When I sold my first novel, to Pocket Books in 1975 (I think), I was sure that my writing career had begun a smooth upward trajectory that would take it all the way to the Moon, baby! and would very soon take me out of the workforce. I don't remember if I said as much to any of the older and more experienced writers I met as a result of that book sale, but if I did, they would have been justified in snickering behind my back.
It's all in the numbers - the sales numbers. That's no surprise to anyone, but it's still painful when you learn that your numbers aren't good enough and your current publisher isn't interested in seeing new proposals from you. What has surprised me is how often this happens to writers I thought had solid, flourishing careers but who now can't sell their new books, or who are selling books but sense that they're on a downward trajectory. Understandably, people prefer not to talk about this when it's happening to them. When they do, the conversations are carried on in private places, online or not. In some cases, I've learned about the dormant state of someone's writing career from a third party. In every case, it's been a shock.
In a way, it's even more shocking when I see this happen to someone who came up the ranks after me than to someone who was already there when I first got published. With the older writers, I just assumed that they had grown tired of writing, or age had interfered.
But there was a long period when the realization was sinking in that my career had stalled. "That's all the power there is, Captain! Mah puir wee bairn engine's canna deliver any more!" "Our orbit is starting to decay, Captain. We will impact the planet's surface in approximately 5.287111965493 hours." Meanwhile, I was watching the rockets of Hot! New! writers taking off and heading for the Moon, baby! They were the buzz. They were brilliant. They were changing everything. I was filled with envy and poisonous resentment that I didn't want to feel but couldn't purge myself of.
And now, some years later, I'm hearing sad laments from some of those very writers. Few of them are still well known - or even being published.
What a depressing post this is! The point I want to make, to the extent that there is one, is that if you sometimes wonder what happened to X, a writer you really liked a few years ago, and why hasn't X written anything lately, don't assume that he hasn't. Don't assume that X got bored with writing. Assume that publishing got bored with X. Assume that he's still writing, but to the publishing biz, he has become a non-person. He's yesterday's Hot! New! writer, and now he's cold and old. It's even possible that, in despair, X has given up writing entirely. Now, that's depressing!
Oh, there was another, related point. Back when I used to whine to friends about the state of my writing career (I learned not to, finally), some of them would protest that I had proved myself. I had so many published novels I could point to. I was a proven professional. Yes, but what I had proved was that my books didn't sell lots and lots of copies. Oopsie. On the bright side, if you're a newcomer, you haven't yet published books that didn't sell lots and lots of copies. Therefore, in the eyes of the publishing biz, you still have the possibility of becoming one of the Hot! New! buzzthings. They're actually more likely to take a chance on you than on someone they know is cold and old.
So write on. You'll have two or three books to prove yourself. And you might well be one of the ones who makes it to the Moon, baby!