Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Liberated Writer

Four years ago, I started this blog with a post explaining why I chose the name A Blister to My Eye. I said the function of the blog would be to pressure me to complete the time-travel novel, Time and the Soldier, that I had been fiddling with for ten years.

This evening, Leonore reread that original post and suggested that I post something about what’s happened with that novel and with my attitude toward my writing career.

I finished the novel a while ago. Two years ago, I think. All excited, and convinced that it was the book that would revive my professional writing career, I set about querying agents. I got an agent, a big name with a very big agency. He loved the book and sent it out to a number of editors. There were some rejections and a lot of non-decisions. And then he decided to leave the agenting business and become an editor at a major publishing house.

Realistically, that meant that Time and the Soldier was dead. Reputable agents aren’t interested in representing a book that has already been rejected by some of the editors they would want to send it to. The editors who hadn’t made a decision would be possibilities, but still the pool of possible editors would be too reduced.

So I stewed for a while and felt (very, very, very) sorry for myself for a while. Then I got fitfully to work on the next novel, Chains. I’d finish that, use it to get an agent, and then ask my new agent to rep Time and the Soldier as well. My professional writing career would be revived! Woo hoo!

I worked fitfully on Chains, hampered by self-pity, which was in turn increased by my being laid off in May 2009 and by my realization that there were no jobs to be had and I might never have a dependable pay check again.

While I was laid off, I spent some of my time reissuing my and Leonore’s previously published books as e-books. I found that I really enjoyed designing the covers for them. I had thought that would be a chore because I’ve never had an artistic eye or an eye for design, but thanks to Gimp and then Photoshop, I discovered that I did.

Well, that was fine for the old books, which would otherwise be unseen by the human eye. But Time and the Soldier was a new book and deserved real publication – i.e., a print edition, from a major publisher, that would show up in bookstores and on racks in supermarkets everywhere.

And then, quite recently, I realized that my attitude had changed. I was going to write, in this post, about how that evolution in my attitude happened, but the truth is that I don’t really know quite how it came about. After depression, and then anger, I suddenly came to feel detached from the industry at whose doors I had been hammering for decades.

For a brief time, early in my career, in the 1970s and early 1980s, those doors seemed to have opened for me. I seemed to be inside the room, albeit still standing near the door and looking at the happy crowd at the buffet table near the opposite wall. But some invisible barrier still blocked my way, and then a sinister and ineluctable force reopened the doors behind me and pushed me back out and locked the doors in my face. I.e., my career tanked.

So I was back to hammering at the doors, but the sound of my knocking couldn’t be heard within because of the loud voices of the happy crowd at the buffet table. Extend that metaphor if you really want to.

And then I stopped hammering.

Some time during the last year, the publishing industry became an alien thing to me, a noisy undertaking over there, a crowd of people standing in a field, waving their hands and shouting at each other and pushing and shoving, filled with desperation, trampling each other underfoot. Irrelevant, pointless, foolish, distasteful.

So I published Time and the Soldier as an e-book. I was pleased by my own lack of regret. The book that, for so many years, I had thought of as my ticket back into that room and maybe all the way to the buffet table would now float out there in the ether and be read by … a few dozen people, with luck. I liked that idea!

Then I realized that I was thinking of Chains not as the book that would be ubiquitous in a print edition and would revive my professional writing career but instead as my next e-book. It, too, would be read by a few dozen people if I was lucky. But what mattered was that my change in attitude about publishing changed my attitude toward how I was writing Chains.

I’m writing it exactly the way I want to write it. It may end up being very long. Or not. It will have a lot of dialog about many different subjects not related to the main plot. It will be discursive and recursive. It will have many points of view and will jump about between them. It will have characters ranting about this and that – political, social, and literary rants that will of course reflect my own attitudes. I’m already enjoying writing Chains more than I’ve enjoyed writing a book in a long time. It’s a wonderful feeling of artistic liberation.

I’ve already created the cover for Chains, and it’s pretty damned zowie, if I do say so myself, and I do. There’ll be other books after Chains, all of them with zowie covers. There’ll be a collection of short stories, a horror novel, a fantasy novel, and, and, and ...

I’m a writer again! And it feels great.


Anonymous said...

A perfectly wonderful post, David, and a fascinating progression. I'm happy for you, and I daresay that this post will inspire other writers, those who now also feel beaten down and rejected by the old print establishment, to free themselves the way you have freed yourself. Of course your looking forward this way to the rapidly booming e-book future is entirely suitable for a science fiction writer. More power to you, and more power to other writers, those of all stripes, who are ready to embrace the new. Best of luck with your sales!

Ernest Dempsey said...

Nice post David! It is apparent that ebook publishing is a landmark in empowering the author and devolution of the editorial powers due to which the author had mostly been a lower hand, if not a stark beggar.

What is the flip side of the e-publishing? Is it difficultto market your self-published e-book"

David said...

Thank you, Anonymous.

David said...

Ernest, I think it's very difficult for those of us who aren't good at marketing by nature. I'm rotten at it.

But I don't know that the situation is any worse than it has been recently for writers whose books are published in print editions by small publishers. In the U.S. (and I believe this is true in the U.K. as well), a very few corporations control most of print publishing, another two corporations control most distribution, and one corporation controls most of the bookstores. So only those who are published by one of those big corporations have a realistic chance of having their books seen by readers browsing the shelves in bookstores. The rest are reduced to bugging their friends and relatives and hoping that their books will somehow earn wide attention and sales. Very few such books do.

With e-books, most of us are in that very position. That's why I talked about dozens of readers, with luck.

Of course I'd love to have thousands, but I know that won't happen.