In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know. Our next guest is the wonderful Tehani Wessely.
I’m an editor/publisher rather than an author, but in small press, I guess the same pressures apply. The income is rarely sufficient to support one person (let alone a family) – for me, if each project pays for itself it’s a win, but that’s not always the case. Even if it were, you can’t live on for-the-love, right? Anyway, I happen to love my day job – I’m a full-time teacher librarian (well, Head of Information Services) at an independent boys’ school, working 8am to 5pm most days. It is another facet of who I am, and I’m very lucky that I get to do what I love at work, which helps pay for my other passion!
What’s interesting is that having a day job doesn’t necessarily change my publishing output. I basically had a year off when the youngest was born (I did some online university tutoring and marking, but nothing like full-time) but I think I achieved just as much in the past year with full-time work and an interstate move as I did in that year off. For me, it’s kind of like that story of the jar full of rocks/pebbles/sand – if you put the sand in first, the rocks won’t fit, but when you have the rocks in, the sand fills the gaps. I think publishing is my sand – it’s what I do to fill in the gaps, and while I bemoan the fact I don’t have enough time to do everything I want to do to create and market books, I don’t necessarily know if I would achieve much more even with that time. That said, looking back it’s possible a lot of projects got STARTED during that year off which then have taken 12 to 18 months to come to fruition, so maybe that’s the kicker – when you have the time, the creativity has more opportunity to flow freely, even if it’s not an immediate payoff.
In terms of what juggling day job and publishing looks like for me, I have four children from 2 to 12, and a husband who works away half the time and, while he doesn’t always “get” why I publish, fully supports me. This usually means time rather than money, but then, every dollar I’ve put into the press could have been going towards the family holiday or mortgage I suppose. It’s more about the ability to be able to go to things like conventions, to sell books, network with authors and so on though – without his support, I wouldn’t be able to do that as easily.
Sometimes I get a bit stressed about whether or not I can actually maintain the financial commitment or time necessary to make the projects happen, but so far, we’ve always managed it. That said, I did make a choice late last year to pull back on some of the projects I’d been considering, due to both financial and time pressure. It was a really tough decision, and they were hard emails to write, because I think if you aren’t trying new things and looking at new opportunities, it’s really hard for a small press to gain traction. But if I can’t make the best effort at the projects I’m doing, they aren’t going to be worth it anyway – publishing has such a long lead time and an even longer follow through, if you don’t want projects to sink without a trace, and I think that’s what I’m trying to find the balance with at the moment. The editing and book production isn’t really the problem. I think I could continue to load or even increase it, if that’s ALL I needed to do. But it’s not. It’s the rest of the publishing process that takes the longest time. And that’s where most of my guilt comes from – taking time away from my family to make these books. I can only hope that my kids see me following a passion and working hard to achieve my goals, and take some of that away for their own lives, not just all the time Mummy spends at the computer rather than playing with them… Yeah, a bit of guilt.
In terms of the sacrifices I make in order to do what I do, although the money is a part of it, I think it’s definitely the time that is the biggest sacrifice. But you know what? If I wasn’t making books, I’d almost certainly be doing something else with that time, and it’s not a guarantee that something would be hanging out with the kids, I’m afraid! It might be something less deadline-specific, I suppose. Maybe it would be exercise…
I have been working with small press publishing since 2001 – my first child was born in 2002. I’ve lived in five different states in that time, worked full- and part-time, sometimes with contract work on top. Every time I’ve had a hiatus from a paid job, I’ve upped the ante in publishing – FableCroft was started two months after my third baby was born. The problem is, when I’m not working and have more time to give to publishing, I don’t have an income from my day job. And when I’m working and have perhaps a bit of extra money, naturally I don’t have as much TIME to invest in projects. Maybe I could be a better mother – I’m not sure. If I’m happy and fulfilled, I think I’m a better person which lets me be a better mum, but maybe that’s what I WANT to think because I don’t want to give it up? It’s a balancing act and I don’t think there are any easy answers.
What would be the ideal? I’m not sure there is one. I genuinely love my day job, and at this stage, wouldn’t want to give that up. I am well paid in my role, more so than I would be in most roles even in the mainstream publishing industry, so I can’t see us being in a position for me NOT to have a day job any time soon. However, one day, maybe, I think I would love to be able to either focus entirely on FableCroft or, should an opportunity arise, perhaps take on a position in a large publishing house. You never really know what the future will bring – for now, everything I do is another string in my bow to a potential future prospects. And we’ll see where life takes us!
Tehani Wessely was a founding member of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine in 2001. Now firmly entrenched in Australian speculative fiction and independent press, she operates FableCroft Publishing, has edited for Twelfth Planet Press (among other duties), judged for the Aurealis Awards (for which she is the current judging co-ordinator), CBCA Book of the Year and the WA Premier’s Book Awards, reads far more in one genre than is healthy, and writes reviews, non-fiction and interviews. In her spare moments, she works as a Teacher Librarian and enjoys spending time with her husband and four children.
Before FableCroft, Tehani was the editor of ASIM #4, #16, #27, #31 and #37, three Best Of ASIM e-anthologies, co-editor of ASIM #36, the Twelfth Planet Press anthology New Ceres Nights and other projects. In 2014, Tehani received the Aurealis Award for Best Anthology for One Small Step (tie) and The Bone Chime Song and other stories by Joanne Anderton received Best Collection the same year. Many stories and works she has published have been shortlisted for (and won) multiple awards including Ditmars, Aurealis Awards, WSFA Small Press Awards, Tin Ducks, Chronos Awards, Australian Shadows Awards and Sir Julius Vogel Awards, and have been honorably mentioned and collected in multiple Year’s Best and other reprint anthologies.
In 2015, Tehani will publish Cranky Ladies of History (co-edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and crowdfunded on Pozible), Insert Title Here (an unthemed speculative fiction anthology), Havenstar by Glenda Larke (ebook reprint), Focus 2014: highlights of Australian short fiction (ebook Best Of) and probably other projects. She also has a Doctor Who essay appearing in the collection Companion Piece from Mad Norwegian Press.