Six years ago now I told my husband I was quitting writing.
It wasn’t the first time I told him that, but that time he took me seriously. He knew it had been building a long time, partly frustration, partly insufficient recompense, partly that proverbial hostile work environment.
It wasn’t a matter of my being tired of writing, or frustrated with my own progress. I’d had those moments too, coming up. I once gave up writing for two weeks. At the end of which Dan and the boys begged me to go back to writing because they couldn’t take me anymore. I’d cleaned everything, twice, and was starting to take an unhealthy interest in the boys’ play-activities. I think it was the “there is only one right way to build a toy railroad” that broke younger son.
But in 2011 I’d hit a different type of wall. Several things were coming to a head.
First, my then agent had started pressuring me to have a blog, have a presence on social media. The words “organize giveaways” had been uttered. It seemed I just wasn’t selling enough and it was my fault because I wasn’t spending my entire advance to promote.
Look, I’m NOT utterly stupid, and I know I suck at self-promotion. Partly because my “publicity to bragging” boundary is set too low. But there were also things about the field and how it operated that had started bothering me something awful. One of them was the whole “contest” and “giveaway” thing. Like giving kids prizes for reading in school, it was predicated on the idea that reading was unpleasant, not something you did, and it must be rewarded with fast food coupons. Part of it is that it started having the same whiff as the magazines I used to buy, so I could write for them. After a while I started suspecting magazines only had subscribers because people were subscribing to see what they published, so they could write for them. It was a daisy chain of looking for prestige and advantage, which works fine if your real job is college professor and you just need the credits to look good, but not so fine if your intent is to make a living from writing.
The whole “I will have a contest, and give away an ipad if you retweet my post about my book” started having the same feeling. For one, most of you followers were other writers, who did it so that you would retweet their book and so they could — maybe — win an ipad. The end result seemed to be being talked about EVERYWHERE but not actually read. Which impressed a certain type of publisher (not Baen) but didn’t actually make any money.
I knew that people read — or at least at Baen I’d found some real enthusiasm for books and reading from people who didn’t write or weren’t looking for how to become writers — but my books for Baen had met with distinct lack of success (Darkship Thieves had just come out) and I was about to give up.
No one else would touch me, anyway, certainly not as one of the darlings.
Part of it is that I didn’t keep up on the latest pc-speak and wasn’t one of the twitter brigade (which is what my agent envisioned me becoming anyway, since I can be gregarious and engaging when I want to.)
The piece of the puzzle she was missing is that I COULDN’T become one of the PC brigade on Twitter. The reason I was a bit of cipher about politics (except for whatever my face gave away when someone got up at World Fantasy and talked about “our next president, Howard Dean”) was that I didn’t sing in the choir, and I’d long ago found there was a limit to my dissembling.
I could keep quiet. I could, occasionally, make a joke about one of the (many, there’s a reason they’re the stupid party) silly things the right had done. BUT I couldn’t live like that, because what the left had come to mean: Collectivism, statism, rigid enforcement of “right think” was antithetical to everything I was and everything I thought. I knew too much to pretend that communism was sort of well-intentioned salvation army without G-d. Because if I tried, the stench of 100 million graves rose up to suffocate me, and then I couldn’t sleep at night.
And socialism was the new hotness in our circles and communism very cool, and self-censorship and joining the blame and guilt brigade the way to be noticed.
I couldn’t do that. Not and remain myself. (And you don’t want me to become someone else. Let’s put it this way “I watch myself ALL THE TIME.”)
I’d had a blog since 2007 and it was puttering along. I had loyal readers, but I posted maybe once a week, because if I posted more, I’d have to post about what interested me and what concerned me. Per one of the kids last night, I’m composed of three parts: Geekery, writing, and an unhealthy obsession with politics.
I could talk about geekery and writing, sure, but not enough to keep a blog going. And the unhealthy obsession with politics, kept getting in the way, enmeshed in the others. Because they are. Only I had to keep quiet about that part.
For years I’d been living a double life. I kept quite and secretive about what my politcs were to all but a few friends. And I had a nom de blog, under which I commented (weirdly there was someone blogging under the name, which I didn’t find out till MUCH later, but I only used the name to comment. I think some people confused us. More than once.) To throw dust on my trail, I’d given this persona a whole other life/interests/profession, only it was starting to leak into my real life, as characters will, and it was driving me nuts. And there was the friend who tracked me by linguistic style, and the fact I was starting to slip up.
There being other things, including possibly a nosy angel with a mission, I decided I was going to stop writing, I was going to come out of the political closet, and I was going to find some other thing in which I could make money: Maybe making cloth dragons?
I wasn’t going to stop writing because I had no more ideas, because I didn’t want to write, or because I was tired of making money.
It was linked, see. If I came out of the political closet then all doors but Baen would shut with a bang. And I’d have to give up writing, because I wasn’t doing that well at Baen, either.
And even if I stayed in the political closet, I wasn’t promoting the way my agent thought I could/should, and so she’d started only sending my stuff out to third-tier houses.
I had to come out of the political closet or die, and, I thought, at the time, if I came out of the political closet I was done for.
That morning, in the closet-sized bathroom of our Victorian in downtown Colorado Springs, while we shifted around so we could both dry ourselves after showering, I told Dan I was done. He’d told me years ago if there came a time all Writing did was make me unhappy, I should quit. I was quitting.
My long suffering husband listened to me, then hugged me and let me cry on his shoulder, and then told me “Why don’t you give it another year? If you feel the same way in a year, we’ll find something for you to do that makes you happy. Come out of the political closet, by all means. Stop faking it. Just don’t quit writing yet.”
That week I sent a letter to someone who had been an early mentor, Kristine Kathryn Rusch telling her I was taking a year to shutter the thing down, and in return she sent me an email telling me to shut up and come to a workshop in September on indie publishing. (She was much nicer than that, but it amounted to that.)
And then Darkship Thieves sold, and eventually won the Prometheus, and things changed.
And I came out of the political closet, and I’m still here.
It occurred to me yesterday that I’m in a very weird sort of position. Most of the publishers-not-Baen still won’t touch me with a ten foot pole, but other than the ideologically committed extreme left, the rest of the field hasn’t shunned me. It’s not all closet right wingers reaching out to me, either. There’s a lot of people whose politics I frankly don’t know, who are willing to talk to/work with me, particularly when something needs done.
The thing is, it didn’t use to be like that. Back in that bathroom, 6 years ago, when I whined to Dan that if I came out of the political closet it was all up, it was true. Or it had been true very recently.
You didn’t even need to be politically displeasing. It was enough for someone to start a rumor about you, because they thought they’d seen you do or same something that was against the ethos of NY publishing. Say, you posted a picture of your cat and said you didn’t approve of spaying. (I’m divided and it’s a long story, but we do spay.) Or someone heard you didn’t like the darling book of the season.
Suddenly (this happened to an extent to me in 2003 because awful numbers after 9/11 were deemed to be my fault, but no one knew why Ace didn’t want to buy me anymore, and things were whispered) a desert formed around the “culprit.” Since most of the time we weren’t sure why someone was being no longer published/shunned, we tried to get away from them as much as possible, so that we weren’t hit by whatever the heresy was.
The effect when you were the shunned one is that you found yourself, at a time of financial and emotional need, deserted by your friends and anyone who might understand your plight. Conventions became a vast wasteland of backs turned as you approached.
If I hadn’t had some real friends, who frankly didn’t care, and David Drake who got me into Baen that would have been the end of my writing career, after 15 years of breaking in. All because of numbers, which I couldn’t help given circumstances, but the field was as always rife with rumor.
Imagine how much worse it would be to tell the truth and shame the devil. My career would be over.
However, part of what was working at me, and had been, is that my career COULD be over any minute, any way. It’s impossible to write thousands of words and a blog, and not say something that sounded awful out of context. And once they’d tainted you with racist or sexist or homophobic, you were a pariah and could never get back.
Things have changed. Things have changed a lot. The campaign against Milo Yannopoulos was one of the worst I’ve seen, and, within days, had cost him his job and his book contract. This is the way things used to happen and how the left conquered many fields: academia, publishing, the arts, movies, even your local library system. Step out of line politically, make too much noise, and you’d be destroyed and never heard from again.
It used to be incredibly effective.
But Milo — Yanno? — has his book out, and has seed money for his own site. And those of us who made ourselves persona non-grata keep chugging on, making a quite respectable living.
Sure, part of this is that the worm is turning or, as I like to put it, the times they are achanging.
Part of it is that when the left takes over an institution, guts it, and prances around in its skin demanding respect, they destroy that institution from within. They’re not very creative, being a cult of sorts, with rigidly imposed limits on their thinking. And they’re not very good at understanding the market. So things… go South fast, resulting in those magazines read only by writers, and in books everyone talks about and nobody reads.
Part of it is that while they were long-marching, we were taking stem degrees and building other ways to do things. Now with indie, it is objectively impossible to block anyone from publishing. Sure, you can try. But I can use at least five names legally, (as in I can cash a check addressed to that name) and there are other ways. Most people are just pixels on the net these days. H*ll I could become a “darling” with impecable political credentials next week, if I wanted to. (I don’t want to.)
And while many people are stuck in the past, and while indie publishing might not do a d*mn thing for your academic resume, it can make you money. Most of my indie friends out-earn me. My indie book outearned my traditional ones.
I objectively CANNOT be blacklisted. I can’t even be side-streamed. And I CAN and do earn a living. Better than many of the darlings, at this point.
This is why I laughed at the insane objective of “keeping the SJWs out of publishing” — how exactly do you plan to do that? Short of a government take over and extreme authoritarianism? That won’t work? And will result in Samizadt and in giving the rat bastages credit they don’t deserve. (You want communism to be creditable again? That’s the only way to do it.) And HOW do you plan to take over government, precisely? Go ahead, try. Shine on you crazy diamond!
The SJWs had a lot more control of the “only reputable market” than we can get in a generation. (These things take time. Also, this is only if there IS a “traditional” market in a generation. Indications aren’t … promising.) And they couldn’t keep ME out, when there was a sort of nascent, hesitating market. Sure, I had a couple of very lean years, but I came back, and I’m doing fine. (Yeah, it is a case of “and yet she persisted.”) How could you keep people out when we don’t have that kind of control and the market is becoming distributed all around you? You know the market always wins, right? Even when regulated, it comes back. And why would you want to? They’re doing a fine job of doing themselves out of readers, already.
I’ve been watching, with some interest, as the right builds parallel structures. Often healthier parallel structures than the left, because we believe in the market and they don’t. For instance, PJmedia pays. Huffpo doesn’t.
Sure, our structures and institutions don’t have the “prestige” yet, because prestige consists of being invited to the right shows and the right academic speeches. You are invited by other people who came up the traditional ladder, of course. But the thing you have to remember is that ALL OF THESE INSTITUTIONS ARE DYING.
Sure, some of the old names, even theoretically on the right, won’t associate with us. We’re those crazy people and “tainted.” But this is rather normal when a revolutionary avant garde is coming in. Eventually the crazy kids become the greybeards with position and thoughtful discourse. And the rebels become founding fathers.
The point is that you are no longer left out in the cold because of your political opinions — right or left — or really, because of anything. Because wherever you are, you can find your footing and start to build a ladder.
I laugh like an hyena when I read that some new magazine is “giving voice to marginalized people.” Who is marginalizing them? The only place they can be marginalized from is traditional publishing, the same people who talk about embracing them and giving them voice.
Thing is, though, that it’s true in a way. Traditional publishing demanded a much tighter line of minorities. You had to act a certain way or be cast out into outer night. And then if you were “good” they’d give you a “voice.” Provided you said what they wanted to.
That is OVER.
When cast into outer darkness we light a flash light, then build a fire, then…
Soon enough our little encampment outside the walls is shining like star, and the big city is dark and dying.
Which is sort of what is happening to most of trad pub, with Barnes and Toys in jeopardy and their power to “make” bestsellers by push a thing of the past.
Sure, we’ll never get invited to The View.
Did you want to be?
They’re dead men — and notably women — walking.
Let the dead bury their dead. You start building a ladder, and giving a hand up to other friends who are out here, in the outer darkness that is not all that dark anymore.
Sure a lot of the places you stand will give out under you. And some will prove to be like the left, only on slightly different ideals. Power hungry people got to power hunger, and some are smart enough to see the times, they are achanging.
But if you work hard, if you deal fairly with your friends, if you help when you can and are willing to discover new pathways to making money and establishing institutions, you will do well.
The citadel of the left is crumbling. Build ladders and get to higher ground above it. If you build on expertise, on hard work, on doing favors when you can, you will eventually find yourself more stable than you ever were before, without having to sell out who you are and what you believe.
The tide is coming in. Build ladders. And be not afraid.