In today’s post, I’m going to get honest here, folks. It might sound like I’m complaining or disappointed or just disgruntled, so before I begin, let me say for the record that I love doing what I do. I have more success than I have any right to expect, and I know there are literally millions of people who would love to get paid to create fiction. I’m not angry or annoyed, just out to share some thoughts about my career and where I’m at. I’ve thought about whether I should share these thoughts long and hard, but ultimately, I’ve decided for the sake of my career, it’s okay (perhaps even necessary) to bring them out into the open.
Saying that, this is going to be a post thinking about why I’m not more popular, and what I should do to change that. It’s also, more importantly, a call to action from you, my fans, to do your part, should you feel like it. Of course, simply buying or talking about my books is more than enough, and I have no right to expect any more from you. If you do that, we’re cool, and you have my undying gratitude. But if you should decide to keep reading and feel like doing more, you’ll score a few more points and be even more beloved.
There. Cards on the table. Now let’s get to it.
The fact is, despite all appearances to the contrary, I am stuck, career-wise. It’s easy to hear a writer has nine books out (with his tenth on the way) and think he must be doing all right. And I am. I’ve had good years and weak years, and like anyone else, there are ups and downs. But as of late, I’ve hit a plateau I just can’t seem to get over.
I’ll own up to most of the responsibility on that. I hate the notion that I might be too “creative” because it smacks of both self-indulgent egotism and dismissal of the taste of the general public. But I do ask a lot of my fans. Most writers, even if they don’t write series, will stick to a certain sub-genre. Meanwhile, I’m jumping from traditional fantasy to urban fantasy to space adventure to cosmic horror to metaphysical exploration.
This weekend I was talking to a friend of mine about One of These Doomsdays, my current project, and after I described the book, he said he admired how I dared to bounce around so much on my settings and ideas. It was a compliment, but I also realized just how counter such ideas can be to building an audience. If someone loves pulp space adventure, there’s no reason to assume they like existential metaphysical stories about ghost dinosaurs and mole people. It’s a lot to ask for someone to have enough faith in me that they’d be willing to pick up a book so different, especially if it didn’t hit their genre hot buttons.
Again, I have to stress that I don’t think what I do is more difficult than writing a series. Series demand a lot from the writer. But the thing about series that works most in their favor is that the odds are good if you like one wizard detective story, you will like another wizard detective story and if that wizard detective story features characters you’ve already grown to care for, so much the better. It doesn’t make the story easier or harder. But it makes it easier to sell, easier for the audience to get excited about.
The path I’m on is a lot bumpier. Not meant as a slight to any other successful writer out there because we all have our choices to make, and every choice has an upside and a downside. We try to stay true to ourselves while compromising where we must, and in the end, it’s just one day at a time. I love that my books are different enough that they can be distinguished by merely describing the protagonist or the setting, but that is also probably their biggest weakness.
Putting that aside, still seems like I should be more popular than I am. Not household name popular, but perhaps someone most sci fi / fantasy fans have heard of. That is simply not the case.
To have a career in this business, you have to follow the numbers. In order to make a living as a writer, I need to sell a lot of books. Thousands of them. Meanwhile, I can’t even get a Kickstarter project funded, and my Wattpad account offering free short stories to the public has only a few hundred hits. While I try to maintain a positive attitude, that’s a bit discouraging. I know I’m not Stephen King, Jim Butcher, or Tom Clancy, but I am a professional writer offering free fiction and still getting a very tepid response.
This leads me to only a few possible conclusions. They might be wrong, but I’m going to share them anyway.
In the end, a writer, doing what I do, can’t compete in this market. People will almost always play it safe when it comes to buying books, and who can blame them for that? Books are expensive, and who wants to buy a book they’ll end up hating? I don’t buy much fiction myself for exactly the same reason. Perhaps the only way to really grow in popularity and maintain an expanding career is to write a series or, at least, stick to a narrowly defined sub-genre.
Yes, I know a lot of my fans out there love what I do and love the exploration of whole new worlds. Their support means everything to me, but I also have to wonder if there are enough of them out there to make a consistent living by appealing to them. I believe there is, which leads to me to . . .
My audience just isn’t finding me. If this is true, it can hardly be surprising. We are saturated with media in this day and age, and it’s all too easy for a lower tier writer such as myself to get lost in the shuffle. My publisher does their part and more. I’d be lost without the marketing people behind the scenes, and there’s no doubt in my mind that large parts of my success are due to their efforts. Often, I think they deserve even more credit because, no matter how great my books are, no one is going to read them if they aren’t noticed.
This is the question that every artist has had to face since the first caveman painted the first buffalo on a cave wall. How do you spread the word? How do you get people excited? (My first recommendation is don’t hid your art in caves, but it seemed to work out okay for those guys.)
Basically, there’s not much I can do about that. I do what I can, and I could probably do more. But I’m still only one guy. I can’t compete with the established publicity machines out there.
So this is where you come in.
I know it’s unfair to put this burden on you, but artists live and die by the enthusiasm of their fans. I know I have excited fans out there, but I need more. I need you to spread the word in a way you might not have ever done before. I need you to help me. It’s not something I have any right to ask, and if you should find it presumptuous, I certainly won’t blame you. If you feel like just buying my books and enjoying them, you have done more than enough. No complaints from me.
But if you like me enough to want more of what I do, you could maybe help me out by spreading the word. If you have a blog, post something about your favorite A. Lee Martinez book. If you have a Twitter account, give me a shout out now and then. (I’m @Aleemartinez, just FYI.) Maybe between posting Facebook updates about your own life (which is undoubtedly more important than my little career) you could throw up your favorite A. Lee Martinez quote. If you could go to Amazon.com and post a review or two, I certainly wouldn’t mind.
In real life, you could share books. Pass them to friends. If a stranger is in the fantasy section of the bookstore, and you happen to be walking past, perhaps take a moment to point out the Martinez section of the shelf. Though that is a lot to ask, so no pressure.
There are a thousand avenues to spread the word, and if you take a little time out of your day to do so, I would be forever indebted to you. You are now deputized as part of the A. Lee Martinez Action Force. (Official logo forthcoming.) The extent of your duties is entirely your own decision, but every little bit helps. I’ll keep doing my part in the meantime.
Here’s some helpful info to get you started:
A. Lee Martinez (Facebook)
Hipstercthulhu@hotmail.com (Official A. Lee Martinez e-mail)
Go forth, folks. Spread the good word. And, as always, thank you for all your support, past, present, and future. It means a hell of a lot to me to have come this far.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,