The first time I tried to run away from home, I was ten. I took the essentials: my books, in a shoulder bag, and the family’s Siamese cat under one arm. I think I made it halfway to the train stop down the street before mom caught up with me.
I no longer remember WHY I’d decided to run away from home, but it probably had something to do with either shoes (I liked work boots, mom didn’t) or the fact mom disapproved of how much I read.
Anyway, in retrospect it’s a good thing I didn’t manage to make a getaway. It was, after all, unlikely anyone would give a ten year old a job, even a ten year old with her bag stuffed full of books that were much too grown up for her. And besides, I didn’t even have a change of underwear.
Why am I telling you this story? Because in a way it’s time to run away from home, again, this time with better preparation and supplies than that ten year old had.
No, you shouldn’t worry for my marriage or my family. That is not what this is all about. In fact we celebrated our thirty second anniversary yesterday (the second yearly anniversary, the religious one, and the one we consider “real.” We had two weddings due to a complex matter of dealing with two sets of laws.)
I have recently, looking over the zombie career come to a conclusion that my husband’s oft-repeated, poliannish saying of “Everything happens for the best” might be right. Oh, not in everything. Horrible things happen in the world that cannot possibly be for the best. I love my darling, but he has a decided sunny outlook on the world. Probably good to balance my stormy weather, but not precisely right, just like mine isn’t most of the day.
But seriously, in the case of my career, and even accounting for survivor’s bias, he has something to it.
For instance, take the complete fiasco of my first three books, written as literary science ficiton, very well reviewed and a complete financial failure. Well, okay, not complete, because they did (all of them) earn out, and were taken out of print the next day. Somehow I suspect they weren’t meant to earn out. Why not? I don’t know. Publishing houses play games, of which you and your book are only a minor part. (Someday, eventually I’ll have a post called “lying with numbers.”) Perhaps it was only the fact they’d given me a small advance, and therefore I wasn’t supposed to do well.
To be honest, there was no way I could do well, and it had nothing to do — even — with the tiny market for literary fantasy (which it is) but with the fact that my book came out, hard cover, by an unknown, with no discernible publicity (and for some reason without a “position” in their catalogue, more under “oh, there’s also this) a month after nine eleven.
Now I’m not accusing the publisher of planning and running 9/11 to ruin my career. They didn’t actually have to. If a book is slotted to “fail” there’s ways to make that happen without big national disasters. The big national disaster was just “helpful.”
So the books failed, and the publishing house got someone willing/desperate to work under another name at beginners’ advances for eight books and five years.
Now I have no clue why they have books slotted to fail. I just know they must have. The publicist who took up the first musketeer’s book as a side project, ran with it and made it a success was fired just before the third book was published with a cover so close to the first, it would fail.
I am, however, fairly sure, that at beginner advances the books still made them a lot of money (no, I don’t buy how much it costs to publish a book. You see, I’ve done it myself now) and I suspect it was some accounting thing. Plus a pliable, desperate author they could use as long as they wanted.
But if those books hadn’t failed, I’d have been “stuck” in literary fantasy, which, besides not paying much, I later found makes me depressed as h*ll in writing it.
As it happened, that failure at that time — and not, say, two years later, which would have happened, if I’d got two other proposals ready in time, and hadn’t been seized with an immense and unavailing lassitude that prevented me from writing ANYTHING for three months — allowed me to jump sideways into Baen.
Where Draw One In The Dark got the worst cover anyone has ever seen for a light, funny, Urban fantasy. (Well, the paperback one is no great shakes, being a dark dragon, but the hard cover one was so bad I didn’t want to be SEEN with it, and friends who bought it stripped off the wrap-around.)
In the end, this was good, too, because it made me try my space opera, which is so far my most successful venture.
And the fact the statements for the furniture refinishing mysteries were wonky is good too. They couldn’t buy more because that would cause them to admit they were a success. And if they admitted so, they’d have to pay me more. (No, seriously wonky. The print run changed up and down according to need. Yes, down.) Sooner or later (turned out later) after years of paying me the absolute minimum to stay in their hands, they had to let go. Which is good because the reprints did really well, and soon there will be a fourth. Sorry it’s been delayed by a year of truly strange and stressful events, where I often didn’t have a half brain to give to writing.
I mean to write more indie books this year. Well, to finish three of them which are almost written.
For almost three years now I’ve been getting that feeling that it’s time to pivot my career to MOSTLY indie. There are things I’ll do for Baen, and of course they own the DST series for the foreseeable future, so if I want to finish it, it will have to be through them.
My reasons are better defined than the ones for running away from home at 10, but nothing I particularly want to write about, for various reasons including friendship. And anyway, I’m not running away from home completely.
At any rate the feeling goes well beyond anything happening or not happening in my career. It’s mostly akin to the feeling that sent me careening out of the political closet: as though some great cosmic force, some — pardon me for sounding loony — something bigger than myself is applying boot to fundament and saying “do it now, or we make you.” And the events do seem to be conspiring towards the “make you” which would leave me at a disadvantage and cost me relationships I’ve valued.
It seems to be something in the nature of a … cycle of life (cue Lion King.) In the same way that the kids are growing, moving away, emotionally if not yet financially or physically (for one or the other) there is something pushing me to leave home, to tread the untried path, to set off into the sunset.
I might visit home, come back for Sunday dinner, hang out with my siblings, etc. In fact, it will happen.
But I need to move my center of gravity elsewhere.
And like on that now rather distant day when I actually did move away from home, packing my bags, buying a ticket to NY, leaving behind everything I knew and all my contacts, and my innate notion of how things worked, I’m scared spitless.
Sure, I’ve done one indie book. It did well. But it was years ago, and it might have been a fluke. To actually count on it for tuition (younger son) and food (older son) is…. ah… scary making.
To not try to get any more contracts and instead to say “I’m going to strike out on my own. I’ll try to do one book for Baen a year, but that is not where I’m going to put my emotional investment” is …. probably insane. Certainly foolhardy.
But there is that strong sense of “do it, or we’ll make you do it.” And the things I’m made to do usually come about through disasters. I have neither the time nor the financial room for disaster.
I do have — metaphorically speaking — my muse under my arm and my assets — craft and mind and imagination, the columnist gig at PJMedia — in a bag.
Of course we all know the tarot card for the fool is a person walking blindfolded off the edge of a cliff. And that freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.
And yet, I must try. The feeling is that strong.
A year ago I told Cynthia Felice, it’s very sad that the indie opportunity came about now, when I’m in my fifties and tired. Yes, I am that much of a fool, since I think she’s ten or fifteen years older than I. She reminded me it would be much more difficult in ten or fifteen years.
And she’s right. So I’d better try now.
Freedom is beautiful and terrifying. But at some point one puts one’s work where one’s mouth is.
It’s a new year (almost.) My resolution is to shift my center of gravity to indie. And if my health holds out, that will happen.
Wish me luck. It might not help to wish it, but I have a feeling I’m going to need it.