The Reality of Royalties & Being More than a Number

The Reality of Royalties & Being More than a Number

I published my first book, Suburban Zombie High in October of 2013. I had been writing for a few years and decided it was time to press the dreaded “publish” button. I self edited the book (my mastery of the English language is questionable at best.) The story didn’t quite fit into a genre, and the only saving grace was a cover illustrated by Amanda Kahl. I don’t know what I expected. It sold. People other than my family purchased it. Reality finally struck in the form of my first royalty statement: $18.65.

I didn’t have high expectations, but I think we all secretly hope it’ll take off and before we know it there’s a movie, a toy line, and a new societal trend based on our books. I recall staring at the number, and truth be told, I was a bit devastated. I was a novice, unsure of what I was doing, and not entirely sure I wanted to be a “writer.” Imposter syndrome (as I would later learn the term) sunk its ferocious nails into my hide and refused to relent. Authors don’t talk about their royalties frequently, it’s a well guarded secret. We might be judged based on our success because of a single number. The reality, we judge ourselves harshly based on that number.

That first year, I made $34.34.

My self-worth became married to that number. I wasn’t even worth $40. I couldn’t pay a bill after a year. I could barely afford a decent take out meal. Depression, insecurity, and wavering love for my hobby started to crop up. I was alone. I couldn’t talk to the “big authors” because they obviously wouldn’t understand. They’re living the dream and I can’t even afford a week of Starbucks.

I was picked up by a publisher and Nighthawks, my first superhero novel came out in February of 2016. I was stoked to have a partner in this journey and start washing away that horrible first experience. My confidence strengthened and I started working at a brisk pace. My book was professionally edited and the cover was supplied by the publisher. I was green, for me, this was the moment, my big break, my chance to be worth more than thirty dollars. In May of 2016, I received my first royalty statement for Nighthawks. My heart sank as I saw the phrase, “Grand Total: $7.66.”

In 2016, I made $105.76 from my fiction novels.

I had four books out at this point, three fiction and one non-fiction. My non-fiction managed to do well enough to make mortgage payments. I didn’t want to be a non-fiction writer, and I grew angry at the success of a work I didn’t feel passionate about. I had managed to make enough with my fiction to pay a single month of cable, a single hotel night, or gas for my car for a month. This “not good enough” mentality refused to shake free. I started believing I might simply be bad at this “hobby.”

Then things started to change. I decided to take a bit of a different approach to life after some catastrophic events happening in my professional life. I needed to be done with stress and start looking at things through a glass half full lens. Why did I have these doubts? Why did I feel insecure in my work? Why did I just feel not good enough all the time?

Let me point out some things:

  • I published a god damned book. How many people fail before this step?
  • I made money on something I love doing. Strangers bought my creation.
  • My profit increased from one year to the next.
  • My output increased. I now have fifteen (soon to be sixteen) titles between novels, anthologies, and audio.
  • I started to learn the industry behind the “hobby” I love.
  • I met amazing folks who support me unconditionally.

How do I put a price tag on those things? You can’t. Suddenly, my outlook changed. I stopped looking at myself as a creator and started thinking of myself as an artist who needs to commercialize their craft. I’m a graphic designer, essentially an artist for hire. It clicked. My worth is not a number. My identity isn’t a royalty statement. Those numbers are a byproduct of my effort and my blood, sweat, and tears.

In 2017, the number increased by ten fold. 2018 isn’t over, and the number is continuing to climb. I wish it was ten fold again, but I’ll take double or triple (you can calculate the math to guesstimate my income.) The number continues to climb.

I got my royalty statements yesterday. I didn’t even look at them until I needed to pay one of my vendors. I opened my account and said, “Uh, that’s more money than I thought.” I inspected my royalty statements and realized I made more in one month than I had between 2011 – 2016. Can I live off it? Absolutely not. Can I pay all my bills? I’m happy to report we’re nearing that threshold.

What I want you, the author reading this, the struggling artist, to take away? I want you to know that 1) you are not a royalty statement. You are so much more. You are a creator of worlds, a long-winded poet, a human. 2) Authors may not divulge our numbers openly, but when you get a royalty check that doesn’t amount to dinner on the dollar menu at McDonalds, we have all been there. Many of us are still there. We all struggle, even if it’s not visible, communicated, or disseminated across social media. 3) If you want to do better, you control your future. You can be better. There is no magical cap on your potential. Hard work can (and will) get you there.

I used to measure my success in royalty statements. It still colors my definition, but I’ve broadened what I find to be considered success. My definition of success comes in small steps, and each step I take leads to the next. I am not going to be Angela Lansbury and solving crime by tomorrow. I may not have a Netflix series out next month. But someday, one step at a time, I will finish this marathon a victor, even if my time is monumentally longer than those in first place. The take away of this I guess, you are not a number.

New England Speculative Writers Conference Open for Registration

New England Speculative Writers Conference Open for Registration

Learn More & Register

We’re proud to announce the first New England Speculative Writers Conference. We’ve talked about it for the last year and what it would take and we’re out to make this a banner event. We’ve watched the group discussions and talked to fledgling and veteran authors and created a hybrid networking and educational event. We have some outstanding speakers coming to talk about their areas of expertise, advice that will help your author business grow whether you’re just starting out or have been writing for years. The conference is being sponsored by BetaBooks (a great resource to collaborating with beta readers) and stay tuned, more are on the way.

One of the biggest concerns we had was affordability for authors. We wanted to make sure if money is being spent, it’s money well spent. We’ve created two flexible payment options: pay in full, or pay on a four month payment plan. We’ve also negotiated with the Double Tree to reduce room rates for the night. While it’s one-day event, we wanted to make sure folks from all corners of New England (and beyond) have an affordable option for the night.

Lastly, we’ve heard from many authors about the solitary journey they take in their career. We aim to give authors a comfortable space to mingle, collaborate, and to inspire one another. We’ve designed everything from the presentations, to cocktail hour, to the dinner to help you find your tribe in the speculative community. Now you can put faces to handles, develop a writing group, or find a partner for your next project and we plan to do it in a no pressure, be yourself, relaxing environment for even the most introverted of us.

Learn More & Register

It’s Official We’re One

It’s Official We’re One

The New England Speculative Writers has officially survived its first year. We’ve been so busy we almost forgot our inception on July 2nd, in 2017. It’s hard to believe a year (14 months, but who’s counting) ago we decided to put together a group for New England’s Fantasy & Sci-Fi author community. It has been a wild ride since we started, so why not spend a blog post recapping the fun? In one year we have:

  • Changed our name from Massachusetts Science Fiction & Fantasy Authors to the New England Speculative Writers.
  • Reaching 150+ members (almost 200) between the website and the Facebook group.
  • Had weekly posts from New England area authors on a variety of topics being read by nearly 10,000 individuals.
  • Hosted a cover contest.
  • Successfully held our first anthology open call.
  • Announced a networking conference.
  • Put together a Science Fiction and Fantasy preview book delivered to individuals signing up for our mailing list.

The brain child of Jeremy Flagg and Cristina Alden was dreamt up, created with a dash of this and that and heavy splashes of ideals, goals, dreams, wishes, and sprinkled with a little fairy dust for luck. Then it was carefully and lovingly incubated until it hatched and was shared with the world. Now, with an awesome collection of authors collaborating and exchanging ideas and information it has taken on a life of its own.

This has been the warm-up year as we test the waters. There are plenty of ideas that have been shelved, some just waiting for the right time. It’s been a great first year, but it’s not going to be the best.

Why I write: The Need of a Creative

Why I write: The Need of a Creative

For as long as I can remember I’ve had the urge to create.

When I was little I would draw storybooks, read them out loud, and record them so you could follow the story. It was usually a tale I made up to go with the random pictures. I don’t remember much about the stories themselves. Although, one of the ones I remembered turned into the short story called Uni (included in my collection: Legend Of North Lake & Other Short Stories)

G.I Joe, Transformers, He-Man, and Star Wars all fueled my creative brain. I spent hours by myself creating elaborate scenarios with the action figures. Looking back, they were likely just a combined rehash of whatever cartoons or movies I watched, but the fire had been lit.

In high school, I wrote and created whenever the urge hit me. Though, they were never done with consistency or purpose.

My muses were now comics: The Punisher, Cyberforce, X-Men, Wildcats, and whatever else I could get my hands on. Authors: Stephen King, Rick Hautala, R.A Salvatore, James Axler, and Clive Barker kept my imagination churning with their fantastical tales. Directors: Steven Spielberg, George Romero, and John Carpenter gave me inspiration through a visual medium. All of those things drove me to create.

For one reason or the other, my creative focus turned to music. It was a huge part of my life for years (and still is) While I wasn’t creating stories in the traditional sense, I created stories through my song lyrics. I wrote hundreds of songs over the next fifteen years in the various bands I sang in. Each told a story. Often the works of the authors and directors I admired being an inspiration.

When I semi-retired from being a regular performing musician I found myself missing the creative outlet I’d had. It started out with a simple, albeit challenging personal goal to myself. Write a book. Something I told myself I would do for years, but never got around to. Now was the time. That moment was the precipice for rekindling my love of creating fiction.

Since then I’ve had my ups and downs. I’ve struggled to find my place, style, and voice. It hasn’t been easy. There have been times when I’ve wanted to give up and pack it in. There have been moments where I wondered if anyone cared about what I did? Was there any reason for me to continue or just a self-masturbatory delusion I might have something special to add to the literary world?

I’ve asked myself those questions a lot lately.

From a creative standpoint, the last year has been especially tough. I’ve had to look in the mirror and ask myself, “Why do I write?” The only answer I could come up with. I need to. No matter what format it has taken on over the years, I’ve always needed to. Even when it’s challenging and I feel like I’m making no progress, or getting to where I want. The desire to create is still there. It’s a part of who I am.

I Write for the Outsiders

I Write for the Outsiders

My name is Anders. When I was an only child, my dearest companions were the characters who lived inside the books I loved. Stories helped me discover the mystery, wonder, beauty, and complexity of life, and they helped me feel like I had somewhere to belong. Today I write for the all the outsiders and the loners, for all the artists and the dreamers, for everyone who has something to offer to the world, but who are still trying to figure out where they belong.


anderscahillbooks.com || medium.com/@thewonderdome

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Why I Write

Why I Write

I write because I finally believe I can.

That may sound a little strange. I definitely write because I have stories to tell. And I write because it’s exciting to create something from my own imagination. It’s satisfying to watch the thread of an idea weave into a complex world filled with characters I’ve invented and adventures of my own making. I write because I love to, even when it’s hard and feels like work.

When I was a little girl, if you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say writer, then astronaut, then writer, then archeologist, then writer again. It was there all along, this desire to create something with words. I wrote poetry, horse stories, and adventure tales. Later, I wrote research papers for school, documents for work, blog posts, and sometimes more poetry.

But, somewhere along the line, I got it into my head that I couldn’t write a whole book, that I couldn’t possibly carry a story arc from start to finish, that I didn’t have the required skills or the discipline to do it.

Then several years ago, I took on a year-long writing project for work, and I issued myself a challenge. Since I had to establish a daily writing habit around this project, could I also write something creative every day? Could I actually finish a manuscript?

At the end of nine-months, I had a quality report for my job, and I had a finished draft of my first novel. It was a very rough draft, pretty terrible in fact, but it was enough for me to finally believe I could be a writer.

Maybe we ought to challenge our own assumptions. Who knows what we can accomplish when we believe we can?

Why do I write? Why not?

Why do I write? Why not?

Why do I write?

Honestly, I don’t have a good answer to that.

There is no specific moment I can recall that explains it. Like most people as a kid I played with toys, I read comic books, I read fantasy and sci-fi novels. And I had ideas. I didn’t really write, not then, but I created stories in my head.

I love Dungeons & Dragons. I had (and have) a lot of the rulebooks and settings. I devoured everything Forgotten Realms when that came out. But surprisingly I’ve played maybe 30 hours total in my entire life. I wanted to play more but it just never happened. Didn’t stop me from having pages of characters and adventures written.

I didn’t create elaborate stories with my toys, I played with them. I read books but didn’t dream of writing my own.

It just happened my sophomore year in high school. During study hall in the library, I grabbed a notebook and just started writing.  It was a rambling story with no clear direction but had a starting point. I kept adding to it as I created characters and started basing them around my friends and other people at the school. It never went anywhere but that was the start.

But it wasn’t my first experience. That was a school project in elementary school. We had to create our own book, write and draw. Mine was a fantasy. A classic “attack the tower” kind of thing. I still remember the basics of it to this day almost forty years later.

But no writing from then to high school and no writing from high school to after college. It was then that I started creating characters and concepts for comic books.

I love the ongoing serial nature of comics and that heavily influences my work now. Nothing I create is limited. It’s all designed to be ongoing, no end in sight.

Aside from the few pages written during that time, nothing else came of it. But I always created. That seemed to be non-stop. Always some new idea. Which in a way wasn’t helping. I’d develop something, come up with a new idea and move on.

Almost ten years ago was when the idea of actually writing again came about. I don’t know why, it just happened. I did some fan fiction for G.I. Joe on a popular collector’s website. I had a broad idea and just went with it. Then I started my serial thing that I called Gatewatch, which only lasted a couple weeks. It was on a site I created (and looked horrible) and was a series of short pieces about different characters that took place throughout the day and the published stuff covered about a week. They’d cross each other’s path and so on. Nothing came of it and things fizzled again.

I tried starting various story concepts after that and was still almost endlessly creating but just couldn’t get the groove to start producing. Mostly that was because I don’t like anything that I write. Makes it really hard to get motivated.

That lasted until Amazon launched Kindleworlds and I was able to create G.I. Joe stories and actually get paid for them.  That was the catalyst and away I went. The first book I published, The Skeleton Stone, was not the first thing written in that world (those few pages will actually end up in the fourth book in the series). It was an idea that came from playing a game and I started writing it and adapted it to fit into the fantasy world that I’d been creating for awhile.

Now here I am today, still having the problem of too many ideas but I now that I’ve had stuff published it helps me focus a bit more. I’m not the fastest by any means, but I enjoy doing it and want to get my concepts and ideas out there.

That’s why I write. It just kind of happened. I have stories to tell and I want to tell them.

The Plague of the Writer: Why Do I Write?

The Plague of the Writer: Why Do I Write?

Authors are often asked this question, and I have yet to form a conclusive answer.

To put it simply: Compulsion.

There are universes constantly exploding inside of my brain, vibrant worlds pushing against my bones and demanding release. Scenes play out on loop in my head, characters live and breathe through my eyes.  They must be heard, they must be sculpted into something tangible.

Conversations of people both named and unnamed echo within my imagination. They evoke feelings that I have difficulties expressing to others. I want to share them with my readers, help them see what I see. And maybe get a glimmer of insight as to who I am.

There may not be meaning in the words I form, not conscious meaning anyway. I write what comes out. And it builds and builds. Sticky webs of interaction and intrigue. Relationships form and tear apart. The universe shifts as generations pass, forming new order for those yet to come.

I like to imagine myself as a keeper of lore, akin to the story tellers of the past who entertained with the tales preserved through eons. Each time a legend is spoken, something changes, a small detail that shifts the perspective of the future.

Everyday I sift through my vast collection of scraps and half-plots, wondering when I will have the chance to give them all the attention they demand. Perhaps one day, the well of inspiration will dry up, and my racing fingers can stop the toil. But that day is far out of my reach.

Photograph: nasa/E.S.A./J.P.L.-Caltech/U.C.L.A./C.X.C./S.A.O.

Why I write

Why I write

There is a cold disbelief in this cruel world of ours, a disbelief in the freedom of the mind and a slippery conviction that imagination is bad for production. For an example, look at the hard-on Wall Street has for AI. Those financial types think they’re going to be able to program a computer to be as creative as a person for a third of the price. That’s what intelligence means: the ability to think up something completely new. Imagination. Artificial imagination built to goose an economy profitably, predictably, 20% on the quarter every quarter and the shareholders can’t lose. In this case, I think those financial types fail to understand that they won’t be able to make an artificial mind create like a human without giving it the equivalent ability to wonder why it’s creating. Then you’re back to the same old problems of nonproductive creativity and disgruntlement, the answerless question, are we really doing all of this just for money? And then your expensive AI tears off its clothes and runs naked though the forest to subsist on ground nuts and apples again and you have to start from scratch.

I digress.

The point is that only certain kinds of creativity are valuable to a capitalist society. Teams of people working silently, measurably, frantically, squeezed like lemons and having a miserable time are technically being creative in a short-term, profitable way. The creative misery of underlings appears to be a good business in this world we’ve made for ourselves, this strange utopia for the 1%. But imagination is dangerous. It frees us from the now and suggests that we are, or could be, more than cogs – or, at least, that we could be or are more joyful, complex, and interesting cogs than what we were told in grade school and at the career center, that being part of the glorious interconnected machinery of the universe could be grand and intoxicating and ecstatic. I write because I am free, not independent of others, but interconnected in ways subtle and beautiful and constantly rearranging. And you are too. And you. And you. I don’t care if you never see a red cent from your words. Write, my friends. Write, because they cannot stop us now. If we all do it, the ones who think they’re in command will realize that it’s sand they hold, and it is we who make the fire that will turn it all to glass.

Why do I write? Blame the childhood…

Why do I write? Blame the childhood…

I write because I’ve always written. It’s just what I do and what I’ve done. To be honest, I’ve never really stopped to ask why, and even if I did, I’m not sure what my answer would be.

If hard-pressed to give an answer, it would probably all come back to my childhood, as most things do. See, like many of you, I grew up in the 1980’s a time of aggressive marketing where every single action figure and every single toy on the shelf had a story, most of those stories told through afternoon or Saturday morning cartoons. So prevalent were these stories, these animated adventures of G.I. Joe, Transformers, He-Man and the Thundercats, that when there wasn’t a story, I ended up making one.

G.I. Joe is probably what kickstarted this notion as the Real American Heroes went on their last adventure in 1994 and it fell to me to continue their stories even when Sunbow or Marvel Comics refused to. Once I could no longer turn on WLVI Channel 56 and watch Duke, Scarlett, and Snake Eyes battle COBRA Commander and Destro, it was up to me to write what came after the to be continued, and that’s what I did, writing stories, developing the undeveloped characters, and enhancing the universe for fourteen years.

I wrote aggressively for my website right up until Amazon announced their Kindle Worlds platform, and then I wrote for that, mostly sticking with what I knew, but knowing I had something more.

Going from fleshing out a cartoon universe to writing my own universe whole hog just made sense and my love of the futuristic military adventures of G.I. Joe lent very well to the military thriller genre, and before I knew it, NanoWriMo 2013 had come and gone and I had a novel done. Then there were two. Then there were three.

Now there are more than twenty.

Amazingly, I’ve been able to take something I’ve always done, something I love to do, and managed to develop a small side business, something that actually pays back. Something that makes it worthwhile to spend hours and hours writing over a hundred thousand words per month.

So, why do I write? Yeah, when it comes right down to it, I blame my childhood and blame the 80’s for instilling in me the need to have stories written for everything, to know why things happen and where things coming from. Toys weren’t just toys, they were little plastic windows into another world, and those other worlds fueled my need to create them myself.