The Scarlet W: On Being a Writer in the End Times

I picked a great time to have my writing career briefly regain consciousness, didn’t I? The acquisition of Honor in the Night, my Star Trek novella, back in 2008 seemed to roughly coincide with the beginning of the end of traditional publishing. As blogged elsewhere, the novella had a bumpy road to print, but it’s out there now, and doing fairly well. But the options for what I should do next are either wide open or bleak, depending on how you look at it. Michael Stackpole has been blogging about the state of the industry lately on his website, and every writer should check it out.

As traditional print publishing staggers around in the new world of e-books, established writers can more easily just take their brand straight to their readers. Writers like me, on the other hand, will find themselves drowning in the deluge of print that the internet sprays everywhere like an ill-mannered lawn sprinkler. I don’t have a brand yet, and could use the structure of traditional publishing to help me make one. But those traditions, along with bookstores, are in transition, everyone is a little in the dark, and the flashlight batteries are a bit low. Publishers are shaking the lights, smacking them on the palm of their hands, hoping to coax just a little more illumination out of them.

Late last year, as Honor in the Night finally hit bookstores, I decided, during a flash of insight, that one of the main differences between me and successful, published novelists was that I didn’t have another novel to sell. I know, a bit of an intuitive leap, perhaps, but it was one of those moments where one stands on a windswept promontory, long coat flapping, hair dripping from the rain, shakes one fist at the dark sky as it is rent by lightning, and shouts, “In 2011 I will write a novel, dammit!” as the waves break loudly far below. The January 2001 issue of Writer’s Digest arrived shortly afterward (in fact, I think I was still trying to dry my long coat) and the cover proclaimed, “Write Your Novel in 2011.”

It was one of those if-I-were-a-superstitious-man moments . . . but I’m not. Still, I took it as encouragement. I will do this, I mumbled to myself as I blew my nose. Turns out standing on a promontory in a rainstorm in the dead of night can give you quite a sniffle. But then my desktop computer died, running many projects off the rails before I got a new computer and got everything back to what passes for normal during my non-fist-shaking moments. Perhaps this is a good time to mention as an aside that the fabulous Pete Hautman (if you don’t know his work, do yourself a favor and grab some) once told me he pictured me as an old man standing in my yard shaking my fist and yelling, “Sons of bitches!”

Which brings us to April, mid-April at that. I currently have a freelance copyediting job for my friend Tony Dierckins, another freelance copyediting gig for a new self-publishing author, reviews due each month for Author Magazine and Suspense Magazine, and an article due for Star Trek Magazine. How’s my novel coming along? I think I’ve got about five hundred words. Ouch. I do have notes. A working title. The opening scene. I have also written a bit of the final scene, so I know how it ends. I think I know enough about what happens in the middle that I really do have a novel that could be written.

Now I just need to write the thing and hope some sort of publishing industry still exists when I’m done and that the aforementioned industry will be interested in the manuscript. If not . . . I guess I can put out an e-book. You might have heard of them. All the kids are talking about them.

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