FULL BLEED: THE LAND OF LOCKS AND KEYS
I guess I’m supposed to let folks know that things are going great with writing and all. That’s the gig, right? Success breeds success? That merely by being in contact with this blog and my discourse that such success will rub off onto you and your pursuits. That’s the unspoken promise, yeah? That whole community thing. Don’t get me wrong. I love having people in the trenches to talk to, how down in this foxhole we’re all secretly praying to the same deity, no matter our protestations as to our agnostic personas. This is one thing I miss about comic shows, even though my comics career is over and has been for some time, no matter how often I tried to jump start it, even as recently as a couple years ago.
And I see in the disk horse this morning that folks are talking about making a living in comics. Yeah, well, I can’t help you with that so much. Oops. I’m giving the game away here. Thing is, unless you’re at the top of the game, it’s a real tough row to hoe. That’s some rocky soils. Purchase is tricky at best, and in case you haven’t noticed, it’s not salad days for much of anyone but for those folks who are writing books in demand. Now this goes for everything. Prose, music, movies (big yikes there as movies are real big creatures, like whales eating krill, only they eat money and that’s been in tight supply). They’re all like this and they have been forever. We just don’t like to talk about that part so much. Now, if you’re working on your art alongside a regular day job, perhaps it’s better (though perhaps not given that a lot of jobs don’t really stand up to the cost of living). Perhaps it’s better not depending on art to pay the bills.
Because a lot of people don’t want to pay for art. That’s a thing we’ve all seen and maybe even helped create, between Napster and Pinterest and Tumblr and Twitter and USEnet before that, not to mention torrenting and straight up piracy. And talk about discussions with many shades of gray, since piracy, for lack of a better word, is keeping a lot of art in circulation (just that nobody makes money from it but the ISP that you’re paying every month — they always get that nut.) Netflix and streaming music might make you think that at least some money is flowing back to the artists, but I can guarantee you it isn’t nearly as much as you think, even for mega-superstars, who are probably doing just fine but maybe would be getting a bigger slice in a fairer world.
Then there’s the issue of audience fragmentation. The shattering. Everyone lining up in little warrens or bunkers, siloing off into private servers for discussion and identity affirmation. Now, this isn’t all that different than things used to be, weirdly. For any genre thing minus the odd cultural phenomena like Star Wars, the audiences were pretty minuscule, pretty walled off, communicating via fanzine pages or early bulletin boards and then mailing lists and any of the hundreds of discussion boards (some still going, with the same wars being waged within them) before a migration to more accessible platforms like Twitter which might look like an undifferentiated mess, but were able to self-organize into more manageable eddies of discussion. There are places to reach folks who might want what you’re making, but they’re more splintered and numerous than they used to be.
This was one of the great things about conventions in years past, and maybe it’s even coming back. These were entirely alternate marketplaces, particularly for indie and self-published books. Some of that moved to Kickstarter and other crowdfunding, which itself is an entire marketplace now, a connection to a potential audience. Sure, Amazon used to be that for books and periodicals, but check out how that’s working out now for folks. Yes I say this knowing full well that Amazon is how I sell books because for all the talk of folks wanting something different, my experience is that, well, wanting to move from Amazon is aspirational. But then so is wanting to move on from the big 5 or is it 4 publishers?
There’s a whole sort of aspirational industrial complex when it comes to writing, particularly genre writing. Don’t worry. It’s been baked-in since the days of fanzines, which is to say that it’s not a new thing. Just now that it’s realtime and highly-refined in today’s world of social media, etc. Entire informational ecosystems about who’s in and who’s out and who’s up and who’s down. You know, all that bullshit that makes fashion exhausting past the art of the fashion. It’s never about the work bout about the folks making it, their personalities and cliques and such.
Yes, I know. That’s been a part of art and artists since forever. Just that now it somehow seems like it takes up a lot more space in this world of parasocial relationships. I guess it’s easier to talk about that than it is to talk about what the fiction does for you, because you gotta worry about whether or not it’s cool to like this particular work or writer or artist or not. Whether it’s a safe choice. Whether it’ll lead you to success. And yes, I know that a lot of the people making the loudest noise in these spheres aren’t actually writing, but instead spending their energy gatekeeping or feathering their nests or looking at their metrics.
So, yeah. The industry is undergoing tectonic shifts, particularly as publishers go from being part of a family portfolio as indication of prestige and instead are part of a capital group’s holdings in which case, the only value possible is to make the line go up. And they do that by converting past prestige and reputation into money for restructuring and reorganization while they fire all the creators that made it work and bring in stringers and they hope that the name they’re trading on doesn’t get stepped-on so fast that they can’t wring a bunch of loans out of it. Oh, that’s movie studios, too. Yeah, that’s some real fun. Remember, the biggest comics story of 2010 wasn’t anything more than Marvel being bought by Disney and DC being more closely folded into WB’s, now Discovery’s corporate holdings. Hey, how’s that doing? Yeah, it was great, at least on Marvel’s side. Now it’s not even great there. Yes, I’m sure they’re still doing okay, but they’re not doing what they once did, which was the promise.
Which is winding back to saying that things are bad, particularly if you haven’t already built your following (and you’ve got a face/body for radio and a voice for silent movies.) The business is down to blood from many stones or stable indies but those markets aren’t getting any much bigger, so stable is where they stay. The promotional and audience landscape is scattered and shattered. It’s harder than ever to actually get paid for your writing. Take a look at your typical anthology call in genre (which might get you a whole hundred dollars for a 5k word short – do the math), where you’ll see the editors talking about hundreds to one submissions to acceptances ratios, more likely multiple hundreds. The competition is staggering. It’s a daunting prospect. If you decide to pursue paying markets for your writing, all I can say is my hat is off to you. I’m not up to the task any longer.
I like writing just fine. I like it a lot when it clicks, when everything comes together and you end up with a surprising little facet of the work that you didn’t see coming. That’s the best.
I hate the business. I hate the process. I hate thinking that if I just bent my work this way or that, that editors or agents would give it a second glance. It’s not a thing I can do anymore. Not at my age and in my situation. I don’t have the energy. Just like I don’t have the energy to worry about everyone on social media liking me (I tried that – exhausting and ultimately self-destructive, but just not fast enough) or my work (double that.) The most money I’ve made in this business, the biggest successes I’ve had, are those that I can’t take credit for or even talk about except in the vaguest way. That said, it still feels weird to see more books I’ve worked on uncredited sitting in clearance shelves or used bookstores than I ever will see for anything with my name on it. That’s a strange, unsettling feeling. But then so’s going through remainder bins and remembering that each of these books has a story and often aspirations or hopes or successes hanging on and look where they end up. The fate of all flesh, babies.
I like writing. I like the good folks I’ve met out there in the trenches, down in the mud and blood and guts and veins in our teeth. But I’m not tough enough to do this in the professional arena. Too feral, too set in my ways, mostly too bull-headed to play the game. I knew there was a game to play and thought I could. Turns out that I’m just not cut out for that. Not today. And I don’t even have C-4 to cheat with like Batman did. But I’m not going to give up dipping into the underworld and offering up double handfuls of what I come up with down at the bottom of the well.
Just that I’m not any longer interested in convincing people that they can make money off my work. Write a book for a year on the hopes of a couple thousand dollars? Fuck it. I’d rather put it out myself. Hell, I even tried a straight profit-sharing arrangement, no advances, and it turned out that wasn’t good enough for a publisher to hold things together on anything resembling a timetable when I was on every goddamn milestone. Yeah, that still grates.
Again, if you’re out there, you have my respect. Particularly if you’re just starting out in this landscape. But after the time I’ve put in (misspent or not), it’s not a thing I can do any longer. I don’t know, maybe after the tectonic plates in the business stop moving, but honestly, that’s never happening. The earth has been shifting under our feet since before we were born and will be long after.
The only thing that makes sense is to keep writing. This isn’t noble or elevated or anything of the sort. By any measure, it’s more psychopathy than anything else. But it beats not doing it because the business chased me out. At least it’ll make sense to me, instead of trying to conform to the stamp-molds that I see a lot of genre fiction being pressed into (yes, that includes your favorite genre.)
Everyone has to pick out their own path. This just happens to be mine.
Right. That said, the second revision of All Waters are Graves (that being the immediate follow-up to The Queen of No Tomorrows) is done. I’ll do a final pass after I get back from the UK in a couple weeks. That book should come out in maybe March. I’ll start revisions on Fake Believe shortly as well. Then it comes down to actually writing new material for Hazeland. Finally. Keep in mind there hasn’t been new work in that setting since mid-late 2021 when I realized that the publisher I was working with was simply not going to deliver on their side of the deal and couldn’t offer a good reason as to why. Took some time to deal with all that and life during the pandemic. I can only hope I’m up to the task, but as it turns out, every time I’ve put in the work, it’s worked. So let’s figure that’ll happen.
Oh, probably going with a redesign on the whole line of titles, at least for this first run of stories (the first five Hazeland books). It'll look something like this, before type treatments.
I’ll try to get another blog entry out before I take off. Maybe I’ll talk about the Grant Morrison run of Doom Patrol, which I just re-read. Maybe.