How We’ve Come So Far So Fast
I’m not a great mountain climber, mostly because my feet are too big, my joints are too old, and I don’t have anyone to do it with. But when I was young and stupid, I used to go climbing seaside cliffs with dad. Because this was Portugal, we did it without safety ropes (natch) or really any equipment. Just hands and bare feet on rocks that were often studded with razor-sharp mussels. Also, because this was Portugal, the printed tide tables were often out of whack, as we spent more than a few days perched on a spire of rock, waiting for the tide to uncover our path back to the beach. I also once fell down and, having managed to turn on my back on the slide down, skinned my back pretty completely.
The thing is that I enjoyed the climb. It always seemed to simultaneously take forever and be very, very fast. You were going up hand hold and foot placement at a time, maybe a foot up at a time, and it sounds slow (and often was) but as you got up there, it seemed to have happened in a blink.
It was good, particularly if you weren’t sure of the tides, to keep looking down and make sure you weren’t so far you couldn’t return before the tide filled in.
Life and particularly your profession is very much the same. You are immersed in what you are doing, and the repetitive nature of most of our occupations make them both excruciatingly slow and very fast.
When I’m writing steadily (an habit I need to get back into, and yes, it’s an habit as well as everything else) I get what I’ve heard other people call “telescoped time”. Time itself seems to go very fast, because I pretty much get up and write, and I think that a month is more like three because “look at everything I’ve written.”
There are other situations in which time seems not to pass at all and to rush by. I think this is why we tend not to see how much our lives have changed over time, until we realize they’ve really, really changed.
This being one of those years where, by necessity, I’m stuck with facing how much life changes — between trying to sell a house, trying to buy another in a different city, dealing with a kid leaving home and another getting ready to do it — the past is biting me in the nose every minute, both with things I did and pastimes/hobbies I once had that are all but forgotten now, and with how different life is now, not just for me but for most of us.
For instance, when I got married, 30 years ago, our most expensive item every month was calling my parents. Now? Bah. Mom has free calls to the US, but even if she didn’t, I use my el-cheapo cell phone when the mood strikes. An hour costs about $3, which is oh… at least ten and probably twenty times cheaper than what twenty minute calls used to cost. And this is only because I’m lazy and mom hates computers, so I can’t use Skype.
Which brings us to the day about eighteen years ago when Dan told me, “I need to change jobs.” Since he was in a job that might not have been (by content) his dream job, but where he worked with a group of people he loved, I was shocked. AND I was outright skeptical when he told me “long distance” (he worked in computers, with MCI) “is a devaluating commodity. In ten years it will be worth nothing.”
I thought he was crazy because well… MCI. Possibly the largest employer in our town, with a huge edifice and still continuously hiring, dealt with long distance, by definition.
Sure, I thought, sure, voice over IP and cell phones. But cell phones were expensive and had lousy reception. And voice over IP? We were on dial up.
And yet here we are, and I look back and I say “How have we come so far so fast?”
Oh, sure, it’s eighteen years, but think back. If you had a time machine and told yourself then that these days many people don’t even HAVE a landline, that cell calls are so cheap that it’s mostly what everyone uses, yourself at the time, unless he was someone like Dan who was working and immersed in forecasting the future of his profession, would have told you-now you were out of your ever-loving mind.
This is similar to ebooks — you know we were coming to it, right? Well, it’s my job — where about six years ago, we started seeing people put things up, and there were a few cases of instant millionaires.
And yet, I, who was working in the field and back then for three publishers, had no clue. I took the occasional “hit it big” as a fluke, as one does. Because that’s not how life worked. There was this entire edifice of traditional publishing, and there was the proper ladder to climb.
A friend of mine (much more successful than I) and now a happily hybrid author, at the time told me he would discourage all newbies from publishing first in e, because then no one would invest in them. I agreed.
Even then there were disturbing intrusions of a new reality into my ordered existence. I started meeting these authors at cons who had come out first self-published, and done well, and were now getting in with all the support of a traditional publisher. But I thought “Flukes.”
And then a book into which I’d poured a lot more than in what I was writing at the time (Sword and Blood, reverted, soon coming as a complete trilogy to an Amazon near you!) fetched a minuscule advance, and my agent said that was the best she/we could do.
I was for other reasons (mostly health) incredibly stressed, and I told my husband “I’m walking. I’m walking out of this field and not coming back.”
And he said “give it another year. If nothing shakes loose, then you can.”
Well, I found myself in an email conversation with Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who said “come to our workshop this October. We’re teaching how to go indie.”
By the time I went to the workshop (five?) months later, I had researched, and I knew what indie was and its potential. BUT when we got there, Dean Wesley Smith told us we were pioneers. We were breaking a new frontier. I didn’t believe him. I knew all the people who’d gone there before me.
Well, I attended that workshop in 2011.
And now I’m looking down that cliff and going “how we’ve come so far so fast.” I’ve been slower because I’ve been sick and getting sicker all those years (I’m now making the inverse journey hand over hand.) BUT even so, last year when I was too sick to deliver a book and all I managed was an edit of the book I’d written in installments on this blog, I made close to 30k dollars mostly from Amazon. There were years where I was “employed” in traditional publishing and delivering, and I made less than 10k. (My mystery advances were tiny, and also any payment over 3k is in three parts, so I’d receive the signing, or the delivery, or the publishing payment one year, the rest the other.)
There are other changes: I don’t need to be under contract, something that always made me feel like I owed my soul to the company store. I used to be unable to write anything that wasn’t under contract, because there was a 50/50 chance it wouldn’t sell. Now I can write whatever, and if Baen doesn’t want it, it goes up indie, which is fine.
Those 17 or so novels in the drawer? Yeah. They’re getting finished/polished and put out. And I’m writing — right now a bit impatient at not being able to do it as fast as I’d like, yet — as much as I can.
Because it’s been four years since that workshop, and I know people MAKING A LIVING from indie. Not millionaires, not the headliners. Just regular everyday writers.
I look down and I think “how we’ve come so far so fast.”
And you know, I can see it from the other side too. My kindle paperwhite offers me a selection of whatever I want to read that particular night. I’m limited only by time and money. Distance? What’s that? What’s in stock? Everything is pretty much in stock.
Those who think this will all vanish overnight are deluded. Those who think we’re not on track to change as much as phones have in the last 18 years — or faster — are delusional.
Look down from the cliff. See how far we’ve come. Then look up and see the summit ahead.
It’s important to keep both ends in sight.
Yeah, the tide tables are important too: keep an eye on how covers are changing, and on how editing is changing, and on what is selling.
It’s really no more work, though different, from keeping track of what publishers want and the different fads and personalities in traditional houses used to be.
The difference now is that though you’re still — of course — at the mercy of fate, you have more control than you ever had, and a better chance of making it as far as you’re willing to push yourself.
And that is a massive change. Don’t lose sight of it. I’m telling you now what Dean told me four years ago “it might seem to you all the big innovations are done, all the big sellers have become big sellers, indie is now a limited market. You are wrong. You are pioneers. This market is wide open. This path is just beginning. Technology ahead will open new vistas, and the public will realize there are people writing to its tastes now. There is gold in them there hills.”
Now, kick off your shoes and climb that cliff.