I’m very late with everything, though this is quite a new ability of mine, being late while producing furiously.
I just want to say this once, that this is not what I imagined when I was a kid and wanted to be a writer. There would be a more… stable situation. I often read in books, including Frederic Brown’s Martians Go Home (you should read it if you haven’t, at least if you like funny and somewhat silly books. It has caused one of my friends, who self identifies as a racoon, to send me peremptory messages saying “Write faster, toots.”) about agents calling the author, urging the author to write (the raccoon is not my agent) even making them small loans, suggesting books, encouraging.
I never had a relationship like that with any of my four agents. I don’t believe most writers do. Or at least, perhaps some top bestsellers do. Or perhaps — of course — it is my amazing quality of doing everything sideways and backwards, since I’ve heard of beginning writers,making far less than I, who had long conversations with my last agent, and got suggestions for novels and such.
Honestly, I didn’t want long conversations with any of my agents. The writing thing — which is not exactly under my control — will take suggestion, but not the suggestions anyone wants it to. The type of suggestion it will take is more while driving back from dinner at Pete’s a couple of weeks ago, leaning back in the seat and saying to my husband “Someone should write something as fast as the chronicles of Amber but tighter.” Husband looked over and said “Science fiction, perhaps? Is that why you’ve been reading of possible ancient civilizations?”
And in the next minute I had seven, maybe ten, books in my head, because my muse is a female canine that wishes me to die.
Yes, you’ll see that in the fullness of time, but not right now, because, you know, right now I’m late with everything, from collaborations (yes, Guardian proceeds apace) to indie books (yes, Dyce four hit a minor snag, but it’s getting done) to my own continuing series (G-d willing and the creek don’t rise, I would like to do Hacking the Storm (third book of the Earth Revolution) and Darkship Defiance for Baen before the end of the year, so that fans of the series’ are just sitting by, waiting for years, something that has blighted the growth of the series. Then there is the part-written Bowl of Red.
And I haven’t even come close to achieving my goal of 3 articles a week for PJmedia, being stuck at more like 8 a month. Okay, this will have to change. I have a list of articles to write, but the body is also not entirely under my control.
I have now lost a few days to late-hitting con-crud in the form of stomach flu. This one was sneaky, since my son caught it (he swears he wasn’t hanging out with Mike Williamson!) and had it for a week and a half or so before passing it on to me. (The one infallible method of getting rid of it.) Then I had it for a day and thought I was okay, but it came back last night “Return of the con crud, this time it’s serious.)
It’s mostly annoying, honestly, but it leaves me feeling as though I have no energy, and it’s really hard to write action when you feel like taking a nap. It’s even hard to write articles.
And so, what has this to do with you, other than displaying I’m obviously also having trouble writing posts.
I was musing the other day, having talked to both sons on the matter, that one’s training never prepares one for one’s profession, or not really.
Well, my profession has never had any formal training (other than what I took at the Oregon writers’ Professional Workshop, but you know what I mean.) And yes, if you’re a beginner, no, creative writing classes won’t prepare you for life as a commercial novelist. They might in fact hinder you. My literature classes did hinder me. It’s only useful if you are writing “literary” which is a small and unproductive genre. In that, acquaintances made, if you take the course at an ivy league institution at least, will get you in with the top brass of NY publishing, who then might push your book to the limit of their abilities. (Which right now aren’t great.) But in other genres, they’re more likely to look at that part of your resume with a critical eye and ask if your well-rounded characters can be punctured with a sword.
But going beyond strict training, to the idea of what people actually do for work, most of us are totally unprepared for the realities of the working world, which turn out to be… not at all what we expected.
For instance, one of the attractions of being a novelist for me is that politics and office politics wouldn’t intrude. Okay, I’ll wait till you stop laughing to continue.
There’s more than that, now, of course. The job that wasn’t exactly as I expected has mutated, and I’m glad it has, as it is now less office-politicky. What I mean is, should someone (eh, most of publishing, apparently) conceive a strong dislike for me, I would just step sideways into full indie, which pays me more, and resume producing.
But the old forms, and what we thought our profession WOULD be — even though it never was — holds sway in our minds. People who grew up watching movies in which every novelist was rich or at least making a middle class life, are shocked when the advance on their first book is 5k (or these days 3k) paid in three installments. I’ve had to calm newby writers panicking because their first short story has attracted neither an award nor a movie deal. I have to deal with friends who can’t understand why they’re not rich 10 books out the gate. They think they’re no good because of this, and I know it has nothing to do with it. The field was never like that. Heavy promotion, the attendant money-making, at most houses was always the result of fast and concerted “push.” I.e. demand that bookstores stock THIS much. It also needed a certain type of book (noticed I didn’t say good. In fact very few novelists are good enough to capture “easy to read” and “deep” — though some are, and many of them are my friends) at a certain time.
Even if my first book had been the best thing since sliced bread with honey (It wasn’t. I mean, it’s a very decent book, but I had no clue of commercialism and therefore allowed myself to roll in words like a pig in muck, and indulge in affections that lock most readers out.) But let’s say my first book had been MHI. (Ah, I wish.) Even then, with it coming out in hard cover (a decision I had no part in) a month after nine eleven (with all the conspiracy theories flying around, I must say I had no part in that either) and the orders being crossed so most stores said the paperwork said it was supposed to have a dump of its own (its own standing cardboardy thing in the isle) but only two were ordered per bookstore, and there was no dump, the book would have sunk. It would have sunk if it were the best thing in G-d’s green earth. Which it isn’t.
I’ve learned (failure is very instructive) to set my goals at writing and delivering, which I can at least control and avoids my going too crazy. Except, of course, when I’m late at everything.
I also appreciate indie, and frankly ebooks for traditional, because they give you a chance of being discovered years after your book came out, and while no bookstores carry it. I have a strong feeling, from the inflow of fan letters, and the stuff I’m asked about at cons and on social media, that the Shifters series is enjoying somewhat of a revival. 14 years in, it’s finding audience.
Traditional publishing is not prepared to cope with this. Their investment in the book must be paid earlier than that. (Fear not, if Baen will not take Bowl of Red, it goes indie.) Otherwise they won’t stay afloat.
But there’s always indie. Which is remarkably freeing.
It also pays better. Did I mention it pays better? One of the reasons I’m forever surprised at watching my friends who are indie only waltz over (or rather crawl on their knees over to traditional.) I don’t get it. I suspect it is part of the image in their heads. They want to be “real” as they expected it to be when they were little.
I suspect we’re going to see a lot of this in a lot of professions, where the profession is changing so fast, even if the training and the image were accurate at one point it wouldn’t be now.
Don’t be afraid. Stay flexible. In most professions, as in writing, the change is towards your having more control of your destiny. The water might get choppy but if you hold on to the sides of the boat, it will get easier.
Yeah, I know, this is a time of great technological change, and we come after a cycle optimized to work in the old way (which doesn’t mean it was either better nor more lucrative. Remember that thing about taking over institutions, gutting them, wearing their skin demanding respect. That was the old cycle, and everyone was kow towing to the dead husks.)
Be not afraid. The future is what we build.
Get out there and build it.
(Lest the wallaby accuse me of secret writings, here are my PJM articles for the month: