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March 2017

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writing gorey earbrass unspeakable horro

she wore a black tiara. rare gems upon her fingers.


If I were a smart author, I would lie to you now.


But then the whole point of this blog is that it's not a marketing tool, right? It's just a blog about what it's like being a working writer, and as baloney-free as I can make it. So, in the interests of that--plate-glass window onto the writer's life--here's what I need to do.

No matter where you get to, you have never actually arrived. You are always trying to figure out what the next thing is, the next goal. You just trade up problems, as autopope likes to say.

So here I am. It's 2007, though 2007 is nearly over. My first novel sold in November of 2003 and hit print in January of 2005. Since then, I've published 11 books, ten of which are either still in print or will be returning to print shortly. I have four new books and two new editions scheduled for next year, and I've made two or three foreign rights sales. My work gets some critical notice, and even a certain amount of respect, and both my SF and my fantasy is finding audiences and making respectable sales.

That's not bad work for two years. I'm supporting myself as a writer. It's tight sometimes, but I'm mostly not starving. Though you never know what tomorrow might bring.

I am, as they say, solidly established in the mid-list, and I think that among genre readers, I have a reasonably strong showing, at least based on what independent bookstore owners tell me.But you know, I have classmates doing a lot better on fewer books, and--I tell you true--it's really not because of the marketing dollars, though we writers like to tell ourselves that comfy lie.

So now I have a new job.

I have to write a breakout novel.

And because I am me, I have to do it without dumbing down what I do, or abandoning my artistic or moral principles, or compromising my vision. Now, I have some advantages here. One is that I believe that accessibility is a literary value (not one that replaces literary values such as ambiguity or depth or complexity, by the way, though one that may be in tension with them) and that intentional obscurity for its own sake is pretty much a cheap author trick to make us look smart, and if we have to stack the deck in a world we created to look smart, we should have gone to pharmacy school.

What, do you ask, is a breakout novel?

A breakout novel is a novel that reaches an audience much larger than the author's previous work.

Some writers are lucky enough to get this first time out of the gate (Lucky? Maybe not. Then you have to follow up, and there are Expectations.) and some struggle for years, through several name changes ;-) before finding their way to a career that will pay them more than thirty thousand dollars a year. (Many never make even that much of a living wage, but right now we concern ourselves with those that do.)

So here's the thing. I have to ask myself, how can I do this thing? And well, there are means.

I can learn to write better: The stronger I am as a storyteller and as a technical writer, the better my chances of finding an audience that will pay the mortgage.

I can write more clearly: The stronger and more patent my A-plots, the easier my through-line it to follow, the wider my potential audience.

I can keep my books as smart as possible: A patent surface plot may mean that you don't have to sit down and chew for hours to get through what I write. But if I stop writing the parts wher I am doing my best to provide for the people who do want to sit down and chew, I'm a sellout. See above, artistic integrity.

Stories need to be interesting. But stories also need to be about something.

It is the law.

More roller derby. Not so much boyfriend: I can tell interesting stories.

So that's my job for the next five years. Tell bigger stories better. And try not to lose track of what makes me me as a writer, while I'm at it.

Mmm. Life. Crunchy.

Comments

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I know not what to say except: g'luck, my friend.
Yeah, well.

My current theory is have more fucking fun out there, man, because fun is irresistible.

Also, stop taking myself so seriously. Which might be the same thing.

My theory for writing Dust was "That's fucked up! Let's put it in!"

I think I will make it a mantra.
Rock on with your bad self!

I look forward to further analysis on what makes something a breakout book...
Hee. well, Don Maass wrote a book about it.

Also, damned if I know. But treading water is gonna kill me, and I can't write three novels a year indefinitely.

Watch this space for a lot of whining about how life isn't fair, however.
FWIW, I think you can do it. The potential's there, both in intensity and in the interest level of your subjects and plots. It just has to be the right story with the right characters.

And then you get to try to do it again!

;-)
;-)

That's always the hard bit.
I *like* the fact that when I read your words I take them slowly and think about them as I go along.

Not that I hear you saying that quality will not continue, but my understanding of the general reading public does not lead me to believe that having to really think about what they are reading is a quality they seek out....
There are a lot of skimmers out there, yeah.

There are writers who figure they've reached the top, and they don't have to work so hard on improving. (This is easier if they're best-sellers in their fields; but writers who haven't reached that level can rationalize around that.)

And then: "There will always be a steady market for novels about the USSR invading the US/ spacemen who listen to 1960s rock/ men who get transformed into big-breasted women. I just have to keep writing what I've been writing."

Or: "Now I can give my readers the important stuff -- lecture them about politics/religion/animal rights...."

Or: "Now I can stop those stupid editors from taking out the best parts of my novels. The parts where characters stop having sex long enough to lecture each other about the important stuff."

As long as you're worrying, there's nothing to worry about.
*snrch*

My editors always make me put that bit with the explanation *IN*.
Honestly, as a reader, all I can suggest is to write good books, and see what sticks to the wall.

When I think about the people who are actually making bank writing science fiction these days -- I mean the ones I respect -- they have some hook that hoists them out of the genre ghetto. Neil Stephenson, William Gibson, etc all have what for lack of a better word the 'Wired Factor' -- their visibility was raised because their ideas had some cultural currency beyond Sci Fi. It's hard to manufacture that '2 years ahead of the zeitgeist' mojo.

And, if you look at where William Gibson was on his timeline, and where you are on yours, you got nothing to be ashamed of -- 2 years after his first book (which I count as 1986 -- yikes!) he only had 2 books out, and if I know anything about Science Fiction Publishing and author compensation, he still had a day job.

So just dream big, my little Viking, and kick some ass in the word processor, and all good things will be soon come.
we'll drink in Valhalla tonight.
Some blogs are effective marketing tools. When I see a writer playing with ideas during the writing process, I get curious about the book, often enough to get it as soon as it hits print rather than waiting for the mass market paperback.

Does it qualify as a breakout to hit a bullseye in a target market, or is that only possible in relatively small demographic niches? autopope has been a favorite source of Yule gifts in recent years because The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue were perfect for my gamer friends, and then Halting State was perfect for my friends who are MMORPG addicts. I suspect Edda of Burdens may be the gift for my Asatruar friends next year. At first I think “these can’t possibly be big enough markets’, but then I remember that Twin Peaks-related books hit the bestseller list while the TV show itself couldn’t generate enough ratings to stay alive...

but then I remember that Twin Peaks-related books hit the bestseller list while the TV show itself couldn’t generate enough ratings to stay alive...

That's because it takes a whole order of magnitude more interest to keep a tv show on the air than it does to make a bestseller book.

The trouble with a lot of breakout novels is that they end up being extremely anodyne for that lowest-common denominator thing. Cool shit rarely doth a breakout novel make, otherwise you and I would be sipping pink gins on the terrace of our Bahamian writers' palace about now.
Seriously. It is mysterious and alchemical, whatever it is.

I'm reading a lot of Lehane and Silva, and thinking about that.

You know, Lehane writers *really good books*?
Well thunk. You've pretty much covered the ground here, I reckon. Laid out the gameplan.

And y'know, the best part? We get to watch the plays. Nom-nom-nom. (In which sporting metaphor breaks down into lolcats, but hey..)
Ehee. It's what we're all trying to do, isn't it? Get up under the career and push?

(Still not King.)

*loff*
This is an utterly random person picking an utterly random time to mention that I picked up Hammered because of liking this blog (which I think I found through Googling to find out what in the world "the green dragon problem" is, and boy was that informative) and really enjoyed it. It's great that you're challenging yourself, and best of luck to you. I look forward to reading whatever your resolution produces.
Hi! Nice to meet you!

And I'm really glad you liked that book. It's good to know that it's still out there plugging away.
I wish I had profound thoughts, but mostly I'm grateful for this post because I think I'm facing the same thing in an entirely different line of work and you just helped me articulate how to think about What's Next. Which is one of the many reasons to appreciate your blog...
It's always about taking the next step. ;-)

And thank you.
The economics of writing never fail to amaze: I tend to wonder if there is some kind of psychological predisposition amongst writers towards masochism. The only other creative area which seems remotely comparable is the folk music scene. And publishers still can't pay royalties on time or in the correct amounts (I have yet to see any return on the book that made the UK paper yesterday, due to a 'computer problem', the royalties on its predecessor are in chaos due to same). If I had a magic wand...
Well, I will settle for wishing you all the best with the breakout, and observing that imho you are far better already than most of the bestseller list.
Well, thank you. I'm trying.

The economics of writing are *hard.*

But here we are, working away, and it sure beats the stuffing out of answering phones, which I have also done.
Does trying to write to a formula really work? Seems like Terry Pratchett built up a great career by putting out a couple of books a year for the same audience. It took him a while to get critical mass, but once he did he became a best-selling author.
Although I'm not the person that would know anyway. :)
Don't stress too much over it during the holidays.
Don't think there's anything in my post about writing to formula. ;-) Rather the opposite, instead.

Me, I seem incapable of writing two books the same way, which is a bit of a drawback.
It's posts like this, full of determination, that draw me to your blog. I even read the early years until the point you sold "Hammered" (*glances at keyboard in embarrassment*).
It's posts like this that helped get a grip on reality and stop complaining about my "day job" and dreaming to earn a living with my writing in a year or five. My paid work might be demanding and emotionally draining, but it gives me a lot of freedom to write in the mornings. So, thanks and good luck.
Hey! That's why I left that stuff up there. Baby writer angst is kind of, er, well, not cute. But somebody might find it therapeutic.

The writing for a living thing seems, often, to come by the way the universe settles. THUMP!
Cool. I will eagerly attend to your whining. ;-) Then I'll buy the book.

Seems to be the season for reflection. I've just come to the opposite conclusion: I'm unlikely to ever sell anything. But just because someone doesn't want to buy it, doesn't mean it sucks -- it just means the market is tough and wants to play it safe. And I'm finally cool with that. My flist likes it well enough, and there's some pretty discriminating folks there.

But boy, it sure would be nice to have a small windfall to put toward a new sword. :-(

Good luck with the breakout novel. Crap! That means I'll have to be organized and get it the first day it's available. You know, before the entryway displays and book signing tours, so I won't look like one of the New Fans. I'll be one of the Vintage Bear fans. There will be a cachet to that . . .
LOL! Like old-school Prince fans, right? ;-) "She used to be pretty good, before she SOLD OUT."

I dunno about the unlikely ever to sell anything thing. I mean, on some level, we're all unlikely ever to sell anything. But it doesn't hurt to keep trying new things....
Heh. I'm still trying to make it into the midlist, but I'm bookmarking this post for all of the pieces of smart in the OP and comments.

Good luck making that next big leap!
Push, man! PUSH!

;-)
I'm still out here wondering if the "break in" novel is different from the "breakout" novel. Hee.

Best of luck! There's room on our shelves for it when it happens. (We're still selling "Hammered," BTW, not frequently, but enough that I keep ordering it new every few months. We don't often see Bear books coming in used in good enough shape that we can resell them. Which means they're being read to bits by their owners. And "Carnival" always sells when we face it out. There's just something about that compelling stare from behind the mask.)
See, that's a nice thing. (I like Carnival. And I love that cover.)

It's also nice to know that people are reading them and hanging on to them.

or maybe burning them....
Blessings upon thee and long may thee reign.

In some ways, this post makes me glad that I don't make my living with my fiction, and maybe never will...the pressure, my precious, I'm not sure how I'd do...though certainly those times when I've been able to live as a working writer (fellowships, man, glorious), were among the most rewarding and wonderful of my life.

Anyway, all the best thoughts in the world. Break out baby!
The working writer thing is really hard to beat. I mean, I have got the best job in the world.

To wit, yeah, it's Saturday morning and I'm working. But I have vanilla coffee and car talk and I'm on my own sofa, working. *g* In my pajamas...
We will sell the hell out of you as long as you are writing Bear books, FWIW...
Woooo!
That's quite a track record already, says me. Know you know that, but wanted to say it. And those are gorgeous goals. I'm fighting to get to a new level myself, fighting and relaxing, both. So hard. Here's to it.
Thank you.

And yeah. It's that head down thing. Like plowing a field. You get to the end of one furrow, stop panting, lift up your head... and realize it's time to start the next furrow.
For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight.
Oh lord.

Maybe more like Jake O'Shaughnessy, who never learned how to land...

Should have been an albatross.
One is that I believe that accessibility is a literary value (not one that replaces literary values such as ambiguity or depth or complexity, by the way, though one that may be in tension with them)

Yes, absolutely. I think that there should be tension between accessibility and ambiguity/complexity in a book. Hitting that razor-fine line between the two is, to me, a mark of a great story. Gene Wolfe is astoundingly adept at this, to my mind. Steven Erickson tends to wobble too far into complexity sometimes, but other times he hits it on the head.


...that intentional obscurity for its own sake is pretty much a cheap author trick to make us look smart, and if we have to stack the deck in a world we created to look smart, we should have gone to pharmacy school.

Amen.

good luck!

I'll be rooting for you.

Re: good luck!

Thank you!
More you. Less doubt :)

Go EBear go. You can do it.
I wish you much luck in that endeavor.

It's not an easy task, but it sounds like you do not lack ambition. I am a romantic enough to believe that will make you successful.

Catherine
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