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.