Well it has finally happened – although months later than I hoped, I’ve had a busy year. I have finally updated the cover art for the Nameless War.
As previously mentioned last weekend I was at Shamrokon – the Eurocon for 2014, which saw my debut as a convention panelist and something else I might be mentioning at a later time. But what I’d like to talk about the question of when does the amateur become professional?
To date in a little under three years the combined sales of my three titles are over fifteen thousand copies. It is always hard to get any serious data on what constitutes average sales. There was a report in the media a year or more back that suggested that the average self-publisher makes less than $500 from their books, which assuming it was true then or now, would put me well on the far side of that particular bell curve.
I’ve always referred to myself as an amateur writer but over the course of the con I got into conversation with a number of other creators, who felt that the word isn’t one that I should really be applying to myself. The argument was put that once being paid, a writer should call themselves a professional.
Before going any further let me to introduce the accountancy concept of materiality. It tends to be a big deal especially in auditing work, but basically it means at what point does a sum of money or figure matter or become material? For example ten thousand euros/dollars/pounds would likely be a material amount for an individual or small business but not so much for the Microsoft corporation.
Why do I mention this? Well my definition of professional writer has been: where writing represents the individual’s primary revenue stream – or in other words it is where they get most of their money. Clinical but it does get us to why call myself an amateur – my day job is the one that pays my bills, the writing income is a supplement.
Still, I do know writers who have number of titles to their name – through traditional publishing – who still have day jobs because that is what is necessary to bring in the necessary funds. But because it has gone through traditional publishing, no one would question their credentials as professional authors. Self publishing doesn’t have quite such a clear line and for my tastes as-soon-as-being-paid fails the test of materiality. Ten sales doesn’t make you a professional, nor does a fifty but a hundred thousand does. Where is the line? I’m not sure but think I am a bit close to it than ever expected.
Recently a reviewer commented about that he would like to see the Nameless War/Battle Fleet setting go on beyond the Trilogy that is currently WIP in progress. Certainly friends and family have joked about me writing a trilogy in seventeen part (which I am categorically NOT doing) but when should a writer walk away from a setting?
Now to my mind a setting where as a reader you can only imagine it supporting one story is not a very good one (a statement some of you may disagree with) a setting should have space in which other stories can happen. That being said I don’t like stories where it is the same character(s) saving the world again, and again, and again, and again… which is probably one reason why I never got into comic books. However I don’t mind where the writer reuses a setting with new characters; in fact I’ve come across writers who as one hero rode off into the sunset, moved a new character or a previous sidekick centre stage and have made it work very well. Even so every setting will I think soon or later hit the wall. Whether because events have altered the setting or characters so drastically that further adventures will seem forced or the need to do something new, makes the later works so different from the first they really should be separate setting.
Of course I am – and am content to be – an amateur, not a professional writer. The money I make is a supplement to rather than my income and I don’t have a publisher on my back demanding that my next book reuse my most popular character or setting. Walking away from a successful setting means rolling the dice in terms or whether you can bring your readers with you. Stay in the creative comfort zone however and a writer may go stale (how often have you through: I loved his/her early stuff but the new is rubbish) So the decision for the professional must be a desperately nerve-racking one.
As I mentioned in a previous post the Nameless War was not the book I set out to write. What would now be a prequel was in fact the story I intended to tell. Since I know how book three and the trilogy as a whole will end, I know the Battle Fleet Universe has a lot of room for further stories. I have some rough ideas for further events and perhaps even side events, which could fill anywhere between one and three books. But only rough ideas since I’m not going to waste thinking time which could be more productively used on the book I’m actually writing. Beyond that however I have at this point no real desire to go further because I think the setting would have gone as far as it could do. Anything more would be at best the lesser son of a greater sire.
Also like a good entertainer I believe you should leave your audience wanting more
 My definition of Professional being anyone who relies on writing as their primary revenue source (if that seems a little clinical I would remind that a work in accounts so I’m never going to take a fluffy view of money)
 although not too much more – I don’t want to be lynched.
ON AN ENTIRELY UNRELATED NOTE
I haven’t forgotten about Ships of the Fleet. I started work on the Luna Class Cruisers (Deimos) but then the muse clocked on and frankly when she say jump, I say how high?