Monday, May 11, 2009

Time travel


One of the downsides with almost all of the great writers I know is that they are, intrinsically, insecure. It's probably what makes them good, what keeps them improving. Unfortunately, it's also hell to live with. Affirmation is scarce out there, and if you are foolish enough to think either the markets (where all of us can think of quality sinking and drekk floating -- it's the little bubbles of rotteness in the drekk, whereas gold sinks) will provide, or the editors will encourage if you're good, let me remind you that the world's most popular sitcom (Fawlty Towers) was almost canned by the Beeb's editorial staff, and made very, very little money right through the first run of the first series.


It reaches the 'why am I doing this point, with the n-th rejection, or with the royalty statement figures that seem to show your career is going nowhere. I say 'seem', because I am not sure -- outside Baen -- how honest and accurate these are. They might be, but if they are - why keep them secret? (Jim learned a hard lesson I don't think he ever forgot, when Norman Spinrad tipped the fact that the company he was working for then (not as the bloke who was responsible , but as one of the staff) was about to be audited by the SFWA accountants. Apparently there was a lot of frantic work done and disaster was narrowly averted.) I'm very grateful for what it did for Baen Books, but I have often wondered if would not have done the whole industry more good to have had the publisher caught out, just as I think rescuing bankers was a poor idea (depositors, yes). I wonder if transparency - about advances, Nielsen Bookscan figures and sales would not serve the whole industry better than the secretive way thing are now done (which does a few individuals good - protecting their inadequacies - which is not good for the biz). Anyway. I was at one those why-am-I-doing-this points myself a few days back. Trying to work on proposals, a book that now has no plot (but a contract) and worrying a lot because a contract and the money from it was very, very late (the contract got to me). I needed some scrap paper to make notes. I keep a drawer full of old manuscripts for this purpose. Someone had been offering prayers to Anoia on my behalf, so, despite closing perfectly, much time, effort and bad temper was used in moving enough things to get my hand around the back of the drawer and pulling out a few sheets of red-ink covered paper... from one the first stories I ever wrote fifteen years back.


If you're a writer, needing to fight off the 'what have I achieved' depression, try reading your first first-draft manuscript. And if you're just a reader, now, in this bleak economic climate when so many retail, distribution and publishing albatrosses are coming back to roost (and dragging authors down with them), do your favorite authors a favor and write them (and their publisher) an e-mail telling them how much you love their work.

7 comments:

Ed Bear said...

Affirmation is a bit thin on the ground.

My wife bitterly regrets never saying "Thank you" to Theodore Sturgeon. She tells me that she thought such a great author wouldn't need it. And when she found out...

Which is why I make a policy of thanking authors, both privately and publicly, when I can contact them.

BTW, I loved "Slow Train to Arcturus" and am looking forward eagerly to "Dragon's Ring" later this year.

Thank you.

Louise Marley said...

I wish I could say your post didn't resonate with me. Sigh. Hard times.

Dave Freer said...

Thanks Ed. It really, really is appreciated. I (wrongly no doubt) thought Slow Train was the kind of book which might do well as a kind of 'new throwback' to the sf of the 1960's when sf was big and optimistic and was about a powerful dream. Oh well. I loved writing it.

Dave Freer said...

Hang in there, Louise. It is tough but only those who do hang in, ever win.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I absolutely agree, Dave. That's why I make a point of emailing authors, when I discover a book I really enjoyed.

They get a special buzz when the praise comes from a fellow writer!

Ori Pomerantz said...

I wish I could use the proper Capitalistic means of showing my appreciation for your books (buy a bunch of copies of Slow Train and donate them to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan). Since I lack the money, I have to resort to words. Thank you - you write excellent books. My main complaint about you is speed - I'd like to read more.

Dave Freer said...

Ori, when the paperback comes out I intend to do that myself. The writing speed issue: seriously that relates heavily to real life interfering right now. When I am not taking stress about paying bills, migration, and feeling positive and excited about the writing profession, I really am quite fast (not compared to Sarah) - but I seldom do less than 1K a day and once a book is running go along at a steady 5K. I could write a lot faster than I can sell - I put mor time into selling (and worrying) than writing. I know that's stupid, and writing more is the cure, but it's a long term cure, and I need short term fixes to survive right now.