News, commentary, and fiction by Barb Hendee, co-author of the Noble Dead saga (; author of the Mist-Torn Witches series, the Vampire Memories series, and more.

Don’t Quit your Day Job—Thoughts from the Other Side of “Success”

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I started teaching college in 1996. I am compassionate by nature. I care about the feelings of my students. I care for the feelings and comfort of my superiors. I work hard at my job, and I’m a staunch believer in getting quality feedback to my students—without fail—within one week of the due date. I never complain about anything, even under challenging circumstances, and I sometimes lean towards being a doormat in that I’ll take on extra responsibilities to help someone else. 

As a result, whenever I’m evaluated by my superiors, the evaluations are high, and I am often recommended to teach more classes or recommended for promotion. This is how life normally works in the “real world” when it comes to a career. People who are caring, hard-working team players who do quality work, pick up slack, and rarely complain are the ones who tend to rise their fields.

In 2003, J.C. and I had our first novel published, Dhampir. Other books in the series followed, and by 2005, we were starting to make some real money, not riches, but $50,000 a year before taxes. At the time, we were living in Colorado, and we began considering our choices.

In 2007, we made a big leap. We quit our jobs, sold our condo, moved to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and bought a house.

We were full time writers. It was glorious.

At the same time, I became friends with two women who wrote for the same publisher as me, and they each had a successful series. One of them lives here in Oregon, and the other up in Washington State. We were all enjoying moderate success. Whenever one of our novels was released, it was stacked up on tables in the front of Borders Books and B&N. J.C. and I even had the Noble Dead Saga displayed in those fancy cardboard stands in the middle of the aisle. It was awesome!

I handled my writing career in the same fashion that I’d handled my teaching career. I worked hard, and I met deadlines. I was considerate of both my editor and the poor folks down in the production department who put in very long hours to make everything happen. I never complained.  I submitted copy-edits and proofread manuscripts early. I thanked everyone for their hard work in getting my books published.

Both women who I mention above behaved in the same fashion. We were all pleasant people with whom to work.

The money kept getting better. In 2008, J.C. and I grossed $160,000. That was before taxes and our agent’s fee . . . but still. For a couple of mid-list writers, that was a lot of money for us. However, instead of investing the “extra” money (above living expenses), we bought all the materials to remodel our house. Hah! We did the work ourselves, but hard wood floors are not cheap. Neither was the high-line fireplace insert we bought.

When you consider that our royalties were between 8-12% of what the books earned, you can imagine how much money we were earning for the publisher. We were treated like royalty.

The problem was that I viewed my writing career as well . . . a career—one that functioned like any other career. I believed that so long as I worked hard, met deadlines, was considerate of others, and consistently put out a quality product, I would continue to do well in my chosen field.

Do I sound like an idiot? Maybe.

By then, I’d become friends with a few editors from other publishing houses, and they occasionally chatted with me off-the-record. So . . . I heard stories about another writer, a man:

“He is vile, just toxic to work with. He’s verbally abusive, complains about everything. He had our publicity director in tears last week. He’s self-absorbed, arrogant, and he treats the people in the production department like minions. He’s consistently late on projects and then blames everyone else. I actually feel sorry for his agent . . . and that’s saying something.”

In the real world, this guy wouldn’t have lasted a month at a normal job (either that or he would have been promoted to upper management). But he sold books. He sold a lot of books, and so his behavior was not only overlooked, it simply didn’t matter. He sold books. He could pretty much get away with whatever bad behavior he felt like dishing out. 

For some reason, I never made this connection. Inside the publishing house, all rules of remaining employed held true, but the writers are different. Our function is to write books that a lot of people will buy. This pays the salaries of the people working inside the house.

In 2011, Borders closed, and the publishing industry began to change rapidly. It became harder and harder to get new books “seen,” and also, tastes in reading material for buyers is always fluctuating. By 2013, many of my writer friends who had been earning solid livings in 2008 were suddenly either watching their royalty checks shrink at a rapid pace or simply not being offered new contracts.

We were no exceptions. In 2015, I realized that I’d need to go back to teaching. But after being out of the field for years and living in a new state when I had few contacts, this proved harder than I initially expected.

However, Mr. Toxic-Pants up above was writing in a genre that still sold big, and he’d made a name for himself, and he received $100k contract on a new book. He became even more toxic and abusive. But he sold books.

I found a place teaching at a lovely community college, and I’ve now been there three years. I work hard. I care about the success of my students. I meet deadlines. I am kind to my superiors. I never complain.

My evaluations are high, and I’m always assigned courses.

I still love to write, and I have a new series out with a new publisher.  It’s fun, and I’m enjoying myself. I will probably always write fiction and tell stories. But . . . if I ever end up with a best-selling series again, I will never quit my teaching job. Not ever.

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