I struck it rich online. As in, $20,000 US cash in one month rich, payable 60 days later rich.
And I immediately, impulsively, made the biggest decision of my life – Last February, after seeing those $ pile in, I quit my day job.
And it was both the best and worst decision I ever made.
Okay, there were other reasons for quitting. The job had gone from being a really interesting instructional design job, where I was tasked with researching everything from intellectual property to cybersecurity and creating smashingly interactive and clearly explained visual content... Into a job doing software training videos. You know, “Click here, click there, click next, click okay, click…you know what? If you don’t know that you’re supposed to click the OK button when you’re done? Maybe you shouldn’t be working on a computer.”
But the other reason was that all my life, my burning dream has been to be a Famous Author. Someone who, you know, got to write what he wanted and got paid for it, and paid enough that he’d never have to go back to Cubicle City.
And in February of 2015, that dream finally came true.
When I started, short erotica was incredibly hot and lucrative. I mean, like super hot and nasty shit. And since I’ve always had a dirty mind, I was born to do this.
People were making serious bank on stories, 5000 dirty words, that sold for $2.99 to ravenous audiences. That was about $2.10 in royalties apiece on Amazon and most other sites. (Except iTunes. Apple hates sex. I’ve had legit romance novels banned there because sex.)
Then Amazon started “blocking” edgier stories.
(Nothing is ever BANNED on Amazon, only “blocked,” a much softer and fuzzier word for CENSORED.) And I was quick to pivot to long form romance novels, and I avoided the fate of many people who’d gone all in on stories and couldn’t port their skills to novels.
Soon after that, Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited, an “all you can read” program, which I won’t bore you about; you can read about that here. The point was, suddenly short stories were hot again. You got paid per borrow, regardless of length, as long as the reader got through 10% of the title.
And that’s when I struck gold.
Amazon still maintained its fatwa against edgy content like “dubious consent,” for instance, or “stepdaddy/stepmom” stories.
Then, out of nowhere, somebody published a “stepbrother” story. And it went through the approval process, and became a huge hit. Suddenly, somehow, women doin’ it with their stepbrothers was “okay,” as long as everyone was over 18.
And suddenly the straight romance bestseller list was swarmed with stepbrother stories – there was a market for edgy stuff like this, and we’d all become sure that said market would never be on Amazon again, or even anything close. In fact, there are now 7,691 results on the 'zon for "Stepbrother Romance."
And I realized that nobody else was doing gay stepbrother stories. So off to the races I went, writing the first story in the Kyle’s New Stepbrother series. Nice bank on that one. And the rule of selfpub is, when you get a hit, write a sequel as fast as you can. So I did.
Then the second one got “blocked.” Which was the best thing to ever happen to me.
It’s like the Index of Forbidden Books – as soon as you ban something, everyone wants to read it.
And the damn thing about Amazon is, they have this squishy, ever-moving set of “community standards” around what they will or won’t block. All they’ll say is that what they will block is “about what you’d expect,” which leaves them free to move the goalposts at will. (And no, what’s blocked is not what I’d expect, it’s what some bluenose in Arkansas will buy, fap to, return for a refund, and then denounce in an angry letter.)
They won’t tell you if it’s the contents of your blurb, your title, your story, your cover. Only that you’ve been rejected “for content.”
So, I made huge hay out of that on Facebook and on my blog, and naturally everyone wanted to read it. I started giving out free copies while I tried to figure out what was going on behind the walls of the Kremlizon.
What other writers discovered was that, for some bizarre Amazon reason, if you published stepbrothers doin’ it so hard as erotica, it got blocked. If you republished it as romance… Then it was okay. Go figure.
I also think this cover was the problem.
Yeah. I know. Lots of heteromance has got the main characters tangled up like they’re playing Sweet Savage Twister. But you know, double standards.
Once I replaced it with this wholesome duo, and softened the blurbs, I could write content as filthy as I wanted, off we went to the races.
And the money rolled in.
I made $20,000 on a handful of short stories in February. I couldn’t believe it! My ship had come in! I immediately quit my job.
Then I made $9,000 in March. No worries! It’s a blip!
And $5,000 in April. That’s cool, I just need to find the next trend!
Then Amazon changed the compensation system.
Suddenly those stories making $2 a borrow were being compensated “per page read,” which meant a full read on one of these puppies was now worth about… $0.15
And ever since then, I’ve been struggling to keep the dream alive. I’ve moved into editing other people’s books, and I’ve learned to narrate, edit and produce my own novels as audiobooks, building a whole new sales channel for my existing content.
But I was sure, that day that I walked out of my job, that My Day Had Come.
And in a way, it has.
A year and a half later, I’m still not back in Cubicle City. I’m in debt up to my eyeballs, but things are starting to look up. Audiobooks are the coming thing, and I now have enough experience to hire myself out as a narrator to other writers.
I have some solid credits on my editing work that keep the bucks coming in. Maybe my books as Adam Vance, which I call Progressive Military Science Fiction, will hit it some day. And I have Big Plans for my next avatar, Derek Vance, who’s got a hell of a good idea for a Stand-like doorstopper thriller.
And it’s okay, honestly, that I made it big, but didn’t stay big. My real dream, in the end, wasn’t to be A Famous Author… It was to be an independent creative. To be unchained from the clock, the cubicle, the whims of management, all that. And that’s still a dream that’s come true.
So you hit it big? Great. Now get ready for the long haul.
Posting on Steemit, writing fiction, none of this is a steady income. After a series of $0.00 posts, my first reasonable hit on Steemit came yesterday, when I wrote a comment on this article, saying how this is pointless if you’re not target marketing your content and you’re not a Super Social Self Promoter and all the SEO/clickbait types will be rolling in here with their learned analysis of whale voting patterns and cashing in and I’m just gonna stop posting and “park and ride” and watch my Steem and Steem Power increase in value… and hey!
I got $260 for that comment!
My point is. Shit is cyclical, and audiences are unpredictable.
Yeah, cool! You made $20,000 on one post! But it’s no guarantee you won’t make $0 next month. The great thing about Steemit is that your $20k will be portioned out to you over two years. So you won’t be able to do what I did and spend it like a rock star. But you’re still in danger of Doing What I Did – thinking the Golden Age would last forever, that I could quit that day job because riches.
How long do you think “Steemit is Great!” posts will resonate? A month, three months, before the platform’s not a novelty anymore? Yeah, even “target marketers” know they’re chasing a moving target. Like us erotica writers, who learned to spot a trend, cash in, and go on to the next thing.
The Short Game in content is about trend and trope. The Long Game is about quality writing.
The advantage I have as a story writer/novelist over a lot of people who just did “hit and run” trope targeting, is that my backlist has a “long tail.” I went for quality, I did my research. Even if I cashed in when Vikings were a hot erotica trope, I still did my research (I posted my Viking stories here on Steemit for free; see #1 for a list of my sources). And people still buy them, read them, tell friends about them. They’re not dust in the wind like a lot of other quick buck stuff.
Even now, in a crap month, I’m still pulling in $500 in royalties on old books. Steemit posts have virtually no tail at all. Very few people go back and read and upvote your old posts.
So…don’t quit your day job. Look hard at your own work and ask yourself, “Is anyone going to read this a month from now? Is it going to make an impression that will get readers to remember that I wrote it, and want to read more from me? Do I have something to say that nobody else is saying? Will I survive the escalating number of posts and users, will I stand out?”
I think it’s appropriate that ocean metaphors are used for Steemit users, from minnows to whales. Because in an ocean of content, every drop of water is indistinguishable from the next, until it makes an impact, until it becomes part of a current or a wave that carries something with it. (Maybe that’s the tag for a big hot post – #wave.)
Nothing Lasts Forever. Yeah, hell yeah, quit your day job, if you can. But don’t assume the Golden Age you’re experiencing today will last.