One Year Later: Reflecting on Snobbery, Ignorance, & the Perversion of Writing
Last year I wrote a post detailing my early years as a writer and the sense of entitlement I illogically and undeservedly harbored. A lot has happened since then and I felt it not exactly necessary but perhaps semi-cathartic to write something functioning as a reflection on and an addendum to the original post. A lot has happened in the last 359 days, after all.
From the original:
When I was younger, perhaps twenty-one or twenty-two (see: featured image), I had it in my head that I was going to be a big-time writer. I was working on a trilogy of YA contemporary fantasies that I just knew were going to be hot. A twist on zombies, mad gods, and reincarnation—who wasn’t going to love that?
I slaved away on this project for years. I’d started it a couple of months before my twentieth birthday (and I finally buried it in 2015 right where it belongs) and it was my baby. I was sure that a company like Penguin or Scholastic (y’know…one of the big kids) would pick it up and I would catapult to the forefront of YA fantasy.
I’m going to stop here for a moment. Let that soak in.
Here we are in August of 2018. This has most assuredly sunken in. I’m as confident as ever in saying my younger self was a) naive and b) an ignorant, self-absorbed idiot who had no grasp of publishing and the market for which he was writing. I was someone who thought my rough draft was going to be transcendent (Jesus Christ, this reminds me mildly of Terry Goodkind’s yammering about how WIZARD’S FIRST RULE both transformed and transcended fantasy).
Good? Ready? On we go.
Up until December, 2012 I had never had a single piece of fiction published. Zero. Zilch. When people suggested looking into self-publishing I scoffed. That wasn’t for me. That was for the amateurs, the people who were so eager to get their work out to the public that they forsook proper editing and cover design.
Okay, Luke. If you’re not too keen on self-publishing, what about small presses?
“No. I want to be able to write full-time.”
Stop. Let that sink in. This guy, this writer with a single publishing credit to his name…he’s kind of a prick, right?
Yup. Still a prick. I’ve had maybe upwards of twenty stories published since 2012, but that’s not necessarily the point. My point(s) is that a) full-time writing is unfeasible for most people for a variety of reasons and b) self-publishing and small presses are quite legitimate these days (the industry has transformed pretty drastically over the years and there is no longer the stigma surrounding self- and small press-publishing that there once was). For me to have thought so badly of the aforementioned at such a young age was, again, ignorant and showed that I had very little interest in pursuing other avenues. It’s good to have a goal in mind, it’s great to work your ass off to achieve it, but it’s equally, perhaps even more important to realize that publishing is not something that happens in a day, nor is it an industry devoid of steps that one must climb.
Over the next few years I maintained that attitude—quietly. Internally I had the mindset of a kid who’d had everything handed to him on a silver platter his entire life (not true, by the way; metaphor). Externally I saved face and kept quiet unless I had something to say. I would voice my (watered down) opinion on self-publishing every now and then, and I would explain why small presses didn’t interest me.
“I want an agent,” I would say. “I want to part of the Industry and neither self- or indie publishing is going to get me there.”
Basically: Big 6 (now 5) or bust.
Third pause. How fucking narcissistic is that? Do you want to grab my throat and lecture me? I sure do, fellow writers. And if you do too, I don’t blame you.
Even when I finished the rough draft of my current project, SHADOW TWINS, in October 2015 this unearned sense of entitlement; this snobbery, ignorance, and arrogance clung to me like a parasite. At this point in time I was a few months into my job as a bookseller. And it was around this time that things began to (slowly) change.
Even now as I write this and read what I wrote last year…well, it makes me really cringe at my younger self (the younger self I was and still am currently laying into). I really can’t stress enough to writers, especially those who are just starting out, how important it is to stay grounded, to not let notions of grandeur intoxicate the way you write. Otherwise you turn out like twenty two year-old me, or worse.
When you work at a bookstore you are presented with a great number of opportunities to participate in the publishing industry that you might not generally get. We host author signings, panels, and the like—events that provide the chance to network with fellow writers, to ask questions to professionals who have been in publishing for far fucking longer than I’ve been writing.
I’ve met some awesome people while working at the bookstore. I’ve also been lucky enough to develop a friendship with a professional author who write in the fantasy genre and that’s been a huge key in helping me shed the mantle that I carried for so long.
Back to your regularly scheduled programming.
I still agree with literally everything in the above. I’ve been at the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse for more than three years now and I have learned SO MUCH about the industry. Working at a bookstore is something I cannot recommend enough to anyone who wants to write professionally.
Plus, you know…I met my wife here.
And started a writing group (fucking finally).
And I made friends with Christopher Husberg and Dave Butler who, in addition to being really talented authors (and inviting me to a Utah writing retreat next year), are two of the nicest, most genuine people I have ever met.
Author’s note: Check out their books! Chris writes dark epic fantasy. I love to pitch his first book DUSKFALL to customers as a story about an amnesiac assassin who abandons his drug-addicted wife to pursue self-discovery (Just kidding, sort of. Basically it’s Jason Bourne meets epic fantasy and it’s really fucking cool).
Dave writes epic fantasy in the form of alternate history, set in Jacksonian America. His first book WITCHY EYE follows several characters, the primary protagonist being young Sarah Calhoun, who learns she is of royal blood and is sought by the Emperor. Basically a nice amalgamation of history, hexing, and elder things.
It took me years of writing and revising (and in a couple of instances, completely rewriting) Shadow Twins, of networking, of investigating publishing options to arrive at my epiphany:
I. Just. Want. To. Write.
I spent so much time worrying about the future that I deprived myself of the ability to live stress-free in the now. In retrospect, through sitting down and really thinking about how I got to where I am now, I would do things differently.
Or would I?
The answer: no. These last several years have taught me how to be a better writer, how to be a better person. Yes, there are things I would absolutely recommend not doing the way I did, but I won’t stand (or sit) here and say that it was all for nothing, because it wasn’t. In confronting my extremely unnecessary ego I destroyed the walls that were preventing me from doing what I set out to do from the beginning:
It’s absolutely okay to self-publish. There are so many fantastic books out there. The same can be said for publication through small presses. Refrain from doing what I did: don’t look at the Big 5 in New York and think that any other option to present your work is beneath you. Explore every avenue; do what fits you best.
Don’t be me. Don’t be an asshole.
Or if you were and are like me in some capacity, take a moment and reflect.
Destroy stigmas. Deflate your ego.
Just. Fucking. Write.
Seriously. Just. Fucking. Write.
Author’s note: this year (2017) I received a request for material from an outstanding small press (California Coldblood Books) and am currently participating in #PitchWars on Twitter. If you’re an #SFF author I highly recommend looking into both.
Author’s note II: PitchWars was incredibly fun. It got me into really using Twitter to engage with the writing community and I made a ton of friends! Also, the full manuscript for SHADOW TWINS is currently on submission to California Coldblood Books.
Authors note III: Remember when I suggested that we should all Just. Fucking. Write? I’ve been revising SHADOW TWINS for the last several months. It’s basically been an entire rewrite of part one and the story is SO MUCH BETTER for me having done so. The potentially bigger (biggest?) challenge is going to be incorporating all of the new and revised content from part one into the latter parts of the novel, but I’m up for it. SHADOW TWINS 5.0 is going to be the novel I’d always envisioned it could be and I’m super excited about it.