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I've had an eventful fortnight.

I finished two books (a first draft of one and a third draft of another) and started writing three more. I reassessed my relationship with social media (as did every other Twitter user). I started getting up at 5:30 every morning and doing a hundred pushups every day (that lasted three days). I flew to Sydney to meet with publishers, and had to explain to them why I had a ridiculous moustache.

If that last part sounds odd, you might not have heard about Movember, an annual event involving the growing of moustaches during the month of November to raise money for men's health, with a particular focus on prostate cancer, testicular cancer and suicide. Some of these issues have affected me and my family, so I decided to take part. I set my funding goal at $200, because I figured I had about 40 friends, and they would each chip in $5 bucks. (Then I raised it to $250, because I was considering paying $50 for a Movember T-shirt which would explain to strangers why I looked so ridiculous, and then decided that money could be better spent sponsoring myself, since looking ridiculous is the point of Movember).

My expectations were very, very wrong. I'd overestimated the number of people who would contribute... but underestimated how much they would contribute. Instead of 40 people giving $5 each, 16 people donated an average of just over $41 each. I blasted past my funding target within two hours of launching the campaign. If you were one of those people, thank you. You rock.

The reason I'm writing about this—besides the fact that I hope you'll consider sponsoring me!—is because I've realised I often make the same mistake in my career. I overestimate the number of readers I have, but underestimate their commitment. For example, if I sell 60,000 books in a year, I tend to assume that I have 60,000 readers - but actually, it's more likely to be 20,000 readers, each of whom bought (on average) two books for themselves and one as a gift for someone else. I also tend to worry that if I experiment with genres or mediums, I'll lose my audience - but my readers have shown me over and over that this isn't the case. Every time I try something new, they defy my expectations and reward me for it. (Remember that time I decided to try my hand at short stories? Or the time I wanted to write a book for adults?)

I have, at the time of writing, only 589 subscribers to this newsletter. But those subscribers (and I'm told this is unheard of in the newsletter-writing-biz) actually read the emails. Mailchimp, the world's creepiest surveillance monkey, can tell.

Earlier this year I was worried that it's been too long between books in the Hangman series. The last one, Hideout, came out in 2020. The next one, Headcase, comes out in two weeks. Will anyone even remember who Timothy Blake is? I remembered a costly mistake I'd made early in my career: spending two years writing a fourth book in the Agent Six of Hearts series, even though the US publisher hadn't bought the third. The situation was starting to look frighteningly familiar.

But when I announced on social media that Blake was coming back, the response was enormous. Blake's readers number in the thousands, not the millions—but they are committed. They are thrilled to see him back.

I've been thinking a lot about this. As an author, obviously there's a relationship between how long you spend working on a book and how much money you can make from it. But that relationship is not a straight line. I've used bleeding-edge MS paint technology to illustrate this:
A lot of averaging has gone on here. Some books are never worth anything. Others never get stale (hello, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August!) But this shape mostly reflects my experience.

You can't sell an idea for a book for very much money. An outline is worth a little more, and a first draft a little more than that. A book's value peaks when it's been through several rounds of structural editing, copy editing, line editing and proofreading, because at that point it's actually enjoyable to read. Eventually its value starts to decline because it was written years ago, times have changed, too many similar books exist, and so on.

You'll notice that the author earns nothing for a while, but they have to keep working if they want to get to the next bit—the steep upward slope. They can earn (comparatively) good money during the writing and editing stages. Then they start approaching the peak, and soon their hourly pay falls below minimum wage (if it ever got above that). Eventually it goes negative.

The just-finished-editing part to the left of the peak—that's the point at which a smart author puts down their pencil. They either sell the project, or abandon it and work on something else, but they don't keep going.

I keep going. Why?!

I don't know, exactly. It's not about my reputation (people admire a rich person more than they admire a nit-picker) and it's certainly not strategic. I've already signed the contract, and been paid. The publisher is happy with the book. I know the readers will be happy with it, too (or not, but either way, hundreds of tiny tweaks aren't going to change their opinion). Yet I keep fiddling, hour after hour, day after day, giving myself grey hairs (even in my ridiculous moustache) and bags under my eyes and a sore back, while the dishes and dirty clothes pile up in my house. I'm obsessed. I want the book to be perfect, even though I know that's impossible, and that even if it weren't, no-one would be able to tell the difference between a perfect book and one that was just very, very, very, very, very good.

Or so I thought. But looking at the response to the Hangman series, I've started to wonder if maybe readers can tell. Maybe the reason they're so dedicated to my books is because I am, too.

Anyway—thanks. For noticing how hard I work to make these books the best that they can be.
Headcase will be launched by Shelley Burr (author of WAKE) at Dymocks Belconnen on Friday November 25 (which turns out to be Black Friday) at 6:45 for a 7pm start. Shelley and I will both be signing books. Please wear a mask, and if you're feeling unwell (or just wanting to avoid crowds) you can call the shop on 02 6251 2850 to buy a copy over the phone. I'll be happy to sign it for you while I'm there, then you can pick it up some other time.

If you can't get to Canberra, you can still preorder Headcase from your local bookshop or online ahead of the November 29 release date.

Hideout and Headcase are finally coming to the USA and the UK!

I'd say roughly sixty percent of the messages I get are from American or British readers who are frustrated that they haven't been able to get these books. Until now I haven't been able to help them. (For future reference, the author is always the worst person to ask! Try your local bookstore.) But my awesome agent has been working tirelessly on the problem, and it looks like we have a deal for print and ebook. No hard dates yet—when I know, you'll know.

Other news:

...OK, there's lots of other news, but I have definitely spent too long on this email. (I'm well down the right-hand side of the graph now, not least because of the time I spent making it.) So you can expect to hear from me again sometime soon.

Stay awesome, friends! And please consider donating to Movember if you haven't already.

Gotta go!
Copyright © 2022 Jack Heath, All rights reserved.

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