*I will do the post promoting y’all’s work this evening. I did not forget.*
Writers Who Disappear
In 03, the first great “layoff” I witnessed, where at world fantasy you’d see people go off with their editors and come back crying, (This didn’t include me, I decided I wouldn’t die even if they killed me which was the beginning of the zombie career) things got bleak.
They got even more bleak in the Summer of 04, when the writers list I belonged to often carried stories of attempted suicide and people just disappearing and no one could reach them.
This is not the type of “writers disappearing” that Kris Rusch is talking about in her posts. What she talks about is accurate (I think. I know only one writer who had “accomplished what he wanted to” and I think that was because new-wife didn’t approve of SF) and of course she is going to continue the series next week, so it’s incomplete.
For those of you too lazy to click through on this Sunday morning: what Kris is talking about is not writers who vanish as though taken by a very specific Rapture (though there’s a story in that. “I need a team to help me write the next part!” said the booming voice in the sky) but writers who vanish from the shelves not to be heard from again.
This includes writers whose series stop mid stride – I still get angry letters from fans of the Musketeer’s Mysteries – because the house decided it wasn’t selling ‘enough’ and of course it was the writer’s fault not covers, insane titling or lack of push.
It also includes – according to Kris – writers who’ve accomplished everything they wanted to.
And it includes writers who’ve made themselves toxic. (Weirdly, I know who the guy is who called the distributor to ask why his book wasn’t on the shelves.)
It doesn’t include what, in my experience, over the last ten years is the main reason for giving up: battle fatigue.
That is, you are not doing badly enough (are you doing badly at all? Depending on how my negotiations go to get my rights back from a publisher that shall remain unnamed until and unless they go badly – when the statements go public — you might be able to judge. The statements just received cross the line of believability, claiming well under 100 sales for a book still on the shelves (two years out) AND apparently having phantom books held as reserves against returns, while the returns count separately, leading to a negative number, where no negative number can be. Very interesting. I think they have their accounting done in a fantasy world, or perhaps by the Fed. It prevents their cutting me a check, though, so all is good, right? They used to just take the books out of print at that point, but now, well… there’s erights, so they’re keeping them on, and dancing like nobody’s business. Considering this particular publisher is now suing authors for amounts that should be petty-cash, I REALLY want my rights back.) that they fire you for good, but they keep hiring you and making you (trust me) write four books a year, and then the numbers are dismal again, and… And you start feeling like someone who just has baby after baby and hands him/her off to the high priests to throw in the volcano.
After a while this feeling of “What the heck, why bother” sets in. Worse, it’s like aversion therapy. Because you’re selling on proposal and when the book’s turn comes around you might not feel like writing that (H*ll, you often won’t feel like writing at all) it makes what you’ve always loved doing into a form of torture. After a while, just the thought of writing makes you depressed.
Part of this I think is the body’s defense mechanisms. I’ve often told people that when Mercedes Lackey talks about magic and “stripping the magical channels” in the Valdemar series, she’s really talking about writing. Of course whatever you write with (other than certain brain areas) isn’t physical, but you feel like it’s a channel attached to you, and when you’re forced to write book after book you feel less than enthusiastic about and which you know they’re going to kill one way or another, you start feeling like it’s stripped raw and like you’re doing yourself physical damage. And your body learns to shut down whenever you sit at the computer to write. I got to the point I’d be feeling fine, and suddenly, at the desk, all I wanted to do was sleep.
Some of us stay on. Like dancers who dance on injuries, like athletes willing to become deformed through excessive training, we go on. Maybe we don’t do our best work, but we work. Sometimes we wonder if we’re getting Alzheimers, because we can’t remember our character’s name (or occasionally our own) from page to page, but we go on. And if you’re there, step back and consider indie — I later, during the year Dan forced me to take off (sort of. I only wrote one book) realized this was a sign of clinical depression.
The sane ones don’t. And here, I’d like to point out I’m sane enough, but when we bought this house we were paying on two houses. And then… stuff happened. Like replacing our heating system. Like the wall of the bathroom falling down on Robert during a shower. Stuff like that. And lately tons of stuff happened, stuff like runaway inflation, two kids in college, etc – and we need my income. It’s as blunt as that. Notwithstanding which, were it not for Baen, were it not for indie, I too would have walked away two years ago. I came within a coin toss of doing just that and going “Let the house be foreclosed. Let’s just walk away.”
Because there is another barb that the writer in that position must suffer. If you say anything – the slightest complaint – you get, from both the publisher, and the wanna bes who’ve never made it “How can you complain? You’re living the dream. You’re making a living doing what you love!”
Which is sort of like telling that to a ballet dancer forced to dance with broken feet and weighed down with a ton of rusty iron.
And you can’t talk back. Or you couldn’t. Now I can and my answer is: If you work at anything 18 hours a day, seven days a week, unless it’s something REALLY stupid, you too can make a living at it. But after a while even what you enjoy goes stale.
No, I’m not announcing my quitting – you guys saw me go from “I can only go traditional” to the freedom of indie.
I just wonder how many of those writers who disappeared, leaving the windows of their writing house wide-open and the doors swinging in the breeze, will be aware of the opportunities of indie.
I’m hoping some of them come back, close the windows, light a fire in the hearth, find their writing desk and resume their work. Because some of the ones driven away were very good indeed.
And meanwhile, today – the completion of Noah’s Boy having been put-off by a return of the stomach flu in an attenuated form (seems to be one of those that comes back weaker and weaker till it’s gone) – I’m going to write rights reversal letters for ¾ of my work (yes, in case you wonder, I REALLY want to continue the Musketeer series.) And then I’m going to do some publishing.
Because I can. And because I refuse to fade away.