Light In The Darkness
Today is Winter Solstice. It is a time of the year I look forward to every year. You see, I’m photovoltaic – if I were a machine I’d work from solar cells – and tend to get very depressed every winter, as we reach the coldest, darkest days of the year. It seems like everything is narrowing towards the dark, every day shorter than the last.
From this day on, days start to grow, and in two or three months I’ll be able to take morning walks again at seven am, without fear of being run over or mugged in the dark. Tomorrow might still be as dark as today, but there is a perceptible movement for the better.
Of course this ties in with religious celebrations and the nearby beginning of a new year. And it ties in with everything that’s happening in our career field just now.
Looking back at the year that was, I find myself astonished. Last year at this time, I was in a very dark place. My agent had failed to place CREDITABLY what was at the time the best book I’d ever written. It seemed like options and chances for making money in my chosen field were closing all around me, not because of anything I’d done, but because of technological change.
Today, I’m still afraid, but not in the same way. I have no idea how this will all turn out, but I am now able to do some indie publishing, which has opened the possibility of writing what I want, opposite to what sells. And oddly, this means some novels I wrote because they could always go indie might sell to traditional publishing. It means barriers have been removed and I see my way clear to making more money than I ever have and doing better work than I ever have.
Does this mean everything is beautiful in the garden? No. The indie publishing has a ramp up in both volume and money. I’m working on it, but expect it will be at least a year before it pays off. And the idea of putting up novels – full novels – this way scares the crud out of me. I’ve been conditioned to think I have to sell x amount the very first month and the idea of selling only a dozen the first month, fifty the second month, etc, has me biting my nails. Thinks like KDP select seem to affect sales in an odd way, too, and I find myself wondering if the drop off is Christmas week or KDP select or…
This probably explains the sudden influx of pro writers or their supporters into any blog that advocates indie screaming that we’re all doomed. We’re all going to die.
A variant on this I ran across this week, and which would have raised my blood pressure through the roof IF it weren’t so completely insane are the people who – not having done it – reasonably explain to you why self publishing will never be done and never work. It starts with editing. Where will we get that stellar editing? Well, what I mostly get from traditional houses (with exceptions, of course!) is proofing, and that I can hire out, or badger a friend into doing. Then it goes on to the cover. Oh, the angst of the cover. And yeah, some of my covers are appalling. Mostly the ones for the short stories. Live with it. BUT none of them are more appalling than some traditional publishing covers, particularly when you consider that these are for ebooks. Ebooks have to be “readable” as covers in thumbnail size. Most trad publishing has failed to clue onto this still. For those claiming covers will take forever to make and cost you hundreds of dollars, I’m inserting the cover for my collection (available from Amazon, Barnes And Noble and smashwords) Five Far Futures. It was done in about half an hour, from art I purchased for $1. Yeah this means (potentially) other people will have the same cover. But you know what, the chances of someone having the same cover and a close enough title are next to nill. And also, btw, it’s not like we haven’t seen our share of generic covers.
Next comes the sheer insanity that gave me the impression this person was in some weird form of time loop and stuck circa 1998. We were assured we’d never get our book in the bookstores, for instance. Because big store marketing is SO functional after the implosion of Borders and the arrival of Toys and Noble. Yeah, in the future it might be worth it to get your book with some independents, but that’s why we have Create Space. This person was talking about printing books in bulk and warehousing them, something even the traditional publishers are getting away from. AND (I liked this part) the need to send promotional letters and business cards and some cute but cheap gift to all the bookstores you want to carry your book. (This last was very funny, since I KNOW since I tried to do this seven years ago, for a traditionally published book, that these letters/cards/gifts don’t work at all. In fact, they might have a negative effect. Bookstores are DELLUGED in this stuff and, in self-defense, just throw most of it away unopened.)
And then, in a bizarre double reverse, we get the assurance that most authors already do so much publicity, how could they do more? Where to start? Most authors do ALL of their publicity. Which means the only difference with doing it for Indie is that you’re getting a greater share of the profits, as opposed to spending your meager advance and never seeing any royalties.
Of course, the difference is with Indie, you don’t need as much publicity because your book is not going to ‘slide off the shelves’. It will still be there, online, to be discovered a year or two or ten from now. And your best publicity is to write more stories. Because readers might discover you with ANY of them.
Well, writing is what I do. Publicity… is someone else’s job. So this new form of promotion is right up my alley.
The fact that many writers are piling on this and telling us that indie will never be the same as traditional publishing and doing it with noise and fury and derision is what shocked me most. It’s like they’re saying “I don’t want to do it, and anyone who does is an idiot.”
But that too is something of the crux of change. There’s always strife at the heart of a change in cycle and a change in direction. In economics and politics this often means death. And of course not all change is for the best (see communist revolutions for examples.)
However, as with the solstice, change is inevitable. The cycle has reached a point when it will turn, no matter how much we want to hold on to the status quo. In the case of the solstice, this is due to cosmic forces. In the case of our field, this is due to technological changes.
The people who are fighting to stay in the longer nights, the cozy winter darkness, are doing so because they fear what the light will bring. After all, snow melt can be catastrophic and sweep all away. It’s a reasonable fear. And the people like me, who tend to think the future is always (or most of the time) better than the past are fighting not only to bring about the future, but the best future they can.
Almost every culture has a tale centered around this time of year, about the old darkness fighting the new light. That tells you us humans are afraid of catastrophic change. We need the tale to reassure us, and also to shape the future.
For a superb example of this see Pratchett’s Hogfather. I was surprised, going through my old stuff, to find that I had a story where the conclusion was much the same as his, (though I was young and therefore the story is published under Sylvia Haute, the pen name reserved for my Juvenilia.) The conclusion was that if we fight the change too much or abdicate from it, the natural process will produce something that is not what we want. Our hearts and souls must be engaged in it and shape it as it emerges, and try to make it what is best for us and for those dependent on this field, as we are.
So, let’s turn towards the growing light. Yeah, it’s scary, but it’s better than the alternative. And may what comes up tomorrow be the sun and not merely a ball of burning gas.