I rode this train for so long…why?

I have a buncha novels on my hard drive that have been sitting around collecting dust since, oh, 1990 some time, I guess. In ’93 I wrote one that got me an agent another that year that got me a contract—before they were shut down (because, according to the rumor at the time [get this] it was making too much money and it had been created to take a loss for tax purposes) (remember Kismet? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?); one in ’95 that got me an early-Saturday-morning phone call from Harlequin to pleasepleaseplease overnight the manuscript; and a fourth novel in ’98 that got me a different agent.

In ’95 I wrote my senior thesis; since my major was creative writing and journalism, I wasn’t required to write a paper deconstructing anything. Instead, my assigned professor (a Latin professor, no less!) asked me to write 25 pages of a novel. When I came back a week later with 100 pages, polished, perfect, she switched gears and asked for me to write a paper describing my creative process. She was fascinated with how I’d done what I’d done.

However, that 100 pages was the basis for The Proviso and I knew I had something different, something that would probably never sell. I set out to continue the flow of the short story I had written the semester before. I had become fascinated with a throwaway character (Knox Hilliard) I’d created simply as a tool for the protagonist of the story (Leah Wincott) to complete the allegory. Knox is a bastard. He would never sell in genre romance and I knew that.

On the other hand, my four attempts at writing romance to spec failed to impress since the three that didn’t get picked up missed something somewhere. So between those four instances of “oh so close but yet so far away” and the impossibility of selling an anti-hero when anti-heroes were de trop, the whole thing got to me. I threw up my hands and said, “No more.” Then I woke up one morning last summer re-energized.

So today. Just now I’ve read two articles that have left me pursing my lips and thinking maybe it’s just as well I never grabbed the brass ring. As I’ve said before, technology caught up to me and got cheap enough to not break the bank, the atmosphere changed (and is still doing so as more authors get publishing savvy), and I’m older with enough DIY skills and a little money to do it right.

The first takes my breath away with regard to artistic integrity:

The Hamster Wheel

In an age when reading for pleasure is declining, book publishers increasingly are counting on their biggest moneymaking writers to crank out books at a rate of at least one a year, right on schedule, and sometimes faster than that.

It takes my breath away because I could probably do that…but why would I want to? And all that for…

Less than minimum wage.

I have no words.

As the one person (other than I) who reads this blog already knows, I come down firmly on the side of taking the risks and reaping the rewards. And at this stage of publishing’s evolution, why shouldn’t I?

I drank the Kool-Aid of being A Published Author when there were no other viable options, so I don’t feel my time was wasted at all. At the same time, I watched my author friends churn out three, four, five category romances a year to make a decent living and that I can’t do. I don’t have the discipline or talent to write within those specs and on that timetable.

Thanks go to the site with the coolest header graphic I’ve ever seen, Ramblings on Romance, for the Hamster Wheel article.

2 thoughts on “I rode this train for so long…why?

  • June 14, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    In a sense, this is a back-to-the-future type of thing. Authors like Dickens and Conan Doyle were serialized before being published in book form. A common theme in manga and anime (Fruits Basket, Kodocha) is the famous author whose editor spends most of her time harassing him to meet his deadlines. Meeting deadlines is also a common complaint among the manga writers themselves, who publish monthly or fortnightly for as long as the publisher carries their series. And, of course, television is the hamster wheel on overdrive.

  • June 15, 2008 at 7:31 am

    It’s easy to forget Dickens was a serialized, POPULAR author in his time since he’s been long canonized as a cornerstone of English literature.

    A common theme in manga and anime … is the famous author whose editor spends most of her time harassing him to meet his deadlines.

    Really! I can’t imagine how people do this. I have an artist friend who works for Hallmark Cards, and I was in round 2 of interviews there as a writer (another one of those close calls from above). Those people work creatively on spec and a tight deadline and…I just don’t get it.

    The hamster wheel is what I wanted to get away from when I had fantasies of being A Published Author. I knew the Harlequin hamster wheel at the time, but it seemed like a fair trade-off if I wanted to be one and now… It doesn’t.

    Dear Author has an article on how the current publishing model needs to change with technology instead of fighting it. The subtext is that the power is shifting toward the authors, but that depends on how ebooks are adopted—

    —and that won’t happen until a standard format is adopted.

    Once that happens, the hamster wheel may not have any power but the last vestiges of the authors who benefited the most under the old publishing model.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *