If You’ve Been Wondering What The Heck Happened To Me

So there I was, about a year ago now, sitting on Siesta Key beach (rated the #1 beach in America, by the way) and sipping on my tropical drink with the little umbrella – all figuratively speaking, of course – when the unthinkable happened: I decided that it was time to give up the way of the full time author and go back to my old government job. Before you accuse me of having gone stark, raving mad, let me explain the Three Reasons Why It Was A Good Idea.

First of all was book sales. Or, more accurately, monthly income from the book royalties. Very few people know this, because it’s not something I ever crowed from the rooftops (maybe I should have, but that’s just not me), but between paid sales and free promotions I’ve sent well over a million ebooks, and a far smaller quantity of print editions, out the door and into the hands of readers and made something over a million dollars (before taxes, of course!) between 2011 and now from book royalties. Alas, financial management wasn’t one of my strong suits and we’ve always had sort of a “live for today” mentality. I wish I would’ve saved more (which is not to say that I didn’t save anything), but I can’t complain: we did a lot of life-enriching things over these years, particularly our annual big summer RV trips that gave me tons of priceless time with my parents, who convoyed with us in their own RV. I don’t have any real regrets other than not buying that stupid Moose hat in Jackson, Wyoming during our RV trip to the Rockies. 

But the gold rush came to an end by around June of last year (2016) when the royalties, which had been steadily declining most of the previous year, weren’t enough to pay our bills. Believe me, I tried all the tricks I could think of to get those sales numbers back up, but nothing worked. Even promotions through BookBub, which had up to that point been a fantastic tool, dried up when they changed their policy to select almost exclusively books that were on the major book charts like the New York Times or USA Today. Now, in thinking about all this, please keep in mind that we didn’t own some ridiculously expensive house or car (even though we lived only three miles as the crow flies from Stephen King, believe it or not); our big luxury expense, as you may know and which has brought great joy to our lives despite the cost, is the RV. Other than that and the big summer trips we took, we didn’t exactly live a lifestyle of the rich and shameless. But money for the first time since I left my day job had become a serious issue, and it was obviously time to rethink our way forward. Since it was clear that I was going to have to get a job of some sort, no matter what else I did, it made the most sense for me to go back to my old job, if the fools would have me. I’d be making at least twice, and probably three times, as much as I could on the local economy, and in five years I’d qualify for both full retirement and lifetime Federal health benefits, which – if you’ve had to deal with health insurance outside of government or company plans – is worth going back just by itself.

So, money is reason number one. Number two is sort of tied into that, namely that I realized that I really hated my job as a full-time author. Don’t get me wrong: I love writing, but the rest of it just wasn’t for me. I came to hate all the things I needed to do for promotion, etc., etc., which became all the more frustrating as my book sales plunged. When you need to do things that you hate to do, you tend to not do such a great job, or stop doing them altogether, and that happened with me. I also got into sort of a vicious cycle of those things annoying or worrying me being corrosive to my muse, so my writing suffered, which then fed back into the worry loop. It was maddening. And, as I think I already mentioned, it was incredibly lonely much of the time; that totally sucked.

Reason number three came as an epiphany just before I made the decision to go back to work: my writing didn’t make me feel like I was making a difference in the world. I’d spent my entire adult life up to the point when I left Federal service working as part of a dynamic team and something larger than myself, but working as an author was just focused on little old me. Booyah. I realized that the work I’d done in government life, despite all the hassle and BS sometimes, really meant something to me. My books can entertain people, but they can’t really change someone’s life for the better (well, maybe in a handful of cases, according to folks who’ve written me, but that’s pretty rare), not the way I’d done at my old job. And that service-oriented mentality, I came to understand, is a very important part of who I am. So back I went, and I’m very happy to be there!

By now you’re probably wondering if I’m planning to continue to write. Of course I am! As I said, I love writing, and I’m already working on the next In Her Name novel (number 10 in the series, Red Legion). While yes, I plan on making some money from that and my future books, my main goal is to entertain myself – I wrote the original In Her Name for myself, after all – and share it with readers like you. My muse, lured from dormancy by promises of dark chocolate and wine, is beginning to reassert herself, so hopefully we’ll see some fun stories in the near future beyond Red Legion.

Oh, which reminds me: I guess it’s time to get some real writing done! So let me get back to what Reza Gard is doing, and I’ll catch up with you later on Facebook and Twitter, or just feel free to leave a comment here… πŸ™‚

50 thoughts on “If You’ve Been Wondering What The Heck Happened To Me

  1. Hey, Mike! No, I wasn’t wondering where you had gone off to. When people disappear off of social media, I can usually safely predict that they are usually taking care of business and living their lives which DOES NOT include responding to each and every post, tweet, snap or whatever else is out there these days. (I’m happy to report I am batting a 1000% so far with that kind of prediction! (LOL)). Next time you need to break from living the live of a full time author and work for the betterment of our planet and its diverse peoples & cultures, please do so! (not that you need my permission!) Take care and good fortune always, Judy Smith, Rohnert Park, California

    1. LOL! Well, I wish I could say that I’m fighting for the betterment of the planet, but I think I’m about as close as I can reasonably get with my particular (and very narrow) skill set. If nothing else, I feel like I’m fighting FOR something again, as opposed to just diddling around all day like I was before. πŸ˜‰

      1. Now you REALLY sound like my dad. He used to say “I was just doing my job” when people would stop him on the street and say thank you for your service (in WWII). Until I pointed out one day in a little frustrated snit, that if he HADN’T done his job, who else would have? (He was a part of a front line repair team for motor pool, especially half tracks, spent almost 3 years training for it 1942-1945. His nickname was Crowbar, cuz you can’t pull that track off without one!).
        Now I know you don’t think of your job as on that level historically, but I ask the same question-who else would do it, and secondly, would they do it as well and with as much dedication as you?
        Case closed! LOL
        Judy Smith

  2. With mixed emotions I am happy that you are happy with your decision, but a little sad as well. Gotta stay true to yourself!! Will be looking forward to your next ‘In Her Name’ installment, but please don’t take too long!! Wishing you peace and joy πŸ’š

    1. Don’t be sad – there’s really no downside to going this route, at least once my muse catches up. I was writing as much when I was still at work before I left than I was when I was writing full time, as there were soooo many distractions. So now I have to learn to focus on it again in the time I have available, and can’t take that time for granted anymore. πŸ™‚

  3. I’m glad to hear that you are back, Michael, and thanks for the explanation. Everything you said makes perfect sense, and I’m glad your muse has returned. Looking forward to the next book …

  4. I totally understand your need to go back to your 9-5 job. And good luck! Thank you soooo much for the for all the books.,I love them all! Especially the In Her Name series. Ive always been mostly a historical romance reader. But since I read your books, Im really into science fiction. Of course Ive been trying to find a book that I enjoyed as much as the In Her Names Books, no luck. But anyways, Ill be waiting for the next book in the series!

    1. Thanks, appreciate the kind words, and glad I could bring you over to the Sci-Fi dark side, lol! But the writing will continue – I never expect to give that up, especially since I have waaaay too many ideas that I need to put down on virtual paper…

  5. That was a really brave and honest thing to write.

    All the best for the transition (if it is still in progress) or for the new gig (if it is already established).

    1. Thanks! I’ve been at the new/old job since late last month and am having fun while I try to get back into the zone for writing. I’m getting there, just a bit more slowly than I’d hoped. Then again, isn’t everything like that? πŸ˜‰

  6. I love your books, and I’m happy to know you are still writing. I’m glad you are finding happiness and balance in your life. I wonder how many writers fall by the wayside because they can’t or won’t continue with the self-promotional grind that is expected of professional writers.

    1. Thanks! Well, what many don’t realize is that the vast majority of authors don’t make a living off their royalties. I was lucky in that I could for a nice chunk of time. But for the majority, it’s only supplemental income. I’m sure some have also encountered what I did: that no matter what you try, sometimes things just don’t seem to go your way. In that event, it’s time to drop back and punt, lol! πŸ™‚

  7. You have to do what makes you happy and keeps those who depend upon you in some comfort. Not necessarily comparable goals and sometimes totally impossible to achieve. Make your decisions based on your gut and consultation with those who love you and know you the best. As was said in the sixties “Be true to yourself” and all will work out.

  8. Hi Mike,
    I am one of those quiet fans that never posts. I just wanted to thank you for the joy your books have given me. You were the first self published author I read and you opened a new world up for me I two different ways. Thanks and I look forward to supporting your work in the future. I do appreciate this post a lot as I had wondered.

    1. Thanks, Jess – I appreciate that, and am glad I helped you find a larger world to explore! And – this goes for everyone – thanks so much for the continued support! πŸ™‚

  9. I think there is a true artist hidden under your skin, and you just need to recharge, which is pretty normal time to time. πŸ˜‰
    Publishing is stressful, this is why usually authors need someone to help with the paperwork.
    Take 9-5 as a “field study” to get a closer look at life, the everyday people around you, and discover the new stories around you.
    Market is a constantly changing mysterious beast, sometimes it is hard to keep up. (I am lucky, Realtors have NAR, state and local associations to keep us informed)

    Don’t say this: “My books can entertain people, but they can’t really change someone’s life for the better” !!!
    Books and stories ALWAYS change people’s life πŸ™‚
    I think your books would make great movies; but when you have what it takes, you still need 110% luck to get noticed.
    (I see this even more now, my daughter is a beautiful and talented young actress.)

    Don’t get frustrated, or blame it money πŸ˜‰ Money is important yes, because it is a tool to get what you want, but it is not the goal.
    You will see, you won’t be able to fully fit in the to the 9-5 government job.
    There will be….. something missing πŸ™‚

    So, keep your laptop on the back burner (but not literally, LOL)
    Maybe write blogs for yourself; they are stories everywhere around us, but not everyone can write them down!
    You are the best, just in need of a vacation πŸ™‚

  10. So glad you weren’t eaten by alligators or blown away by a tornado (or crocodiles/hurricane) in the wilds of Florida!! Stay safe and do what is needful to keep the cats fat and fluffy 😺😺 Looking forward to your next book and wishing you well. 😸

  11. Mike, I love your work. I hate that, being so close by, we never managed a lunch together while you were here in SWFL. I know there are parts of our lives we don’t see eye-to-eye on things, but that’s small change. The important thing is what brings us together — being writers, having served our country, and just being guys who want to see the world be a better place. I wish you luck and joy back at Meade, or wherever they’ve stuck you this time. Can’t wait to see what you turn out next.

  12. If it’s one thing I’ve discovered in this life, it’s that you gotta’ do what you gotta’ do. Only you can determine what makes you happy; When the thing you love doing becomes a chore it’s time to move on to something that gives you more satisfaction. I can perfectly understand the situation. On a darker note, I’m going to hold out and wait for your next installment, The Red Legion. I’m going to cut you some slack for the time being…but remember, I WILL BE WATCHING and I have an idea of where you live! Seriously though, your books have been a highlight in my life, with the best part being that I can re-read them about every six to eight months. At my age the memory fails and I can take delight every time I re-open one of your books. You have made my life better, because I can still laugh at the funny stuff and cry at the sad stuff, sort of like hanging out with old friends. So just be sure to keep us posted when you publish a new book and I will promise to purchase each and every one.

  13. I actually did wonder why you’d gone so quiet after all the activity of the last year or so but as Judy Smith says I assumed you were ‘getting on with life’ and writing.

    I see some parallels in my life with you in the ‘live for today’ mentality and my partner and I have been to some amazing places around the world but a recent downturn in my business; I’m self-employed in the VR and 3D simulation business and have been for over 25 years has also made us both wonder where my next pay-check is coming from; fortunately she has a good job that pays the mortgage and bills. With the surge in interest in everything VR and 360Β° video I shouldn’t be struggling but I’m rubbish at cold calling.That said, I’ve always been a positive person and while I wouldn’t consider myself particularly lucky, something does always seem to turn up to stop me falling off the edge, I’m always still close but out of danger for a while as I wait for ‘the big one’ to arrive πŸ™‚

    I guess working for yourself isn’t for everyone and being a writer is very much you and the metaphorical blank sheet of paper so I applaud your courage in going back to the old job, I don’t really have that option as I’m continuing to plough my own furrow sure in the belief that I will one day make the breakthrough.

    All that waffle said I cannot believe that you haven’t picked up some multi-million dollar film contract for your books. Without blowing smoke up your proverbial, I have never read such a compelling series of books that made me buy the next one before I had finished the last one to ensure I kept my addiction fed. I’ve read so many series of books where the author has plainly ‘lost his/her own plot’ and gone off on some tangent or deviated so far from the original premise that it’s not the same story I fell in love with.
    I was disappointed when I came to the end of the nine books but was kept enthralled and satisfied throughout the whole series and you stayed true to the original themes that made me fall in love with the world/galaxies/Universe you created. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have re-read all the books and that is something I’ve never done before and like Lisa has said its like visiting old friends
    I think you need to make the three mile journey to Mr King’s house to ask him to introduce you to James Cameron or Stephen Spielberg because I truly believe there is a billion dollar franchise here and I’m surprised I haven’t seen it yet.. (Always though Jeremy Renner would be great as the adult Reza)

    I haven’t read any of Red Legion yet as I want to enjoy the book as a whole as I’m sure just reading chapters at a time will frustrate me as I’m guessing this will be as good as the preceding nine books.

    Sorry for the epic post but I’m amazed that you have had to go back to the ‘day job’ when you’ve put such an epic ‘Space Opera’ out there.

    1. If nothing else, I now have a full appreciation of the trials and tribulations faced by the millions of Americans who are self-employed (which, sadly, are also largely shared by those who work for many companies nowadays). People don’t realize how difficult it is to build a lasting brand, let alone grow that brand year by year. And sometimes, like in my case, things just sort of go south on you for no explicable reason, while a random set of others in the same field – authors, in this case – soar to new heights, seemingly for no particular reason. Some authors are successful, yet don’t have a very good web site (or none at all), don’t do any particular promotion, etc. Yet for some reason their books just sell like hot cakes. Others try to do all the right things, yet their books (which are as good as those in the aforementioned group) barely get off the ground. There’s just no A+B+C=D formula; luck plays a huge role, and sometimes it just runs out, although it can also come back. As for the movie deals, well, there’s another endeavor where luck is everything, I think. But even if a book gets picked up for a movie treatment, it’s still a crap shoot as to whether it’ll make it to, let alone through, production. It’s all nuts, lol!

  14. Thanks too, for sharing your trials on your Blog. At least you have the luxury of falling back and going with The Backup Plan. Many years ago, my wife and I rescued a golden retriever pup who was born with Spina Bifida and thus, paralyzed from the waist down. She became quite the celebrity even in the pre Facebook/Twitter/social media world as a Therapy dog and lived to the ripe old age of 10 1/2. I had kept a running dialog on a couple of golden retriever list groups chronicling her amazing life. I thought it would make a good book so I started working on it. It took me forever, but I came up with a manuscript and tried to find a publisher and an editor (Badly needed by the way). There was no Amazon so a self published book was a long and arduous process, not to mention expensive. The whole experience gave me a new appreciation of what it’s like to be an author and I realized I wasn’t meant to be one.

    I’m glad you’re back on track and hopefully with any financial burdens off your shoulders, you can now write with renewed energy. If you still have your RV, perhaps we’ll cross paths somewhere down the road. My wife and I enjoy our RV and if it ever stops snowing, we’ll hit the road soon.

    1. Well, the backup plan to the backup plan would’ve involved some major lifestyle adjustments that I think we could’ve made, but wasn’t in the direction we wanted to go. And yes, we’re definitely fortunate that we had that option, and that it actually panned out! As for the RV, yes, we’ve still got the Beast. While we won’t be taking any more long summer trips for a while, we’ll be taking lots of shorter ones to places like NYC, among others. πŸ™‚

  15. I’m glad you’re doing what you want to do now. I look forward to your books but your sanity should always come first. Welcome back.

  16. Michael, as others have said, I love your work and the exciting universe you have created. As a fellow writer I fully under stand the joy of writing, the thrill of creating new empires, and then the tedium and at times hopelessness of marketing. I finished three books in a saga and then slumped into a coasting mode with only a modicum of sales. You are right, you know. When you create stories you need to do it for yourself and if it’s successful… well, that’s just a bonus. Being retired I do some volunteer work, play my classical guitar, keep up with astronomy, and continue to write. And enjoy it when I do. Trying to be a full time author is indeed lonely. I’m glad you’re reaching out beyond that, even if it means perhaps not putting out so many new books.

  17. I am proud of you for telling all of us fans of your dilemma. What to do, what to do??? After reading your reason for being off the grid for a while, it is obvious to me and others you did the right thing for you and your family. You have a great job again, you can write when you want, you just put out something I can read, and you are with your beloved family. Much luck and happiness to you. Bravo!

    1. Thanks! I think it’ll work out better overall for everything. I do need to focus on writing more like I used to before I left my job the first time, but I’m getting there. A lot of it is just reinventing the routine I used to have before, then maintaining it…

  18. As so many others have said, you truly have great talent. I remember, several years ago, when I discovered your books, after reading the first one which was free by the way, putting it down and thinking to myself, “wow, this guy can really write”. Needless to say I’ve read all your books including the one offering advice on how to go about self-publishing, something I hope to try soon. And thank you for sharing your ups and downs, as it does indeed have an impact on many of us out here. All the best…

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words! I guess the main thing is you just have to be prepared for things to go down and plan accordingly. If they never do, so much the better! But at least that way you’ll never be surprised. πŸ™‚

  19. Morning Mike. I am pleased that you are happy and have not thrown up you hands like some authors I know and chucked in the towel. I think you know you were, and are, my mentor of sorts. You were my first contact in the indie author world back in 2013. I learned so much from you and appreciate your guidance over the years especially those first few tips like… Those covers need to be redone, and What kind of blub is that? LOL. No really, you were much sweeter about the corrections than that and it made a world of difference to my brand as an author. Over time corrections were made and sales took little a bumps. But unlike you, I was never a waterfall, just a gentle steady stream, trickling slowly along. However, that’s okay. I meant for this to be a long haul and for doing something for additional income for my retirement. It seems to be working as I continue to spend my last five years of employment at the local community college printshop. You have found out what I did, that daily interaction with folks feeds the muse. And that when we get wrapped up in the day-to-day social media grind, the muse suffers. Good luck to you in all you do and keep that muse supplied with chocolates and wine. Should you have a desire to fire up the RV again, come up to Oregon for a visit. Farloft (my dragon muse) and I will show you around the wine country. Hugs, Theresa Snyder

    1. Thanks, Theresa! Yeah, I think as soon as you lose sight of doing something like this for fun, you’re in trouble. It’s great to make money at it, and I hope to continue to do so, but if you’re not doing it first and foremost for enjoyment, then it won’t work out too well. And yes, we DEFINITELY plan to get up to the Pacific Northwest sometime, but that probably won’t be until after I retire, whenever that happens to be. πŸ™‚

  20. It all sounds okay to me, Michael. I enjoyed what I have read by you and fully intended to read more. I guess part of the reason I haven’t read more is due to you emailing me to say you were including a link to a compilation collection of books with other authors, and I kind of liked them all so much I have been elsewhere. I loved In Her Name, the trilogy, and Harvesters. Btw, I read The Black Gate during the autumn last year and I hope you can revisit this, sometime… After this, I was accosted by Zapheads again… Anyway, you’ve made the right choice for the right reasons with your work status and this is bound to impact on your love of writing. Good luck!

  21. Oh no, just hate it when the real world breaks in an disturbs me in my comfortable existence. It’s rude and can shorten my temper. Hopefully you manage to deal with the world and keep Reza safe and warm. Wishing you continued success.

    1. LOL! Thanks! Yeah, reality can suck, but that’s the way it is. And Reza is only safe and warm when he’s with Esah-Zhurah; otherwise, he’s out kicking ass… πŸ˜‰

  22. Never underestimate the power of the right word at the right time. Your life’s work may well live beyond you and impact others years and generations from now in ways you cannot even dream of.

  23. You had good reasons to go back to your old job cannot argue with that. You have given me many hours of pleasure reading your books they are all on my Kindle Fitre and I can go back to them anytime which I will do soon.I have yet to catch up with Red Legion but believe its on my list. Good luck to you from this side of the pond will touch base with you every now and then to see what you are up to.

  24. I suspect you will get more done now that you have less time to do it in. Being put on the disability list I figured I would have lots of time to read and do all those things I had wanted to do but didn’t have time for. The last several years, having lots of time, I discovered that I accomplished less. Yes, I miss that feeling of accomplishment that I had with my job.

    An RV and travel is not a luxury. It’s an adventure that feeds the mind and soul.

  25. most important: be happy and be well πŸ™‚ congratulations on realizing what makes yourself tick; too many people don.t
    oh, and yes please more reza πŸ™‚

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