Saturday, July 11, 2015

On Looking Back These Four Years; And Resisting the Urge to Just Churn Stuff Out

This past Thursday the kids and I hit one of the local elementary school playgrounds we frequent over the summer. Of course, things have changed from when I used to take them. Zack no longer requires me monitor his every move, because over the past four years he's been downgraded from "severely" autistic to "moderately" autistic. While he still struggles with his emotional control, I no longer have the same safety concerns I used to. Also, Thursday we split time between the playground and kicking the soccer ball around, as Madi prepares for her fourth year of youth soccer.



Sitting and reading while watching them play, I remembered a similar summer outing to the same playground, four years ago. I was reading (a little more nervously, one eye on the book, and one eye on my then six year old daughter), an ARC for Cemetery Dance's THE HORROR HALL OF FAME. I was reading those wonderful stories, marveling at masterpieces of speculative fiction and horror, and wondering where my career was going.

The previous May (2010), my first book, Hiram Grange & The Chosen One had been released. It got great reviews, and I was sure big things were on the horizon. But a little over a year later?

Nothing.

No short story sales. Two novels had fallen apart.  I couldn't seem to complete any projects. I had run into a wall, and had no idea where to go. But, that was also the summer I discovered both the WHISPERS and SHADOWS anthology series, and Charles L. Grant, T. M. Wright, Al Sarrantino and so many others, and I realized the two best things I could do, the ONLY things I had any control over: read as much as I possibly could, and keep writing.

Sitting on that same playground a few days ago, I thought about how much has changed over the past four years. My fifth book - A Night at Old Webb - went up for pre-order this week. My novella quartet, Through A Mirror, Darkly, has been my most commercial and critical success yet, one that has caused increased sales across the board. In fact, in the month of June, it was Crystal Lake's number one bestseller, with my short story collection, Things Slip Through taking the number 2 spot, which is amazing to me, nearly two and half years after its release.

I've also had some moderate success in self-publishing, most notably with my little novelette,  The Way of Ah-Tzenul. And more good things are on the way. I signed a contract with a fabulous (unnamed for now) publisher for a novella, and another fabulous publisher wants to look at my first novel. I'm now receiving solicitations for short stories, occasionally. Things are better than they've ever been.

Which presents me with a temptation I didn't expect I'd ever have to face: the temptation to start churning stuff out as fast as I can.

Since I first settled into my morning writing schedule seven years ago, I've written every single day. Sometimes also before bed, and during lunch breaks. I've always produced lots of words; that's nothing new. But it's only been the last three years that those words have coalesced into finished works, and the last year that those finished works have found homes so quickly. The upside? The words I've been prolific in producing the last seven years are becoming far more...productive. I've got works stored up. So, instead of seeing submission calls and wracking my brains to come up with stuff before their deadlines, I can look through my finished stuff and say: "Hey, I've got a story for that."

The downside?

Impatience.  Which is odd, because patience has been my strongest trait through all of this.

I noticed this last week. I finished up final touches to another novella, and was looking for places to submit it to. To be fair, it's more speculative/Twilight Zone than horror, so that was making my search harder. But after spending a whole day looking for markets and getting frustrated, flirting with the idea of self-pubbing it so I could get it out there without waiting, I stopped myself and thought: "Wait. WHAT is your hurry? You just saw TWO BOOKS come out in the space of two months. Why do you need to publish this NOW?"

This put the brakes on in a hurry. (And ironically, I found a great publisher, queried, they requested, and now I'm waiting to hear back). Even so, the whole thing made me realize: I need to be very, very careful right now. 

Things are going great. I've got more readers than I ever have. The review are awesome, sales are good verging on great, and of course it's natural to want to capitalize on my momentum...but I need to not lose sight of the thing that's been my greatest asset so far: my patience. In writing. In drafting. In cutting out every single word that's extraneous. In waiting for beta readers to get back to me. Waiting for the right publisher.  And yes - self-publishing offers me some options for works that don't quite fit anywhere, or to fill gaps in publishing schedules...

But...patience. Self-pubbing a ton of "okay" stuff isn't going to help my momentum. Rushing manuscripts out into the market won't help, either.

Patience. 

I always write every day, and hopefully, will always produce lots of words. But spewing a bunch of "okay" stories into the market isn't going to help my career at all. Remaining patient, however? Making sure that everything I produce and submit and even self-publish is of the highest quality possible?

That's the best way I know of sustaining momentum.