A couple of weeks ago, Diana mentioned in a post the latest publishing kerfuffle, which pits Barnes & Noble against Simon & Schuster. (Feel free to check out Di’s post, as well as the other posts to which she links. I’ll wait.) The issues in this fight, as with so many other publishing industry conflicts, are murky at best. When corporate behemoths do battle, it’s hard to take sides because neither entity is terribly sympathetic. But you can always count on one thing: Whatever costs the giants incur as a result of their disagreement will be passed on a) to authors, and b) to consumers. Certainly that has been the case this time around.
I bring this up because lately I have been feeling deeply frustrated by this business and my precarious-as-always place in it. I’m a mid-lister. I’m not one of fantasy/science fiction’s big names. I’m too old to be an up-and-comer, still too inexperienced to be considered an old master. My books don’t debut on bestseller lists, and believe me when I tell you that I don’t make a lot of money doing this. I have a kid who’s about to start college and another who’s about to start high school, and I am feeling that lack of earning power more acutely than ever. I’ve just had a great big, milestone, mortality-reminding birthday, and I am all too aware that my window of opportunity for breaking into the ranks of big-name, bestselling authors is starting to close.
And yet . . .
The other day I went for a long hike through the forest. The trail I was on traverses what’s called Shakerag Hollow (so named because many years ago you could go down into the hollow at night, wave a white cloth, and bootleggers would emerge from the shadows to sell their wares) and it was just beautiful. The forest canopy has yet to fill in, so late-afternoon sunlight streamed through the bare branches. Spring wildflowers lined the trail — the yellows of Celandine Poppy and Trout Lily, the soft whites of Rue Anemone and Dutchman Britches, the lavender of Hepatica and the expectant blue of budding Larkspur. Wrens and kinglets sang, their exuberant voices blending with the gurgle of streams that carried runoff from recent storms. As as I walked, all I could think about was how I would write about it, how I might work the setting into a story or perhaps just turn it into an essay for the local paper (which is always looking for pieces of this sort).
In recent months, with some frequency, I have found myself wondering if perhaps my run as a professional writer is coming to an end. Maybe, when I’m done with the two Thieftaker books that remain under contract, I should find something else to do. I really do have other marketable skills, though you probably wouldn’t know it to look at me. I want to make more money than I do right now. (Did I mention that my older kid is about to start college?) I find myself wondering what it would be like to work in an industry that makes sense — I still wonder at the fact that publicity money is spent on the most successful authors, the ones who actually need it least,while being denied to those of us who remain relatively unknown — that doesn’t treat those who create its most important content as second-class citizens, that doesn’t attempt to impose upon art the same business models that are used to market, say, laundry detergents.
But the truth is — as my hike through Shakerag Hollow reminded me — I am a writer. I can no more stop writing than I can stop breathing. I talked about this with a good friend not long ago (right around my birthday, when these existential professional doubts were weighing on me quite heavily). And he asked me this: “Putting aside your frustrations, do you still love it?” Of course the answer was yes. “You’re thinking about this stuff because you’re hyper-aware of it being your birthday. You’re feeling your mortality. Let’s say you only have 20 good years left. Is there really anything else you would want to do with those years?” Of course the answer was no. “Then nothing else matters.”
He’s a good friend.
And he’s right.
Sometimes it’s helpful to be reminded of what ought to be obvious: I’m not in this to get rich; I write because storytelling is my passion. Which isn’t to say that I need to be complacent about where my career is right now. It would be nice to make more money. I would like for my work to gain a wider readership. But as people wiser than I am have said on this site (I’m looking at you Misty Massey, Faith Hunter, and Mindy Klasky) the best thing I can do to promote my work is write good books.
More than that, though, I have decided that my best bet is to throw off my professional ambivalence and commit myself with renewed passion not only to my creative work, but also to the business side of what I do. So, I have new projects in mind, including a collection of Thieftaker short fiction and a new alternate world fantasy. In the next six months I am going to take my first steps into self-publishing, both to put out some of my backlist, and also to begin marketing new novels. And I am going to work my tail off in anticipation of the July 2 release of Thieves’ Quarry.
This is an odd post, I know. There really isn’t much point to it. I have no advice to offer, no helpful hints for those of you aspiring to the profession. But sometimes it’s good for those less versed in the business to understand that its foibles and frustrations are just as difficult for the experienced as they are for the uninitiated. And sometimes it’s helpful for those of us who are established to vent, to acknowledge once more what all of us already know: This is hard.
But . . .
I am a writer. I say that with pride. I say it knowing that at some level I really have no choice in the matter; this is who and what I am. I say it understanding fully that to write is, at times, to struggle both creatively and financially. I say it with a renewed sense of purpose, and with a pledge to pursue my art with dedication, with passion, with joy.
So who’s with me? Why do you write? What do you do when the doubts creep in?David B. Coe http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://www.dbjackson-author.com http://magicalwords.net