FULL BLEED: ARMY OF ME
So, what happens, and stay with me here, if the day after you release your book, the world looks pretty much the same as it did before? What if that happens after your second or third or tenth book? What are you gonna do then?
Yeah, there's a lot of ground to cover here. And I'm sorry if this comes as bad news to anyone. It came as such to me back in 2008 when I finally got a book out there with my name on it (a comic book, even, called STRANGEWAYS: MURDER MOON.) Don't get me wrong. I'm glad I did it. It was educational. Kind of expensive, though orders of magnitude less than it is to do so now. And it was satisfying, though also frustrating.
But it didn't put me on the map. Maybe it didn't even put me on my own map. I had fun going to shows and selling it, meeting folks, some of whom became friends but mostly it was just regular convention-level transactions. No worlds were shattered and remade from the flinders left behind. It made no year-end lists, got only tepid and uninspired reviews, running the gamut from "pretty good" to "meh pass".
The follow-up book a few years later, even less so. That one was called STRANGEWAYS: THE THIRSTY, and while I think it was a significantly better book, maybe even one to be proud of. It generated even less of a response in the marketplace and the chattersphere around it. Of course, those years were transitional, from more centralized (and I can't believe I'm saying this) blogging and larger comics websites to the vast and flat sea of social media now. There were influencers back then. Basically anyone who had started up a Blogspot site became one, in comics. Granted, not all influencers are created equally.
But this isn't about influencers, not directly. That'll come later. Oh don't worry. I love you all, but, well, I worry about power and influence being thrown around and why. It's not personal. I'm always thinking about systems. It's one of the reasons I end up being feral and sleeping on that old towel in the garage by the water heater. It's just how I am.
Back to the matter at hand. So I did the thing. Wrote and produced two comics. The world did not hail me nor start beating a path to my door. I was not being offered contracts by anyone in comics. I had proved I could do it (which is not a thing anyone should assume) and now what?
Yeah, I was still effectively at square one. I had (and still have) samples I could hand to editors to prove I could do the job. That and five bucks gets you a frappucino. At least close to it.
Same when I went back to prose fiction starting in around 2009 or so. Got incredibly lucky and got to write some short stories for Blizzard Entertainment. Got paid well, but it was also a lot of work going through the pitch sessions. Educational and ultimately proof that writing franchise fiction was not for me (though I won't lie, the paychecks were real nice.) There's the uncredited work which I can't discuss, outside my regular stomping grounds. Also paid well, also ultimately draining.
Got a short story over the transom accepted in maybe 2013. Into a well-received anthology and a small payment for it. That was "Chunked" which appeared first in TOMORROW'S CTHULHU and is now reprinted in EVENT RELATED ECHO, a self-published collection. That opened a door to what would become QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS, which itself became the first in a series of books under the HAZELAND banner.
And folks, I had a great deal of luck in all of this. Mostly luck that I haven't blown up this latest round of opportunities. Luck that I've connected with a publisher who is willing to go out on a limb on a bunch of books that are not cleanly one genre or another (which is tougher than you might think.) All that said and acknowledged, I have to struggle to get reviews or connect to an audience. On the surface, not all that much has changed from pre-book to post-book. Not from STRANGEWAYS to my short story collections to QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS. It hasn't clicked. It's working, but not clicking in the way a lot of folks seem to expect things to magically change from one day to another.
Now, I don't regularly work all the various forums for all the fractional genres or Insta accounts or Twitter accounts. I have a tough time facing all this stuff, honestly. It's hard enough to keep pushing the rock uphill all the days I simply Am Not Feeling it. And that's been more than a few, lately. I dodged the worst of the pandemic by finishing a novel in the first months of it really hitting the US and that was momentum as much as anything else. I poked at some stuff in the summer, eventually writing a novella called THE STARS ARE MADE OF US which I think will be included in ASPHALT TONGUES (honestly, probably next year.) We've all had it tough.
But the thing is, the ultimate thing is, from day to day, that book is not going to change things drastically. It's not going to become a runaway hit. And folks, runaway hits are made much much more often than they're born. Bestseller status is set on print runs. Print runs are made on reputations. Yes, things change and there are definite plateaus for writers who climb that ladder. Most folks never see more than the first couple rungs. If you're waiting for that magical fulfillment to come because that book is out there in the wild, maybe don't do that, because you will never find it.
I believed the same thoughts. I really did. Learn from me. It does not work like that. Everything ends up being incremental and sometimes you don't see the increments as they pass. In fact, focusing on that just makes you tunnel-vision onto the wrong stuff entirely. Be proud of the work, sure. You made it through another project. That's worth celebrating. Hoping that it will change everything is a pretty sure path to heartbreak.
And now it's time to get back to work. This on what I think may end up as a screenplay under the name XXXXX XXXXXX. It's only vaguely obliquely sci-fi, more a crime/noir piece set a vague couple years from now. It takes place in Orange County and largely revolves around the end of history, what gets remembered and the cost of all these things.