Retreads: I rode this train for so long…why?

June 23, 2009

My blog’s been around long enough now, with enough posts, that nobody wants to go digging through what I had to say a buncha long time ago (centuries in blog time). I’m coming up short on content lately (heh, didja notice?), so I’m going to recycle some of this stuff because now people have been asking me questions I’ve answered in my earliest posts.

This [original article with comments are here] is from June 13, 2008:

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, and another that year that got me a contract—before the publishing company was 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 [2007] 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.

4 thoughts on “Retreads: I rode this train for so long…why?

  • June 28, 2009 at 9:47 am

    This subject drives me up the frikkin wall.

    It *is* possible to do a *good* book a year. I think Ken Bruen is capable of that — but he’s had twenty years of being held back from writing and is now in his own element, finally.

    And even when a writer, like Bruen, is capable of doing *multiple* books per year, the damned publisher won’t pick them all up! St. Martin’s, Bruen’s crap house, ignored several of his books and went to smaller houses. It makes it hell for someone like me to read Bruen — and scorches the chance for everything in a timely eBook format.

    Given the fickleness — and greed — of the public, a writer does indeed have to be out there All The Time. Just look at how much effort someone like John Scalzi puts into his blog to stay out there in everyone’s mind.

    The only answer I see for writers is direct publishing. As houses shed writers for lacking the Book A Year Spirit (as well as other reasons), they’ll have no other alternative.

  • June 28, 2009 at 9:58 am

    It *is* possible to do a *good* book a year.

    Really, I can’t. And I’ve no doubt others CAN, but I can’t imagine having to be FORCED to do it when I’m simply not capable of it. If you add in Being Seen as your primary occupation once your book’s on the stand, when do you have time to write? (Granted, that’s coming from a writer with a day job.)

    Seems to me, either way, you’re at the publisher’s mercy. It’s just the difference between indentured servitude and slavery.

    Given the fickleness — and greed — of the public

    The public has been TRAINED by the publishers to expect this. I know lots of readers who would willingly wait longer for a book from an author they love than get a subpar effort once or twice a year.

  • June 28, 2009 at 10:01 am

    I *could* write a book a year. If I did nothing else but write, eat, and poop. I kinda like my family, though.

    But you’re right…we do need to be out there all the time. This is why I post my flash fiction and humorous work experiences/stories on my blog…to keep readers interested.

  • June 28, 2009 at 10:07 am

    >>>Really, I can’t.

    I should have been clearer in my opening sentence: It *is* possible FOR SOME WRITERS to do a *good* book per year.

    And it is also possible for VERY BAD WRITERS to do more than one book per year — and they usually *do*. And that fickle public who only reads crap will never venture beyond that, happy with the trough they’ve found.


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