The Cost of Pursuing A Dream

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Writing has always been my passion. That bit in my bio about how I used to sit at the table and write stories as a small child is not drama or hyperbole meant merely to make engaging copy. I have written stories since I learned how to write.

(Before then, I acted them out with my Barbie dolls.)

barbies
“Oh, shit, Midge, I think we killed Skipper! No, don’t stop! JUST KEEP DRIVING. Oh, god, oh god. There was so much blood! Do you think anyone saw? PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER, MIDGE! We can never tell anyone about this. Swear it!”

I’ve always known writing was something I wanted to do. But despite the encouragement I’ve gotten along the way from friends and family, this is not an easy profession. Especially if you like luxuries like clothes and food and electricity. And as much as I love writing, I also love eating on a regular basis, so once I was old enough to understand how very hard it was to earn money as a writer, I just figured it would be something I would do for fun. I would write my little stories and keep them to myself. Maybe share them with people I knew well. But that was it. I closed the door on the idea of having a writing career.

My friend Debi is the first one who cracked it open again.

Several years ago, I was working an office job. One I liked but wasn’t exactly creatively fulfilling. Debi was someone I had met online via the horror community and had fast come to feel as if she was a long lost family member. When she contacted me and asked if I wanted to review some books for the horror website she works on (Dread Central, you should check it out if you don’t know it already), I of course said yes.

Writing, even if it was reviewing other people’s books instead of creating my own, still felt as good as I remembered it. And having something out there with my name on it, seeing people’s reactions, it was like a drug. The door was officially open. Just a sliver.

I didn’t immediately quit my day job or anything. That paycheck was still very necessary. But I enjoyed the hell out of writing for DC, and it reminded me how much I loved writing in general.

So, when my husband and I moved from NY back to Georgia and began job hunting, I started looking for some freelancing writing gigs. Romance & erotica were the jobs most often posted on sites like Odesk (now Upwork), so I figured ‘What the hell?’

I went for it.

There was something amazing about having someone paying me to write fiction. It felt, at the time, like the realization of my dreams. Of course, it wasn’t. Not really. For one thing, I wasn’t getting to put my name on the work. In some ways, that was incredibly liberating. I worried a lot less about whether or not people would like what I wrote. (Although, that never stopped me from obsessively checking reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.)

But after four years of banging out (pun intended lol) millions and millions of words in service to other people’s story ideas, it was starting to wear on me. I wanted to write my ideas. To put work out there with my name on it.

Still, while I wasn’t rolling in cash (ghostwriting romance and erotica doesn’t pay much, honestly… I started off taking jobs that paid half a cent or less per word written and after 4 years was making only 1-2 cents per word), I was still making money. Enough to help cover our monthly bills.

It’s always hard to walk away from money, even if it’s not much. At least, for me it is.

Had my husband not come to me (after I forced him to read a story I had written for myself) and said, “Honey, I love you, you need to be pursuing this,” I probably would have kept ghostwriting until I burned myself out completely.

Which brings me to present day. Well, almost.

After talking with my husband, I decided to go for it… Jump in with both feet. I finished up the ghostwriting jobs I had, and informed my clients that I would no longer be taking on new contracts. (At least for a while. I didn’t want to burn any bridges, in case I failed spectacularly.)

Starting in about May of 2016, I began sending out short stories–things I had written over the years and never shown anyone but a few select friends. And I braced myself for rejections. Which I got.

But the harder part to deal with, I found, was the lack of money coming in.

I got my first paying job as a camp counselor at 13. Since then, I’ve always had a job. And, though writing and submitting still feels like work, it’s not a job that earns a weekly paycheck.

Now, despite the rejections I’ve gotten, I’ve also been so incredibly lucky to get some acceptances. One of which led to the publication of my short novella A Single Heartbeat by MLR Press. It’s thrilling and makes my stomach swoop and my heart do a dance.

But even getting published doesn’t mean rolling in dough.

There are no big advances at this level of publishing. MLR pays generous royalties, but those only get paid out once a quarter, and how much I make depends on how many books I sell.

And, like the old saying goes, you have to spend money to make money. MLR buys ad space and promotes their writers, but I am one of many there. Like I’ve mentioned before, promo is one of the things all authors (unless they’re on the level of Stephen King) are expected to do.

While a lot of the promo stuff I do doesn’t cost anything but time, those things tend to get only a small bump in sales. All bumps are good bumps, in this instance, but in order to keep growing my following and getting my name out there to a wider audience, I need to do everything possible.

I mentioned in a previous blog post about how I was going to be attending Rainbowcon, a QUILTBAG author convention in Tampa, Florida this July.

This is an incredible opportunity to network with other writers and reach a wider audience. But, in keeping with the size of the opportunity is the price tag.

Registration as an industry professional costs $175 for the 4 day event. I am lucky enough to be within driving distance (4-ish hours, anyway), so I don’t need to get plane tickets, but there’s still the matter of needing a hotel to stay in.

It’s been my experience in the past that, when attending a convention, in order to get the full experience, it’s best to stay in the hotel where the con is happening. You may be able to get cheaper rooms a little further away, but you always end up missing out on some of the most fun and rewarding aspects of a convention. (Mainly the random hang outs after all the official programming is done, when people eat together, or just chill.)

It’s a bit more costly to stay in the con hotel, but the experience is invaluable.

So, staying in the con hotel for the duration is about $500 ($110/night, plus taxes & fees). Add onto that the cost of gas for the drive–say approximately $100, conservatively, and the running total for this trip is at $775.

Even if I go to the con empty handed, it’s going to cost me almost a thousand dollars for those 4 days. But I can’t go empty handed. There are things I need to help me network and spread the word. Things like business cards to hand out ($60 for 100), or promotional items like postcards with QR codes to purchase A Single Heartbeat ($90 for 100) or magnets with the teaser image & QR code ($60 for 100).

When all is said and done, $1000 is spent easily.

On the bright side, I can write off most of the cost when tax time comes around next year, because they are work related expenses. The down side is I need to come up with the money to begin with. And considering how money comes in for a writer in dribs and drabs, it’s not easy to come up with a lump sum like that… not even when I can space out it out over the next 3 months.

Apart from the time, effort, and emotion, this kind of thing is the cost I pay for pursuing my passion for writing.

It can be disheartening.

I am not always comfortable putting myself out there, as I believe I’ve mentioned a time or twelve. I’m even less comfortable when it entails money. Even when I’m offering goods and services in exchange for money, which is a pretty normal, everyday thing.

The lovely folks who have pledged to my Patreon so far are a godsend.

I have been able to concentrate full time on my writing because they help pay my bills in exchange for monthly stories and exclusive behind-the-scenes excerpts. And now, every extra dollar is going to be squirreled away to go towards the Rainbowcon fund.

Between me, my Patrons, my friends, & my family, I will find a way to make Rainbowcon a success, and I will keep on going after my dream. No matter how scared or sad or overwhelmed I get, I refuse to give up. I owe it to everyone who has supported me so far, either emotionally or financially (or both).

I owe it to myself, too.

~xxxM

Should you feel moved to chip in in some way to the Rainbowcon fund, you can buy my book, pledge to my Patreon, or even just Paypal me!

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