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Writing and Selling

A reader asks, "How do you sell so many books? It seems like you've got a new one every time I check your livejournal. How many is it anyhow?"

Twelve. I've sold twelve books in five years. Black Ships sold on October 31, 2006. Seven of the books are out and five more are under contract. Additionally I've written three more full manuscripts that haven't sold yet, The Emperor's Companion and The Marshal's Lover which are sequels to The General's Mistress, and Lost Things with Melissa Scott.

How do I write so many, or how do I sell so many?

I write so many by just putting in a lot of hours. I've always been a fast writer, and I write 40 plus hours a week, which you kind of have to do to make a living at it. If I write a thousand words a day on the average, that comes out to 300,000 words a year, or three full books. So there's really not a trick to it. I just pretty much do 25,000 words a month, every month. (Or half the speed of NaNo.) And that includes things I write for fun, like fanfic, and sketches for things that may become books in the future but aren't really ready to be yet.

Basically, I really enjoy it. I've heard people say they write in order to participate in the community, or to be with their friends, but for me that's not it at all. I write because I want to tell this story, and the pleasure in doing it, the absolute joy in sitting down and finding the words and being in that moment in my head is its own reward. I'm happy, of course, when books or stories find an audience that enjoys them, but there are things I write that I don't imagine will ever find an audience of more than two people because they're about obscure time periods or fit no genre known to humanity, but I write them anyway because of the joy I have in doing it.

How do I sell twelve books in five years is an entirely different question! First, I hustle. I always have at least three projects out for sale. I don't write one thing and send it around and wait to hear. I have at least three possibilities at any given moment. That way when 80% of overtures end in rejection it's much more likely that one will work. Second, I don't rely entirely on my agent, as wonderful as Robin Rue is! I get out and work it myself. For example, Ravens of Falkenau was published by Crossroad Press, which is owned by David Niall Wilson, who also wrote a book for Sally Malcolm at Fandemonium. I met David through Sally, and David published Ravens of Falkenau. I'll try any damn thing. It may be an absurdly long shot, and most of the time it doesn't work. But sometimes it does! And if 80% of the time nothing comes of the idea I pitch, but I do it five times a year, once a year it will work!

I think the biggest thing is this -- I don't think of myself as an artist. I think of myself as a craftsperson. I make things. They're made out of words, not out of yarn or wood, not out of cloth or clay, but I make things like a quilter or a carpenter or a potter. If you're a carpenter and someone wants you to make them a custom cabinet out of fine wood that's a certain size and has certain features, it's not a compromise of craft to make the cabinet the client wants, but rather a challenge of craft -- to make the most perfect one of those possible! Nor is it a waste of time to make something you want to make just to see if you can. I'm not an artist trying to make something critically acclaimed for the ages. I'm a craftsperson trying to make something beautiful and useful for people to enjoy in their daily lives.

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Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
shezan
Nov. 20th, 2011 06:57 pm (UTC)
I don't tell you enough how much I LOVE YOU.
jo_graham
Nov. 20th, 2011 10:19 pm (UTC)
Oh! Thank you so much!
frontdoorangel
Nov. 21st, 2011 12:03 am (UTC)
Wonderful metaphor of the craftsperson vs. artist in regards to writing, one that I wish more people would think of before pinning all of their publishing hopes onto one great masterpiece.
jo_graham
Nov. 21st, 2011 12:30 pm (UTC)
I think we really push a poor model -- the tormented young artist who labors alone over a single solitary masterpiece or a couple of masterpieces before their tragic premature death. Or the artist as a creative hermit who is so removed from society that they become either reclusive or criminal, which only affirms their genius. It's really misleading.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )