One of the huge advantages to not yet being published/under contract is you can pursue a big idea when it comes your way. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I feel strongly that you have to, y’know, finish writing books if you ever want to get published, but say you’ve just finished a book and you’ve got this one specific idea percolating at the back of your mind. Suddenly you’re free to write it, pretty much no holds barred.
This is not something you really appreciate until you can’t do it anymore. And believe me, I do understand that this is a “wah wah poor you” kind of statement–but it’s also an interesting one to look at in regards to being a professional writer.
Most of us–not all, but most–are writing series. My publishers, in fact, made it clear to me a year or so ago that I didn’t have the name recognition to risk a stand-alone; it was too likely, they felt, to get lost in the general masses of book releases. This, I bet, will clash with something many of you have been told, which is “don’t try to sell a series,” but my life-long experience, both as a reader and a writer, is that publishers like series. Readers like series; they like continuity. Sure, there are exceptions, but authors keep writing series for a reason. My personal interpretation of “don’t try to sell a series” is a lot more like “don’t write five books in one series before you’re published. Write one. Then write a book in a different series. Then write another book in a third series. Then maybe go back to the first series and write a second book. Then write something else entirely. Then…(you get the idea).”
That was not where I was going with this. It does, however, kind of tie in to what I do want to say: once you’ve gone pro and are under regular contract, the chances of having time & financial stability to start something completely new diminish. There are a couple reasons for this: one is you might have committed to a longish series, like I have (The Walker Papers are intended to be 9 books), or you may become known for writing a specific kind of story, which can be surprisingly hard to break out of. I write–well. I’ve been writing about 3 books a year since 2004, all under contract (that’s four different series, folks. See the above paragraph? Three of those series came from exactly the described behavior: I’d written all or huge chunks of six first-books-in-a-series before getting published, and three of the four series that sold were from that pool). This has been fantastic in every way–it’s let me be a full-time writer since before my first book hit the shelves–but a flip side to it is that I have some Big Ideas that I would dearly, dearly love to develop…and I quite literally don’t know if I’m ever going to have time to do it.
One of my personal hot topics is environmental issues; it’s at least partly a result of growing up in Alaska and having very clearly seen the effects of climate change in my lifetime. I desperately loved Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Science in the Capitol” trilogy, which is some of the most beautiful nature writing and political commentary/near future science fiction that I’ve read…but even as much as I love it, I can see that its flaw is that it’s not easily accessible, even to ardent readers. I would *love* to try my hand at a near-future SF environmental series that was a little easier to get inside. Furthermore, it’s topical: they’re the kind of novels I’d want to write much sooner rather than later, so let us say I wrapped up the Walker Papers and the Inheritors’ Cycle, which are my two current series, lickity-split, and wanted to turn my hand to my Big Idea environmental books. Let’s say I managed to do that by 2012, which is realistically the very soonest that could happen.
Suddenly I’m faced with the rub of the matter: writing those books would require real, physical world research. Travel, interviews, time. Time in which I could be writing books I would be quite sure of selling; time in which I would be spending, not making, money while I did research; time in which I was risking the career I do have for a new branch in the one I’d like to have. Time in which I may not have any books at all coming out, because I’m working on something brand new. These are not necessarily bad things, but they *are* factors, and they’re something you don’t have to consider nearly as much when you haven’t yet gotten that first contract.
So, without in any way meaning to discourage new writers, let me at least say, “Take a minute to enjoy where you are.” Writing is a career always in flux, and it’s really easy to get caught thinking about the next step, whatever that might be, without fully appreciating where we are.