Don’t Poke The Caged Writer

Sometimes I get embarrassed at writer events.  No, make that I often get embarrassed at writer events.  You know the type of thing – anything from a panel at a conference to a round table at some local gathering, to a soiree where people come to see the working authors (slightly more amusing than seeing monkeys in a zoo.  Or at least, you have less chance of being hit by flung poo.  Though no promises made against territory marking, in the way of the great jungle cats.  At least metaphorically.)

Anyway, you’ve probably attended one of these: the author gets up and says “hi, I’m so and so and I’ve written this book.”  They usually come provided with copies of the book, or at least of the cover, to wave around in a meaningful manner and perhaps convince you to buy it.

As more and more self published authors join the mix, it becomes more a matter of their bringing piles and piles of books to sell.

… and here I am.  On a good day, I’ll remember to bring bookmarks and/or one of my business cards.  Most days aren’t that good though.  Most days it’s just me showing up – usually late – with purse and sometimes with laptop bag (if Dan failed to surgically detach me from it.)

Then the intros start.  Some of the authors have written one book.  I’ve been at events with writers who have as many as three.  Last year, on one panel, I had a co-panelist who had fifteen books out, in one series, but she was older than I, and, let’s face it, the books were ALL in one series.

Then there’s me.  I am improbable, bordering on the near-impossible.  It starts with “I’ve published twenty three books.”  If I slur this, sometimes people think I said “two or three.”  This helps because they tend to stare and point less.  If they get it, I immediately get the appraising looks, something like “My aren’t you well preserved.”

Mind you, I have friends who have published way more, but they usually don’t have to follow it up with “under three… no wait, four names… that I admit to.”   Mumble.  “There are others, but that’s more like…”  Mumble “Twenty eight?  No.  Nine.”

By this time I usually can see one person, maybe two, speed dialing the men in white coats.  The others are just smiling at me, sure I’m lying and waiting for the punch line.

If sometime during the panel I let it fly that I’ve only been published eleven years next month, it makes it worse.

People seem to think the productivity is at best unlikely and at worst a sign of something deeply broken with me.  I’d argue I’ve got friends who write as much (or more) but then again how do I know my friends are normal.

So, instead, I usually end up feeling vaguely guilty and ashamed.

In my defense, therefore, and for all time, I’d like to invoke the following justifications:
1. I never set out to write that much.  In fact, I’d love to slow down to a comfortable jog of four books or so a year and offload to an assistant everything else, including putting my old short stories up as ebooks.  So far, this goal hasn’t met up with the goal of having three meals a day and a roof over my head.  I shall continue trying.  Which means… more writing.

2. I never set out to write in multiple genres.  Honestly, I set out to write in science fiction and thought I might eventually write one or two mysteries.  The fantasy, historical fantasy, historical mystery and romance just sort of… well… some were wished on me by publishing houses…  Mostly, though well…  They just sort of happen.  And don’t tell me writing an accidental novel or two never happened to you, because… well, why do you think they call them accidental novels.

3. I don’t actually have a work ethic, let alone a good one.  What I have is a huge, looming fear of failure, which means I must run very hard to avoid failing, and … well… that keeps me working.  Unless fear and paranoia are a virtue, it’s not a work ethic.

4.  I’m not the world’s laziest writer – well, at least Dean Wesley Smith, who can write circles around me every day of the week and twice on Sunday CLAIMS that title – but I do waste any amount of time. For one I’m a news junkie, and I must check the blogs five times a day, just in case the wheels have come off the world.  (They have.  I just don’t know what to do to put them back on.  It’s not as easy as in my fiction…)  For another, I’m still sleeping a good six hours a night.  And periodically I just sit and stare at the screen, too.  Or watch a movie.  In fact, the time I spend not typing probably outweighs the time I spend typing.

5. I don’t know how NOT to write.  Trust me.  If I did I’d have walked away a dozen times in the last ten years.

6.  The dog ate my homework, I have a witlow (also cleaning lady’s knee), I have congenital graphomania, and besides…

Maybe I’ll just start lying and only admitting to the books in the last two years?

99 thoughts on “Don’t Poke The Caged Writer

  1. I’m not seeing why prolific publishing is a problem. You are a professional. The storytelling industry seems one in which storytellers have been deluded into defining professionalism as something acquired through the blessings of packagers and distributers instead of through selling stories to readers at a quantity and price that allows you to eat and keep writing. That seems to have resulted in a lot of amateurs being mixed up among the professional storytellers.

    It isn’t the amateurs fault that you stun them. Neither is it any kind of problem with you. They didn’t know professionals existed. Of course it is going to be a shock when they actually meet you. I suspect that it helps those still deciding whether to make writing a primary career or not to see prolific writing as an option. Some people might have Oxford positions that allow them to keep a writing hobby on the side for a decade to write one long book. Most don’t.

    1. Here is an extremely erudite rant on the topic by the aforementioned Dean Wesley Smith, whose blog I am currently backreading. (I just made that word up. It means I just found it and am reading back through it to catch up.)

      I was going to point it out to our esteemed hostess anyway, with the suggestion that she print the link on the back of the business cards she can never remember so when somebody tells her That’s Not How We Do Things In the Publishing Industry she can flip the card over, point at the link and say, “STFU.”

      I can’t tell you how much it heartens me to read things like this post (and the linked one) because while I do not have time to write every day, when I write, I write, by God. While I know it is not record-breaking by any means when I tell somebody I have written 12,000 words of reasonably good copy in one twenty-four hour period I get reactions much like those above. I published the story, and people give me money to read it. QED. For the longest time I was sure I was doing it wrong because I thought that you had to rewrite and review and redraft and repaint and swap out the curtains and move the couch around before a piece of writing could be Properly Finished. Nuh-uh.

  2. Sarah: Those situations are where you need to stop channelling courtly, reclusive Robert Heinlein and instead unleash your inner Isaac Asimov. “I’ve written more books than anybody!”

    Trust me, the audience isn’t thinking “that woman’s crazy claiming to write so many books.” They (and the other writers) are thinking “Wow, the PROFESSIONAL has arrived!”

  3. “Yes there are a lot of books under my various names, but it wasn’t me, I was out of my mind at the time… err.. and besides the wench is dead”

  4. Maybe you come out and introduce yourself as Sarah Hoyt and just admit to the books written under that name, go change clothes and come back and introduce yourself as Elise Hyatt and admit to the books written under that name, go back and change into another set of clothes and come out and introduce yourself as Sarah D’Almeida, etc.

    Of course then you would have to remember to bring plenty of changes of clothes, which might be harder to remember than bringing books. But it might be interesting to see how many people in the audience are paying enough attention to even realize it is all the same person.

    1. I like this plan, but I suggest each pen name just have a distinctive hat. Hats are rare these days and people tend to fixate on them. That should do the trick. Humorous accents may also be helpful.

        1. That’s quitter talk. You might not be able to speak with no accent, like those of us from the blessed Midwest where everything cancels out, but a person of your intelligence should be able to speak in any number of humorous accepts. Make some up, if nothing else.

        2. Glasses. Get yourself a Con-bag, load it with your business cards, book-cover placards and a variety of glasses (lenses optional) suited to each different persona (wire-frames for SF, horn-rimmed for historical fantasy, cat’s-eye for cozies) that you can swap as appropriate. Forget to bring bag to panel.

                1. Oh, but all the better. People would be on the edge of their chairs watching to catch you putting on the specs for the point of view.

                2. A: you do realize the point of this is entertainment of con attendees.

                  B: you do realize that it means you would always win those arguments. Unless you fought yourself to a draw in a civil war of such magnitude that the earth whereupon such savage battle took place never grew life again, forever sere, infertile and barren.

                  C: you do realize that these are not mutually exclusive possibilities.

                  1. Elise Hyatt is the twit of the universe. The woman writes stream of consciousness and what she does to commas is not DECENT. I might do her violence, if we were together on a panel.

                    1. I’m picturing a photoshopped image of five or more Sarahs at a convention table with different hats, glasses, and and name tents.

                    2. For heaven’s sake, she writes craft mysteries, the replacement for the former, now politically incorrect, cozies. What is one to expect? Jessica Fletcher? That’s been done before. Anyway, Elise Hyatt may be a twit (although one should not confuse the writer for the story) and her plotting may be terrible, but some of her characters are more than charming enough to make up for her sins.

                    3. Perhaps you could just flush her out.

                      [Insert reference to scene from The Goodbye Girl in which Richard Dreyfuss staggers him drunk, from the effort to poison the remnant of the Richard III In Pink-spangly Tights character.]

                    4. You are not the only one:

                      CELESTINE by Kirsty MacColl

                      Oh she is hot, she’s hot, she’s hot
                      She’s just a wild and wicked slut
                      And she lives inside my head and stops me sleeping
                      And when I think she’s finally gone
                      Some guy arrives and turns her on
                      Then she parties until dawn
                      This can’t go on Celestine
                      Get out my dreams
                      You’re killing me so slowly

                      So many men, so many fights
                      So many parties and late nights
                      She plumbs the depths and hits the heights
                      That Celestine
                      She pretends that she can’t hear me
                      She pretends she’s nowhere near me
                      She just goes quiet and pretends that she’s not in
                      But Celestine I know you’re there
                      In your exotic underwear
                      And you are fixing up your hair now, Celestine

                      Get out my dreams
                      You’re killing me so slowly

                      My lover looked into my eyes
                      And I could tell by his surprise
                      It was not me he saw in there but Celestine
                      And now it’s her that he lusts after
                      I can hear that wicked laughter
                      Still he comes to me but I know where he’s been

                      Get out my dreams
                      You’re killing me so slowly

                      Get out my dreams
                      You’re killing me so slowly

                      My lover hasn’t got a clue
                      He doesn’t know that he’s untrue
                      And it’s not me he makes love to but Celestine
                      Oh yes she’s hot, she’s hot, she’s hot
                      I guess she’s everything I’m not
                      And she lives inside my head and stops me sleeping

                  2. She would always win… but she would also always lose. Whether winning makes her happier than losing makes her sad would determine whether this was a good selling point for the plan.

          1. Haha, I can see it now – DON’T forget the bag, and just change the glasses and perhaps hat, at the table. You’ll have everyone rolling on the floor.

        3. There are people who teach accents. Usually to actors. Or you could try imitating Sylvester the Cat…

        4. You mentioned once that you used to write by dictation, did your computer learn to understand your accent? I ask because I have a bunch of old magazine articles I wrote that I decided I would compile into a book. The problem being that I only have them on paper, so today I decided to use the dictation program on my computer and read them to it, rather than retype them all. Unfortunately the computer has problems understanding my accent and comes up with the most interesting words and phrases:( I’m not sure it wouldn’t be faster to type them than to go back through and edit all the interesting computer interpretations.

          1. I trained dragon ONCE to get my accent. Took me almost a month. Then the computer caught fire (I’m actually not joking.) Since then I haven’t had the time to train it again. The only issue back then was that it took the meowing of my cat Pixel for “Hello” so I had to do a search for “hello” afterwards

            1. When I’m not massively congested, I can get voice software to understand me quite well, usually without even training it. I usually speak slower than I normally would when I do it, though.

      1. I agree — hats. Employ one of the Offspring to carry them around for one and hand them over in the best English Butler fashion.

        (I also suggest just owning up to something like “Over 25 books under various names. Some of my friends tell me I have a writing addiction. I’m sure I’ll get treatment just after I finish this next story… If my fans don’t burn down the WriteAnon building like they did last time.”)

  5. Hard work is admirable, no matter what it is one does for work. How you manage the output for your books, along with writing this blog, and for all the other places you post, I will never know.

    I, too, am a news junky and prolific reposter on facebook. But I don’t have to work any longer, so I have all day to read if I want.

    Don’t be an apologist for all you do. Were it me standing up there in front of everyone, I would crow my head off. One thing I have learned is that modesty and humility have their places, but not when trying to sell anything. No one can toot your horn like you can. Those words on the page or screen are yours, and as such, you earn the right to let the world know.

  6. I see nothing wrong with prolific writers. I have hundreds of short stories and if I am feeling good I can write two flashes a day. Writing a novel is harder for me. I can do maybe two or three a year. I hope to get faster as I get better. I have only written four and a half novels now. (Published them all this year except the half).

    What does the two or three author writer for “how many years?” has to be proud about? URG they are still apprentices. Dean once said that it takes ten books for a writer to get into his rhythm. So I am working hard to get to the tenth book.

    Good luck and keep writing.

  7. Yeah, I agree with everyone else, I see no need to apologize for being prolific – that’s an achievement, be proud of it. I find things said with a grin at the audience, maybe a bit self-deprecating, go over pretty well. Add what you’ve said above, that you don’t know how not to write and you’ve got a terrible fear of failure (more self-deprecating, but with humor, could get a laugh (audience laughing = good, IMO)) and you could wind up with awestruck people asking you how you’ve managed to do it.

    I actually like the idea of putting on different hats for each name, if you’re into stage performing. 🙂

  8. I see your problem. There are two elements to it. I will put the more scatological (and sexist) of the two second in order that those averse to such can avoid it (and those eager for such can skip right to it.)

    First, I suspect many people are ignorant of the operations of the publishing industry (Lord knows, many people seem ignorant of so much these days, from proper courtesy — letting me cut ahead of them in line — to the idea that the produce section is not a salad bar for their between-meal snacking) and thus have trouble accepting the idea that anyone can have written so many books in so brief a period, gotten them published(!) and NOT be obscenely wealthy. [Insert Castle reference] I mean, J. K. Rowling only published seven books, and look at how long it took her and how wealthy she is.

    Second (if sensitive, avert gaze, if salacious this is the graph you were looking for), to a number of people who do understand the publishing industry and are trying to get at the teats on that particular cow, what you are doing is akin to the guy* next to you at the bar complaining about how much he gets laid, but that they are all mildly unattractive women.

    *Necessarily sexist because of the social dynamics of meaningless sexual encounters. Any reasonably presentable female can get as much “action” as she fancies if only she is willing to lower her standards sufficiently … which is the basis for the wide variety of slur words for women of such indiscriminate taste. When it comes to sexual favors women in Western Society are still “sellers” and ladies of light virtue are viewed much the same way as independent and small chain bookstores view B&N and Amazon.

    1. “Lord knows, many people seem ignorant of so much these days, from proper courtesy — letting me cut ahead of them in line — to the idea that the produce section is not a salad bar for their between-meal snacking”

      Personally I prefer the bulk food section, where I can snack on chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, white chocolate chips, gummy bears, and other stuff that actually tastes good 🙂

      1. You mention the salad bar – I saw a guy bearcat using the fruit section as a salad bar. I was pretty upset because he put his hands on most of the fruit. Since I have an auto-immune system problem I just glared at him. GAWD he could have given me and anyone else who bought the fruit a virus or other disease. Stupid inconsiderate stupid people.

    2. To an extent, yes. The people in the audience might think I’m “hogging the spotlight” instead of simply trying to survive.
      The other side of it is, yes, people look at me and think “You must make hundreds of thousands.” Ah! I keep telling Him up there it wouldn’t spoil me, but he refuses to try me.

            1. ah, yes. “Fiddler on the Stage.” I went with friends to a very special performance at an old opera house in Hickory North Carolina. The director SWORE he didn’t know until a week before showtime that the excellent country fiddler in the cast had very severe acrophobia and had absolutely no idea that he was going to have to take the title literally.

  9. 1. You’re not prolific compared to Lionel Fanthorpe. Or even compared to the average writer in the pulp era.

    2. Being prolific doesn’t ensure writer quality or lack thereof, but it is an essential tool for most writers who want to make their living that way.

    3. Feeling ashamed of your obviously-working neural toolbox, and your stick-to-it-iveness in getting finished and published, is silly and counterproductive. In this case, you need to take more of your mother’s attitude, and feel that you have deigned to visit the panel with your glorious professional presence. 🙂

    1. Harper Lee had one book in her. Agatha Christie had 91 (86 under A.C.). Oh raspberries! I am tired of our one size fits all, one story suits all, one way is the only legitimate way to go world.

        1. I guess there’s a reason why every longtime writer seems get honored with the strange compliment of “can’t write a bad book.”

  10. An accidental novel sounds like an unplanned pregnancy. And it may be that deity is a little more involved in conception than we’d like to admit. So, if you want to say, while writing an accidental novel, “I’m on a mission from G-d,” you won’t get an argument from me. Just wear your Blues Brothers shades when you do.

  11. He might think that too much success would slow you down, and He’s a fan of your writing. As for what the others have said, all I can add to it is “I agree completely”. Keep up the good work — you’re well appreciated.

        1. Wish? Not sure that is the correct word. That implies that there was some power or magic I could prevail upon to somehow force writing out of Sarah. Can’t imagine that. 😉 I quite enjoyed A Gentleman Takes a Chance. As there has been, for some time, mention of preparing Noah’s Boy for publication, in that regard I would say that I am eagerly anticipating it. Short stories? I desire them. If our hostess would be so gracious, please. Whatever, she should do what will pay her bills, so she can keep feeding us more words.

      1. As a professional accountant I should caution you that as an Indie writer you want to be dealing in volume; avoid the bespoke trade (unless the trade bespeaking very loud$ly.)

        If you wish” should exit your professional phrasebook, to be replaced by “If you’re willing and able to make it worth my while.”

        As you wish” should said only by people named Wesley and only to people named Buttercup. I believe it is a licensing issue, although there are complications when one or the other is in disguise.

  12. At least Sarah doesn’t bring enough samples of her books to build a fortress wall in front of her, unlike some authors I could mention….

    One of these years, when I am on a panel, I will bring an entire suitcase of books, and build a full fortress in front of me, with a tiny vision-slit in the front. Then I can tell atrocious puns (I mean atrocious even for me), and when people start groaning, I can say “DO YOUR WORST”, secure in the knowledge I am untouchable (or, at least, the fortress of books will hold long enough for me to dive under the table and slip out the door unnoticed). 🙂

    1. Not at BuboniCon. Too many engineers and Air Force people in the audience – they’d breach the wall. Something about “we LUV a challenge” . . . 🙂

      1. For that matter, why “breach the wall”. Go under it or around it to get the Evil French. [Very Big Evil Grin]

        The last time the French built a wall to keep their enemies out, the enemy went around it. [Very Very Big Evil Grin]

  13. The other week, the radio was speaking to a new English novelist, and she had just written her first novel over the course of ten years . . . the radio Dj was applauding the hard work it would have taken her to write her novel over such a short amount of time . . . and my husband got to watch me have a fit in the car. “Ten Years! Ten Years! What did she do, write one word every other Tuesday?!? I can see taking Ten years to get published, (traditionally) but to actually write a novel . . .”

      1. Er… At some point I shall record myself reading the opening of Darkship Renegades. Then you’ll ALL understand why strangers ask me “In what language do you write.” It’s not sane, and it’s not fair, but the question annoys me SO MUCH I’ve taken to answering “Mandarin Chinese. And then I pay someone to translate it, since I don’t understand it.” The weird thing is how many people say “oh,” as if this were a perfectly reasonable answer.

        1. If they are younger, you should say COBOL or FORTRAN and leave ’em with blank stares. Except for that one zit-encrusted, pasty kid who fires back, “What compiler do you use?”

              1. Wayne, you might even understand what SARP is… I wrote my first book using SARP. It was a textbook on how to use our CATIS system. Formatting was a *(I&&*(!!! Written on a PDP-11.

                1. I really have to apologize. I seem to infect this blog with tangent-vitis, more commonly known as tangevitis, on a regular basis. The infection rate is nearly 100%.

                    1. ou’rethe one who’s been putting out the powdered orange drink?

                      No, no. That was that Jim fellow.

                      I was actually wondering WHY he thought the blog WASN’T already infected.

                      Oh it is. This is a particularly virulent strain, though, and usually threatens to reduce the blogger into a…SQUIRREL!!!

                2. Sorry, not familiar with SARP. Used a pretty basic text editor for coding on both the PDP-11 and the VAX, though I did write some papers in another editor on the VAX, using an editor whose name I don’t remember, that was pretty advanced for its time. Used the number pad for special functions, once you pressed the “Gold” key (now the NumLock key).

        2. The Daughter and a young friend named Ann both have studied have Japanese successfully find Chinese a conundrum. Chinese is a tonal language. The Daughter can read Chinese, but admits that she has little hope of mastering the spoken language. Ann, with great embarrassment, tells the story of trying to practicing her Chinese visiting a classmate whose roommate was a lady from Singapore. The lady from Singapore, after listen for a while, complained that she didn’t have the slightest idea of what Ann was trying to do.

          1. all their dialects are tonal too… They learn Mandarin so that they can understand each other. I heard a story that a group from a small village came to the city to sing a song. It was beautiful, but no one understood the song except the villagers. 😉

            1. I gather that while the same kanji may mean house in various dialects of Chinese the voiced word for house may be entirely different.

  14. Pfah! If they can’t handle the truth, why is that your problem? Shielding them from it only lets them remain ignorant for a while longer. You are who you are, you write what and how much you write, and that’s the new pradigm, and they might as well start getting used to it now.

  15. Pish-tosh.

    Even if what you wrote was tripe (and in my experience, it’s not) and ALL independently published, that’s still a body of work to be proud of. If nothing else, it shows persistence. It also shows the chops it takes to be taken up by the publishing industry and continue to get published that way, which (again) takes persistence and a certain amount of skill – plus a certain amount of survival instinct.

    I don’t think I would have ever have reacted to shock over that many books, even if I were in my totally dumb days of not knowing what goes into it or how hard it was to get into the industry. When I knew a little more, I might have thought, “how good are some of them then?” but have been properly educated as to how much can be written even at a slower pace (my supposed pace is meant to be a minimum of 2k words a night, 5 nights a week and I’m supposed to be able to write about six 80k novels a year at that pace). So, now I know better.

    Probably, people just haven’t done the math to realize how much CAN be done in a year, if they put their minds to it. And it’s not your problem if people don’t do the math.

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