She may have sold over 5 million copies of her books without a publisher and raked in millions, but author H.M. Ward reveals there is a dark side to newfound success. Along the way to success, there has been pain, loss and medical burdens that the public has not been given privy too. Although she still lives modestly and keeps her family close, there is no doubt that her success has brought to her a change in her life that she never could have imagined.
In my interview with Ward, she explains the doubts that still haunt her, how she’s been able to help her loved ones and that, although she’s not complaining, money and micro-fame is not all it’s cracked up to be.
How has tremendous success as an indie author changed your life?
I have money to pay my medical bills. Last year, the amount I paid in medical bills was more than I’d earned in entire previous years. Life is easier. We don’t wonder if we can afford the doctor or the ER. We can buy medicine and the things that had stressed us most.
We had been living in a house we bought during our undergrad years. It was getting crowded with the addition of our youngest, and the area was pretty sketchy. There was no way I’d let the kids ride their bikes around the neighborhood. Book sales opened up some options. But, we’re still living in a modest subdivision in rural Texas.
Do you write more now that you have success than you did before? How do you balance your life as a full-time author with being a mom, a wife and entrepreneur?
My pacing is about the same as it was before, although my releases have slowed a little bit. Over the course of the year, I expect things to swing back toward the number of releases I had last year. Health plays a part in it. I may have books written that end up sitting because a surgery will pop up. Then I hold it until I have time to go over it again, and BAM, there are three releases back-to-back.
As with any small business, all the little administrative things eat away at your time. And, I try to be very accessible to my readers — so a lot of time disappears to email, Facebook, etc. I have allocated time each day, and I maintain a schedule as best I can that maximizes my prime writing hours. It’s something that I re-examine each month and keep tweaking, trying to squeeze every last second out of the day so that I can do all the things I need to do without neglecting other important facets of life.
Right now, I make schedules and try to stick to them. If you guard your time it’s less likely to be stolen. I try to balance what time is left every day between writing and being a wife and mom. It’s hard, I feel a tremendous obligation to my readers, and I also know how hard it’s been on my kids to have a sick mom. I try to do things that each of them likes and give them one-on-one attention, despite how I’m feeling. Sometimes that means going for a wagon ride with the baby, or showing my middle child how to code an Html section of his blog. Other times, it means taking my eldest to have our nails done. I’m not very mobile yet, but I’m doing more with each passing day.
Are people asking you for money? Any long lost cousins coming out of the woodwork?
Not really. I’ve kept things low-key, and really didn’t spend a cent of the money that came in early last year, after my first novel hit the Amazon top 100. That’s when things got interesting. It was right after I’d sold my 100,000th book. A novel I’d written, SCANDALOUS, was a sleeper and written 9 months prior. I changed the cover, did a promotion, and the book shot up the lists.
All of a sudden we weren’t in the red anymore. As I mentioned, doctor’s bills were eating every cent I made. So, we actually waited 6 months to make any major purchases, and then I still didn’t like spending anything.
Mike (my hubby) and I selected charities to donate to as it became clear that this wasn’t a temporary income bump. We donate to the local non-profit hospital for indigent care (which we’ve had to use in the past), my writer’s workshop proceeds for this year have been donated in full to Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a non-profit that helps grieving parents deal with early infant loss, and we also have plans to help a local women’s shelter later this year. They’re all things that are close to my heart: grief, poverty, and domestic violence. I want to help when I can, how I can.
But, only recently have some closer friends and family done the math and started to realize that they probably don’t have to worry about us.
What type of toys and perks have you bought since you started seeing financial success?
I never really dreamed about having stuff, so when we finally had money to buy things, I didn’t know what to buy. I bought a pair of sparkly sneakers and a minivan. The older kids rejoiced when they didn’t have the baby hitting them in the head anymore. We’d had one clunker or another for most of the past 20 years. Once in a while, Mike had a motorcycle. He tried to teach me to ride, but I’m not a biker chick—I’ll freak out and jump off. I did that once and landed on my feet.
How have you been able to help those you care about?
Sure. The better income has made it so that we have a solid roof over our heads and I don’t have to worry so much about the kids when they want to go outside anymore. I’ve been able to take my family on trips and bring along my parents. The most precious thing in the world, the object I value most, is time. Trips give us time together, so getting away here and there is important to me. Over the past couple of years we lost two loved ones, so it really drives it home that today is all we have—make the most of it. So, I try.
My parents have been so kind and gracious to us over the years. My father is a very generous man and would give a stranger the shirt off his back. He’s always been like that. When he retired and the economy went to hell, his pension pretty much went with it. His health is about as good as mine, and so these things worried us—medical bills and how he’d get by if something bad happened. We don’t have to worry so much anymore. I know I can help them, and having that peace of mind is priceless.
What are some of the blessings and curses of finding such success?
I can pay my bills, feed my family, and have the securities that many people take for granted. I’ve always thought that money corrupts—that you can’t have love and money. Some people say wealth is like poison, so I’ve been leery of it.
However, without it, there is no way I would have been able to pay for my medical bills or keep the roof over our heads. I was, and have been the primary breadwinner in our home for years, despite my illness. I needed my husband to take care of me. I went into the photo studio, faked it as best I could, and came home. My assistants at the studio could tell my health was failing even though I said nothing. Being poor and sick changed me, and my family. Having the money to pay for the help I needed was beyond miraculous.
I’ve seen the ugly side of it a little bit too. It rears up as jealousy and I can’t help but feel sorry for those people. I wouldn’t want anyone to envy my life. It’s been filled with pain and loss that would have crushed most people, but they forget that part. Pretend friends surface and that hurts. I tend to think the best of people, even if they’ve put a knife in my back. I still wish them well and can’t stay angry. The hurt lingers, but the anger fades.
What doubts do you still face as an author?
My biggest worry is born of the certainty that the industry is changing. In some ways, it is an awesome thing! The price of a book has dropped tremendously, which means more people can read for less. Add libraries into the picture and the field is ripe for change and every single person in this industry feels it. The ground is shifting beneath our feet and the feeling is daunting. Those who will thrive during this turbulent time will be the innovators.
I want to be one of those innovators — and the very nature of innovation is risk. I looked at getting my books into print and onto store shelves without a publisher. It could’ve been done — and it would have been innovative — but it wouldn’t have made sense dollar-wise. HM Ward Press, and web series? I think they’re both going to reflect the future market. Fans want them, I can make it happen, and it’s time to jump.
But, anything bold is a risk and it’s easy to let the doubts fester. Hell, sometimes you need to. Paper is dying. There is a reason publishers won’t guarantee print runs, why their “bold” innovation is to churn out eBooks and buy up indie rights before the authors decide to become competitors. If I “boldly” bypassed publishers to get paper in stores, it would have been a misstep. A distraction from the more important things, a step backward even. I was focusing on the past way of doing things instead of looking ahead.
Likewise, sure it’s “innovative” for indies to bundle a dozen different books from a dozen different authors, all for $.99 in order to game the bestseller lists. But that isn’t blazing a way for a vibrant future industry that benefits authors and readers alike. It’s thinking short term, and it’s playing the game instead of rewriting the rules.
I want to rewrite the rules. I want fans involved in the creative process. I want business partners instead of just an advance check. I want to be at the front of the change that we’re all going to experience in the coming years.