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Jay Lake
Date: 2010-05-05 05:02
Subject: [writing] Once in a lifetime
Security: Public
Tags:cancer, health, personal, process, writing
Yesterday I did a bit of back-of-the-envelope math, and determined that dividing my lifetime earnings into my lifetime hours of working at being a writer mean I've netted about $5/hour since 1990. If I only do the math for the years since I began to sell professionally, leaving off the 10 years of apprenticeship, workshopping and frustration, that number shifts to about $10/hour.

Sobering? Maybe. But then, I haven't ever looked to this to put the beans on the table. And that can be a bit liberating. A Much Bigger Name Author than I told me in private a couple of years ago that they envied me my flexibility to write what I wanted, as they felt stuck writing their Successful Series and working in their Successful Series Subgenre. I pointed out they could weep all the way to the bank while I am hanging on to the low-midlist with a fingertip death grip. We agreed that we envied one another's problems.

Chris York refers to this as "trading up to a better class of problems." I would love to be wrestling with the things that worry and bother Big Name Authors. The things that worry and bother me would have been the subject of deep envy in my self of five, ten and especially twenty years ago. And we all sound like we're complaining about winning the lottery, if you're a hard-working writer waiting on the result of your forty third agent query whilst staring at a pile of short fiction rejection slips.

Sometimes I think I make it look too easy. "Oh, hey, Lake sold another damned story." But for my 250 short fiction sales, I have well over 1,000 rejections, more than 100 of them from Gordon van Gelder at F&SF alone. I've never sold to him, but I keep trying. To this day I have over 200 unsold short stories, virtually all of them permanently and rightly trunked. I have a handful of novels in the trunk, at least one of which will never see the light of day, several more only if I ever feel moved to redraft them from scratch. (As if I have the time...) I really, truly did spend 10 years (1990-2000) workshopping, writing, submitting hundreds of times without any success whatsoever, before my voice matured enough to be worth an editor's trouble.

All that for $5 an hour?

Hell, yes.

And even if the market belly flops and I fall off the bookshelf, I'll keep writing, and submitting, because that's what I do. I'm a writer. Writers write. Even when chemo keeps my fingers away from the keyboard.

It's a once in a lifetime opportunity that happens to take a lifetime to get right.

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User: ruralwriter
Date: 2010-05-05 13:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
So, doing the math, I assume you've written about 450 stories (you don't mention resales, reprints...are you including those or does that fall into a separate category)? Lifetime output has been a recent discussion topic on my blog. I haven't gotten to the point of drawing any conclusions or deep into questions, such as does increasing output increase the likelihood of sales because of deep inventory or does increasing output correlate to higher quality?

I won a small college poetry award recently and a killjoy asked me, "Did you calculate how many hours you spent to earn that amount?" ...right...
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-05-05 13:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yep, about 450 first draft short stories in the past ten years. Perhaps another 200 in 1990s, though those aren't in my record set. And I think 10 first draft novels in the past ten years. Call it 3.5 million words of first draft. I could go dig out more precise numbers at some point if you really want them.

Didn't mention reprints, which is a whole different issue.

My experience of myself is that increasing output correlated to higher quality, at least insofar as I have been very willing to learn and not get invested in the perfected majesty of my own prose.
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User: ruralwriter
Date: 2010-05-06 03:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I want to ask you a very profound question about how you learn about writing, but I'm not sure quite how to phrase that. I would be interested in your discussion of that. It seems to me that your learning process (especially since you strike me as quite analytical about your process) over a span of time would be interesting. Did you ever find yourself trying to follow certain trends that were dong well? How did you make sure you were developing the unique voice of Jay Lake?

Have you talked about resales/reprints before? I...can't remember. Any profound observations or interesting metrics there?
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