Hi guys, I feel like death warmed over. This weekend was Cosine, the last con of its kind in Colorado Springs.
Because we’d gone to the first, because we tend to take time to go — even though January is always both my busy month and usually a time I’m ill as hell — we thought we should attend the last. (My usual reluctance to attend is not cons only. We also usually had a party with old friends for Superbowl and it was also really hard to make it, though most of the time I did, because January, busy and ill as hell. It seems to be off for this year and as soon as I kick this cold, we should try to get together with those friends for a dinner or something.)
If you saw me at Cosine and thought I was more lackluster than usual, sorry. You see, the night of Thursday my ears started hurting. I have what feels like a cold except I’m not really coughing, which is usually a problem, because that’s how I end up with pneumonia. From other stuff, mostly my ears and throat are…interesting. I might have to go to the doctor. (Regardless of whether one son is training to be one, I really hate going to do the doctor.)
But none of this is important right now. Well, not most of it. Except the fact I felt like hell, and would rather be home finishing a novel. But because I felt like hell, I was probably better off, honestly, at the con in terms of what I produced which was nothing. Yesterday we were home, and other than church, where I sat well away from any kids or old ladies, and left asap, I got NOTHING done, save sit on the sofa and read a novel (which I’ll probably talk about tomorrow.)
Of course the con also produced nothing.
Look, cons used to be really important to build your career. Because your only ways to become known were two: your publisher pushed you OR you went to places where fans gathered, got them to order your book, and if you were lucky your publisher saw you surrounded by fans and decided to push you. Even when I broke in, 20 years ago, I saw people leap ahead of me in fandom and publicity because they had money and spent two years hitting a con every week.
Book tours worked too, on the same principle — from what I understand from my bestselling friends (well, the ones who talk business with me) — right now they only sort of do. Their purpose is more to make your fans excited AND to have the book reps/bookstore people see it and report it, than any real sales extension.
Anyway, I know cons don’t work that way now. When we ran the tiny all-friends group publisher, one of us regularly hit cons, and we know it makes NO difference. As in bloody none. I can see a bigger spike in sales because I wrote a post for PJ and mentioned the latest book than because I went to a con.
And due to the “nothing is fun anymore” people cons have gone massively smaller and grayer. Though to be fair, other than the books you sell in situ (paper books becoming more a souvenir of meeting the writer) comicons and big media cons don’t particularly help, either.
Years and years ago, I became aware I went to cons for two reasons: to see friends in the field who lived far away, and to meet my fans. Which is why more and more I do Liberty con, though it’s not insanely affordable and this year — tears at hair — is going to come after two weddings and G-d willing not a funeral, but we have to do things with OUR parents, difficult on one side for health reasons. But it’s a nice, relatively relaxed con, and the word seems to have gone out to my fans, so they gather. And that’s okay.
I also try to have dinner with my fans once a month in Denver (ask and someone will tell you when and where. I don’t like to post it on my blog, because you know how insane things have gotten.) And as the kids fan out (At least one of them is thinking probably Texas in a couple of years, just based on where he wants to work, but of course it depends on what he finds when he looks) we’ll probably spend part of the year elsewhere, and have dinner there too once a month. So you guys in other states can cross your fingers and hope. Neither of them particularly wants to go to the snow belt, but you know, it could still happen, anyway.
The point here, though, is that none of this REALLY matters. Well, the dinners do, and my fans do. By and large I like my fans, which I understand is a strange thing for an author. But what used to be major promotional efforts are now jaunts you can take for fun, should you choose too. In fact I was blackballed (if reports are correct) from a con this year, and my major upset over it is that I’d planned to meet with my inner group there, the few dozen fans who have become my extended family. But oh, well, the timing wasn’t really convenient anyway, and we’ll always have Liberty con, where most of them are attending anyway.
Because careers, and the sense of what a career is have changed.
It used to be you had to be very nice to a variety of people, no matter how rude they were to you, or how much you knew they hated your guts and would like to eat you with a nice chianti: agents, editors, SMOFS, con booksellers. Any of these, if he or she took a determined enough dislike to you could get the rumor mill going, and because these people all dined/gathered/(sometimes)slept together, one of them hating you hard enough could destroy your career.
It’s much harder now. I suppose if Amazon personally and particularly blacklisted me, I’d be in a little trouble, but even that won’t really be FINAL. (For one I know someone working on an alternative RIGHT NOW, and you’re going to like it, I promise. Not a replacement. Not unless Amazon gets stupid. But an alternative.)
I think I mentioned here a month or so ago that normally this would be the time to retire. When the publisher that other houses think is the devil publishes you, you will never publish with other houses again (yes, that used to be different, but…) and when they decide to drop you, it used to be you had no option but to retire.
Now? Oh, hell. Even bad numbers won’t kill you. Who keeps the numbers? The bookstores? You mean Barnes and Toys who will probably be out the door by the end of this year? Or do you mean indies which are nice, sure, but like everything dealing primarily in paperbooks, unless they host a ton of signings and “events” are feeling pinched as heck? (I know. I have friends working the field all over the country. And it’s not that you can’t make a living of a bookstore, but you’d best host parties, and author get togethers, and workshops, and writers’ groups, and– It’s a venue, now, more than just a sales place.)
Selling to the net was a problem. But now it’s largely irrelevant. Every book is your new book. Your first chance. Your brand new start. And if the left (it’s always the left) starts a rumor campaign against you, you sidestep it, write something different, under a new name.
In the bad old days when what you sold depended on whether your publisher pushed you and your public image was just so, there were a number of cases — as quickly as possible hushed up — of a midlister or a low-selling writer who submitted under a closed pen name and became the new and hot thing.
Publishers hated when these became known, because it showed how much of success or failure was their decision, and they wanted to hold on to the fantasy it was ALL the writer.
So by the time I broke in, no agent who wanted to keep working in the field cooperated in this. You HAD to tell the publisher that this was a pen name and who the writer really was, or the publisher would blacklist the agent and therefore cut his source of income. (Always remember who agents really work for.)
But that was then. This is now. I already write under THREE completely closed pen names, and no you can’t have them. And for a while there, they were making me more money than my real name, though I haven’t written anything really for about a year, for… reasons. But there’s a book almost finished, and others started. And a couple more almost finished. AND it has slowly sank in that I’m free.
In this case it’s not JUST “nothing left to lose.” I really am free. What if my next three books fail? So what? The fourth could be an enormous success. More than that, what is fail? I know several indie writers none of you ever heard of who are making more than I’ve ever made per year of writing.
So what is indie? Indie is new beginnings. As many as you want. It only stops with death. And that is in a way being forever young. I kind of like it. Welcome to the island of the blessed!
These are the good news.
The further good news is that cons don’t matter.
I’ll admit, partly this is good news to me because I’m an introvert. Left to my own devices, I’d hole up in my office and write the clock around. Cons were and are always immensely stressful, which is why I usually get sick BEFORE them, because my immune system goes on the attack and it’s determined to kill me.
Now, I’m also aware that I still need to see people. One of the ways I manage my depressive tendencies is to haul my ass out of the house once a day, unless it’s really, really cold. And husband and I BOTH need to get a “fun day” a week on the schedule. And if he can’t, you’ll probably find me drawing dinosaurs from the skeletons at DMNS; wandering dreamily around the art museum; watching elephants at the zoo. All of which are ways for me to see people without having to talk to them, and all of which get me out of my own head and make it less likely I’ll become depressed.
We will also, for the foreseeable future, and unless we’re broke or health/family conspire (I’d say that won’t happen, but this year is going to be difficult, and I make no promises for future years, as parents get older and kids move away) go to Liberty Con.
But Liberty con is where I see my friends, and so many fans who’ve become friends, and my kids get to visit with their friends they grew up with. It’s in many ways more like an hyperextended family reunion.
Cons used to be immensely stressful to me. Not just because people, aaaaack, but because when I was in the political closet I watched myself all the time. And even then I got snubs and cuts because, you know, I was not in vocal support, so I was always suspect. And my panel assignments were ALWAYS weird. (That’s putting it mildly.)
But you couldn’t be rude, and you had to be pleasant and nice, no matter how crazy other people got. Well, whatever.
I had a friend at the start of indie say “If this succeeds, I’m going to be very rude to a lot of people who deserve it.”
That’s fine. It’s the friend’s feisty way. Me? Bah. I was raised in a part of Portugal that is soaked through with British cultural influence, and family was just well off enough (there might not be food on the table, but the table was CLEAN) that we had MANNERS. Not that my parents were very good at instilling them, but kids acquire these from the surroundings. By the time I was ten I knew bragging was gauche, and by the same principle my good jewelry was tiny, both because we were poor and because “that is good breeding, that is.” (Of course, most good families in Portugal are poor as church mice. I had a friend from one.)
I not only don’t want to be rude to anyone, I have found that once they have no power over me, I don’t even particularly want to argue with them.
My focus was always the ideas, not the people. Yes, I got very angry and frustrated when I got put in assy panels or lectured in panels (this is me rolling my eyes) about how I like subtlety in my appreciation of literature, or whatever. These days mostly I get bored. Panels are the price I pay to meet/talk to my fans. And there’s no reason to be impolite, ever. If I talk too much on a panel it’s mostly because ADHD and threatening to fall asleep if I don’t.
The only topic I really care about anymore is preventing young writers from falling in the clutches of scammers, large and small. Oh, and preventing bullying of those who aren’t aware the gates are now open.
So imagine my surprise (and boredom, but mostly surprise) when Rose Beteem (I’m probably misspelling her name. I always do, being dyslexic. There are people in SF I have nicknames for, not because I’m mean but because I can’t spell their name right nine times out of ten. Which they then use to say I’m lying or the like.*) panel coordinator at Mile Hi did what I’m very sure she thought was “confronting” me after a panel two days ago.
Well, the surprise was because most people just talk behind my back and never try talking to me. So well done, her. The boredom was because of what she thought was the important point in this.
In it I have a factual error, mostly caused by the fact I was on Prednisone which is sort of like being on speed, for me, but also sick — like now — which means I’m writing into the mind fog.
Because I wasn’t even sure what I’d written I read it before writing this. And Rose is right. I did say Charlie grew up with her in a small town in Colorado. Actually we have two friends who knew her years ago, and one of them grew up in a small town in Colorado. I just agglutinated the whole thing. I am therefore issuing a retraction on that. She can stop hounding Charlie to “disprove” it publicly.
Charlie knew her when they were both young — and she has by the way unblocked him after that post, and spent the time since the post trying to get him to issue a correction and say he didn’t grow up with her in a small town in Colorado. You can actually see him rolling his eyes can’t you? — but as he pointed out this was best said as “not in a small town FOR Colorado.” Consider please I grew up twenty minutes from (and after 7th grade spending 90% of my time in) a town of over a million. Even Denver was small to my mind in those days. Which matters. In large towns you don’t know people very well. Which is why I mentioned it, but honestly, none of that really matters.
And we have another friend who knew her when HE was young and who tried to exculpate her nonsense like saying I want to suppress voices in SF/F and am therefore racist, sexist and homophobic (rolls eyes) by saying she’s the most gullible woman in the world. I kind of believe that. Note that what she obsessed about in that post was that she didn’t grow up in a small town because, she told me, that was easy to disprove, and to her mind invalided the whole thing.
Note that I’m sure she has by now erased/retracted that post/comment (and I don’t even remember which it was, honestly, and it was incoherent, even at the time), but I assure you she was stomping on puppies and claiming we were suppressing different voices, etc. BUT the important thing was a minor error in my post, which, of course, invalidated everything else she might have done.
Which is why several people on the left in my field are addressed by nicknames, because of course, if I forget a w or an l in their name it means they’re saints and I’m the devil.
I’m also willing to say perhaps I jumped to conclusions too fast.
Okay, her comment was probably because she’d just heard that, and can’t think through to figure out it’s nonsense, because none of us had the power to suppress ANY voices. Saying “I don’t like this book” or even making fun of a story is NOT SUPPRESSING VOICES. I’ve had worse done to me over and over, and that I know I’m not suppressed. It’s entirely probable my panel assignments and bizarre things relating to that were because she’s not malicious, but merely incompetent, or simply strange.
It’s easy to attribute to malice what can simply be explained by “what?” I might have done that. Maybe.
Who knows? Who cares?
You know what I realized? I realized this woman — thank Bob — has no power over me. None of them do.
I’m quite capable of f*cking up my career on my own, thank you so much, but I no longer have to be afraid anyone will f*ck it up for me because I looked at them sideways, or failed to look at them, or they heard from a third party I didn’t want to look at them, or, as in the case of a legend of SF, in a scene worthy of a comic movie, she overheard a friend and I in the bathroom AUDIBLY rolling our eyes at her dearly held political opinions….
Whatever. Yeah, I’ll make enemies. Hell, another legend in the field hated me on name-sight on boards even before I came out politically. And I never figured out why. (Later I gave her reason and plenty to hate me by wiping the floor with her at Heinlein panels across the country, with much glee and malice, because… well, because there are topics that still matter to me, even if the personal doesn’t. And I am not a NICE person. I try to be good, but that’s completely different.)
But the good news is THAT DOESN’T MATTER ANYMORE.
More importantly, there’s always a fresh start over the hill, and I can FINALLY at long last do what newby me (the poor duckling, that she was) THOUGHT was the job: tell stories, and perfect the stories, and get better at them, and compete with myself to reach ever higher.
I don’t even want to be rude to anyone, or tear anyone down. That only seemed important when they had power over me. How much I wanted to strike back was a measure of they’re power.
I guess now, they have none. Now, I’ll mutter a quiet “excuse me please,” as I go around. And that’s all. That’s all I want and that’s all I need. I just want to do my work. And they don’t MATTER to it.
I’m issuing the retraction because, well, I messed that part up. And I’m also saying “Who the heck cares, anymore?” I don’t. No bad feelings, because none of this even warrants FEELINGS. There are important political battles. Most of them aren’t in my field. Oh, they’ll continue hitting. Good for them. It’s nice to have a hobby.
Though I will reserve the right to point and make duck noises, because I have a low mind, of course. But what the heck. Sometimes I point at MYSELF and make duck noises, because like Jane Austen’s character, I dearly love to laugh.
What I’m finding is that even relationships between writers are much more healthy in indie. You no longer look at someone getting a lot of push and think “oh, that’s where the publicity money is going” and worry for your own book coming out next month. Or have an argument with a colleague and worry he’ll bad mouth you to the publisher. To the extent I talk to other writers, it’s all fan letters and “I can help you this way.” And that’s fine.
Not really caring what people think of you is a beautiful thing. It gives you the mind space to care about what matters: the stories.
Many, many great story tellers seem to have been at best socially awkward. I do my best. But I’m not going to win any prizes. Introvert, remember?
However it doesn’t matter. Only the stories matter. And those, I’ll write. And now, if you excuse me, I’m going to take ibuprofen (yes, I’m that ill) and get to work.
There’s a novel almost finished, you see?
And it turns out I’m a writer. That’s all I ever wanted to be. I’m glad most nonsense has fallen away from that job. Now I can roll up my sleeves and work.