Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Jeffrey Mariotte on The Writing Race

The Tortoise and the Hare
by Jeffrey J. Mariotte

Literarily speaking, I’m something of a late bloomer.

Though I won a literary award in college, for a short story I wrote there, I didn’t sell a short story to a professional market until I was 33 years old. Another eleven years passed before I sold a novel. In between, I sold some comic book scripts, but I was a long way from making a living as a writer in those days.

Once I got going, I did my best to make up for lost time. Between 1998 and now, I’ve had 46 novels published (some of which were collaborations with other writers). I’ve also written or contributed to six nonfiction books. I’ve had more than 130 comic books/graphic novels published. I’ve written trading cards. I wrote a DVD game. Maybe a couple dozen short stories. Probably other stuff I’ve long since forgotten. I’ve won some awards, hit some bestseller lists, and kept on plugging.

I’ve been a busy guy, you could say. I wouldn’t disagree.

In those days, I was the hare. During that time, I managed to make the break that most writers dream of. I quit the day job and supported myself and my family primarily on my writing income. That was my dream, anyway, and I was living it. I even gave lectures on it, mostly to audiences of impressionable young people.

Then things changed. Literally, between the time that I accepted a speaking gig at an art college and the time I arrived there for the event, the dream had run up against hard, cold reality. The economy broke, and it broke at the same time that publishing was finding itself faced with a new reality. Bookstores were fading away (not all of them—I’m delighted to report that Mysterious Galaxy, the indie genre bookstore of which I’m a co-owner, is about to open its second location—but a lot of them). Borders was on the ropes, and it was a big chunk of every publisher’s pie. Mostly, the e-book revolution was kicking in, and publishers had not figured out how to monetize it effectively. They still haven’t. The result of this double-whammy was that publishing lines were cut, editors were fired, houses became ever pickier about what they’d publish, and the advances they offered were lower than they had been.

So when I gave those speeches at that art college, I had to tell the students that it was possible to live the dream of supporting one’s self through one’s art, but that it was hard, damn hard, and there might come times that one had to take a day job to get through the rough patches.

As I had done.

I still have that day job. It’s been a year and a few months, now. I was hoping it would last six months, maximum. But publishing hasn’t turned around. If anything, it’s getting ever tougher.

Scott—our host, here—he’s always been a hare. He’s put out an impressive number of novels, and done other writing besides. Perhaps more germane to the current conversation: he realized early on the potential of e-books. He exploited that potential, and he’s making a living with his writing. He’s living that dream—my dream.

But I was a tortoise in that regard--or, to mix a metaphor painfully, a print dinosaur. A long-time bookseller, a bookstore owner, and someone who had toiled in the publishing business lo these many years, I was not ready to give up on print. I’m still not. I don’t believe digital will replace print, just like TV didn’t replace movies and paperbacks didn’t replace hardcovers. But I do believe that the business is changing, quickly and inexorably. I believe that digital has opened new avenues for stories to be told, and even though its rise has closed down some of the old avenues, the new ones outnumber the closed ones. The end result is that writers will have more places to tell stories, and readers will have more ways to enjoy them.

That is, believe me, a hard admission to make. But I believe it’s the truth.

I’m a digital tortoise, just now beginning to explore the world that pioneer hares discovered. My first original e-book effort was a paranormal YA adventure called Carnival Summer, that I didn’t really ever try to promote effectively. If you put it up, they will come, I hoped. They didn’t. But with e-books, it turns out, once you publish something, it remains available. What a concept! When Simon & Schuster puts out volume 1 of my paranormal YA series Dark Vengeance this fall, maybe those readers will be drawn to it. Carnival Summer, like my other ventures into digital, is available at both Amazon.com and Smashwords.

More recently, I have become ever more intrigued with e-publishing. My second release was a digital reprint of The Slab, a well reviewed horror epic that had originally appeared, in an expensive, illustrated edition, from a small press. My edition was neither illustrated nor expensive. Once again, it can be found at Amazon and Smashwords.

I followed that with an original thriller called The Devil’s Bait. It garnered a great blurb from e-book bestseller J. Carson Black, who—like Scott—recently signed a deal with Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint. J. Carson Black is another of the gurus I look up to when it comes to this e-book world—another hare in whose footprints I’m plodding. The Devil’s Bait is taut, suspenseful, and loaded with action, or so I like to think. Find it at Amazon or Smashwords.

My most recent release is a collection of short horror stories called Nine Frights. It’s my first short fiction collection, and it contains stories that have been previously published, in some reasonably prestigious places like the anthology Hellbound Hearts, as well as stories I never bothered trying to find a home for, because I was too busy writing novels and comics to shop around short stories. Amazon and Smashwords? You bet.

Can a tortoise morph into a hare?

We’ll see. I have to hope so. I have to hope that this new world of e-books is still welcoming to latecomers. I have to hope that a writer who’s been well reviewed, who’s received way too much generous praise from folks like David Morrell and Andrew Klavan and Christopher Golden and Don Winslow—and, yes, Scott Nicholson—and put out enough books to strain a shelf, can remake his career.

I haven’t given up on traditional publishing—my agent is out there right now with a new manuscript. But I have given up on the idea that traditional publishing is the only game in town. Or even the most important game.

Pass me one of those carrots, wouldya?


Anonymous said...

Good to have options.

Nancy J. Parra said...

It's a bold new world, isn't it? Cheers~

Adam Meyers said...

"I thought of you, where you'd gone, and the world spins madly on."

For some reason, those song lyrics go through my head whenever I hear more about the change happening in publishing.

Mark said...

Jeff, once again, you inspire and teach me!

Nicholas La Salla said...

Great post. I like to think of it this way: life is ALL a journey. There is no destination -- or at least none we have control over. Therefore, you have to accept ups and downs and try to weave in between the punches.

I've had my own publishing horror stories -- I talk about them on my blog and I believe I've mentioned them here too -- but the one thing I came away with was the fact that you are NEVER guaranteed a publishing slot, regardless of the economy. You are NEVER guaranteed a single thing.

There will be times when your dreams are on fire and times when it feels like if you listened hard enough you can hear angels.

I believe in writing, I believe in how meaningful good stories can be to us. Even if you can only touch a few readers, you have to consider yourself lucky. For just a few hours, others have taken part in your dreams, and hopefully through that they will be forced to think about their own lives, and what it means to be alive.

That's my goal . . . come hell or high paychecks.

Thanks Scott for bringing Jeff on board!



author Scott Nicholson said...

PJ, Nancy, Adam, Mark, Nicholas, thanks for stopping in! And thanks for sendingt he post, Jeff.