Writing for Fun and Profit

I woke up this morning not having written my wonko-post, not having an idea for one, but then I saw Jane at Dear Author’s announcement. (If you missed it, she writes as Jen Frederick.) So it seemed like a good time to talk about pen names and secrets and writing experiments.

I’ve been pretty quiet on social media lately.

The reason was a combination of things. It started during the Great Hibernation of Late 2014, where I basically slept all day. All freaking day. Not an exaggeration.

Turns out it was depression. I didn’t feel sad, though. Just tired.

When I (mostly) (kind of) recovered from that, I was busy working my ass off to make up for all that I hadn’t done in those few months. It was hard to justify spending time on twitter, especially when a lot of the people I had chatted with were going through life changes and weren’t online much.

The other thing that happened was at the beginning of 2015 I decided to make this my Year of Focus.

I haven’t been big on resolutions in past years, but I knew I needed to make a change. The catalyst was financial, but this impacts all areas of my life—including happiness and sleep and depression.

If your business has two products, which one do you cut? And which one do you double down on? What if they both take the same amount of time and money and effort, but one earns 10X the other?

In this case, the low performer is the Amber Lin pen name. There are some exceptions to this. My debut sold well, especially considering the original price tag, and the second sold okay. More recently the rock star series does well, but while our writing efforts are split pretty evenly, Shari is the driving force behind marketing that.

For the past few years I’ve supported myself primarily through my other pen name, Skye Warren. I never meant for that to happen. The pen name started as an experiment, a way for me to see what book discovery was like for someone with no platform while I got my “real” pen name off the ground. But Skye Warren earned more, by large margins, while I actually poured more time and money into Amber Lin, year after year.

Business is business…unless it’s writing. I didn’t want to give up Amber Lin. I fought with myself about it, a lot over the years. I held onto the hope that this would be the book, the series, the genre, that would finally work for her.

It never happened though.

And business is business, even if it’s writing. So my Year of Focus, the reason why it needed an important name with capital letters, means not writing as Amber Lin anymore.

I’m going to revise and rebrand and re-release the Lost Girls series as Skye Warren books. I think they’ll fit just fine with the other Skye books. The rock star books are the ones left hanging, but they run on their own rockstar-centric audience now, one without much crossover to other Amber books. And I’ll probably move them to Skye eventually too.

The Year of Focus is about doing what I need to do, for myself, for my family, for our finances, for my mental health, so I can have time to breathe, so I can have time to play and rest and watch the occasional TV show, so I’m not constantly afraid of slipping into a half-comatose state again. But it’s also hard to let go of things that I’ve wanted for so long. The Year of Focus is about ambition but it’s also about giving up. It’s about balance, even though I’m not sure what that is.

The relationship between words and money is a complicated one. Whatever I’m writing is alternately the best and worst thing I’ve ever written, destined to be my bestseller or my biggest flop. Every book is the book of my heart, one specific piece of it, a snapshot in time.

As a community, the romance genre is a little more forgiving of writers who write “for money” than some other literary circles. But even here, I repeatedly see the idea of selling out, that trends are inherently bad, that real writers don’t do it for the money. That you can write your dirty fetish erotica to pay the rent as long as you have a poorly selling pseudo literary book to counter it. I dislike that dichotomy, I don’t believe in it, but in a way I’ve also lived it out with these two names, even though Amber Lin has always written dirty books. The Year of Focus is about stopping that, about writing and working fully as Skye Warren, these dirty books of my dark, dark heart.

So, that is what I’ve been up to. What about you?? Any secrets you want to share? Today is the day, apparently :)

About Amber Lin

Amber Lin writes sexy romance about messed up people, because everyone deserves a happy ending. Find her books or sign up for the newsletter at her website authoramberlin.com.
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10 Responses to Writing for Fun and Profit

  1. Mia West says:

    Good on you, Skye. And good luck. :)

  2. I’m happy for you! You’re such a beautiful writer on both sides – whatever gives you time to do more of it is what I’m for!

  3. Shari Slade says:

    All the love.

  4. All the hugs. I know you’ve been thinking on this for soooo long and I’m happy for you that you’ve finally figured out a course of action (even if I’ll miss Amber’s books!). Sometimes you just gotta fish or cut bait.

  5. Dude, why did you take so long to do this?? As someone who had no idea at all and just viewed her as another author, I can tell you the impression I’ve always had of her brand is extreme sometimes and not for everyone. But not some gross thing you need another pen name for to make it legitimate. If anything it’s the other way around. Skye is your “legit” name. Amber is trailing her by a wide margin. Honestly I’m more amazed that you felt this way than that you are Skye Warren.

  6. Karla Doyle says:

    First, giant hugs for you!
    You know I love ALL your words, no matter which pen wrote them. Your Amber books are very much like Skye’s Beauty Series; I think all of your readers are going to be thrilled they have more of your stories to love. :)

  7. I feel you on the reluctance to discuss how much making money does impact what you write. I’m a single mom and the sole breadwinner for my household. I absolutely factor in to my writing choices awareness of what will/might sell. I can’t afford not to. So when I get an idea for a f/f book or a m/m historical I’d love to write, they mostly get put on the ‘someday’ list. Because realistically speaking, I know that those books have smaller audiences, and until things are more stable in my life on a financial end, I can’t afford to narrow my audience that far. And I know that some books break out, and that they audience can grow if more people are writing great stories, but I also know there’s no guarantee that my books would do any of that. So for me, those books become the “when things are a little more stable, I will come back to these ideas” dreams for the future. Fingers crossed. Someday.

    I’m so happy for your Skye Warren success & am quite confident that you will still write all kinds of delicious stories for us. My hat’s off to you. :)

  8. Elinor Aspen says:

    You have undoubtedly made the right choice for you. I have heard arguments both for and against having separate pen names for different types of books. There are so many variables that there cannot be a rule of thumb. Good luck with your new focus.

  9. keller anne says:

    As long as Moe still gets his book, I am ok with this!

    But seriously…I thought the name sounded familiar and I have 2 Skye books on my Kindle. I remember being weepy when I read the one about the scarred vet. Wow! So you go girl! Yeah, they are a bit darker, but also very deep emotionally.

    I hope you get to write the books you want, under any name you choose. Either way, I will continue to eagerly read.

  10. I really hope the depression resolves well. I’ve been going through a depression/anxiety/panic rollercoaster for over a year now myself. It makes writing a lot harder and social media very scary. Constantly defending yourself against the part of your own head that’s attacking you makes the prospect of facing possible criticism online a lot more difficult to face.

    My feelings regarding writing and money are complex. On the one hand, I love it when authors write what they feel excited about, or what they feel there isn’t enough of. I love oddball stories that are never going to hit the bestseller lists. I’ve made a conscious decision myself to write stories that I feel like writing, even if the audience is likely to be small. I write primarily f/f at the moment, even though the conventional wisdom is that f/f doesn’t sell; my stories, romantic or otherwise, have always had mostly female casts, possibly in reaction to having read too many books and seen too many movies and TV shows as a child which were overwhelmingly male. At the same time, I can do this because writing is not my primary source of income; I have a full-time day job (plus a small part-time weekend day job). In fact, part of my reason for my choice to write with little thought to the market is that I don’t want to spend my evenings and weekends writing what I think would sell, but writing what I want to write. (Another part of the reason is that I’m no expert on trends or sales or marketing, and I’m definitely no expert on writing whatever the hot new thing is; I’ll leave that to people who know how and will do it far better than I would.)

    But I’m well aware of the privileged nature of this position. (Not to mention the stress and overcommitment of day job + side gig + writing.) If I couldn’t find a day job that paid the bills – which I couldn’t for much of my adult life – or I faced circumstances that precluded such work, I’d be writing quite differently. If I were more determined to write full-time and had a knack for marketing, maybe I also would be writing differently. And, while it makes me sad to see writers setting aside projects they love or ideas they want to explore because they wouldn’t pay the bills, I understand that it has to happen if your writing is your main income. I’ve long thought there was an ugly undercurrent of class snobbery to the disdain directed at people who write for the money: *proper* writers never dirty their hands with such concerns. If writing what sells is what you need to do to support yourself, even if what sells isn’t what you’d rather be writing, then do what you need to do. If what you want to write and what sells happen to coincide, that’s great.