The puzzle business is really getting to me. Or rather, not getting to me. I haven't had a book deal in over 18 months, and my regular sales to newspapers are minimal. I've done cold calling, paid for advertising, spent endless hours writing proposals that are rejected or (worse) ignored. Book sales of my Dummies titles are so bad that returns from bookshops (of unsold stock) outnumber sales roughly fourfold (that was the breaking point for me). No amount of hard work is making this happen. Newspapers don't want new crossword compilers, not until the existing ones fall off their twigs (they're mostly male retirees). As Bernard Black says "The work is hard, but the pay is bad."
After nine years of trying to make this into a full-time profession, I'm throwing in the towel.
I won't stop writing for my agents Auspac Media, of course, and if a publisher comes with a proposal, I'll leap at the chance. But I'm stopping beating my head against this particular brick wall. It feels good to stop! It doesn't actually change much in what I'm doing each week, I still have a few regular puzzles to write, but it's more my attitude, not feeling like I have to keep trying and trying and TRYING, or constantly stressing and trying to think of new ways to find puzzle work. It's quite a relief.
I really need some better work that actually pays (gasp!). Honestly, I'd be better off financially if I was a check-out chick. I've explored various options - nothing has eventuated from the graphic design contract work. One option is to get a certificate in accounting and take on bookkeeping work one or two days a week – that's my last resort plan. There is a lot of work available in this area, and I'm sure I could do it, I don't mind maths, but it's not frightfully interesting to me.
My current plan, however, is to train as an indexer! An indexer is the person who - yes, you guessed it - writes the index in the back of non-fiction books, journals, cookbooks, annual reports, and so on. I have pretty much all the skills and interests to make this an appealing word nerd option, which will hopefully eventually bring me in actual paying work. Indexing is also nice short fast project work (an indexer gets the final page proofs just before a book goes to press, and generally only a week or two to do the job) - my favourite sort of work.
While indexing is a job that can be assisted by computers, it really has to be done by a person (very similar to puzzle writing there!). There aren't many indexers in Australia (around 200), and most are retirees. I'll be one of the 'new generation' ...
So I've joined the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers, am slowly gathering a library of the relevant reference books, am attending a basic course in indexing in Sydney next month, and will probably do the intermediate course a few months later as well. There's quite an apprenticeship to serve, really - no formal university training courses in indexing exist in Australia. The process of becoming officially registered involves submitted a published index (ie one you've written for a real book) to the ANZSI Registration Committee - I hope to be ready to apply for registration in a year or so. I've got a lot to learn before then!