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2022 retrospective, plus a word for 2023
Reflecting on a very hard year and setting a mindset for the twelve months ahead
Friendly reminder that I’m offering a few deals until the end of the year:
With housekeeping out of the way, let’s dive into the newsletter.
2022 was hard
Hard might be an understatement. This was the most challenging year of my writing career so far. It was challenging professionally. It was challenging emotionally. It was challenging mentally. And it came directly after another hard year (2021), during which I felt creatively broken.
I didn’t feel creatively broken this year, but I still felt broken in many ways. 2022 was a bad year, to be blunt. A lot of things that I’d hoped would happen did not. I worked hard, threw dozens of irons into the fire, and tended to them throughout the year. Some of them are finally warming now, but I still don’t have a single book deal to show for it.
I have no new books under contract, no release dates on the horizon to look forward to, and as a result, no substantial paychecks coming down the pipeline. Not a great feeling after making just $1,125 via trad publishing in 2022.
That is not a typo. Just over a grand. Roughly $50 of it was in royalty payments. The rest is from a foreign deal for Retribution Rails. I made no other money from traditional publishing in 2022.
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I had income from other avenues—my workshops, freelance writing gigs, freelance design work. In a strange twist, my annual Substack income is just shy of my 2022 trad income, and I just launched the SS in October!
While it’s great to be diversifying my methods of income, the money I’m bringing in from these various streams remains quite small. My total earnings in 2022 are still below the poverty line for an individual. (Thank goodness for my partner. If I was single, I would definitely have a true day job right now.)
And sure, life isn’t solely about money. But it’s nice to be compensated for your skills and labor. And it’s also nice to be able to pay bills, save for retirement, budget for your kids’ college, etc, etc… Things that all seemed hard but possible when I first started traditionally publishing, and now seem like pipe dreams given my experiences and earnings the past three years.
I applied for some “traditional” jobs in 2022 in the hopes of supplementing my income even farther. None of them panned out, including a job I was very excited about and even had a chance to interview for. It had great benefits, a fantastic annual salary, and was completely remote, and it’s hard to not wonder if I missed out on a really good pivot.
At the end of the year, all I can say is this: 2022 was twelve months of constant effort, struggle, and persistence on my part, with nothing to show for it.
Instead of making resolutions, I like to pick a certain word to carry with me throughout the new year. A theme, if you will. A mindset.
2022’s word was “persist.”
While I have nothing to show for myself as 2022 comes to a close—nothing fancy or concrete to point to—I can confidently say that I persisted. In this way, I succeeded. I didn’t quit. Sure, I wallowed a few times and there were tears more than once. But I kept putting my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. No one can say I didn’t try. And during a very hard, very bad career year, I consider that a huge accomplishment.
Looking back at my 2022 word-of-the-year post, these words still ring true:
This career requires so much grit and determination. Nothing is guaranteed. Every writer who’s been around for a good chunk of years/books has something in common: they’ve persisted through the highs AND lows. They’ve refused to give up. They’ve stubbornly kept writing.
Persisting may not seem like a lofty goal for 2022, but after being an author for a decade, I’ve come to accept that it is perhaps the hardest thing of all. To just keep showing up. Even when there is no praise or recognition or shiny, positive validation.
I wish I had secured a book deal in 2022. I wish I had a publication date on the horizon so that I could point to it and say, See! Persisting matters! It pays off.
But I don’t. Not yet at least. Perhaps I will eventually, I’m just not sure when. The low valley through which any author slogs seems to vary in its length. Some writers are stuck in that valley for a season. Some a year. Some several years or even longer. I don’t think this valley of mine will last forever. I’m definitely tired of being in it, but I have to believe that if I keep persisting, I will find my way out the other side. I have to believe that, because the alternative is too depressing.
The thing I hoped1 for most in 2022 (a book deal) may not have happened, but my stubborn persistence did help me accomplish a lot. In 2022, I…
Revised a YA novel
Drafted/revised a chapter book and wrote a proposal for future installments
Drafted/revised an early reader and wrote a proposal for future installments
Researched, outlined, and pitched a new YA western idea2
Endured nearly an entire year on sub3
Pursued some WFH opportunities
Created and launched a new workshop (Fundamentals of Design)
Tackled freelance design projects for many authors
Launched this Substack (and wrote/posted content at a biweekly schedule)
Serialized Shutdown via my Substack
Cleaned up my resume and design portfolio
Applied for more “traditional” jobs
This list is more proof that I am indeed persisting. That I’m showing up and putting in the work, which is worth celebrating! Especially since, like many writer parents, I’m doing all this while being the primary caregiver during the workweek. My littlest is in pre-k only three days a week, which means I really only have three quality work days. After school hours, I shift into parenting mode. Whenever someone is sick, I’m home with them, squeezing in work whenever possible. When there is a doc appointment, or sports practice, or after school activity, I am the chauffeur. And then in the evenings and weekends, I squeeze in more work when necessary.
It can be rough, but it makes sense for our family. I have flexibility as a freelancer, am home a lot already, and it’s not as if my career earns me lots of money or comes with benefits we need to protect. So this is the breakdown.
I mentioned that a few of my irons began to warm at the tail end of 2022... I picked up a writing gig that I can’t talk about right now but may be able to soon. I have two R&Rs on the table.4 These opportunities are a glimmer of light that I desperately needed after two very hard years. I’m hoping that 2023 will be the year my persisting finally pays off, that the light I see now is indeed the end of this tunnel/valley. Of course, I know it’s dangerous to hope like this. Nothing is guaranteed.
Which leads me to my word of the year for 2023…
Brave (v., adj.)
One could argue that this career, in general, requires bravery. Writers do brave things daily (putting words to paper and sharing those stories with the world) and writers are brave (to pursue the wildly unpredictable and vulnerable path of publication). It’s easy to forget this during the day-to-day tasks.
I’m choosing brave as my word for 2023 for these reasons, and also because it builds nicely upon my past two words: persist and evolve.
2021 was about evolving as a creative individual.
2022 was about persisting with my writing endeavors.
And now 2023 will be about braving what’s to come and being brave in the process.
To create art and to share it with the world is brave. Or maybe foolish? Lord knows most artists aren’t in this for the money.
When I get really down or frustrated (which happened a lot this past year), I like to remind myself that I love what I do. And how lucky am I to do something I love for a living? What a privilege!5 Truly. There is literally no other job I would do if it only paid me $1,125 in a calendar year. Literally nothing.6
I clearly love writing to keep at it with this sort of compensation. Or perhaps I’m just really stubborn. Stubbornly persistent. And impossibly brave.
If you’d like to be brave in 2023—by simply persisting in your writing journey or drafting your very first novel or facing any of your career goals fearlessly—please join me. The more the merrier.
I’ll be back with more posts in 2023, but until then, I’m stepping away to enjoy some holiday time with my family.
I hope you have a lovely holiday and very happy new year. Thank you for being part of this community—for reading my posts, starting discussions in the comments, and for going on this wild writing journey with me.
Keep writing, friends. Keep being brave.
“Hope” (versus “goal”) is an important distinction here. Getting another book deal was never a goal of mine, because for it to be a goal, I would need some control over it happening. But a book deal is out of my hands. I hoped for it while setting attainable goals like, “write/revise novel, put book on sub.”
Don’t get too excited. It’s dead. The editor who worked on VR and RR with me said the imprint cannot offer on another western in the same world due to low RR sales.
I currently have three different projects on sub; the first went out in late January.
Speaking from experience, I am well aware that an R&R (revise and resubmit) request from an editor guarantees nothing. The book can still die (as has happened to me in the past). But I’m hopeful.
Quite literally, a privilege. I couldn’t do this without my spouse’s income, benefits, and support. I feel very fortunate.
I’ve also been paid a lot more than this 1k figure in a calendar year. But my last three years have been rough, totally what is close to poverty line for a single year. I’ve had really amazing years too though! Years that made me think this was sustainable and a manageable career. I’m planning a more transparent post on pay/salary for paid subscribers in the new year.