Monday, June 01, 2015

Reality Check

It finally stopped raining! We've had sun for several days in a row. But we still have flooding that's even getting worse in places because all the rivers and lakes are overflowing, and the overflow from upstream is making its way downstream into lakes and rivers that are already overflowing. There are a few roads around me that are closed because they're flooded. They had to close all the lakes to boaters because the water was so high that the wake from a boat could splash into houses. The Friday fireworks at the lake are on hold because the place where they fire them is under water, as are all the parks around the lake, and between that and the no-boats rule there's no good place to view them. They even had to close the road over the dam because water was going over the spillway. We also have a new traffic hazard: flood gawking. I was heading somewhere Sunday afternoon and thought there must be a wreck ahead because traffic came to a standstill and we inched ahead. It turned out to be everyone slowing down to look (and probably take photos) as we passed a flooded area. Yes, it's a golf course covered in water, now move along, please!

But the sun is glorious. I spent Saturday working outdoors. If I keep up my planned rate of production, I should be on pace to finish this draft this week. I'll have some revision to do, but I've been doing a lot of the structural reworking as I go, which is why it's taken me so long, so I don't anticipate having to take the book apart and put it back together again.

Meanwhile, I picked up a book at the library for starting to research the next steampunk book.

I may have sounded a little whiny and self-pitying on Friday in talking about what I have and haven't achieved in the last ten years. The thing is, even though I'd been working in the business for a while and had books published, I still had stars in my eyes and unrealistic expectations about what that book would do for me, as it was my first that wasn't a category romance. I really did feel like I had something special on my hands, and the advance reviews were overwhelmingly positive, so it was well-received. So I had visions of being the next J.K. Rowling. The book would be a huge bestseller, I'd be a literary star with the publisher offering me tons of money for the rest of the series, there would be a movie series or TV series, and my life would totally change.

The reality is that it takes a lot more than people liking a book for it to take off. If not that many copies have been printed, it can sell every copy and still not sell enough to be a bestseller (though these days e-books are changing that -- but a book can sell like crazy as an e-book and not have that translate into the major chains stocking it in large numbers). It takes a critical mass of people spreading word of mouth for the word of mouth to make a huge difference fast enough for the publisher to register the effect and capitalize on it. The market today, with instant sales figures, doesn't really give credit to the slow and steady rise. By the time a book has reached a certain sales point on the slow and steady path, the publisher has already moved on to the next release.

A more realistic expectation is just making a steady living -- not having to get a regular job in order to pay the bills, having enough books in print that the royalty payments add up. It's hard to visualize that as a measure of success when you're starting out because it's not something you hear about. You hear about the big smashes -- the authors who become celebrities, the ones whose books are being made into movies. You don't necessarily have a good mental image of the life of an author who's successful without that extra bit of oomph -- a good living, but no walking the red carpet, basically like everyone else, just with a slightly cooler job. So what we visualize when we imagine where this will take us is the extreme rather than the happy medium. Who fantasizes about making a modest living and living an ordinary life?

The thing is, even this much is actually pretty rare. There were a lot of people being published around the time I was -- some of whom got more attention at the time -- whose books are now out of print and whose careers stalled out. It's fairly rare for an author to actually make a living writing. Most still have regular jobs or at least have spouses with regular jobs. And that's of the people who manage to get a book published at all. So getting a book published and being able to live off that income for more than a decade is something to celebrate.

And, you know, I still fall victim to the pie-in-the-sky visualization, knowing what I know. I keep having to dial back my expectations of what the new book this summer will do. Just like Enchanted, Inc., it's something different for me in a new field -- hardcover and young adult -- and so it's easy to imagine that this will be the one that makes a difference, that will boost me into the higher ranks of fame and fortune. The reality is that I will be fortunate if it sells well enough that the publisher wants another book. I'm mostly hoping that it will increase my visibility enough to boost sales of everything else, while I keep writing other things and letting that slow and steady thing keep paying the bills. This is a really good life, a great way to make a living, and making a living at it is awesome.

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