Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Passive Aggression

I've largely disappeared from sight these past few months, but it's not because I'm holed up in a corner wrapped around a bottle of scotch. Rather, I've been working my way through a shift in thinking and, as a result, devoting every ounce of spare energy to a few new projects. To keep things simple, here's my thinking ...

1. I've been freelancing professionally for a long time now and doing pretty well at it. But it can be a grind. Some years you're up. Other years you're down. If you're not hustling for new work, you're sunk.

2. I've made a lot of money for various people and companies. Last year, I ghostwrote a middle-grade book for an author that went on to do quite well. It got lots of publicity and ended up being adopted into the curriculum of a HUGE school district (they bought 15,000 copies in one shot). Let's just say that watching this author do promotion and rake in tens of thousands of dollars after paying me not much wasn't exactly the easiest thing in the world to stomach—even though I KNEW the deal going in and set my own price.

3. Not only is the publishing world in the midst of a revolution, I personally have learned a lot over the past two years, almost accidentally. I've learned that I like web publishing A LOT, and that I actually have a pretty natural knack for SEO. And I almost accidentally built an audience for a blog that I only started because no one in my real life could stand hearing me talk about growing tomatoes anymore.

4. I think I've finally worked my way through getting my ass handed to me in the fiction world. I still haven't heard of any writer with a story like mine—two books, serious interest and multiple rounds of revisions with top editors at two major publishers, multiple trips to acquisitions at both companies, and ultimately rejections from both companies. It's been a lot to process, raising issues that really struck at the core of my writerly being.

So I put all these things into a pot and stirred and came up with two words. You'll never guess.

Passive income.

My goal for this next year is to develop passive income sources. I've got three projects working right now all aimed at that goal.

First, I'm developing a website. Instead of working for someone else, this is my website completely. I've spent the past few months immersed in web design, writing content, and putting together the basic site. It's about growing tomatoes. My plan is to finish building the site this winter, then add a forum (because veggie gardeners are forum fanatics), then import my tomato blog onto the main site and piggyback on its audience. Ultimately, once I've got some traffic, I'll expand the site to include all kinds of gardening issues. There's lots and lots of traffic out there for gardeners, so my revenue source will be web advertising. The basic site is only about halfway done, so for now it stays under wraps. I'll announce it when it's ready.

Second, because I'm a glutton for punishment, I'm still working on a novel that I hope to finish in the first quarter and shop to traditional agents and publishers. I have a pretty good feeling about this book, but I've learned how little that means. Ultimately, though, I will write the best book I possibly can and hopefully finally knock one out of the park.

Third, I'm going to self-publish the two books that almost made it. This was a surprisingly hard decision to make, and it took me literally months to work my around to it. I've been so fixated on traditionally selling a book for so long, I just couldn't imagine a world in which I would ever self-publish anything. But the world is changing, of that there can no doubt. I can see a future when agents and publishers are ONLY interested in authors who have a proven ability to sell books on their own—it will be the fiction marketing platform of the future. I've been telling myself there is no e-book market for middle grade books for a long time, and that's been true. But I've been watching it very closely, and it's starting to change. They are starting to move now, including self-pubbed titles. If it breaks, I want to be there.

Ultimately, though, here was the truth: I have two finished, polished novels sitting in my drawer, wasting away. I have two finished, polished novels that were vetted by industry professionals—editors who had (and have) books in the top ten of the NYT best-seller list. What do I have to lose by self-publishing these titles? Literally nothing. Even the cover art will cost nothing—I'm trading an editing job for covers. It's 100 percent upside ... and perhaps more importantly, it will finally allow me to release these books into the wild. The thought that these books would never find any audience causes me much more pain than the idea that I'm selling out. I'm giving both books another quick edit, and they'll go up as soon as humanly possible.

So there it is. I didn't get kidnapped by aliens. Rather, I've been trying to get off the hamster wheel, and I'm excited about it. Deeply excited. Here's to hoping.


Mark Terry said...

Yeah, I see what you meant in your comment on my blog. We really are thinking similar things. Good luck. Let me know when the e-books come out so I can do a cross-post on my blog and Facebook.

Natasha Fondren said...

I'm having a really hard time stomaching my royalty statements lately. I'm basically getting beans, not enough to live comfortably on. BUT, if I had self-published those books, I'd be in the exact same markets with the exact same marketing support, and I'd be quite comfortable financially.

I mean, really. It's just ridiculous I haven't self-published yet. I'm so irritated with myself. I would KILL to have two books in my drawer. You're lucky, Jon! Good luck!

Jon VanZile said...


Yeah, it was actually your post that inspired me to blog today. And thanks for the offer. When it's ready, I'll take any help I can get :)


Jon VanZile said...


Thanks! That would drive me nuts—I HATE leaving money on the table. I'm very interested to see how these books do, but it'll probably be another month or two before I'm ready to launch them.

Jude Hardin said...

Best of luck on the indie publishing. I think it's a good decision.

Jenny Frech said...

I'm really glad that you are deciding to self-publish your books. The way my students gobble up good books, and spread the word, I think there is a market for it.

Count me in on introducing it to kids in my part of the world. Let me know if you need any test audiences, I have access to oodles of middle grade readers.

Jon VanZile said...


Hey! Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for the offer. I'm going to e-publish at first, but if I think it'll justify it, I'll figure out a way to make print books available. I'll be in touch.

And I'm still working on the tomato site. It's coming together, but sloooooow.

Melanie Hooyenga said...

Good luck to you Jon. It's nice to know you haven't completely vanished.

I've been overly busy as well and haven't been keeping up with blog reading like I used to. I do plan to email you soon with an idea.

*rubs hands together conspiratorially*

Jon VanZile said...

Ooooh! I love conspiracies!