Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Why Do Some Writers "Make it" and Others Don't?

I have no idea.

And it's not like this is a new question. The same question can be applied to all walks of life, all forms of artistic expression, sports, performance pursuits....anything. Also, it's not like I've never asked that question before, here on this blog. 

But as I've said several times, for some reason I find myself brimming with questions about writing and life anew, so here I am again, once more spewing lots of navel-gazing questions on my blog. Hopefully some folks will find all this interesting, probably most won't, and that's okay. Way back when blogging was the "in" thing to do, I realized the only thing I felt like blogging about was stuff I was wrestling with, things with no easy answers to. I wasn't ever going to generate hundreds of blog comments, and sometimes I wonder how many folks actually read my blogs. Whatever - it serves its purpose as a form of catharsis.


Back to the question at hand.

It's something I probably spend way too much time thinking about, obviously because of my own anxieties and insecurities about me "making it" or not. And of course, what does "making it" mean? Writing full time? Receiving popular and critical acclaim? Landing a deal with a big publishing house? Getting an agent? Getting my work optioned for film? Receiving awards galore? Having thousands of readers versus hundreds, or versus dozens, or versus five?

Regardless, the whole thing can seem random, sometimes. Kiss of fate. Granted, there's lots of good, solid advice to follow, pitfalls to avoid, traps to steer clear of. Of course, focus on your craft first. Become a better writer. Word of mouth is the best kind of press, the best marketing. People will talk about what they like.

There's that to consider, too. Talent, I mean. How much better can folks get? I know it's not a popular view these days, but I sorta think Stephen King was right in On Writing: you can make a bad writer fair, a fair writer good, and a good writer great. You probably can't take a fair writer to great, or a bad writer to good, generally.

(ducks to avoid thrown rocks and rotten fruit)

 And there's advice about publishing. Avoid the small press, submit only to agents and big publishers. Start in the small press, but challenge yourself upward. Don't submit to 4theluv or token pay markets, only submit to pro-pay (5 cents a word) markets. Whatever you do with your career is written in stone, and you're screwed otherwise.

Of course, then I always like to think of author Ronald Malfi. His first novel The Space Between was self-published through PublishAmerica. Since then, he's focused solely on the writing - getting better, pushing oneself, writing, writing, writing. He recently finished off a three book deal with Kennsington, one of the big houses. You can't ever hope to copy someone's success, but more than any other author, Ron has served as model to me about what's most important in a writing career: writing and the story. 

I think I'm also pondering all this not only because my own career, but because of my new column Revelations at Cemetery Dance, which examines some of the authors who have been influential in my development and growth as a writer. Some of them hit "the big time" and are still there, some of them were there for awhile and have since receded quietly into the distance (or in some cases, passed on to Brian Keene's Con in the Sky). Some of them "almost" made it to the "big time" and didn't, while others didn't quite - depending on your standards - "make it" at all.


I know it's not necessarily talent. Oh, don't get me wrong - talent is a huge, and by far, one of the biggest reasons for success. There is no "Buddy System" or a cabal  publishing only certain people. Basically, if you write well and hang around long enough, and if word of mouth catches fire....BOOM.

But for some folks, that word of mouth never quite caught. Or maybe they bowed out after only a few novels. Or maybe they more than proved themselves in their short fiction, but never quite wrote a novel that "stuck." Who knows?

Was it by random chance?

Or was it meant to be? In many ways, I feel like I missed the boat. I wrote for years in a closet, never sharing my work or offering it up for critique. I sold one short story in college, and instead of following that up, I didn't submit another short story for nine years. I kept re-writing the first half of a novel for six to seven years. I didn't submit. I didn't get critique. I didn't travel to conventions because in college I wasn't good with money, and never had the money to travel. I think, if I wanted to write full-time, I should've been more committed, and saved my money and traveled to conventions, and made that a goal from the start.

But would I really trade the life I have now for that of a full-time writer? Years of enjoyment teaching, my wife, my kids? I've made no secret of how I believe some things are "meant to be." Maybe that's how things should be for me. Maybe I need that grounding of a full time job, family and kids, and writing full-time wouldn't be a good thing for me.

Or, maybe, I'm just not good enough.

Or savvy enough.

Or committed enough.

Maybe I don't "act right" on social media (another blog for another time). Maybe I don't project the right image for "full time writer."

Heck if I know.

I know I'm fairly happy teaching. I love my wife and kids. I'm happy with my publishing success so far, but want to push it forward and upward.

Will I ever "make it?"

I dunno.

Does it matter?

Some days, no. Other days, however...

I dunno.