Sunday, August 3, 2014

A golden age for writers, so why all the literary disdain?

Writers are a funny lot.

Most of you who know me know I've been writing in one form or another virtually my entire life. As a second grader I tried to write a story following the adventures of Billy the Fish, who was accidentally dropped from an aquarium into a creek and eventually made his way through rivers all the way to the ocean, and I've been putting together stories – fiction and otherwise – on paper and on computer screens ever since.

As I grew into early adulthood, and had fallen head-over-heels in love with creepy and dark fiction, I got it in my head I might one day turn into the next Stephen King. Of course, I was clueless as to how much work, talent, raw drive, work, determination, discipline, did I mention hard work, and yes even some luck, was needed to get anything into publication, much less reach the lofty perch shared by King and others of his stature.

Unlike others I've known over the years who have pursued their writing goals while holding day jobs in construction, teaching, retail, customer service, the law, or any number of other employment fields, I've written for a living. I've spent most of my adult life in the newspaper field, reporting, editing, managing. For a couple of years I left newspapering but kept writing nonfiction, penning articles for business magazines, education publications, and a few other specialty markets.

Along the way I have quit writing fiction, given it up for good, swearing never to go back. I've done that numerous times, sometimes out of frustration with the impossibly slow pace of magazines who purported to be professional but might take months to get back to you on a submission (if they ever did). Other times I felt I was wasting time, that even with publication the pay was pathetically low – the most I ever made from a piece of fiction someone else published was a couple of $150 pieces. Sometimes I had to quit because there simply wasn't enough of me to go around – as the sole bread winner in the house, with a big family (5 kids), my first priority was keeping us housed, clothed and fed, even if that meant working two jobs while freelancing for non-fiction publications on the side (kinda like holding a third job).

Still, I'd always come back, drawn to writing.

I've hooked up with a few writer groups over the years, and I've had the great fortune to be around those who were serious about the craft, who pursued writing doggedly, as if their lives depended on it. Some of those folks are now editors and publishers, mostly with small or specialty presses, others have gone on to see some success as writers, one or two who even now support themselves fully with significant contracts writing novels for one of the Big Five publishing houses.

There were days many of us would commiserate together, bemoaning the state of writing – particularly in the horror field – where it seemed unless you were related to a magazine owner or book publishing official, seeing your own work in publication was as likely as a trip to the moon. A number experienced what appeared to be near-misses, when an agent or Big Five publisher would show interest, string you along, then back away. I had my own experience along these lines a few years back when a couple of agents showed quite a bit of interest in a series of middle-grade books. Alas, it came to naught.

So it's puzzling to me to see some of those very same people, or others like them, be so openly critical of writers now making decent to good money through their own publishing efforts, assailing those indie writers as if they were some sort of affront to Western civilization.

Most of you probably have a Kindle or some similar e-reading device. Amazon is the big kahuna in this field, and definitely the pace setter, introducing technology that allows writers to easily upload and publish their works in e-format, and making it just as easy for readers to access that work, giving readers novels and other works at a fraction of the cost the Big Five boys charge while allowing writers to make significantly more on each purchase than one of the old Big Five publishers would have paid.

In the old days, most novelists with contracts through one of the Big Five publishers (then Big Six) were lucky if they made $5,000 in a year. More often than not the quality of a given submission to an agent or publisher had little to do with whether it saw publication. The marketing folks weighed in on whether a piece was easily marketable according to their guidelines. That was the chief, overriding concern for the so-called gatekeepers of the literary world.

In this new e-reader world a bit of democracy enters the equation. Anyone can write a novel and sell it through Amazon.

I know quite a few who have been doing this for a few years now, some making a few hundred dollars a month, some a few thousand, and I know a handful who are making six-figure annual incomes from their writing. I happen to know one fella who's annual income has inched higher than that.

Here's the part I don't get. Some of my old writer friends, and a few other writers I've come across, seem to really have a problem with those making a good living at independent writing/publishing. They spend their time pooh-poohing that success, saying these people aren't "real writers" (whatever the heck that means). When confronted with the success stories of those who are making good money at their craft, the response is often accusing those indie writers of somehow exploiting the system, discovering a publishing formula that generates money, but isn't real writing.

Sorry folks, but the writers I know making a nice living at this are exploiting one simple formula: They work damn hard (if you'll pardon my French). While some old-school legacy writers sit around, gazing at their navals, wasting time telling everyone how excruciating it is to produce a thousand words a day in a couple of hours of anguished writing, these folks spend their time working – sitting in front of a computer four, eight, even twelve hours a day, producing reams of copy. I know one individual who produces a novel every five to six weeks because he parks his butt in the chair and writes for hours upon hours upon hours every week.

And that, my friends, is the key. Hard work, long-term commitment (it doesn’t happen overnight), combined with a bit of marketing savvy (which is NOT rocket science, anyone can learn and do a little marketing), and a commitment to professionalism in your work. Yes, luck plays into it, and can be the difference between someone pulling down a six-figure income vs. making ten or twelve thousand as a nice little supplemental income.

Yet there are some in the writing field who simply won't accept that, who refuse to believe indie writers are "real writers," and who take every opportunity to bash those in the indie field.

I don't understand it. As I said, writers can be a funny lot. And sometimes a bit petty.

For me, I'd love to get a big-money offer from one of the Big Five publishers. I'd love to walk into a book store and see my work on the shelves there. I don't harbor any ill will toward those who have achieved that. But, I have to say I'm just fine doing indie thing.

My question to other writers is, why aren't you?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

More change -- the kids are coming home!

Since I restarted this blog talking about all the changes that had occurred in my life over the past 18 months, I'll continue that with a new one. My oldest daughter, the one who married and moved away last September, is coming back home!

Well, sort of.

They had to move out of state because her husband, who I'll call Andrew for the purposes of this blog, still had one semester of college to finish. My daughter, who I'll call Erica, has two years of school left, but she put that on hold so he could finish up and then, hopefully, get a job teaching. She had already been accepted at a university about 45 minutes down the road from here (after doing community college for her first two years of college), so they were fairly limited in where they could go.

The teaching thing hasn't worked out yet for Andrew, but yesterday he was offered a position with a media company in the same city where she will be going to college! Better yet, that puts them 45 minutes from us to the west, and 45 minutes from the rest of my family (mom, sisters and their families) to the east. She and Andrew will be smack-dab in the middle of us all!

Good for all of us – though she and Andrew might get tired of us after a while, I don't know.

The challenge of it all is the timeframe. He starts his new job in twelve days. That's right, less than two weeks. They have no apartment, they live three-and-a-half hours' drive away, and they both work, so it's not as if the two of them have nothing but free time between now and then. There's also the issue of furniture, but we'll figure that one out as we go.

Just as soon as I tell you all I'm back, ready to start publishing a few pieces under my own name again, I find I'm going to be a busy little bee over the next few weeks, doing a lot of traveling down there and back, helping them get set up, helping them move – all built around my day job.

It's a good challenge to have, though, and I can't tell you how ecstatic I am they will be moving this close.

And, since I wasn't blogging last year when the two of them were married, and I am talking about them now, I'm going to share a couple of wedding photos. The first is my wife and I escorting the lovely bride toward the ceremony and her waiting husband-to-be. The second pic is my mom with the two of them, and the third one is the happy couple. And yes, the dude is that tall – he's 6'7" (but he still can't take me on the basketball court. Just don't tell him I said that.)

Until next time (I'll post again this weekend), happy trails!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Back in the old ball game...


I wasn't sure what to say in the rebirth of my little blog, John's Dark Scribblings, so I thought I'd just say hello.

After all, what does one start a conversation after a nearly 14-month absence?

So, hello, and welcome back.

I have been away from this little corner of the world for quite some time I suppose, and I should explain.

A lot happened in my life last year. I suppose that's always the case for a lot of people, but in my case there were some big, major life changes.

Tragically, my father passed away in February of 2013. I come from a strong family where we've been taught to just keep moving forward, keep working, never let all the bad stuff drag you too far down. So that's what I did, that's what all my family did in the aftermath of our loss – we just kept moving forward.

Between that loss in the late winter and the fall of 2013, there were more changes for our family, more joyous ones to be sure, but change none-the-less. My second oldest daughter went out into the world, going to the University of Virginia, in late August. A couple of weeks later my oldest daughter married a fine young man we've known for years and moved out of state.

Like I said, some major changes.

In the midst of it all I kind of lost my way in my writing, aided by a confusing, on-again, off-again policy by my employer that prohibited any employees from doing any writing or editing outside the company. Even fiction. Except when it didn't. Like I said, terribly confusing.

I never stopped writing – I still write and edit at work on the job as a newspaper editor (though just between you, me and the virtual fence post, my job has become more about compiling and writing reports, meetings, and paperwork than it has been about actual honest-to-goodness journalism -- you know, writing and editing work that is germane to your community). And I didn't call it quits entirely with the fiction work – I do some, let's say specialized type of writing under a pseudonym (and no, I'm not tell you anything else about it, at least not for now).

But the work that moved me – the horror that I once wrote, the mystery and historical novels I outlined - just kind of drifted away from me. Or maybe I drifted away from them. I arrived at a point where I couldn't just put my head down and keep working. I still had to do my day job, because I have a family that depends on me for income and a staff that depends on my to lead it and a company that's paying me to do that job. Beyond that I just wasn't sure what I wanted in my writing, or my life for that matter. So I stopped blogging about my work, even took this blog down from public view for quite a while.

Now I'm back, and I'll be returning to some of my writing roots over the coming months and years. I won't be terribly prolific – I have a burgeoning pseudonym career to keep going (well, okay, a pseudonym CAREER may be overstating it, but it's something I'll keep up for a while). I also still have the full-time job to keep working at, and I need to spend at least a little time with the family.

But I will be publishing a few horror and mystery tales here over the coming months – short stories, a novella or two, I'll be releasing a novel in August and another one in November. Beyond that? We'll just see how it goes.

For now I'll just say hello, and glad you're back with me.