I had lunch a few days ago with a friend who’s a published author. We met in the 1980s at meetings of the Mystery Writers of America (Midwest Chapter), which held monthly meetings in downtown Chicago.
I loved those meetings. I never missed them if I could help it all, and I dragged my friends, co-workers, and even my wife to them as often as I could for drinks, dinner, and discussions about the finer points of murder.
The world has changed a lot since then. The publishing industry has consolidated into a few big publishers and a lot of smaller, independent ones, e-books are now a force to be reckoned with (and don’t get me wrong—I love reading e-books on my iPad), and anyone can put out an e-book on Amazon.
But it sure seemed simpler when I went to my first MWA meeting. I was suddenly in the same room with a combination of wannabe writers like me and a bunch of successful, published authors. They may not have been making millions of dollars writing NY Times bestsellers (although some of them eventually did), but the formula for success they shared was basically this: Write a book, get some feedback, and find an agent—or maybe send it directly to a publisher. That worked for at least a few writers in the group. Keep doing it, and eventually you might see your books on the shelves of your local bookstore. Back when there were actual bookstores.
My friend has written a bunch of really good crime novels. They range from a series of books featuring a hard-boiled Chicago cab driver to a couple of novels about a reformed terrorist, and then to a sequence of police procedurals in the 1960s era. I confess that I haven’t read every single book he’s written, especially since I switched my focus from mysteries to science fiction in the mid-2000s, but he’s a fine writer. And right now he’s frustrated at not knowing how to sell the books he’s already published, and wondering how he’s going to get a publisher to put out his most recent works.
And me? After almost 30 years, I’m sort of nowhere. Lots of stuff written, none of it sold. One award for an SF story. One detective novel almost published, except that the publisher went out of business.
I could simply publish Prodigal Prince on Amazon. And that’s a serious option. I have another novel I’m sending around to actual publishers, an urban fantasy, and I have higher hopes for that than for my two Foxe novels because I think it’s more original, and it fits into an established niche without being too derivative.
But I sure hope someday I can find a publisher, because I don’t think I’m suited for a career of trying to market and promote my own work all by myself. I admit I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’m certainly going about this all wrong.
The problem is, I can’t stop. I read a story once about Madeleine L’Engle, who wrote A Wrinkle In Time. One night after a lot of failure she decided to quit writing. Then, as she was walking upstairs to go to bed, she thought of a story about a writer who decided to quit writing, and by the time she reached the top of the stairs she realized that was her next story.
Or something like that. Maybe I remember it wrong. But even so, that’s me. For better or worse, I’m going to keep going.