I never like seeing friends stressed out. Whether it is intensely stressed out or just out of their groove, it just kills me. It is amplified more when I feel the bumpy ride of Lifeâ€™s rougher patches. Last week, snapping back from what can only be described as an â€œemotionally charged nightâ€ between me and the World, I read up on a writer and friend I admire and hold dear. Turns out he was also hitting a rough patch of road.
Phil Rossi, the multitalented man with the flowing hair of awesome, began a series of posts called â€œParalysis.â€ Heâ€™s working through a writerâ€™s dry spell; and in â€œPart I: Stranded,â€ he went â€œAll Inâ€ like the rock-and-roll badass that he is:
â€œAnother truthâ€“Iâ€™ve never been in this place before. I donâ€™t recognize the countryside.Â The air here is differentâ€”heavy and overwhelming. Talk about a wrong turn. In the past, Iâ€™ve been able to work through any creative block. This is different.â€
It was in this passage from the second posting in this series entitled â€œPart II: Patienceâ€ where I felt like I clicked with Phil on the raw fear now gnawing away at him:
â€œThe journey easily becomes a desolate stretch of road, the destination coming no closer, when faced with daily emails wondering about when the next piece of fiction will drop and having no good answer or while watching idly as peers put out new material every other day (or so some day it seems).
When did any of that start to matter? At some point, it didnâ€™t even exist.â€
The troubadour of the tight jeans and cowboy boots is right. When did any of this â€” the comparisons, the results, the numbers â€” matter? When did all that come into play?
For me, it came into play when this story Pip and I wrote together, sold. First here. Then overseas.
Getting published isnâ€™t the hard part. Itâ€™s living up to the hype.
Thereâ€™s a lot riding on Phoenix Rising. At least, thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m seeing. The book hasnâ€™t sold a single copy, and yet weâ€™ve made back our advance. How? International sales. Australia and New Zealand. Germany. Russia. Everyoneâ€”even our super-agentâ€”is floored by this; and we are thrilled. While this momentum is building, Pip and I are still working the marketing angles. We have been building up our modest Twitter account for Agents Books and Braun, running #SteamTuesday tweets, the odd steampunk article or three, and dropping teasers for both Phoenix Rising and the sequel in the works, Of Cogs and Corsets. We also have the Tales from the Archives podcast that launched last week, and a green light from the publisher to shoot a book trailer. Then starting in April, Pip and I hit blogs and podcasts, ramping up the following month with Ministry May-hem. (See what we did there?) Thatâ€™s when we hit the road.
As the clock on the Ministry website continues to count down, a news story concerning a new publishing sensation reached my ears, and I found it a little hard to believe. I thought it was nothing more than eBook hype and propaganda. Being the librarian with the Black Belt of research fu, though, Pip pulled up the videoâ€¦
Amanda Hockingâ€™s story is pretty astounding when you look at it objectively. For pennies compared to what I have invested into my own writing career, Hocking has sold a staggering number of digital books. 900,000 and climbing. She has become a juggernaut of literature in less than a year, and reached that point in her press where she is debunking a few myths of her amazing ride. I admire that.
But on seeing the clip, I went on a rant in front of Pip. A rant you will never hear and never read. Safe to say, I didnâ€™t react well to it. At all.
The odd thing about this rant was is I couldnâ€™t pin down what I was feeling. I wasnâ€™t angry at Pip. (Obviously.) I wasnâ€™t angry at Amanda Hocking. (Jealous? Yeah, okay, maybe. Just a bit.) I was angry at something, I knew that. (Checkâ€¦although furniture kicking never occurred. At least, on this instance.)
After spewing out this private rant, I dropped back into my chair and attempted to return to my work-in-progress, drained of any motivation and inspiration to write. Completely. I snapped, â€œWhatâ€™s the point? Why the hell do I even bother?â€
That was when Pip said it: â€œYou canâ€™t give up. Youâ€™re not allowed.â€
Then it hit. And itâ€™s still hitting me. I figured out why I was so angryâ€¦Iâ€™m scared.
Iâ€™m scared that Ministry wonâ€™t go the way people are telling me it will go. Iâ€™m scared the book will hit the shelves and people will hate it. Iâ€™m scared that Iâ€™ve got all these great ideas, but Iâ€™ll suddenly find myself unable to get beyond the pitch. Iâ€™m scared of losing that ability to write. Iâ€™m also scared with the international sales already set, Ministry is going to fall short of everyoneâ€™s expectations.
But what Amanda Hocking triggered was a fear that Iâ€™ve always thought has loomed over my writing career: Iâ€™m scared that Iâ€™m doing something wrong.
At least, thatâ€™s what my head is telling me.
I understand what Pip meant though. Iâ€™m not allowed to give up. Neither is Phil. We still have stories to tell. We have audio to engineer. For guys like us (and anyone driven by passions of a creative nature), the rules no longer apply. No matter how bad it may seem, weâ€™re not allowed to give up. Onward. Always.
This fear isnâ€™t a bad thing. Itâ€™s good. It keeps me focused and driven. I know that when Iâ€™m the most terrified, Iâ€™m sharp. My heart pounds like a jack rabbit before a speaking event, before a panel discussion, and when introducing myself at the beginning of a workshop. I know that Iâ€™m alive, and every rapid pound in my chest reminds me that I have earned the right to be here and itâ€™s time for my â€œAâ€ game. If I didnâ€™t want to take a chance, if I didnâ€™t believe in what I create, if I doubted my skill and talent, then I could find contentment in writing stories and keeping them to myself. I have chosen a path that agents, editors, and publisher have all told me few undertake. The fear is my acknowledgement of a challenge before me, and I am ready to face it.
Speaking of facing those demons, I understand Philâ€™s writing again.
â€œI was rewarded with the start of what could be a very tasty short piece of fiction and the knowledge that, yes, I can do this.Â Â We are defined largely by our own perception. If I think I canâ€™t write, then Iâ€™m not going to be able to do it.Â If I consider myself capabable of telling a good tale, then thatâ€™s just whatâ€™ll happen.Â Belief is a powerful thing.
And in this case, Iâ€™d say itâ€™s magic.â€
I found out this weekend it was his idea for Tales from the Archives that has got his butt back in the chair. Inspiration. Kind of like how his earlier blogposts inspired this posting.
In a perfect world, I believe that how we should be to each other: inspiring. That really is, as Queen once put it, a kind of magic.
UPDATE: When this post went live, Lou Anders of Pyr Books pointed people in his Facebook feed to Amanda’s blog. In her March 3 blogpost “Some Things that Need to Be Said,” Amanda goes even deeper into her success and some of the misconceptions and bold assumptions people are making. She also offers her own observations of being a self-published author versus a traditional press published author, and she pulls no punches:
“Self-publishing and traditional publishing really aren’t that different. One is easier to get into but harder to maintain. But neither come with guarantees. Some books will sell, some won’t.”
Before you get on the “Who Needs Traditional Publishing?” bandwagon, you will want to read this heartfelt and brutally honest posting from one of digital publishing’s success stories.
And to you, Amanda, I say “Kia Kaha! Now get your butt back in that chair and write!”