The Future

I was going to write some more about the changing face of publishing in the e-book age. However, the more i read, the more i understand that there’s absolutely nothing i can say that hasn’t already been said by people much more knowledgeable and important than i am. As such, i’m just going to point one of them out for you.

Joe Konrath (writing under the name J.A. Konrath, among others) is a person much especially more knowledgeable and important than i am. You should read his blog (jakonrath.blogspot.com), ideally starting back at the April 7th, 2010 entry, which pretty much galvanizes Konrath’s understanding of what the e-book future is likely going to look like. (If you like, you can go back further to early 2009 to read about Konrath’s initial experimentation with putting his unpublished work up on Amazon’s Kindle store, or to mid-2009 when his leading-edge analysis and insight into the e-publishing process really kicked into high gear. However, for me, April 7th is when something changed in Konrath’s outlook on a philosophical level.)

Konrath’s relationship with the publishing industry is complex, longstanding, and entirely different than mine. Konrath wrote a lot of books, got a lot of rejections, then finally landed a print deal. He’s a well-respected and well-read thriller/crime author, though not (by his own admission) a “bestseller”.

I, on the other hand, don’t have a huge pile of unpublished novels because for a long time, being a novelist was only one of a lot of things i set out to do with my life. I dabbled in novels, as most writers do. When i was younger, i knocked out the beginnings of a couple of books i could never finish, as most writers do. But my passion was primarily film at that time, and RPGs at a different time, so that’s where i honed my craft. I broke out my understanding of how words and story work as a screenwriter, story editor, and script consultant, and i made a fairly comfortable living for the years i was at it.

Then a while back, something changed in me, and i realized that my work as a screenwriter and a story editor for film had pushed me to a place i’d never been before. I was getting bored with screenwriting, and wanted to do something more. More importantly, however, i had learned a number of things about story and narrative structure — things i hadn’t known when i’d knocked out the beginnings of a couple of books i could never finish all those years before. Which is to say, i’d never really pushed myself to be a novelist early on because i knew that i didn’t have the story sense that it took to be a novelist. Konrath talks about having written a million unpublished words in the course of becoming the writer he needed to be to land his publishing deal; i wrote just about that same number of words in the course of a decade’s worth of writing and rewriting countless scripts. Everybody has their own path.

At the end of things, though, i knew a while back that i was ready to write novels. So i started writing novels. But then that thing happened that happens to pretty much every would-be novelist, where i couldn’t sell my novels to save my life. And though i’m neither arrogant or naive enough to expect or demand that i should find it any easier to get people interested in my work than any other author does, i’ll cop to admitting that the experience of trying to cross over to fiction publishing has been a lot more frustrating than i expected it to be.

I say “cross over”, because to some degree, i feel like a bit of an insider as far as the world of publishing goes. I’ve worked in publishing in one form or another for almost half my adult creative life (with the other half spent mostly in film, and the other other half spent gaming instead of sleeping). I’ve never worked in book publishing, outside some time spent as a small-press fiction editor a long time ago. But i’m a writer. A professional writer. A good writer, who believes very strongly in Harlan Ellison’s adage that you don’t ever let yourself be afraid in the pursuit of bringing your work to the world.

I have no problem calling up people at publishing companies or dropping a line to someone at an agency. I have no problem telling people in the industry who i am and what i’ve done as a means to talking to them about what i’d like to do. As with all creative endeavors, it’s all still a crap shoot in the end, and i don’t “know” anyone in the fiction publishing biz with any degree of familiarity or closeness that lets me jump the queue and leap straight to the top of the “things we should publish” list. I wouldn’t ever expect to. Truth be told, i wouldn’t ever want to, because that why lies the life of a writer who too quickly gets used to not having to do his or her best work consistently so long as the mediocre work is welcomed with empty praise. (J.K. Rowling, call your editor.)

By any measure, i’m very fortunate, insofar as writing, editing, and story editing have been my day job for a lot of years now, and i get paid well, and i’m very good at what i do. However, the wall that is book publishing (specifically genre fiction; more specifically, fantasy and speculative fiction) is one that i’ve been bashing my head against for longer than i like. I’ve written four novels and an anthology collection of related stories to date, all of which i’m very proud of. One was set to be published but subsequently cancelled. Another was the book that, as a writing sample, got me the contract for the book that was cancelled. But for it and all the others, i’ve tried and failed to get them to market through every possible traditional avenue open to a writer.

I read a post that Konrath made on Huffington Post a while back, and at the time, it felt like something had changed in my view and understanding of the world.

Here’s what that means today.

One of my books was already sitting with a publisher for evaluation when i tripped across that Konrath post last year, in response to which i quickly and wholeheartedly embraced the vision that he and so many others have set out regarding the direction in which publishing is going. At the time, this particular book out for evaluation was just yet another pitch to yet another company, and i was already thinking about the usual song-and-dance of who the book should go out to if it came back, what i could send out to this same publisher as a followup, et al. Because i understand how the publishing industry works, and i know the game, and i’ve always played the game by the rules.

However, this time out, i found the urge to play the game by the traditional rules tempered by the insight and the extremely contagious passion that Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith and Barry Eisler and Amanda Hocking and David Moody and Karen McQuestion and John Locke and countless others have for what they’re doing. These are just some of the many people who are the forefront of a new movement of authors reclaiming control of their work and the industry that our work builds. So i made a decision that if this book came back from the publisher with a pass, that rejection would officially mark my last attempt to convince a mainstream publisher of what i already know:

My books are good, and they deserve to be read.

Long story short. I got the pass back this week. And as a result, i have some books coming out over the next few months. Welcome to the future.


He Shoots...

So the Vancouver Canucks were apparently the best team in the NHL this year and are making some sort of run for the Stanley Cup. If you live anywhere north of the 49th parallel and within a thousand miles of Vancouver, this will be news. I, at the risk of potentially undermining my quintessential Canadianness, could care less, but that makes me a very silent minority in these parts. I ignore hockey as easily as i ignore all professional sports. (Not having any manner of broadcast television coming into my house helps in that regard. I’d recommend it.) However it wasn’t always that way.

Way back in the day (which is several years before the period that i generally refer to when i say “back in the day”, which i realize i say a lot), i was a fan of the Montreal Canadiens. I followed the Habs with a devotion that, while it paled in comparison to the friends of mine who could recite the lineups and statistics of entire teams from memory, seems pretty geeky in retrospect. I watched Hockey Night in Canada if the Canadiens played; i ignored it the rest of the time. I collected the Canadiens hockey cards but had no interest in any other teams, which meant i usually scored said cards for free from my even geekier friends, who would discard their duplicates as they sought the complete  league set. Forget Led Zeppelin; I had a poster of Ken Dryden on the back of my bedroom door.

The Canadiens were the dominant team in the NHL for much of the last half of the ’70s, but even when they weren’t leading the league, they were playing what i still consider to be the style of hockey that best exemplified the game of that day. The Canadiens were about speed and finesse, about balancing offense and defense, and about winning games on the basis of the ability to skate circles around the opposition rather than simply bludgeoning them into submission, as was the style of play in much of the rest of the league. I was watching on New Years’ Eve 1975 when the Canadiens played the Soviet Red Army to a 3–3 draw in what a lot of people (me included) still consider one of the best games of hockey ever played. Clean, fast, precise, nerve-wracking, and hauntingly beautiful.

The Canadiens have won the Stanley Cup more than other team in NHL history, including a four-year run from ’76 to ’79 that coincided with the feverish height of my fandom. I suffered what can only be described as a mild breakdown when the Canadiens were eliminated in the 1980 playoffs by the lowly Minnesota North Stars. I hated North Star goalie Gilles Meloche for a long time. (Sorry, Gilles.) The cup drought continued even as i kept following the team over the next half-decade or so, out of high school and into the university years. But then a funny thing happened, which has defined my relationship to pro sports ever since.

In 1986, the Canadiens were fielding a fairly awesome playoff team after a fairly lackluster season, and were gunning for the championship. I was watching with all the enthusiasm of the old days, feeling myself getting into the game like i used to. And then i noticed something. Of the thirty-odd players who put on a Canadiens uniform that year, i realized i was seeing something like fewer than a half-dozen who had played for the team that i first fell in love with. (I don’t want to look them up, but i remember Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson, Guy Carbonneau, and Mario Tremblay. I’m sure there were a few more.) Lafleur was gone. Cournoyer was gone, Steve Shutt, Lemaire, Lapointe, Serge Savard, Rej Houle, Pierre Mondou, Mark Napier. Ken Dryden had retired from the game to become a lawyer, and i had a different bedroom door and his poster was long gone.

And it occurred to me (if i recall correctly, about halfway through the second-round division finals) that what had made me fall in love with the Canadiens of 1975 was the specific roster of players and the game they played. And by continuing to follow the team even as those players retired, were traded, or otherwise disappeared from it, i was effectively not following a team — i was following a uniform. And in that moment, i recalled not so much the memory of loving the Canadiens but of too often hating the teams they played against. I remembered hating the Soviet Red Army with the exception of Tretiak, because i liked goalies and Tretiak was god. I remembered hating Gilles Meloche even though he was a goalie, because even though he was a great goalie, he wore the wrong uniform so i had to hate him. And a weird kind of vaguely fascistic feeling twisted through me, and i decided right then, right there, that i was going to watch the Canadiens through to the end of that playoff series, and then that would be that.

And i did, and it was.

I’ve watched hockey since then from time to time, as i’ve watched other sports, and i truly enjoy watching a good game well played. But i don’t have any interest in the team mentality anymore, because loving one team at the cost of hating all other teams seems kind of weird and dangerous to me.

The Canadiens won the cup in ’86, beating Calgary. If you have to end a decade-long love affair for the sake of your psychological health, it’s nice to go out on a high note.