In two months and two weeks I’ll be taking a year away from dayjobbery and seeing how close I can get to generating a full time freelance writing career. For the next couple of months I’ve the luxury of preparation time, trying to figure out how to make it work and putting some things in place that will pay off down the line (maybe). Then, at the end of September, I’ll take the leap, put all of this into practice, and see if I’m right about any of it. You can browse previous entries here.
I was in Scotland a few weeks ago, and while there managed to drag Kirsty and Eva into Edinburgh for a day of research into my current novel in progress (once known solely as The December Book, although that’s never been its real name). Of particular interest was the Old Town, where the book is set nearly two hundred years ago, and where the real people who turn up in the novel made their home. I found several of the key locations, walked the streets that linked them (thank goodness – chapter four needs a complete rewrite, as one character accidentally takes the most convoluted ‘short cut’ from his home to his workplace that it’s possible to contrive), and met one of several principal characters in the book.
William Burke can be found in the Surgeon’s Hall Museum, if you’re looking for him. Not only can you see his death mask above, taken after he was hanged for many murders and before his body was cut to pieces by anatomists, but there’s also a curious little pocket book made from his skin on display. The museum itself is a fabulous grotesquerie, the history of medicine presented as corpses and specimen jars, their tender remains the reason our species has thrived when a billion tiny organisms want to break us down and kill us. Visit it, next time Edinburgh calls.
Meeting Burke, as well as walking the streets where he and he the rest of the novel’s eccentric (and increasingly sprawling) cast lived and breathed, was a fascinating experience. I’ve been to the city many times before, which is among the reasons I’m writing the book in the first place, but never while I’ve been living its history in my head. The story I’m telling gave everything a fresh hue. It’s hard to walk around it in the now, when I’m seeing things as they were two centuries ago.
Now I’m back in the book, writing fast and strong. Writers always think that the thing they’re writing right now is the best thing they’ve ever written. It’s a quirk of the craft, and a complete necessity for most authors. If I went through life thinking the last thing I wrote was much better than this, I’d probably lose heart and stop.
It’s a big novel, and will be one of four books (the other three are novellas) that I’ll definitely be publishing myself on top of anything else that happens. If I have a bad submissions year, it’s possible that they’ll be the only things I see in print. Damn, but they’d better be good then. It’s a little worrying to think that the thing I’m writing now will be near enough the full stop on this experiment with freelance writing. While on the one hand it seems far in the future, on the other it’s already happening.
But that’s next year. Right now, we’re still nurturing Craven Place along. The initial run of sales peaked last weekend, pushing the book into the top ten ghost stories being sold on Amazon at the time. It’s dropped off a bit then, but still sells a few copies each day. In total. As I write this, exactly 230 copies have been bought at the modest cover price. I didn’t expect more than a handful of sales for a while yet. I plan for each book I publish to take between six months and a year to earn out its costs and go to profit. Craven Place is halfway there just three weeks after launch (costs were about a grand, so yes, the book’s made about £500 so far). I’m over the moon with that.
Given that the coming year is about making a living writing, or seeing how close I get, that might surprise you. Compared with the kind of self-publishing success stories that make headlines, it’s nothing at all. On the other hand there’s been little promotion for the book from me, other than these blog posts I suppose. I’ve a couple of things lined up that could boost the book further, and was hoping that afterwards the book might sell a bit. I didn’t think for a second that it would be selling anything this early. The only sensible expectation to have when self-publishing a book is that it will start with nothing, and grow a readership over time. Those 230 sales feel like a windfall.
It’s also worth remembering – and easier to do now that the book has been available for a couple of weeks and I’m working on the next novel – that Craven Place isn’t The Freelance Leap. That doesn’t begin until I finish work in September. We’re still just laying foundations. Craven Place is just one story that I wanted to have in place before I started, to join Cuckoo and Thy Fearful Symmetry. It’s the final bit of the base I want to build from over twelve months, and it’s already a more solid one than I imagined. When it makes back its costs, and I’ve no doubt at all that it will (but when?), it’s one more source of income that has the potential to keep adding a small amount to the pot over time.
Again, I have you to thank. When you encouraged nearly 700 souls to try it for free at the start of the month, that briefly brought it to people’s attention. It’s what I enjoyed most about starting with a small launch – I got to see that happen on Facebook, Twitter, and so on. It felt like a joyously personal thing. I know many of the people who gave the book, and me, a friendly nudge in the right direction for no reason other than that they wanted to see it do well. Some I know well, and others I barely knew at all (and know a little better now). Some I met for the first time, and hope to again.
That’s what Amazon and the global internet market, rife with opportunity though they are, can strip away from an author. It can be hard to find a connection. I felt it when I released Cuckoo and Thy Fearful Symmetry. Neither book did badly at all, but I mostly experienced people engaging with those books as numbers on a screen (people did help out, but it wasn’t as concentrated as happened this time around). This year felt different. Seeing a flurry of personal support, seeing people and faces and being on the receiving end of good-natured generosity, has been enormously rewarding.
That’s what gets lost sometimes. Books connect with readers, but we authors can be left a little isolated. Some prefer it that way, and I thought I did, but it turns out I was wrong. It’s one more reason why The 52 appeals to me so much (an update on that this weekend, but if you haven’t sent anything yet please do!). It’s a chance to connect on a more personal level with friends and readers, while making new stories. That’s very much at the heart of what writing is to me, and the last couple of months have reaffirmed that very strongly.
Away from writing, 2013 has provided me a relentless and dispiriting barrage of case studies about the worst sides of human nature. I’m proud and delighted, thinking back, that it’s been through writing and running, my twin obsessions, that I’ve been offered proper counterpoints to balance things out. You’ve made a more profound difference to me this year than just helping my book find a few readers (though, you know, that was awesome too!).
So, you know. Thanks for that. You all have very splendid faces. Even the ugly ones at the back have a noble cast, in the right light.