“$ git sync murder” is out, so: how many books have I written?

The hardcovers are in stores now, so I think it’s official. $ git sync murder is out everywhere except my print bookstore. You can get it at all of the usual stores. I have the ebook in my store.

Every time I release a new book, or dare to show my face in public, folks ask me how many books I’ve written. My answer is, “define written and book.” That’s not as snarky an answer as you might think.

First, they’re asking the wrong question. I’ve written many books that were not published and that you will never read. Immortal Clay didn’t pick up a bunch of 4-star and 5-star reviews by being the first novel I ever wrote. It got those by being my fifteenth finished novel in a series of deliberate practice that continues to this day, and my first published novel. So, let’s change the question to “how many books have you published?”

Here’s the current output of the SNMP object where I keep my publications catalog. (Accessing this object is an easter egg in the Networknomicon or, if you’re still attached to your sanity, SNMP Mastery.)

SNMP table: TWP-MIB::mwlBooksTable

 titleIndex                                             title year      genre      length
          1                                       Gatecrasher 1992    fiction full-length
          2                               Believe it or Else! 1993    fiction full-length
          3                           Gatecrasher 2nd edition 1995    fiction full-length
          4                 Women who Run with the Werewolves 1995    fiction   anthology
          5                                      Absolute BSD 2002 nonfiction full-length
          6                                  Absolute OpenBSD 2003 nonfiction full-length
          7                   Cisco Routers for the Desperate 2004 nonfiction full-length
          8                                         PGP & GPG 2006 nonfiction full-length
          9                     Absolute FreeBSD, 2nd edition 2007 nonfiction full-length
         10      Cisco Routers for the Desperate, 2nd edition 2009 nonfiction full-length
         11                             Network Flow Analysis 2010 nonfiction full-length
         12                           Horror Library volume 2 2010    fiction   anthology
         13                                   Opening the Eye 2011    fiction       story
         14                               Breaking the Circle 2011    fiction       story
         15                                       SSH Mastery 2012 nonfiction full-length
         16           Vicious Redemption: Five Dark Fantasies 2012    fiction full-length
         17                                    DNSSEC Mastery 2013 nonfiction full-length
         18                                      Sudo Mastery 2013 nonfiction full-length
         19                          Absolute OpenBSD, 2nd ed 2013 nonfiction full-length
         20                       No More Lonesome Blue Rings 2013    fiction       story
         21                            Sticky Supersaturation 2013    fiction       story
         22                                          Lavender 2013    fiction       story
         23                                        Pax Canina 2013    fiction       story
         24                              Wednesday's Seagulls 2013    fiction       story
         25               FreeBSD Mastery: Storage Essentials 2014 nonfiction full-length
         26                                     Immortal Clay 2014    fiction full-length
         27                               Waking Up Yesterday 2014    fiction       story
         28                                   Calling Control 2014    fiction       story
         29                                Moonlight's Apples 2014    fiction       story
         30             Networking for Systems Administrators 2015 nonfiction full-length
         31                                   Tarsnap Mastery 2015 nonfiction full-length
         32                              FreeBSD Mastery: ZFS 2015 nonfiction full-length
         33                                     Forever Falls 2015    fiction     novella
         34              Spilled Mirovar (Prohibition Orcs 1) 2015    fiction       story
         35                                      Whisker Line 2015    fiction       story
         36                                    Wifi and Romex 2015    fiction       story
         37                                       PAM Mastery 2016 nonfiction full-length
         38                     FreeBSD Mastery: Advanced ZFS 2016 nonfiction full-length
         39                   FreeBSD Mastery: Advanced ZedFS 2016 nonfiction full-length
         40                   Kipuka Blues (Immortal Clay #2) 2016    fiction full-length
         41                                   Hydrogen Sleets 2016    fiction full-length
         42             Drowned Mirovar (Prohibition Orcs #2) 2016    fiction     novella
         43                  Butterfly Stomp Waltz (Beaks #1) 2016    fiction full-length
         44           Earthquake Kitten Kiss (Beaks spin-off) 2016    fiction     novella
         45                        Butterfly Stomp (Beaks #0) 2016    fiction full-length
         46             Forced to Talk, Like, With Your Mouth 2016    fiction       story
         47            FreeBSD Mastery: Specialty Filesystems 2016 nonfiction full-length
         48                                 git commit murder 2017    fiction full-length
         49                                savaged by systemd 2017    fiction       story
         50                          Httpd and Relayd Mastery 2017 nonfiction full-length
         51                                        Ed Mastery 2018 nonfiction     novella
         52               Ed Mastery, Manly McManface Edition 2018 nonfiction     novella
         53                          SSH Mastery, 2nd edition 2018 nonfiction full-length
         54                     Absolute FreeBSD, 3rd edition 2018 nonfiction full-length
         55                           Bedazzled by Blockchain 2018    fiction       story
         56                                         Face Less 2018    fiction       story
         57                Boundary Shock: Tuesday After Next 2018    fiction   anthology
         58 Boundary Shock: Robots, Androids, Cyborgs, Oh My! 2018    fiction   anthology
         59                         Sudo Mastery, 2nd edition 2019 nonfiction full-length
         60                            FreeBSD Mastery: Jails 2019 nonfiction full-length
         61                     Terrapin Sky Tango (Beaks #2) 2019    fiction full-length
         62                                 Winner Breaks All 2019    fiction       story
         63             Boundary Shock: Apocalypse Descending 2019    fiction   anthology
         64                      Fiction River: Superstitious 2019    fiction   anthology
         65                                 Snot-Nosed Aliens 2019    fiction   anthology
         66                        An Interpretation of Moles 2019    fiction   anthology
         67                                      SNMP Mastery 2020 nonfiction full-length
         68                      Boundary Shock: Alien Dreams 2020    fiction   anthology
         69                                The Networknomicon 2020 nonfiction full-length
         70                            Cash Flow for Creators 2020 nonfiction full-length
         71              Boundary Shock: What Might Have Been 2020    fiction   anthology
         72                                  Face The Strange 2020    fiction   anthology
         73                                  Bloody Christmas 2020    fiction   anthology
         74                              Drinking Heavy Water 2020    fiction full-length
         75                                        Final Gift 2020    fiction       story
         76                                    Woolen Torment 2020    fiction       story
         77                   Drums with Delusions of Godhood 2020    fiction       story
         78                    Uncollected Anthology: Deities 2020    fiction   anthology
         79                                    Woolen Torment 2021    fiction       story
         80               Aidan Redding Against the Universes 2021    fiction full-length
         81                            Fiction River: Chances 2021    fiction   anthology
         82           Fiction River: Dark and Deadly Passions 2021    fiction   anthology
         83                                       TLS Mastery 2021 nonfiction full-length
         84                                    Only Footnotes 2021 nonfiction     novella
         85                                   git sync murder 2021    fiction full-length
         86                        The Holiday Spectacular #2 2021    fiction   anthology

That’s 86 things with my name on the cover, excluding articles in periodicals and web sites. (I don’t have the energy to go through all that stuff.) So, I’ve published 86 books.

Except some of these are stories in anthologies. Anthologies are written by multiple authors. They’re only partially “by me.” Excluding those, the catalog has 70 entries. I have published 70 books.

Except some of those are basically chapbooks: single stories, put out on their own in print. I have many more stories than these, by the way, but they’re electronic-only. I ran out of energy before I collected all that information.

47 things with my name on them that are classified as either “full-length” or “novella.” This categorization is incorrect, however. The word “novella” means “a short novel.” The definition on “novel” has bloated over the last one hundred fifty years, driven by manufacturing concerns. Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, is about 43,000 words. Publishers would laugh at Doyle today and tell him to try a chapbook publisher based on the length alone. In the 1920s, a 20,000-word tale was considered a novel and might be published as such. I have a great big stack of Rex Stout mystery novels, and many of them contain fewer than 40,000 words.

Let’s take a nonfiction “novella.” Ed Mastery. It is a short book, but it’s unquestionably “a book.”

Alternately, consider Drowned Mirovar the second Prohibition Orcs tale. It’s over 30,000 words. In the era it was set, it would be a full novel that would appear first in a magazine, then as a standalone book. Today, it’s a prologue. As it’s packaged, it’s “a book.” It would look just fine on the shelf next to any of my 1950s novels.

Then there are collections. Vicious Redepmtion is a collection of my short stories. Aidan Redding Against the Universes collects short stories and novels. They’re listed here as “full-length,” which they certainly are. Should I could those as books?

Surely there’s a culturally-accepted standard or industry standard on how to count the number of books you’ve written?

Er… no.

Isaac Asimov established a standard that “if I appear in it, it counts.” He counted anthologies. He counted chapbooks. By that standard, I’ve published 86 books. I am uncomfortable with this definition.

I know authors who won’t count anything shorter than 60,000 words. By that standard, I’ve published 22 books. It excludes all of the Mastery titles except SNMP Mastery. That’s clearly not right for me, either.

For me, the original question is about milestones. It’s about accomplishments. I want to be able to say “I made this thing” and stand by it.

My preferred definition is, if I whack you with it, will it leave a mark? Bystanders would object, however. And I have created some titles that, while they’d leave a mark, I don’t consider them independent books. An example would be the Bail Bond Denied edition of FreeBSD Mastery: Jails. It is literally the exact same text as the regular FreeBSD Mastery: Jails, but with a cover drawn in crayon by yours truly. It is a thing. It gets offered up for charity auctions. I have a small amount of pride in it. It’s not really a discrete book.

So I’m trying this definition.

a) 15,000 words or longer
b) requiring distinct and discrete effort to create
c) something I’m not embarrassed to call “a book.”

This definition lets me exclude titles like the ZedFS version of FreeBSD Mastery: Advanced ZFS, the Beck and Provost editions of Terrapin Sky Tango, and the Manly McManface version of Ed Mastery. Only Footnotes might have brand new footnotes in it, but it wasn’t hard to make. It’s excluded. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of these, but only because they polish my reputation as the good sort of troll. I knocked them all off in a morning. (They’re still in the pic of me with one copy of every edition of everything I’ve written, because that picture is only for fun.)

It lets me include works like Ed Mastery and Cash Flow for Creators. I spent three weeks writing the cash flow book, and thirty years learning how to write the cash flow book. It include volumes like the Networknomicon, because producing that required a whole bunch of work. It was a different sort of labor for me, but that unspeakable tome fine educational work is clearly a discrete, unique book.

I’m also counting collections. Again, the “how many books have you published” question is about milestones. Writing enough of A Thing to create a collection is a milestone. Aidan Redding Against the Universes is the closest thing to a Brandon Sanderson doorstop I’ve produced on the fiction side. (Also, that hardcover has two different covers, one on the dust jacket and one on the laminate, and they’re both lovely.)

Applying this definition leaves me with these titles.

          1                                       Gatecrasher 1992    fiction full-length
          2                               Believe it or Else! 1993    fiction full-length
          3                           Gatecrasher 2nd edition 1995    fiction full-length
          5                                      Absolute BSD 2002 nonfiction full-length
          6                                  Absolute OpenBSD 2003 nonfiction full-length
          7                   Cisco Routers for the Desperate 2004 nonfiction full-length
          8                                         PGP & GPG 2006 nonfiction full-length
          9                     Absolute FreeBSD, 2nd edition 2007 nonfiction full-length
         10      Cisco Routers for the Desperate, 2nd edition 2009 nonfiction full-length
         11                             Network Flow Analysis 2010 nonfiction full-length
         15                                       SSH Mastery 2012 nonfiction full-length
         16           Vicious Redemption: Five Dark Fantasies 2012    fiction full-length
         17                                    DNSSEC Mastery 2013 nonfiction full-length
         18                                      Sudo Mastery 2013 nonfiction full-length
         19                          Absolute OpenBSD, 2nd ed 2013 nonfiction full-length
         25               FreeBSD Mastery: Storage Essentials 2014 nonfiction full-length
         26                                     Immortal Clay 2014    fiction full-length
         30             Networking for Systems Administrators 2015 nonfiction full-length
         31                                   Tarsnap Mastery 2015 nonfiction full-length
         32                              FreeBSD Mastery: ZFS 2015 nonfiction full-length
         33                                     Forever Falls 2015    fiction     novella
         37                                       PAM Mastery 2016 nonfiction full-length
         38                     FreeBSD Mastery: Advanced ZFS 2016 nonfiction full-length
         40                   Kipuka Blues (Immortal Clay #2) 2016    fiction full-length
         41                                   Hydrogen Sleets 2016    fiction full-length
         42             Drowned Mirovar (Prohibition Orcs #2) 2016    fiction     novella
         43                  Butterfly Stomp Waltz (Beaks #1) 2016    fiction full-length
         44           Earthquake Kitten Kiss (Beaks spin-off) 2016    fiction     novella
         47            FreeBSD Mastery: Specialty Filesystems 2016 nonfiction full-length
         48                                 git commit murder 2017    fiction full-length
         50                          Httpd and Relayd Mastery 2017 nonfiction full-length
         51                                        Ed Mastery 2018 nonfiction     novella
         52               Ed Mastery, Manly McManface Edition 2018 nonfiction     novella
         53                          SSH Mastery, 2nd edition 2018 nonfiction full-length
         54                     Absolute FreeBSD, 3rd edition 2018 nonfiction full-length
         59                         Sudo Mastery, 2nd edition 2019 nonfiction full-length
         60                            FreeBSD Mastery: Jails 2019 nonfiction full-length
         61                     Terrapin Sky Tango (Beaks #2) 2019    fiction full-length
         67                                      SNMP Mastery 2020 nonfiction full-length
         69                                The Networknomicon 2020 nonfiction full-length
         70                            Cash Flow for Creators 2020 nonfiction full-length
         74                              Drinking Heavy Water 2020    fiction full-length
         80               Aidan Redding Against the Universes 2021    fiction full-length
         83                                       TLS Mastery 2021 nonfiction full-length
         85                                   git sync murder 2021    fiction full-length

This makes $ git sync murder my 45th book.

Could this definition be gamed? Sure it could. But I don’t care enough to game it. I stopped counting my releases somewhere around 17 or 18 books. I counted titles on my brag shelf at one point a few years ago, using my gut as a definition, and got a number like 31 or 33 or something like that. I haven’t cared enough to count until today, when I’m putting off doing real work. Now that I’ve counted, I suspect I’ll maintain a silent count until I break 50 and then lose count again. 50 is a milestone, after all.

If you want to argue about my definitions, please find someone else to argue with.

the Write Stuff bundle, featuring: me!

My book Cash Flow for Creators lays out exactly how I make a living in this deranged business. You can get your own copy for a paltry $6.99.

Right now, you can get it for $5 as part of the 2021 Write Stuff Bundle at Storybundle. Plus three other books and classes on building a career from your craft. That’s even cheaper than my usual cheap. Or you can spend $20, and get ten excellent business books from people who know what they’re doing, who make a living with their craft, and who are cheerfully sharing how to do the same.

I’m delighted to be in this bundle, and not just because bundle curator Kris Rusch called Cash Flow for Creators “one of the most important books you’ll read all year.” (Mind you, I’m gonna keep that quote in a safe place so that when the world catches on to what a complete doofus I am, I can take it out and cuddle it.) But there’s some top-notch writers and business people in this bundle.

Johanna Rothman is best known as a business and technology consultant. She also writes charming heart-warming stories that remind me of fairy tales for some reason, because they’re totally not fairy tales. Except when they are. I’ve met Johanna at several conferences, and for a quiet and unassuming itty-bitty lady she knows how to put herself out there. I’d absolutely listen to her on getting speaking slots at a conference. Or, in this case, read her Writing a Conference Proposal the Conference Wants and Accepts.

Joanna Penn writes top-notch fiction and hosts the Creative Penn podcast. I was lucky enough to have lunch with her at a conference on the Oregon coast a few years ago and frankly, I have no idea how she gets the energy to do half of her stuff. She’s a smart people, and has built one heck of a creative business doing this weird… what’s that word? Oh, yes. “Planning.” Something I constantly and consistently fail to do. I really ought to perform the exercises in Your Author Business Plan. I should also take her advice that I need to weasel my way onto more podcasts, because the whole “wait patiently for invitations” thing doesn’t work well.

Stefon Mears once worked in computing, but he got better. I’ve known him for years, and the interesting thing about Stefon? It’s not his obsessive Blue Öyster Cult fandom, though that is one of his better traits. It’s not even that I once made him laugh so hard that bystanders asked if he was having a seizure and if they should call an ambulance. It’s that he’s just this guy, and he keeps writing book after book after book in the grand pulp tradition. One after another, he churns them out like Rex Stout or Zane Grey or Lester Dent or any number of others. We’ve talked about how to write a novel every month, and I overwhelmingly agree with the advice he gives in The 30-Day Novel and Beyond!

All this for five bucks. But the bonus books, for those who pay $20 or more?

Award-winning writers and editors Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch have survived several economic crashes in this trade. They were the first professional authors I ever met who understood that writers don’t write books; they create and license intellectual property. I don’t always totally agree with them, but they back up their arguments and make me think about why I’m doing the things I do. You can’t buy that. Except you can. In several ways. In this bundle.

Mark Leslie LeFebvre was a bookseller. He’s worked for Kobo and Draft2Digital. He’s a fantastic writer and editor. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s worked at a printer. He knows this business like I know that weird growth on the back of my left hand. (Don’t worry about me, they always drop off before they hatch.) I respect this man’s mad skillz enough that when I finish the Current Giant Epic Fiction Thing I’m working on, I’m going to buy an hour of his time to talk through how to optimally release it. If you want your work in bookstores and libraries, he’s the man to tell you how. Oh, hey–An Author’s Guide to Working With Libraries and Bookstores. What a coincidence!

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Tonya D Price at more than one conference. Her excellent writing survived MBA school, a feat not many people manage. A Writer’s Introduction to Social Media Marketing is exclusive to this bundle, so I haven’t read it. Yet.

Writer, editor, and game publisher Loren L Coleman might be best known for his work in Battletech, but I mostly know him for his phenomenal Kickstarter chops and his devoted Prohibition Orcs fandom. Anyone who can raise multiple millions in a Kickstarter has my attention. He recently Kickstarted Crowdfunding Your Ficton: a Best Practices Guide. Kickstarter is on my Things To Play With list, so I backed it. You can get his book after those of us wise enough to back him, but before the great unwashed masses.

A cut of the purchase price goes to each author. Another cut can go to Able Gamers, if you check the box. You should totally check the box.

Also, the price is completely “pay what you want.” None of us would mind if those of you with real jobs realized that this bundle is dang near theft and chose to pay a bit more for it. If you read these and act on their advice, you’ll turn a profit easily.

New podcast interview: Alive After Reading

If I was to choose a pseudonym, one pronounced “Need A Writer” would be too on-the-nose even for me.

Tim Niederriter was born that way.

Tim interviewed me for his podcast Alive After Reading. I signed on thinking that I’d promote the new Montague Portal stuff (the first short novel, Forever Falls, is now free everywhere, Drinking Heavy Water is fresh out, and there’s an omnibus collecting all things Montague Portal).

Instead, we mostly talked about the craft of writing. Specifically, how to become a better writer.

Yes, you can become a better writer. Hint: use the exact same techniques used by craftspeople for millennia.

Unrelated: the title of this episode of Alive After Reading is perhaps the most appropriate of any interview I have ever given.

My books on Google Play, for now

Google has been actively hostile to authors for years. That has changed, somewhat. You can now find much of my fiction and nonfiction on Google Play, for now. I rather expect Google to reverse their less-hostile stance without warning, so these might come down as quickly as they appeared.

What do I mean when I say that Google has been hostile to authors? Forget the bit where they scan millions of in-copyright books and make the text available. That’s a separate problem.

Google Play offers separate terms for traditional publishers than individual authors. I own my own publishing company, but I don’t produce books quickly enough to get access to the publisher terms. Fine.

Since its inception, Google Play has let individual authors put a suggested retail price on their books. Until recently, they reserved the right to cut the price for their customers. If they cut the price, they would pay the author their cut based on the suggested retail price. Google used this to boost their platform. They could take, say, SSH Mastery, and make it free for the next thousand downloads. I would make my $6 or so on each download. I get paid, so what could I possibly object to?

I object to it destroying my business, that’s what.

Modern publishing is an ecosystem. Changes in one distributor affect how other distributors behave. Other major ebook distributor either respects the suggested retail price I set on their platform (e.g., Gumroad) or they have a Most Favored Nation clause in their terms where they can match competitor prices. Apple had this for years, but I’m not certain of its status after the antitrust lawsuits. Amazon still has this MFN clause, and it actively monitors competitors for prices to match.

Here’s how this goes horribly wrong.

  • Google makes one of my best-selling books free.
  • Amazon sees it and price matches.
  • A few thousand people download the book on Google Play. I get paid for those.
  • Tens of thousands of people download the book on KDP. I do not get paid for those.
  • Google restores the suggested retail price.
  • I spend days begging Amazon to restore the normal price.
  • Everybody I might sell that book to got it for free.

That book is dead. I made a few thousand dollars in a month but that book brings in nothing more, forever.

Writing is a passive income game. I count on each live book to bring in a few hundred bucks a month. Some, I’m delighted if they bring in fifty bucks a month. I count on last year’s books to pay this year’s bills. If you want to know more about how this works, check out Cash Flow for Creators.

Free books are a valid promotion strategy. (I’ll be announcing a free novel soon, to suck people into the Montague Portal omnibus.) I need to control their use, however.

I half-expect Google to reassert their previous model at any time. Google is spectacularly indifferent to their users. When Google blinks, I’ll be turning them off.

Mind you, I’ll keep the books set up in their publisher dashboard. When they twitch back, I’ll turn them back on.

The Worst that Can Happen to an Author

Kris Rusch has a lovely blog post today on the need for courage in the writing business. I started to comment on it, but the comment grew to such a length that would be rude to leave it. “Comment” does not mean “lengthy diatribe.” So:

A key component of courage is the willingness to accept the risk of pain, and perhaps actual pain. Publishing is full of emotional pain. Every time I write something, I wonder if I should make it public. If I should put it out there. And then I remind myself of the very worst that could happen.

The Book Police will show up at my door with their lead-type-studded cudgels to drag me by my ankles to the front lawn of the Library of Congress, where they’ll put me in stocks for the day with a sign hanging around my neck declaring me a Bad Writer and place a bushel basket of rotten fruit a few feet away for amateur literary critics’ throwing pleasure, while simultaneously the Bad Art Correction Squad will break out their erasers and hard drive degaussers and eliminate all trace of my work from meatspace and Internet alike.

No–wait. That’s not it. Sorry.

The worst that can happen is nobody notices. Nobody cares. That the thing I spent hours or weeks or even months writing gets no attention and attracts zero readers.

That hurts. I’d rather take rotten nectarines to the face for a few hours.

As long as I don’t publish, my comforting dream of this book’s explosive success remains alive. I avoid the risk of pain.

Writers, especially new writers, believe that their books are special. I hear writers call their books their babies, their special friends, their precious. And it’s simply not true. Or worse, they don’t call their books that. They call their book (singular) that.

If you’ve just finished writing your first book, or your second, this is understandable. It’s even natural.

But it’s a terrible mindset for any artist.

Writing is a creative skill, like any other art. You can learn to write just as you can learn to paint or throw clay or staple yourself to the world’s largest ball of string and have your friends set you rolling down the freeway and call it performance art. A potter would not expect to find success from their first successful vase. A painter would not expect their first portrait to win awards. No, these creators finish a piece, take a moment to appreciate and contemplate it, and start on the next one.

Successful writers are the same way.

Don’t get me wrong, the dream of success is great. The dream of fame and glory and supple book groupies can keep you going.

But being a writer is about being able to take a punch and either laugh it off or full-on ignore it. I’m a full time writer, and not a week goes by that I don’t get a scathing review from someone who didn’t read the book description or even look at the cover. (Don’t read your reviews. Seriously.)

Is that email from an unfamiliar sender spam? Or is it a vitriolic screed against one of my books or my entire career? Is it from someone who read the Immortal Clay novels and wants to helpfully inform me that I require intensive therapy, immediately and preferably inpatient, as if every single person who’s ever met me hasn’t already informed me? It might be from someone offering me money, so I guess I better open it.

People who’ve previously said they loved my books take lengthy detours to tell me this latest one is not up to scratch, but they figure I needed the money.

Being ignored hurts. Being noticed hurts more. Writers must have the courage to face the risk of emotional pain. Just as with athletic pain, critical pain gets easier to cope with the more you overcome it. It doesn’t get better. You grow stronger.

Yes, we all want our books to be noticed. To achieve success. The only way to make that dream reality is to consciously, deliberately, and with premeditation murder it and accept the risk. Your work cannot succeed so long as you hide it.

If you can’t accept the risk, feel free to cuddle your dream. Just don’t complain to any pro author about it. We want to help folks who are willing to take the necessary hits.

You’re willing to face the pain, but you need that dream of supple book groupies to keep you going? You need hope? That’s not only dandy, that’s human. Hope is the greatest gift.

But make a new dream for each book. Even if it’s the same old dream with the serial numbers filed off.

By the time I publish one book, I’ve already started writing the next book. The published book will live or die as readers dictate. But the book I’m halfway through writing right now? That one’s gonna hit big. I guarantee it.

I’m a potter fondling the next lump of freshly-scooped raw clay, convinced that this next piece will be my greatest triumph.

Full-Time Writing: Five Years In

On 8 October 2014, I announced my new career as a full-time writer. The actual decision coalesced in the preceding month, but as the public announcement was the Point of No Return, let’s go with 8 October.

This makes 8 October 2019 my five-year anniversary. For one thousand eight hundred twenty seven days, my family has relied on my writing to pay the mortgage. Some of those years, I bought health insurance as well. I do not consult. I do not provide publishing services or rely on affiliate fees. I barely advertise, and that only in the last few months.

I make words. I sell them. That’s it.

I’ve recently come across a bunch of posts about people hitting their one-month or three-month mark as full time writers, like this one from Sacha Black. These posts bring back all the heady delirium of those early days, when I’d finally achieved The Dream.

But the years learn things that the days and months will never know. And here’s some things that time has either taught me, brutally reminded me of, or tattooed on my soul. I’m sure that Lawrence Block, Joe Lansdale, and Lilith Saintcrow would look at my list and say “Oh, he’s adorable,” but I have a ways to go to achieve their longevity.

1) Learn Business and Money

Once your craft becomes your career, you need to manage your craft as assiduously as you would a sandwich shop. This doesn’t take away from the joy of writing. Rather, it can be a different sort of fun. Business and taxes are the world’s most complicated table-top role playing game, under a lackadaisical Dungeon Master who occasionally gets annoyed and goes for Total Party Kill. You best have all your character sheets up to date. Some of it’s tedious–I could do without scanning and saving the receipts for everything I buy. But they’re tax deductions, or potential tax deductions. Perhaps I can’t deduct everything right now, but if my income explodes in 2023 and I need to refile my last few years of taxes, I’ll be thrilled to have them.

If you’re in the US, start by reading Tax Savvy for Small Business.

No, start by reading The Copyright Handbook. I reread this book every year, and I buy every new edition. It’s that important. Remember, authors don’t sell books: we create and license intellectual property. This realization, way back in 1999, was key to me becoming a full time writer.

Wait–you absolutely must read Rusch’s How To Negotiate Anything. It turns the typical authorial introversion into a negotiating advantage. If you can’t negotiate, you don’t have a business.

Real businesses have multiple income streams, and add additional streams any time they can. If you rely on a single income stream, your business is inherently short-lived. Maybe exclusivity with one business has been good to you, but it puts you at the mercy of that company. I won’t sign on exclusively with Amazon. I won’t put all my nonfiction through No Starch Press, exactly as they would not agree to me becoming their only author. A single source of income is short term thinking. My largest single customer (Amazon) is less than a third of my income. Losing them would suck but I’d survive.

Before you make a thousand dollars a year writing, establish your writing as a business. Pick a company name and register it as a DBA in your county. Use that to get a bank account for your business. Deposit all writing income in that account, and use that account to pay for writing-related expenditures. Withdraw money for you and your family as owners’ disbursements. This might seem like overkill now, but you have no idea what’s coming…

2) Plan For Success

Most small businesses fail in their first year. The survivors often fall to their own success.

Treat your writing business like a business from day 1. If the tax man comes knocking on your door you need to be able to demonstrate that you’re treating this part of your career seriously. This means setting up a bank account for the business, and treating that bank account like it belongs to a separate entity. Yes, you can use writing income for vacations but you must account for it.

It’s much easier to convert your DBA to some sort of corporation than to spin one of those entities out of the fabric of your life. Why is this important?

3) You Have No Idea What Will Sell

You never know what readers will react to. You have less idea what will bring in new readers. My most successful book is a novelette of satirical Linux erotica. My new crime novel is doing far better than I expected. I could never have predicted this.

Meanwhile, the technology book I spent six years working on? The one I literally wrote seven books to learn how to write? The one people requested, demanded, and beseeched me for?

Sales-wise, it’s dead on arrival.

You never know. It’s uncomfortable. Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Sow all your seeds, and harvest whatever grows.

4) Try Weird Things, in Craft and Business

I wrote the aforementioned satirical Linux erotica in a single day. The Muse came upon me. He had a whip and a chair and demanded that I perform. I went with it. It succeeded. Other ideas, written similarly, did not. It happens.

Most of us feel just fine with craft experiments, but avoid experimenting in business. What’s the worst that can happen if a business experiment fails? Obviously, the Art Police show up and suspend your license to write.

Or maybe you just lose money.

Financial losses happen in business. Decide how much you can risk, and set up your experiment within those boundaries. I’m experimenting with Amazon ads right now, within clearly defined financial limits, and they’re making me money so far. Book sponsorships work for my nonfiction readers. Patreon works for some of my readers.

And those business experiments can give you room for artistic experiments. The SSH Mastery sponsorships gave me the funding to experiment with hardcovers. The SNMP Mastery sponsors are letting me do something unspeakably squamous with that book.

I wrote a nonfiction book for the deliberate and explicit purpose of telling men’s rights activists that I would continue to use both male and female pronouns in nonfiction. This experiment worked, both in a business sense and for getting those people to stop trying to enlist me to their cause.

“Nobody would buy a cozy mystery set at a Unix conference!” I wrote git commit murder anyway. It’s a slow but steady seller.

Experiment. Sometimes, good stuff happens.

5) Grab Success

You can’t predict success. Except when you can.

The key component of success is being myself. To put myself in my books, as forcefully and explicitly and gleefully as I can.

In other words: I speak the truth.

In my nonfiction, people accuse me of making jokes. I do not. It’s just that the truth in technology is offensive, outrageous, and downright obscene. People must laugh about it, because the appropriate degree of piteous sobbing takes too much time and runs up the cleaning bill.

I do the same in my fiction, but in a completely different way.

And it’s led to financial success.

When that success appears, be ready to grab it. I’m still not making near as much money as I would have if I’d stayed in the technology field, but if I’d stayed in tech I’d have drowned in my own bile by now, so it’s a wash.

I am at the point where I need to reorganize the business, to switch from little old me to a corporation. I’m actively hunting an accountant who understands how creators and licensors of intellectual property can arrange their business to maximize effective income. Turns out those people are mostly on the coast, not here in Detroit. (If you know of one, I’d appreciate a lead.)

When that happens, though: my business is set up and ready to convert to a massive C-Corp.

What will you do if your new book takes off and a million bucks lands in your bank account before New Years’ Eve? Hopefully the answer isn’t “panic.”

6) Keep Writing

Amidst all of this, keep making words.

Writers get opportunities to travel. My books have taken me to Canada, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, California, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, Arizona, Canada, England, France, and Malta. Next year they’ll take me to Japan, India, and back to Canada. In the last year, these trips have taken more and more of my time.

A four-day trip ruins the week before and the week after for writing. Some folks recover more quickly than I do. Good for them. I just got back from a trip to a city in my own time zone. Not only did I lose the time of the trip, I lost four work days before and ten work days after it.

I hereby resolve to stay home and spend more time making words. To stop “Being A Writer,” and to just write.

Over the years, I’ve promised to go to a bunch of cons. The last few years I’ve tried to fulfill all the promises Younger Lucas foolishly made. I have one final set of promises to fulfill, in Asia next March. And then I’m done. I’m not promising any more “sure I’ll come, one year” trips.

Will I travel? Sure. But rarely. If I don’t write, there are no books. And traveling prevents writing.

7) Forgive Yourself

I write fiction at about a thousand words an hour and nonfiction at about half that. If I treat my writing as full-time a job, and split my time between the two, I should produce a million words of fiction and half a million words of nonfiction every year.

That’s not realistic.

First, you must allocate time to run your business. When I use a publisher, I have to manage that relationship. When I self-publish, I must spend time publishing. No matter what, I must balance the credit card statement every month and deal with the accounting.

And experienced employers know that even the most solid employees are useless 5% to 50% of the time. Marriages, births, divorces, illness, car troubles, exploding toilets, and the other Randomly Falling Meatballs of the Flying Spaghetti Monster disrupt us all. It’s called being alive. Being human.

As authors who have finally achieved The Dream, it’s easy to beat ourselves up for our shortcomings. Things happen. In the short term, it’s infuriating and frustrating and can drive us to tears of rage.

But our craft means nothing if we lose our friends and relationships and all those things that make life worthwhile.

Despite thyroid failures and anemia and cancer scares and family members suffering time-consuming medical problems over the last five years, I’ve written dozens of books. The bills are paid.

Forgive yourself.

I shouldn’t forgive myself, mind you, because I know in my heart that I’m a slacker and I should be writing twelve hours a day, seven days a week, and use the time left over for business. But that’s a separate matter. You must forgive yourself.

8) Keep Learning Craft

This is the key to everything. It’s the most important thing you can do.

Learn. Study. Practice.

Practice is how we learn. I treat everything I write as deliberate practice. In my current fiction project, because of the nature of the project, I’m practicing point of view. Yes, I have decent point-of-view chops. They can be better. In my current nonfiction project, I’m practicing clarity. The baroque language of SNMP lends itself to such practice.

Yes, I’m a full time author. People pay me for my words. I rely on those payments to pay the mortgage.

But I either get better or stagnate. And my readers will go “oh, it’s more of the same” and move on to someone else.

I must grow with my readers. It’s the only way I’ll keep the ones I have, and draw in new ones.

Finally:

9) Don’t Ask How You’re Getting Away With This

The universe might catch on and put you back in your place.

MWL’s 2018 Wrap-Up

I set some ambitious goals for 2018. How did I do?

There’s a few reasons why. A relative fell off a roof and suffered a traumatic brain injury. I’m the family member that won’t get fired for not showing up to work, so I handled a bunch of it. There’s something about arguing with hospitals and rehab clinics that totally saps one’s mental energy. I lost a few months of productivity.

I figured that was why I was tired and slow. But: no.

Enter HP Lumpcraft, also known as “the abomination formerly known as the right half of my thyroid.” The surgeon did a fine job. It looks like I won’t even need a zipper tat to cover up the scar.

Theoretically, a slowly escalating thyroid debacle explains last year’s anemia.

With HPL out, I’m feeling better than I have in a long time. Sadly, my cardio is utterly shot. I haven’t only been forbidden to exercise for the last few months, I’ve been forbidden to do anything that made me sweat. Apparently a “thyroid storm” could stop my heart. That sounded bad. I chose to become one with the recliner.

The upshot is, in 2018 I wrote 51,000 words of nonfiction. They appeared in:

FreeBSD Mastery: Jails was delayed by the aforementioned TBI and thyroid. It’s about half done.

On a more upbeat note: SSH Mastery and Relayd and Httpd Mastery are available in hardcover. And to my surprise, you people are buying them. All future tech books and novels will appear in both hardcover and paperback.

I wrote 121,800 words of fiction. That should be at least a novel, but unfortunately I didn’t finish any novels. Finishing a novel demands a mental clarity I lacked. All my the fiction that actually entered the world was:

Winner Breaks All will be issued as a standalone in 2019, as soon as I get the rights back. When I get the rights back to SttH, it’ll go to my Patronizers but not to the general public. Giving SttH a cover that matches the Immortal Clay tales is prohibitively expensive, and short stories don’t make that much.

Here’s a partial pic, minus Face Less and BSQ #4. I’ll post a true final 2018 pic once my copies of both arrive.

2018 in print

So what does 2019 hold?

I am assuming that the thyroid lobectomy fixed my root cause problem. It’s a hopeful assumption, yes, but I can’t plan based on the idea that my health is still mysteriously fubar. The only evidence I have for this is that my word-per-hour productivity more than twice what it was before surgery. That’s the only indicator that matters, right?

First, I must exercise. A healthy writer is a productive writer. I gained a good twenty-five pounds this year, and blame HPL for every one of them. My double chin is his fault. Losing weight is straightforward: eat well, and exercise. The latter is where I’ve fallen down.

I’m working back up to an hour of forms first thing in the morning, five days a week, plus 2-3 nights at the dojo. I started today with ten minutes, and plan to add a minute a day. Yes, that’ll stagger back and forth as my body demands. I turn 52 this year, I can’t charge full speed ahead any more.

My flexibility is gone. You are as young as you are flexible, and my physical inability to kick people in the head really wounds my soul. After each bout of exercise I’m spending fifteen minutes on the stretching machine. For the record, this morning I hit 49″ between my ankles, or not even a right angle. This measurement is personal to me and this particular stretching machine, but the only person I’m competing with is me, so it’s all good.

I still have the standing desk. I’ve been using a stool most of the time since September, but standing full-time is the goal.

The last health goal is to master a split keyboard. Should make my shoulders happier. The Kinesis Advantage2 made my wrists happy, but rather than the Kinesis split keyboard I decided to try a Keyboard.io because the connector cable is a standard cat5. The Kinesis split keyboard has a built-in cable that maxes out at twenty inches, which is too limiting for my eventual use plan. (As I work at a standing desk, I’m pondering strapping a keyboard to each thigh and truly relaxing as I write.) I’m already pretty well adapted to the keyboardio, except for the all-important arrow keys. My most frequent key combination, CTRL-SHIFT-arrow, is kind of annoying on this critter.

I’m breaking up my word goals a little differently this year. Last year I wanted to write 600,000 words. This year, I want to write 50,000 words a month, or… 600,000 words in the year. Only words meant for inclusion in books and magazines count towards the 50kwpm goal. This blog post doesn’t. Book announcements don’t.

Why do it this way? A yearly goal is difficult. You can’t get to December and go “oh crap, I’m 200k words behind!” and make it all up. With a monthly goal of 50,000 I can get to January 25th, say “Oh, crap, I’m 20,000 words behind!” and make it up in a couple of long-but-not-impossible days. I’ve written 18,500 words in one day when I really needed to. (No, I won’t tell you which words they were… but you lot bought them, read them, and told me you enjoyed them.)

That’s 2-3 hours a day, six days a week. It leaves time for tech research, experimenting, and testing, plus the annoying minutia of being self-employed. (Sometimes, owning the means of production kind of sucks.)

Also, if I fail one month, next month is a clean slate. I want to set goals I can achieve. Psychologically, it’s better for me to say “I met my goal ten months out of twelve” than “I failed my 2019 goal.”

So, there we are.

What books will those 50,000 words per month be? FreeBSD Mastery: Jails for sure. Probably second editions of N4SA and Sudo Mastery, because of stupid publishing industry reasons. But I honestly have new content for both, so that’s okay. Finish novels I started, like git sync murder and Terrapin Sky Tango.

After that? You’ll know when I know…

Pricing Shifts between CreateSpace, IngramSpark, and KDP Print

The massive KDP Print Migration is underway, and I noticed pricing differences straight off. While they initially infuriated me, once I gathered all the data I became much more mellow.

I put my short stories (8,000-12,000 words) in print, primarily so that comparative pricing makes the ebook looks cheap. Maybe folks won’t pay $0.99 for a short story in ebook on its own, but they will pay $2.99 for that same ebook if there’s a print version for $5.99. I don’t expect anyone to buy my shorts in print; that’s not what they exist for. I consider those folks who do buy them hard-core fans, though, and I try to make them as nice as possible.

How do I price these? Well, if someone buys one of these stories I want to make at least a dollar. (Yes, that’s difficult for ebooks–Amazon, for example, gives a 35% royalty on prices under $2.99 and 70% at $2.99 or more. Figuring all books are priced at $X.99, I can make roughly $0.35, $0.70, or $2.)

Print books are a little easier, though. I feed PDFs into the system, let it compute print costs, and twiddle the retail price until I make just over $1.

With the CreateSpace shutdown, though, I’m really noticing pricing differences. Let’s look at the first short I converted.

Spilled MirovarThe first Prohibition Orcs story was priced at $5.99 in print via CreateSpace, for 100 5×8 pages of orcish bootlegging. That gave me a profit of $1.44; perfectly reasonable.

I fed that into IngramSpark, and was rewarded with a net of $0.61.

Whoah. Cue boiling blood.

Before I go all stabby, though, let’s gather all the information. For an apples-to-apples comparison, I’m setting the CreateSpace price of Spilled Mirovar to $6.99, same as KDP Print and IngramSpark. We really need to make two comparisons. CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution (CSED) is analogous to IngramSpark, and CreateSpace’s Amazon service is migrating to KDP Print.

 CreateSpace Expanded DistributionIngramSparkCreateSpace to AmazonKDP Print
US ($6.99 retail)$0.64$1.12$2.04$2.04
UK (£5.99 retail)n/a£0.96£1.97£1.89
EU (€5.99 retail)n/a€0.6€1.89€1.69

First off, it’s clear that IngramSpark smokes CSED–especially when you consider that CSED pays everything in US dollars.

It’s also clear that KDP Print’s European net is lower than CreateSpace’s.

This exposes a weakness in my “make at least a buck on a story” strategy. It sounds reasonable, but I never made a buck on CSED of short stories. I ignored CSED on these titles, because nobody was going to buy a stupid story about orcs bootlegging in 1927 Detroit. (I’m grateful to the people who proved me wrong.)

Once I impose that requirement on CSED/IngramSpark, everything gets more expensive. So while it initially looks damning, there’s no cause for outrage. Annoyance at losing margin on EU sales, yes.

The question is, what do I do with this information?

The obvious thing to do would be to price print books differently by channel, but online price-matching is rampant. The cheapest price I set in a currency is the real price I’ll be paid for. I’m not willing to give my work away.

My decision is, I’m not going to migrate most of the short stories to IngramSpark. My best-selling shorts will go on IngramSpark, but that’s it.

I’m still going to migrate everything to my ISBNs, because I want that control. Pricing will change, new channels will open, and with my own ISBNs on everything I will have the flexibility to take advantage of it. There’s a big comfortable difference between “finish this before an unknown deadline a few weeks from now, or else!” and “try to polish this off before 2019.”

What about larger books? Let’s check out my nerd cozy mystery git commit murder. While I should revisit the pricing in light of exchange rate changes, the comparison should still make sense.

 CreateSpace Expanded DistributionIngramSparkCreateSpace to AmazonKDP Print
US ($14.99 retail)$2.00$3.16$5.00$5.01
UK (£11.99 retail)n/a£2.48£3.87£3.88
EU (€12.99 retail)n/a€2.38€4.65€4.06

The difference between CSED and IngramSpark really shines on larger books. I make a penny more in the UK, and less in the EU? Uh, okay, fine, I guess.

Before someone asks why I make more on novels than short stories, it’s because 1) they took longer to write, and 2) bookstores make their money based on the sale price. A bookstore won’t handle a book unless they can make a few bucks off it. A book like git commit murder or FreeBSD Mastery: Specialty Filesystems has a narrow audience, and cutting the price to $0.99 is not going to improve my sales.

IngramSpark is definitely improving my sales. I’m selling print books through third parties in Asia and Australia, which I never really managed before. I’m being paid more for sales that would have gone through CSED. Additional IngramSpark sales have already paid back what I spent for a thousand ISBNs. I have only a small subset of my titles fully through their system so far, so I’m hopeful that’ll increase when the rest grind through.

The truly annoying thing about all this: CreateSpace and IngramSpark both use the same printing machinery, at the same companies. The different prices are entirely business decisions. I’m not declaring that my lower net on CSED books was absolutely Amazon’s attempt to discourage availability of my print books outside their ecosystem, but my lower net on CSED books was almost certainly Amazon’s attempt to discourage availability of my print books outside their ecosystem.

On the plus side of this migration: the Prohibition Orcs books have spiffy redesigned covers. I am well pleased. And the first one is only $0.99 in ebook.

Bookstore Reading

My first ever reading at a bookstore happens this Friday!

I’ll be at the Grey Wolfe Scriptorium in Clawson, MI, at 7 PM this Friday, reading from git commit murder. The bookstore is really easy to get to, maybe a mile west of I-75 on 14 Mile Road.

If people show up, I’ll read aloud and answer questions. Otherwise, I’ll just sit quietly and read to myself. They have a whole bunch of books. Maybe I’ll get gelato afterwards. Wait–there’s no gelato near Grey Wolfe? How do people even survive?

Well, I’ll find something. You could join me for that. Even if it’s not gelato.

GWS is really heavily into Michigan authors and publishers. If you’re in Clawson some time that isn’t for my reading, stop and peruse their shelves.

Writing Business Cashflow

Most craft businesses fail. It’s not surprising. Being an expert knitter doesn’t mean you should open a yarn shop. Lots of those hobbyist stores go broke in the first year because the excited, enthusiastic storekeeper doesn’t know how to pay himself and the landlord. In business, cashflow is king.

Writing is a craft business.

Kris Rusch’s writing business blog has a lovely article about business capitalization and implosion. As an IT nerd who survived not one but two dot-com crashes, and as a writer who’s been paid increasing amounts for his work since 1995, I’ve seen exactly this problem hit people in both the technology and writing businesses.

Kris makes wonderful points, but she skipped something. How, exactly, do you manage cashflow in your writing business? Specifically, how do you pay your bills? How do you get groceries in the fridge and pay the copyeditor? How do you decide when you can afford to expand your writing business?

This is roughly how I do it, in both my long-gone consulting career and as a professional writer. I did not invent this method; rather, I accumulated it over decades of largely involuntary exposure to business. It covers how I decided I could afford to become a full-time writer, because that decision is an utterly critical part of cash flow management. There are other methods; I am not offering you the One Word of Truth here.

Every successful business plays some variant of this game. The only difference is how complicated the spreadsheets are.

Premises

You’ll not only have good months and bad months, you’ll have good and bad years. Understand this all the way down into your toes. Burn it into your soul. If you want your business to survive, you must have actionable plans to endure bad years.

Have a business organization, with a separate bank account. Big thick books are written on business organization, and I’m not going to pretend to advise you on the right organization for you. The important thing for this discussion is that the business receives every penny of your writing income. If you’re not doing that, start now.

Start with money in hand. If you don’t have cash in your greasy mitts to pay your bills your business will fail. End of discussion. I had a year’s expenses in my business bank account before I went full-time writer. I accumulated those savings by… wait for it… not spending my writing income. Maybe you have a supportive spouse, and don’t need a full year of expenses. Maybe your savings are in your personal account rather than your business account. Modify my example to fit your reality.

The Cashflow Game

You don’t write for a living. You make a living so you can write, but you play a game for a living. The game is called “Keep The Bucket Full.”

Money irregularly enters the Business Account Bucket. Some months it’ll get a drop or two. Other months, a torrent arrives.

Money leaves the Business Account bucket at an (approximately) fixed rate. Your rent isn’t going to go down just because your books aren’t selling.

When money leaves the Business Bucket faster than the bucket refills, you’re losing.

When money enters the Business Bucket faster than the bucket drains, you’re winning.

Playing the game takes two numbers: how fast the bucket drains, and how fast it fills.

You can be a successful craftsman and produce professional-grade work without playing this game. True professionals are paid, though, and you cannot be a successful professional craftsman without playing the game.

Draining the Bucket

Start with your expenses. Go through your last six months of spending. What do you need, and what do you want?

Only you know how much money you need to pay your bills, and which of your bills are necessary. You require health insurance and you must fund your retirement. I don’t have cable TV, but if you have kids the Disney Channel might well be a wise expenditure. My family lives in Detroit, because of the low cost of living. That might not work for you. On the other hand, my tech writing means I need thirty megabit of bandwidth. You might need much less Internet. You might read a good book on financial decision-making.

Brutally honest self-reflection is essential here. What did you need to spend, what was excessive, and–the hardest category: what did you not strictly need, but you know damn well you’re going to buy anyway even if it’s not in the budget? In my younger days, I most frequently blew my budget by buying books. My budgeting vastly improved once I allowed for that.

Make your choices. You can and will change them later, but at least start.

Perfection isn’t necessary. A starting list is. Preferably, a starting list with pessimistic-but-not-apocalyptic assumptions. Maybe all of my favorite authors will release a book in the same month, increasing expenses, but if I catch wheat rust everything blows up anyway.

Group these expenses into a two-by-two matrix: business and personal, versus “essential” and “stuff you’re willing to surrender if it means you get to keep writing for a living.” Again, you can and will change these later.

expense categoriesbusinesspersonal
essentialessential business expenses (copyediting, book proof fees, accountant)base pay (food, rent, health insurance)
nice-to-havefull business expenses (better covers, more promotion)full pay (vacation, pocket cash, someone else to mow the lawn)

If an expense can be a legitimate business expense, declare it a business expense. This is not a tax blog, so none of this is legal advice, but in general: those writing conferences? Business expense. Microsoft Word and InDesign for your writing PC? Business expense. Lunch while you’re writing? Personal expense–you’d have to eat anyway. Read a book like Tax Savvy for Small Business and consult an accountant.

Arrange them by month or by year. Yearly is more effective for the long view, but many people find monthly more comprehensible. Divide those annual expenses, like tax preparation, by 12. You’ll save money for them throughout the year, so that sudden $500 bill is not a nasty shock to your wallet.

Separately total up the four categories.

Your essential business expenses? That’s how much money the business needs to survive. I’ll call this “essential business expenses.”

Your nice-to-have business expenses? This, plus your essential business expenses, is how much you’d like to spend on the business each month. I’ll call this “full business expenses.”

Your essential expenses? That’s how much you must pay yourself. I’m going to call this “base pay.”

Your nice-to-have expenses? That, plus your base pay, is how much you want to pay yourself. I’m going to call this “full pay.”

Your goal is for the business to pay its full expenses every month, while paying yourself full pay every month.

Armed with this information, visit your accountant. If you’re unsure, ask them to verify the legitimacy of your proposed business expenses. It’s much better to pay a few bucks for a proactive check than have the local tax agencies add you to their list of “Suspicious Bastards We Need To Closely Watch.” Then have the accountant look at your base and full pay. How much must you to pay in taxes to pay yourself each of those?

Your full pay, plus the taxes on that pay, plus your full business expenses, are your expenses, as shown here. The numbers don’t reflect my reality. I chose them to make the examples simple.

expense categoriesbusiness expensespersonal expensestaxestotals
essential$500$2000$500$3000
nice-to-have$500$1000
essential plus nice-to-have$1000$3000$1000$5000

Ideally, I want my company to support $5000/month in expenses. I’m willing to accept $3000/month to have the job I love, though.

Worst Case: Don’t Refill the Bucket

Suppose the business account has $30,000 in it. With no income I can survive six months at full expenses, or ten months at base expenses.

Total annual outgo is $60,000 at full expenses, or $36,000 on base expenses.

Wow. That extra couple grand a month got big real quick, didn’t it? This illustrates one of the most important principles of cashflow: fixed recurring expenses will murder your business.

Filling the Bucket

Now that you know how quickly money goes out, look at the history of your business income.

If you made over $60,000, especially for multiple years, it’s realistic to think that you can probably pay yourself your full expenses.

If you’ve routinely made over $36,000, it’s realistic to think that you can probably pay yourself your base expenses.

If you made under $36,000, your business is in trouble before it starts. It’s better to know that you can’t survive before starting. It’s also better to know what you must change to make your writing a viable business. Now you know why I live in Detroit and not San Francisco. More than one writer I know personally lives in Thailand specifically to destroy their fixed recurring expenses.

Yes, once you’re writing full time your income should go up. The word should destroys more businesses than any other. The year I wrote more books than any other year, my income decreased. The next year I wrote fewer books, and my income increased. The books I’d written the previous year finally started paying off. You can’t control how well a book will sell. Hope is nice, and dreams keep we artists going, but seriously, spending in anticipation of an income surge will tank your finances.

Winning and Losing

Winning at your craft business is easily defined: you can stay in business, living the life you want to live. It’s okay to not meet goals like “write eight books this year,” so long as you keep going. Don’t define “winning” by increased income: remember, you don’t control how money arrives in the bucket.

You might find that being a full-time writer is not for you. That’s okay. It takes a peculiar particular sort of person to sit alone in a room and hammer out words forty hours a week. That’s not unique to writers. My wife’s favorite bead store went out of business after three years specifically because the store owner realized she wanted to play with beads, not manage cashflow. She was successful, but hated the actual work. Today, I can only presume she’s at home reveling in her glorious bead collection.

But then there’s failure.

Failing isn’t the worst that can happen. Most businesses fail. My first three businesses failed, but I learned from each.

But worrying about failure can destroy your creativity. Not releasing new books will also destroy your business. Reduce the worry by setting a Yellow and Red threshold on your bank account.

When your business account balance is above the Yellow threshold, you’re the Green zone. Pay yourself your full expenses. Life is good.

When your business account drops to or below the Yellow threshold, you cut your expenses to the base level. You pay only for essentials. Yes, it’s possible that you can get in a situation where the rules say you bounce Yellow and Green each month. If that’s the case, I’d suggest you stay at base expenses for a while until you get a comfortable cushion.

Hitting Yellow is also a good time to revisit your expenses. When I had to commute two hours a day, a good car was a necessity. Now that I only drive to and from the dojo, a new car is a waste. Inside a month any car I drive is gonna have that faint yet utterly penetrating aroma of “Eau de Sweaty Bludgeoned Lucas,” so why bother? Killing the car payment sufficed to drag me back into the green, no problem.

Again: monthly recurring expenses will murder your business. You control those expenses.

When your business account drops to Red: you’ve lost. It’s time to get a straight job.

How do you set these levels? I set them by months. My Yellow level equals one year’s basic expenses. I’m willing to live simply for a year, with zero income. This gives me time to cope with emergencies.

Job hunting while flat broke is terrible, though, so define your Red level accordingly. How long will it take you to get a job? My background is in technology, so my Red threshold allows for two months of base expenses with no income. Plenty of time for a techie like myself to choose the least loathsome employment. If you wanted your old job as a high school teacher, though, your Red level would be much higher. Schools hire teachers once a year.

The advantage of this system is you get to stop worrying. We artists are temperamental, high-strung critters. By setting thresholds, you can quickly know how things are going. When I start to freak out about this month’s cashflow and ask myself if I should return to corporate serfdom, I can check the bank balance. Most often I say something like “Oh, I’m at twice Yellow, everything’s fine” and get back to making words.

The nice thing about losing Fill The Bucket is that you don’t lose at writing. You wrote when you had a straight job before, you can write during that job again. Next time you try, you’ll be better prepared.

Increasing Expenses

Cash Flow Doom sounds like good news.

“A million dollars just landed in the Business Bucket! We’re rich! Maseratis all around!”

“I signed a Hollywood shopping agreement for my novel, I’m gonna be rich!”

Or, most insidious of all: “I don’t like doing this work.”

All of these encourage you to head down the same awful path: increasing your fixed expenses.

Fixed expenses are what kills a business.

Never increase expenses based on expected income. That way lies failure. Maybe you had a massive spike in your Amazon sales this month–but what happens to your business if next month Amazon decides to suspend your account and not pay you for that spike? Act only based on cash in hand.

Increasing your fixed expenses means that your Business Bucket drains more quickly, every month–and that your bucket will continue to drain at that rate, forever, until you reduce expenses. You’ve turned up the difficulty level on your game of Fill The Bucket.

That $5000/month for your full expenses? You hire a flunky, and suddenly it’s $10,000/month. What would have lasted you a year will now last six months. Your flunky doesn’t have base and full expenses, either–they expect their full paycheck, every week. That expense is truly fixed.

Your Red and Yellow levels change. And that person you hired? As people, employees are human beings and not disposable. Treat them with respect. Their employment with you, though? That’s totally disposable. Employees are Yellow-level expenses.

I know more than one writer who hired a friend to handle their scut work. When their income dropped, they chose to let their writing business tank rather than fire that friend. Placing your friendship ahead of your business is a valid personal decision, but think ahead of time what your decision will be. Firing a friend sucks. Don’t hire a friend unless you can cut them loose when times get hard. Worse, good employees tend to become friends. You’ll care about them.

Don’t hire employees unless you can bring yourself to fire them.

Company car? How do you feel about it being repo’d during the next stock market crash?

My rule of thumb is: don’t increase either full or base expenses unless I have enough cash in hand to keep the business above Yellow for an entire year at the increased level, assuming zero income for that year.

Also judge how those increased expenses affect your long term dreams and goals. I have a dream of writing enough to pay off the mortgage. (It’s a dream because I influence but don’t directly control my income.) Hiring an employee would make that dream much more difficult.

That’s why Tilted Windmill Press has no employees. I’ve assembled a team of consultants for cover and interior art, an entire editing and copyediting team, an accountant, and all the other bits I need to have a functional company. I also have a whole list of awesome artists on tap for when Brad is inevitably eaten by a grue, so please don’t send me your portfolio.

Firing a consultant is much easier than firing an employee. You just don’t hire them again.

I had some medical issues last year, and have been in something of a slump since. If I’d hired someone during that flush year, and couldn’t bring myself to fire them, I’d be out of business. As it is, I’m doing okay.

All this doesn’t mean you can’t reward yourself. It’s been a good year and you want to replace your decrepit computer? That’s a one-off expense. If you can afford it, and it doesn’t interfere with your long-term goals and dreams, proceed.

Help, My Bucket Overflowed!

If you play this game even moderately well, you’ll find yourself with money in the bank. Keep your accountant up to date on what’s happening.

Many businesses invest in new equipment in December. One 28 December I bought a new laptop, a filing cabinet, a bookcase, and a thousand ISBNs. I needed them anyway, but my income was higher than I thought. Spending that money in that year helped cut my taxes.

Eventually you will need to revisit your business structure. Even one-person author businesses eventually need to incorporate, for tax reasons if nothing else. You’ll need to consider investments, like index funds or your niece’s Schoolyard Savings and Loan. (Sixth graders often charge fifty percent interest, so get in on that if you can.)

Adjust your model as money changes.

Help, My Brain Overflowed!

The first time you do this, it’s a pain. It takes hours.

That’s okay. It gets easier.

Revisit your plan at least once a year. Successful business people review their plans quarterly. Expenses tend to creep upward while you’re not looking. Find and squash the unnecessary ones, or at least classify them appropriately so you know what to cut when you hit the Yellow threshold.

Eventually adjusting and revisiting your full and basic expenses, along with your Red and Yellow thresholds, becomes easier and easier. Soon it becomes reflex. That recurring subconscious wish to hire your favorite cousin will start to drift towards your conscious mind, only to be intercepted and devoured by your finely trained and deeply ravenous Fixed Expense Hunter-Killer Instincts.

And you’re going to need that instinct if you’re to survive as a full time writer.