I never wanted to be famous. As far as I can tell, this is weird for people in my field who want fame and fortune. I just wanted money to live. I’m not at all sure how I imagined this would work, honestly, but I envisioned myself as making a good living from writing, without anyone ever knowing me from Adam. It took me years into this business before I figured out that the two were inextricably linked. Probably.
Part of this – again – was because I had NO interest in the fame part of it. Ideally I would live in either the equivalent of my native village, where maybe not a single soul read the stuff I wrote, or in a large enough city that I could smile and say “it’s the other Sarah Hoyt.” And they won’t know any better.
I could still get lucky and make a living with no fame attached. I mean, Indie allows a lot more scope for making money without becoming “a name.” Hugh Howie went to a local con, and no one had an idea who he was, which indicates that there is less than a perfect overlap between con goers and buyers of sf/f. In fact, to a great extent, they might be completely different audiences. But it also indicates it’s possible, outside our incestuous little circles, to be a total unknown, while being a millionaire.
Or it might be too late. You see, I find myself in the curious position of being “almost famous” and like MacBeth think it would take more effort to go back (and it might cost me my career) rather than forward.
Look, I’ll be honest – I still cringe about going into bookstores and seeing my books on the shelves. I mean, I’m glad they’re there; given current stocking practices, I have to be selling at least a book a week, and that’s good. OTOH it’s me, there on the shelves.
It’s probably easier to understand – maybe – if you know that after sixteen years of trying to publish, my first nationally distributed short story came out (Absolute Magnitude, I THINK 97?) and my friend Charles called me from the magazine stand downtown to say “It’s on the shelves.” And my stomach dropped, and I said, “buy them all. Some stranger might read them!”
The reaction surprised even me. Since then I’ve become more accustomed to the idea that a lot of people read the contents of my daydreams. I’ve become more accustomed to the idea that some people at least will like it. Since then I’ve had at least three stalkers, two potentially dangerous. (At least? Well, I’ve learned to turn it off earlier.)
I’ve learned to walk the fine line between being open to beginners and those needing my help and putting down a pretty stern boot on pretensions, when needed. It’s not that I think I’m high and mighty, it’s that at least twice my not turning things off early enough might have endangered my family.
I don’t view what I do as anything special. I probably would do better at promoting if I could.
It’s a craft, and I’ve worked at it long enough I HOPE I have some competence. But I’m not G-d’s gift to writing, nor do I expect everyone to swoon at my words.
Look, guys, not everyone is going to love a book. Heck, my husband and I are not only close in the husband-wife sense, but we’ve been best friends for thirty years.
But some of the books he raves about I can’t get past page three. And some of the ones I love get me the raised eyebrows look, in puzzlement, when I tell him about them. When you hear of something that’s universally loved (any of the mega bestsellers) chances are they were so “pushed” that people are afraid to say they don’t like it. Most of them don’t even read the books or finish them, they just buy them because “everyone is….”
Alma Alexander, with whom I have severe philosophical and political disagreements, but who is in many ways a very astute person, once told me (well, technically told someone else, but I was sitting right next to her. And yeah, she’s one of the people “on the other side” I talk to, at least for some things. BUT in this case I just happened to be a bystander) that every book you write is going to be someone’s favorite and someone’s most hated book. She was right. I’m lucky that I’m usually surprised at how well people like SOMETHING rather than by how much they hate it. Take Plain Jane, for instance, written under the house name Laurien Gardner. I have no idea why but people rave about it. (I wrote it shortly after getting concussion, so I’m not even sure what’s in it.)
I haven’t had the misfortune of throwing a beloved book out there and getting it pummeled. Now that doesn’t mean my books are universally loved. I wish! Mostly though, they are liked, and then I have two or three reviews that would sting like h*ll if I read them. (I’m not that stupid. I have someone else filter them.)
Anyway – I suspect if I could get out of the door tomorrow and find multitudes bowing to me and comparing me to Shakespeare, other than assuming older son had slipped something funny onto my morning coffee, I’d be well and truly horrified. Because it would take some serious slippage to the fabric of the world to have me be that popular.
In my dream world, 100k people read my books, on average. To put this in perspective, those are dream-numbers, but it doesn’t make you rock-star famous. More than once, while out with Kevin J. Anderson, I’ve been amazed at the fact that normal people – you know, outside sf/f – have no clue who he is. For a while my husband was sure they were joking and tried to get them to come off it. Those numbers are not high enough for readership-wide penetration. Just for “SF/F wide” penetration.
But see, I want those numbers for the money, for the ability to have a cleaner and a secretary, so I have time to write and time to take a day or so off every couple of weeks. Probably won’t ever happen, but with indie, it might. The fame I could do without.
Unfortunately, reality right now is a bit more… confusing. I’m not famous, precisely. And my numbers from all I see are closer to a tenth of that wished for number. And SLOW (meaning my books don’t sell right off the door, they just don’t stop selling, so the trickle continues.) Part of the reason for this is that I write in so many genres. Yeah, okay, I have core fans who love Elise Hyatt and Sarah D’Almeida as much as Sarah Hoyt’s fantasy, as much as my SF. But usually my fans specialize. They’ll love the fantasy and the mysteries, and hate the SF for instance, or vice versa. Perhaps the sharpest divide is between the historical and non historical portions of my work. And then there is this blog and the posts on PJM which are very much their own fandom.
The problem is that between all these venues, I’ve achieved the opposite, just about, of what I want. I am “famous” (or at least almost famous) but not rich. I’ve achieved the sad state of having cashiers and neighbors go all weird when they ask if I wrote x and I say yes. And yet the bank account… well, it’s no longer panicking me, but I’m still trying to figure out how to get all the damage from the hail repaired so we can move and sell. (And it might take till next March, because the kids and I will have to do some of the work to keep it within budget. Dan will help too, but he works all day. At least the COSMETIC stuff, like painting.)
As for cleaners? Someday my ship will come. And as for assistant, right now I’ve enslaved the older son, even as he audibly rolls his eyes at my historical stuff.
I tell you, it’s enough to make me wish to write dinosaur porn under an uncrackable pen name. Except I’m busy enough with my writing I don’t have time.
So, what is this other than a long whine? Oh – the problem is this: where I’m stuck, nice people are afraid to talk to me or take up my time. Several of my fans who have approached me about a book but were interesting have become friends. I like that. However, this has become more difficult in the last three years, because people will treat me with “old woman on the mountain deference.” This – besides of course my not being that old – is plain weird. Just yesterday I was a rank newbie. I still feel like one inside.
On the other hand, the crazy people all feel they have a right to accost me and behave as though they owned me.
I have had people I don’t know order me to go to bed via private message. (!) I’ve also had OTHER WRITERS’ FANS approach me and tell me to “order” a mentee or protégée of mine to do something or other.
So, to level set. I am fifty one years old. Yes, I often need a minder, but I have one. He’s my husband.
I’m not going to say I don’t appreciate ya’ll worrying about me or praying for me, or even sending me suggestions on what might be hailing me. I do. Through the HORRIBLE year last year, at least knowing ya’ll were worried kept me trying to get better. (I was afraid you’d come over and shake me, if I didn’t.)
OTOH before you ping me, consider – is what you’re about to tell me something you’d tell a two year old? I probably don’t need that. I have been dressing myself and cleaning after myself for at least 48 years.
Or does what you’re going to tell me grossly exaggerate my influence over the universe? At least THIS TIME I wasn’t asked to rein in either one of my Baen colleagues or my publisher. One should be grateful for a show of SOME clue. (I once had a letter asking me to rein in Jim Baen. I wish I were joking.)
But for the record, see, part of that not wanting to be famous, just rich, is that I don’t particularly want to have power over other people. So I don’t. I mentor people at various levels, from acquaintances I just encourage, to people Dan has read and liked (Hi Mackey!) but who don’t need my MENTORSHIP as such, just some cover help, to people I try to read even if I’m half dead, and whose deficiencies in writing I try to point out and help with.
Most of the people on that higher level of involvement (Amanda, Kate, Cedar, our Dave, older son and half a dozen others who are going to be mortally offended I can’t remember them right now, because half dead) are also friends at varying levels of closeness.
What this means is that they’re independent their-own-people. Sometimes I don’t even agree with everything they say/do/write. They’re neither my servants, nor my children, nor do I enjoy psychic domain over them.
They have been known on occasion to slap me on the back of the head. Sometimes I even NEED it. I have to ask other minions to check their reviews of me. And some of my books don’t work for any given one of them. I like it that way – look, the individualist doesn’t want to own anyone, okay? – because it means I can teach them stuff, but we’re still FRIENDS. Friends is a relationship of equals. Those – mostly. Sometimes I have to beat them – and my other close friends know they should be able to ask me anything, at any time – but they often don’t.
Which brings me to the other half of the recommendations while I’m stuck in this half-famous status. Look, half the time your fawning email hits me between doing the litter boxes and folding a load of laundry.
I’m not living on Mount Olympus, or even Olympus seacity. If I sound distracted, it’s not that I’m upset at you. If I space sending you a story I promised, it’s just that I SPACED. I didn’t suddenly decide that I’m too good for your anthology. I don’t have an assistant right now, not even a voluntary one. Which means things slip. (Look, I bought my son a birthday gift a month ago, and if my husband hadn’t reminded me today, I’d never have remembered. Even though it was something special and one of those in-a-life-time finds.)
I’m a total dits not because I’m stupid, but because I’m living at least three lives. If I said I’d ship something/write something/read something, and I space, poke me in the midriff. (You’re more likely to get a result if you poke me on Friday, because that’s when I catch up with stuff.)
I’m a fairly direct person. If I don’t like you, I’ll tell you so. If I don’t have time to do something, I’ll tell you so (And it doesn’t mean I don’t like you!) If I haven’t told you either or have told you the contrary, assume things slipped. So – in summary – I’m not complaining about being almost famous. I’d rather have more money and less fame. But if I need fame to make a living, I’ll endure it.
One way or the other this in-between state will (probably) eventually end. I’ll either become more famous and richer or sink into obscurity and become very poor. I was about to say either is okay, but I’d rather have money to live – if that’s okay with everyone else, thank you. Still… there’s always other work. If I have to, I’ll even go into politics. (Winks. No, seriously. Think about it. Consider I hate fame.)
OTOH even supposing I get there, please remember that I’m neither an ogre nor a goddess. Don’t imagine I’m spending all my time either in Olympus or in my evil mountain lair plotting the take over of the world. My life is bounded by cleaning the kitchen while I cook breakfast, and writing this blog before going to bed.
In between, I write, drink way too much coffee, go for walks with my sons, and do the litter boxes. If I’m lucky, I get to see my husband in the evening, if he’s not too busy writing, and I haven’t collapsed yet. Sometimes if I have a day off, I refinish a piece of furniture or read a book.
The exciting stuff, for good and evil, happens in my fiction. As it should be.