problems, I think it has potential.
I also have an idea for my next novel for DAW. I’m waiting to hear back from folks at my agency before I write up that pitch. My hope is that even if I don’t have a new book out in 2021, maybe I can at least sell one this year.
It’s a long way from where I want to be, writing-wise. I’d love to get back to doing some short fiction, and I want to branch out more as a writer. But again, right now, I think it’s more about regaining momentum.
Other Productivity: This is the stuff I think I and other people tend to overlook about the past year. Because sometimes “productivity” can be as simple as “I survived.”
Survival has used up more spoons than usual. I need to keep remembering to cut myself some slack, and to give myself credit for things like keeping everything going safely at home for me and the kids, making sure we’re keeping connected with family, finding ways to take care of our needs without unnecessary health risks, and so on.
A lot of it — cooking, cleaning, finances, etc. — is the same stuff I had to do pre-pandemic, but it all feels heavier these days. We’re all carrying more weight from stress and uncertainty, and it makes everything just that much harder.
Again, the goal isn’t to be perfect. And that’s good, because I’ve been anything but. But we’re getting through. I may not have remodeled the bathroom, and I know I’ve dropped the ball sometimes with connecting to people, but I think I took care of the basic needs for me and my family. We might not be at the top of Maslow’s pyramid, but we have the foundation.
Conclusion: I’m not where I want to be yet. But I’m trying to be okay with that. And I think so far this year, I’ve been going in the right direction.
Remember to be kind to yourselves this year. Amidst all the frustration about what we haven’t been able to do, remember to give yourself credit for what you have done.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to try to get through a little more of the nose-biting chapter in this book!
Friday has around 1/3 to 1/2 of the first draft of a new book! Hoping to have the draft mostly finished by the end of February…
- Your Korean Dad. This gives me warm and fuzzy Mr. Rogers vibes.
- 2020 International Photography Award winners
- Star Wars Bad Lip Reading videos. (These are the fault of L.M. Kate JohnsTon, who posted a link to Seagulls! (Stop It Now) over on Facebook. There was much giggling.)
Several decades ago, I acquired the piano sheet music for the Star Trek: TOS theme song. This was the classic soundtrack, the original 60s score by Alexander Courage.
I sat down at my piano, opened the music, and was shocked to discover not only the musical notes, but the lyrics. Words written by none other than Gene Roddenberry himself.
I’m sure some of you know about this already, but for the rest of you, here are Roddenberry’s lyrics to the original Star Trek theme:
The rim of the star-light
Is wand’ring in star-flight
He’ll find in star-clustered reaches
Strange love a star woman teaches.
His journey ends never
His star trek
Will go on forever.
But tell him
While he wanders his starry sea
Remember, remember me.
Wow. Those are certainly…words. They have syllables and everything.
But it gets better. According to Snopes, the lyrics were a way for Roddenberry to claim half of Alexander Courage’s royalties for the music.
“Pressured by Roddenberry, Courage had made a “handshake deal” a couple of years earlier that gave Roddenberry the option of composing lyrics for Courage’s Star Trek music (and Courage signed a contract — unknowingly, he later claimed — to that effect). Roddenberry exercised that option, writing lyrics for the main theme and then asserting his right to half the performance royalties as a co-composer. It made no difference that the lyrics were not intended to be used in the show itself and had never been recorded or released. As the lyricist, Roddenberry was entitled to an equal share of the royalties, whether or not the lyrics were ever used.”
“Courage protested in vain that although the arrangement may have been legal, it was unethical: Roddenberry’s lyrics added nothing to the value of the music and were created for no reason other than to usurp half the composer’s performance royalties. An unsympathetic Roddenberry proclaimed, “Hey, I have to get some money somewhere. I’m sure not going to get it out of the profits of Star Trek.””
This has been your random bit of geek history/trivia for the day.
Friday is gonna try to cut back on social media time today and maybe get a little writing done.
- Shoulder cats and other shoulder animals
- Twitter account of pics showing why you should have a cat
- Foxes in Love: a cute, generally warm and happy comic about two foxes in love
::Peeks out from beneath my Protective Blanket of Fear::
Is 2020 gone yet? (Yes, I know “2020” is an arbitrary construct, and the troubles of the past year aren’t going to magically disappear, but I’m using the new year as a psychological Cure Psychic Wounds potion to give me a boost for the coming months.)
Anyway, for thirteen years now, I’ve done a write-up about my income as a SF/F author. Money is often a taboo subject in the writing field, and the common belief is that “successful” writers are Stephen King levels of wealthy, and the rest are poor enough to be Dickens characters.
I’m just one data point. I doubt there’s any such thing as a typical writer or a typical writing career. But I figure one data point is still better than none, right?
Without further ado, let’s talk numbers.
In 2016, instead of a personal income write-up, I did a survey of almost 400 novelists about their income.
My Background: I’m a primarily “traditionally published,” U.S.-based SF/F author with 14 books in print from major New York publishers. The first of those books came out from DAW in 2006. I’ve also sold about 50 short stories. I’ve never hit the NYT or USA Today bestseller lists, but my last five books have been lead titles for my publisher. In late 2015, I mostly-quit my full-time day job, switching to 10-15 hours/week for the State of Michigan, and spending the rest of my time writing and as stay-at-home Dad.
In December 2018, my wife was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoma. She fought hard for nine months, but died in August of 2019. This devastated pretty much every aspect of my life, including my writing.
Because writers also need to consider insurance and benefits, I’ll note how fortunate we were that I’d kept that part-time day job, which included a continuation of my health insurance. The original plan had been to switch over to my wife’s insurance through her work … which would have ended in early 2019, leaving us with much higher medical bills.
2020 in Summary: I mean, 2020 sucked for pretty much everyone, yeah? I struggled pretty hard finding the energy and motivation to write. I generally like to write hopeful, fun stories, and let’s just say the past year was not a hopeful, fun mood.
That said, I was able to finish Terminal Peace, the third and final Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse book. My editor hasn’t gotten back to me yet about revisions on that, which means I haven’t received the deliverance portion of that advance.
I did, however, get paid the final chunk of my advance for Terminal Uprising when the paperback came out at the start of 2020.
The other big project for 2020 was a Kickstarter for my middle-grade fantasy Tamora Carter: Goblin Queen. That brought in around $14,000 … most of which went right back into actually producing the finished book.
All total, before taxes or expenses or Kickstarter costs (but after agent commissions), I made $31,411.26 as an author in 2020. Not my best year, but far better than 2019.
I consider myself a relatively successful writer, overall. But as you can see, success isn’t exactly a linear thing…
It looks like I had about $7500 worth of expenses this year, almost all of which were Kickstarter-related. (I’ll be finding a few more expenses once I work on my taxes, so that number will go up a bit.) And there were close to $3000 in estimated quarterly tax payments.
2020 Breakdown: The two big sources of income were the publication payment for the Terminal Uprising paperback and the Kickstarter for Tamora Carter: Goblin Queen. Income that was directly from the Kickstarter has its own category. Sales of the book after the Kickstarter ended are bundled into the self-publishing category.
- Novels (U.S. editions): $9632.76
- Novels (Non-U.S. editions): $671.52
- Self-Published: $2157.80
- Kickstarter: $13,567.23
- Short fiction: $231.42
- Audio: $4188.91
- Patreon: $810.81
- Other: $150.81
Patreon was a new thing this year. Huge thanks to everyone who’s been supporting me there.
The audio category includes the advance for Goblin Queen to two different audio book publishers (one for an unabridged version, and one for an abridged, dramatized version).
Short fiction is for royalties on a couple of stories that are still earning their keep years later. That’s unusual, but I’ll take it!
Looking Ahead: I won’t tempt fate by making predictions about 2021, but I’m hoping to accomplish a few things, writing-wise:
- Final revisions to Terminal Peace
- Write and submit a new middle-grade fantasy
- Sell a new fantasy novel to DAW
We’ll see how it goes. Like most of us, I’d really, really love to get back to something approaching “normal,” whatever that looks like.
I hope this has been helpful. As always, please feel free to share the post and ask any questions. I’ll do my best to answer.
I haven’t done a virtual reading in a while, and it’s time to change that!
On December 23 at 7 p.m. Eastern Time, I’ll be reading my Rankin Bass fanfic “Crimson Frost” over on Facebook Live.
For those who haven’t read this one, I should warn you it’s not for little kids. The story started from a random comment about Frosty vs. Rudolph, and escalated into a full-blown north pole war. I’d describe it as twisted fun.Hope to see some of you there!