Where is there to go from here? Is there an "onward and upward" for my work, or have I reached the pinnacle of where I can go with SJ/NN? Mainstream syndication would require changes that I'm not interested in making, and without the resources of a big syndicate, making money at all, much less "big money," is a remote possibility. Heck, even the big syndicates have a track record of about 1/1000. That leaves cartooning more or less a permanent hobby ... which would be fine, if it didn't eat all of my free time -- which is time I need, in order to make whatever will be my real career happen.
The cartooning does provide tremendous rewards: I bring smiles to thousands of faces (thousands ... wow!), I've met all kinds of very cool people, I've actually experienced "having fans" (I have fans???), I've had lots of fun, I've learned all sorts of surprising things about myself. I don't want to lose that. But it also has a very high price tag -- in that it is a rapacious monster, a hunger that never dies. Tomorrow's strip is always due.
Writing has more monetary potential. A popular series writer like Terry Brooks or Robert Jordan makes a good living -- not a huge one, perhaps, but better than foaming cappuccinos, anyway. And, it's a living doing something that I am going to do anyway, which is a key aspect.
However, fantasy is a crowded field. I've made a name for myself online cartooning, but that's largely because I got in early, had a reasonably decent product, did a lot of shameless self-promotion, and have stuck with it. I'm a big fish in a very, very small pond, in that regard.
Fantasy is a whole other creature. How many thousands of burgeoning Tolkien-wanna-be's are out there, churning out whole books in the time that it's taken me to just work on the Ethangea revisions? Having a reasonably decent product isn't going to cut it in fantasy -- I have to be good, and I have to find a way to get noticed. I have my work for White Wolf and West End to my credit ... I can impress gamers by saying I've worked on Mage and The World of Indiana Jones ... but fantasy is a much larger pond, and I am still a very small fish indeed.
The problem is one of logistics ... like so many things, it purely boils down to resource management. Time, even though there is always more, is the most finite resource in the universe.
If I do my cartooning, I cannot write -- or at least, not on a scale that will actually go anywhere towards providing me a living.
If I write, I cannot do my cartooning -- or at least, not on a scale conducive (sp?) to maintaining or even building a larger audience.
I must choose.
Which arm do I chop off, the right or the left?
Of course, the dream answer is to write as my "day job," and then do my cartooning at night and on the weekends. I thought about pursuing that idea while I was living off of my LifeMinders severance pay ... but it would require more time than my severance would have allowed for, and I was still dealing with other issues at the time.
I have had people offer to give me room and board while I work on making said dream a reality. Laurie has actively researched what it would take for the two of us to live purely on her salary. But I'm just not happy with that ... I feel like it puts me into a debt situation that I have no way of repaying. And also, I am notoriously flaky; if I find myself in the position of having my needs provided for me by someone else, I'm afraid I'll turn into a permanent mooch, always sitting around the house waiting for "the big inspiration."
I suppose it might work if it was done for a finite, planned amount of time ... "From June 2002 until July 2004, you will write. At the end of that time, you must have completed and sold or at least be in serious negotiations for one novel, and have made significant progress on the second. The compensation will be X amount of the royalties for the first book, Y amount for the second, and Z for the third. Consequences for failing to live up to this agreement are A, B, and C." That way, it's at least a business deal -- one tangible, specific item exchanged for another, as well as a pre-agreed compensation for if I should flake.
However, there is the matter of my own comfort level to be considered. I am so very, very tired of living on the edge of my finances. For a few happy months at LifeMinders, I not only got out of debt, but had a nice reserve of cash starting to build up. I didn't have to worry about what happened if the car broke down, or put off buying shoes until a few paychecks had come and gone. I don't particularly care about having a big house or a fancy car, but I do want to have a certain standard, and I also don't want to have to think about it. I am rotten with numbers; they stress me out and make me go all frothy-frothy. Being provided with room and board will keep me alive, but will also keep me constantly stressed out.
Life for Laurie when our finances are on the edge is also not exactly fun. She gets upset about the bills, or the funny noise the car is making, or something similar, and starts looking for things to sell, things to do without, or trying to find a new job ... all of which has more or less been squeezed down to about as efficient as they're going to get any time soon -- so she gets frustrated and irritable. Which means that me just having room and board and no more equals an unhappy Laurie.
*sigh* I miss my LifeMinders pay. Not the job particularly ... just the pay. And I don't see any way I'll get that again in the forseeable future. My IT/graphics/etc. skills are already out of date and just getting rustier. Which leads to another possible future:
THE QUIET DESPERATION MODEL
Another option which I'm not real happy with, but which may be one I simply have to suck it up and take for a while, is to shelve both the cartooning and the writing. That will suddenly free up huge blocks of free time, that I could spend upgrading my skills and looking for what less-than-charitable people might call "a real job." I got as far with my java training as I can get out of books ... I'm going to need classes to go there. But is that a growth field?
The truth of the matter is, I have no idea what sort of a "real job" I could do any more. I got so burned out at LifeMinders that it's negatively effected my ability to concentrate on topics that don't actively interest me any more. When confronted with the question, "What do you want to do for a living?" my instinctive answer is, "Gawd, I don't know, it all sucks." So maybe I should just find one that doesn't suck as much as some others, and pays $50,000 a year. But I don't know what that one is. I'm open to suggestions.
I guess I'm going to have to go do some research on this subject, or find a career counselor, or something.
Some things I do know:
- I cannot let myself get back into debt.
- I need to have disposable income again.
- When I get to that stage, I need to get an accountant and/or financial planner.
- Once I have an accountant and/or financial planner, I need to start creating "passive" income -- i.e., investments, royalties, and so forth ... money that builds on its own without me fussing over it.
- The next time I find myself suddenly flush with cash but without a job, I need to find another job right away, instead of assuming I'll be able to get one when I'm ready, just because I never had trouble before.
Oh well. Back into the breach, dear friends. Catcha later.