I may never be a best-seller, and I don’t care
My next payment from Amazon will be only 71 cents. That’s all it is most months.
Now, there have been times when I’ve cried over this, times when I wondered what I could be doing to make my fiction more visible, because clearly people’d be buying it if they knew it existed. But, tonight that’s not the case. Tonight, I’m happy with that 71 cents. After all, it’s 71 more cents than I’d made from my writing at all until two years ago. Yeah, I’d like for it to be more. But . . .
I don’t write commercially viable fiction. I know this, even when I’m thinking lack of visibility is my main issue. I hate this, but not because it means my stuff doesn’t sell. No, I hate it because it means that hardly anyone is writing the stuff I like . . . you know, the stuff like I write. There’s a reason I read so much more modern fantasy than space opera. For whatever reason, people who want space opera want epic space battles; they want tech porn; they want plot-driven stories . . . I don’t get it, because what’s always appealed to me are the cultures and characters, not the plots and tech, of things like Star Wars, Babylon 5, and Firefly. Hell, I just read Triplanetary a couple of months ago and the plot is already fading from my mind, but I doubt I’ll ever forget Conway Costigan.
But anyway, plot-driven stuff with elements that I’m not that interested in is what space opera fans want. So, I could — and should, lots of authors say — forgot about what I want to read more of, what I love, and follow the market.
Fuck that shit.
I’m going to write what I like. Maybe I’ll never be a best-seller. Maybe I’ll never even be able to pay the electric bill with my earnings from one month. But, to me, writing isn’t about the money. Money’s nice, because we live in a capitalism, and I’m rather fond of having a roof over my head, but if I didn’t have to worry about money at all, I’d put everything up for free. Because I’m not writing to become rich.
I’m writing because I have to write. I don’t know when I first started writing. My mother says I was making up my own versions of things like Three Little Pigs when I was three. I know that as far back as I can remember playing things that involved using my imagination was my most favorite thing in the world. Dolls, games of house, GI Joes, those were the mediums I used for story-telling for years. The first time I remember writing a story I was eight. I think my longest dry spell since then was a year, maybe two, after a very bad creative writing class. And even then I tried writing poetry. By now, I think writing’s probably as much an addiction as a vocation.
The past few months, I’ve lost sight of this some. Too many bad reviews with the same criticisms shook my confidence, made me wonder if I really knew how to write. But I realized something the other day: The reviewers who don’t like my stories seem to be mostly criticizing my plot. That’s fine. You see, I realized lots of the bad reviews of some of my favorite books criticize their plots too.
And at least one of those books was an NYT Best-Seller.
I’ve started thinking of some people as belonging to the Cult of Plot. There are people, I’ve noticed, who will forgive horrid grammar, and worse logic, errors, just so long as the plot is suitably twisty-turny. Plot is god. Characterization? Internal consistency? Who gives a shit about any of that stuff! The plot is good, so this book gets five stars!
My other bad reviews focus on how little science, by which they mean high tech stuff, is in my stories. This is a valid criticism. If you want nanoeverything and uploading and whatever the hell else is trendy in tech porn circles, don’t read my stories. Back in the days when I was sharing stuff in the setting on lj and my old, non-professional blog I used to have a disclaimer that said, in part:
This is an unabashedly space opera setting. Scientific realism is tied up in the corner wishing it could remember the safeword.
I decided not to use it in my published works because I thought it looked very unprofessional. I’m rethinking this now because while it may not be the most accurate picture of the tone of the story you’re about to read, it is a pretty accurate picture of how the author’s mind works, and that alone should make the tech porn crowd run off. I hope.
Anyway, I wandered off on a tangent somewhere there. And my cat just tried to blind me by stepping on the screen brightness button and turning it all the way up. My eyes hurt now. Please forgive typos from this point on due to that.
Back to what I was trying to talk about: The novel I’m working on for NaNoWriMo will, probably, even compared to the rest of my stuff have a tiny audience. It’s a very different kind of story. It’s not, by the currently in vogue defintion where a plot with conflict is all that counts, even a story. There are stories in it, but it’s not in and of itself a story.
I’m following four people through a year or so of their lives. Kayden is a young stay-at-home father with self-confidence problems, Richie is a minor rock star trying to juggle his career and kids, Quinn is a middle-aged playboy who falls in love with one of his paramours, and Rusark is the widowed newest officer in the Sweytzian Defense Force Special Forces who falls in love with someone whose career makes her life expectancy questionable. How in the hell am I going to connect these guys, you ask? Easy: the first two are sons of Quinn’s paramour, and Rusark falls in love with one of her daughters. Think Days of Our Lives on a planet 600 parsecs away 300 years from an alternate now. (Their timeline diverged from ours in the early 1990s.) It’ll be about family, about friendship, about love. It won’t be about any big threat to anything. Oh, there might be fight scenes. Given Quinn and Rusark’s careers that’s pretty much a given, but my focus isn’t their missions. This story is about what happens in a space opera setting when people are just going about their lives.
I was excited about this story until I made the mistake of googling multiple first person narrators. Now I’ve read so many things telling me I’m writing something that won’t work that I’m having to work to convince myself that it will. Then I started thinking and realized it doesn’t matter anyway because no one will read it.
So I brooded for a few days and have probably been absolutely horrible to live with. (Sorry, hon.) But I’ve realized again: It doesn’t matter. I’m not writing for you, or you, or you. I’m not writing for the reviewers who want plot and nothing else. I’m not writing for the reviewers who want tech and tech and more tech. I’m writing for me. If I like what I have at the end, then fuck all of ya’ll. I’ll publish it, and somebody else’ll buy it, someday.
Because, you see, I don’t write commercially viable fiction. But that’s okay, because that’s not what everyone wants.
“For whatever reason, people who want space opera want epic space battles; they want tech porn; they want plot-driven stories . . . ”
Not all of us. (Yes, I know — as a person with a Y chromosome, I’m not supposed to use that phrase, EVER. But seriously, not every person who reads space opera WANTS space opera with shallow or nonexistent characterization and lots of noise and commotion instead.)
Personally, I don’t give a damn about the epic battles. Most of my favorite science fiction — even the stuff that would be superficially classified as “space opera” — contains little if any of that. Tech porn? Meh. Not interesting unless the characters who use the tech are interesting, and then only because of what the characters do with it.
No, not all, but a substantial enough portion that anyone who was writing for money would be writing that sort.
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