Shiloh Walker
Sep 17 · 6 min read

I gotta be honest. I think Ms. Demetrios did do some trying when it came to l̶o̶s̶i̶n̶g̶ spending that $300k plus.

The cocktails, the shoes…I doubt the intent to spend it all was there, but the money didn’t magically slip away.

That said, Ms. Demetrios has an interesting insight to how some might view breaking into the writing life, and it’s a good warning to those who are trying to break in.

While there’s some good advice Ms. Demetrios offers that she learned through her own experiences, including the very first point, Assume Nothing, there’s this overall idea to the piece that the information needed to avoid these pitfalls just isn’t out there or that a writer must be told in order to know…instead of doing what should come naturally to a group of people who are almost always insatiably curious…ask questions.

Image of a woman sitting on a pile of golden coins — the idea of the pic is ‘getting rich’
Image of a woman sitting on a pile of golden coins — the idea of the pic is ‘getting rich’

The thing is…the information to avoid these pitfalls? It’s out there. You can find it. People will tell you all you need to know, and more…sometimes, so much more, you’ll pay them to shut up.

But it’s up to the writer to ask.

I always tell people I got into NYC through a backdoor, via ebook publishing and the erotic romance trend that was booming back around 2004, 2005. I was somewhat popular with got a call from Cindy Hwang of Berkley Sensation, an imprint of Penguin, now Penguin Random House in 2004.

rendering of a cartoon penguin, looks confused.
rendering of a cartoon penguin, looks confused.

(As a side note…I still don’t understand why they didn’t go with Random Penguin.)

Because I’m not stupid, while I had Cindy on the phone, I asked if she’d be interested in looking at a project I was currently working on.

She said yes.

Narrator: Shiloh didn’t have a project currently ready.

Shut up, Narrator. I had one ready within a week. But I didn’t have an agent. I did my agent search with the offer of the contract for the novella piece and interest in looking at my other project on the table. Narrator: Shiloh —

Shut up, Narrator!

Through a contact, I shortly had an agent and she approached Cindy with my project. I was offered $45,000 for three books, $15k a piece. No, it’s not $100k per book, but it’s still a lot of money. My next advance was $25k a book for three books. But as many people know, the market has changed. It got to where my advances were $2500 a book.

I never quite made it out of the mid list once I hit NYC. I struggled with the promo game that goes with being a published author. I’m figuring it out, yeah, but it’s always a balancing act.

Lately, I’m doing my self-publishing than anything else. My two epubs closed their doors and things aren’t working as well with my traditionals as I would have liked. A bout of depression after the loss of my brother led to a year long writer’s block.

But is it the publisher’s fault I didn’t do better? No. Is it mine? Nah. I wish I could do better with the promo thing, but something a lot of writers will tell you… luck & timing play into things a lot when it comes to this business. Something that wouldn’t sell ten years ago will sell like crazy now. And vice versa. Getting the right project in front of the right editor (or right readers when it comes to self-pub) at the right time, with the right sort of cover, etc can take an author from the slush pile to the stratosphere.

And I’ve digressed. Back to the matter of figuring this weird life of being a published author…

Nobody is expected to tell you anything. But if you ask, you’ll probably get the answers you want.

I contracted my first book with a digital publisher, Ellora’s Cave. That was at the end of either 2002 or 2003 and the book was published a few months later…did extremely well. For the first year with EC, I was publishing a book about every two months or so, while working full-time and dealing with two young kids. I wrote a lot on my lunch hour and at night. In 2004, I quit the day job to write full time, relying on my income from EC.

I didn’t contract with NYC until maybe six months after I’d already quit, but the awareness that I might have to go back to work part time lingered in the back of my mind and never really went away.

Writing isn’t all that stable. I’ve written/published more than a hundred titles. I have a dedicated reader base, a strong social media following. But I also know it can all go away in a second.

“How would my life be different if a fellow writer or someone in the industry had told me that the money I’d be receiving for my advances was absolutely no indication of what I could make on future book deals?” — @HDemetrios How To Lose A Third Of A Million Dollars Without Really Trying

I never expected, and I still don’t, expect this thing to last forever, especially if I’m not busting my butt on all fronts.

But it’s not because somebody told me. I know it because it’s just plain logic. I know it because I researched the industry and read industry blogs, author blogs, agent blogs. I talked to other writers. I asked questions. I joined yahoo groups that were specific to other writers or the publishers I was currently with.

I asked questions all along the way. I asked them of my agent, I asked them of my editor and her assistant, I asked them of anybody who might have useful knowledge, but most especially, I asked my agent and my editor.

If they didn’t have an answer for me, I wanted a reason why. There were very few times I didn’t receive a straight answer. I even got answers when I asked for a rough idea of numbers. When I started out, it was the Big 7, then the Big 6… I think it’s now the Big 5, because, mergers. Out of those original seven, altogether, I wrote for three.

And when I first started that journey, I was doing it solo, no agent knocking on doors, handling the deals. Just me, taking a phone call and knowing if I was going to make it, I had to be willing to hustle, and learn. Fast.

In 2006, I joined RWA. For a while, I was a member of SFWA. I’m a member of ITW. I learned a lot through them and likely, I would have done better from the get-go had I joined RWA earlier.

However, I think the most practical weapon I had in my own arsenal came from my day job as a nurse. Nurses are taught in school that you have to be an advocate, for the patient, and for yourself. I took it to heart and still do.

picture of the word ‘advocate’ highlight in the dictionary
picture of the word ‘advocate’ highlight in the dictionary

All along, I was being my own advocate by asking questions, reading those industry blogs, talking to other writers who’d been around longer than I had, doing whatever I could to learn as much as I could.

I didn’t wait to be told. It’s not anybody else’s responsibility if I sink or swim. It’s mine.

And that’s my advice to new writers starting out.

Be your own advocate. Don’t wait for others to tell you how to handle it, what to expect, or what to do. Find out for yourself.

Educate yourself. Read industry blogs, agent blogs, author blogs, publisher blogs.

Join an industry writing group. RWA, the Romance Writers Of America, can prepare just about any writer on what to expect, from writing your query and synopsis, to handling taxes and planning your own estate and everything in between. Most writing orgs focus on aspects for the professional writer, but RWA helps unpublished writers get ready to become professional and published.

Ask questions — all the time, of your agent, your editor, etc. In the end, it’s your book and it’s up to you to arm yourself with all the information you can so you can make a success of it, and it’s your life that will be affected by the outcome.

And because it is good advice…use Ms. Demetrios’ advice…Assume nothing.

Shiloh Walker

Written by

Mom. Wife. Author. Fighter. Resister. Warning: Anti-Trump. Wrangler of teens. Married my HS sweetheart.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade