Rocket Unknown

We are living in a world where getting published is easier than ever.  Being published is really nothing more than making a work available to the public.  Technically, this blog is a published work.  It’s just not one that anyone pays me to write.

That’s the trick about it.  If you have a computer and an internet connection, you can publish yourself all day long, but for aspiring writers, this isn’t quite enough.  Nor should it be.  As a guy who gets paid to write, I can tell you it’s a great gig if you can get it (and manage to earn enough to pay your bills in the process).  I’m all for writing for free, but nobody needs my advice on how to do that.  Writing for free is a hobby, and hobbies should be fun.  If someone wants to write and publish their own Yu-gi-oh fanfiction or their personal dissertation on why Godzilla versus the Sea Monster is probably the worst Godzilla movie ever, more power to them, I say.  But getting paid to write . . . that’s a trickier proposition.

The publishing dynamic is changing.  Possibly more than in most other forms of media and art because, honestly, writing is one of the easiest forms of media to get into.  It’s not easy to be a good writer, but it’s certainly easier to write than it is to become a skilled guitar player or learn to paint.

Let’s pause here to clarify.  I’m not saying writing is easy.  I’m only saying that if you’re going to pick a casual form of personal expression that doesn’t require a huge commitment, writing is the way to go.  I know this because at least half the people I meet in my daily life are aspiring writers in some form or another.  The internet is full of people expressing themselves, and most of that expressing is done in the form of Tweets, Facebook posts, and words.  Lots and lots of words.

As the dynamic changes, I find myself conflicted.  I like more people have the opportunity to publish themselves.  It has a downside, certainly, but I’ll go on record as saying it’s a good thing.  Most of it won’t amount to much in the long run, but that’s no more true than it ever was.  I’m a published novelologist, but I have no indication that my stories will stand the test of time.  Odds are pretty damn good they won’t.

Yet at the same time, in a world where everyone can get published, how do we know what’s worth our time?  The old system of traditional hard copy publishing might have been frustrating to an outsider.  It might not always be welcoming to new ideas, more eager to pump out more of the same old stuff.  It might seem like an exclusive house of elitists who decided what was worthy of reaching the general public.  These are all valid thoughts about the old model, and I don’t seek to diminish them.  But as a guy who makes a living writing stories, I’d be lying if what was coming didn’t concern me.

As I watch the brick and mortar stores closing and e-books continue their rise, I ponder just how will my books stand out among the crowd?  It was hard enough when all I had to do was compete with the books in the real world.  Though my tenth book is coming out this year, I still dwell in obscurity.  I haven’t had that breakout hit.  I’m not the guy who gets his books put face out on the shelf.  That’s nothing to complain about, but it is a hard fact that in an industry that keeps most aspiring writers out, I’m still nothing terribly special.  Just a writer with a few loyal fans, and lucky to have those.

When I picture a world where competition is more fierce, where the pieces of the pie are cut even smaller, I don’t always get an optimistic feeling about my future as a writer.  In my more cynical moments, I wonder if professional novelology has much of a future at all.  I’ve met hundreds of talented writers willing to do what I do for free.  So what happens if they start doing just that?

In my optimistic moments, I tell myself cream will rise to the top, and I convince myself that I have something worthwhile to offer that will set me apart.  But that’s not always easy to believe.  In a world with unlimited media, it seems the best way to catch people’s attention is to be outrageous, absurd, obnoxious.  (Insert obligatory Honey Boo Boo reference here.)  Is there going to be a place for a guy who just wants to write stories without necessarily becoming a celebrity himself?  And while I don’t doubt the vast majority of media in the future will be bad and come and go quickly, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a dynamic I’m not always confident I (or many other low to mid-level professionals) can compete with.

It’s a weird complaint because what I do is most certainly a skill, but the publishing industry is what makes it a commodity.  They take my word and bind it into beautiful books, see that those books are put on shelves, and transform a story into something real and physical.  Yet it’s obvious that this model is changing, and while some might argue that e-books are not as satisfying as hard copy books, I would say that the same arguments have been made against all new media.  In the end, old media is almost always replaced.  If not that, then reduced to a novelty, like vinyl records and VHS tapes.

Whatever the future holds, I hope to be doing this for a while longer.  For as long as I enjoy it and find it worth doing.  I don’t know what’s in store for tomorrow, how things will be when the transition finally occurs.  I can only hope that there’s a place in it for me and what I do.  I guess that makes me no different than anyone else.

We’re all just hanging onto this rocket barreling headlong into parts unknown.  We enjoy the ride as long as we can, trying to pretend we aren’t terrified out of our mind that a wall is just waiting for us over the horizon.

Hang in there, gang.  I’m rooting for you.  And if you should choose to return the favor, you won’t hear any complaints from me.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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6 Comments

  1. Zoe
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    What are you talking about, man? Emperor Mollusk was face-out at Barnes and Noble when I bought it! :)

  2. Posted January 11, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    On first click, I was horrified to think that maybe your kitten had run away.

    Knowing that he is still happy and accounted-for makes me feel so much better-equipped to grapple with publishing’s dire portents.

  3. Alberto
    Posted January 15, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Monster was face out in the shop I bought it from. That’s how I found you. I picked up the book with the interesting cover, read the blurb and just had to buy it. Later went on to buy every single book of yours, so I’m here for the duration.
    I couldn’t have done that if there hadn’t been a physical shop to go to and browse. I hope they don’t go away.

  4. Louis
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Maybe trying to get your stories to a different media would be a step. Movies and television blanket over books unfortunately. You have great ideas, why not sell them to a different avenue. Someone at the Syfy network is begging for people like you.

  5. Jamie
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    A few loyal fans, or a few fiercely loyal fans?

    I practically throw your books at people getting them to read them. A. Lee Martinez, the Guerilla Marketer of Novelologists.

    And hey, Monster was face out, and in the “Hidden Gems” section of my local Chapters when I found it. Then I was the exact same as Alberto, every single book is on my shelf. You even kicked Tom Holt off of the much sought after First Shelf.

  6. Posted March 17, 2013 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    This is my first time visiting your website, and I am appalled and disgusted that you are not more famous. I run all kinds of different discussion groups in Chicago and I recommend your books to people on a weekly basis, literally. I feel so naive for assuming you were hugely successful based on the fact that everyone I have ever recommended your books to loves it and goes on to read all of them. I guess that’s why it’s called the “myth” of meritocrary.

    Also, I just checked the old post about your kick starter for the short stories – my heart is breaking! You should have told me, I could have helped… You’re writing is so alive, magic, hilarious, wonderful. Is there anything I can do to help you be more famous?

    KBDK

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