For many years, I’ve wanted to support myself exclusively through my writing. It seems like a tangible goal, but has it ever been a realistic one? It’s hard to say, but what’s undeniable is that it hasn’t happened yet. I’ve now written six books, five fiction and one nonfiction, and I’ve self-published four of them- three novels, and the story short collection, the link to all of which can be found here on the website. I’m thirty-five years old, and I don’t believe I’m any closer to that goal now, the goal of my writing being my primary source of income, than I was fifteen years ago, which was about the same time I decided to really get serious about being an author. It’s a strange time to be a writer. The print industry is dying, and it’s the age of the Kindle and other electronic formats for viewing written content, both older and classic novels, short stories, etc, and the new stuff that’s coming out. Whether that will ultimately be beneficial to writers remains to be seen, but it’s true that self-publishing is easier than ever. As a writer, I’m glad of that. Since none of the literary agents I’ve ever approached have been willing to represent me, I was at least able to get my writing out there. The three novels and the short story collection are available on Amazon, for Kindle or as print-on-demand options, and if I hadn’t decided to take the initiative and do that, those stories would still be languishing on my computer, or on a flash drive in a drawer somewhere. In that respect, self-publishing technology, and technology in general, have been a boon to me as a writer.
But there’s a flip side to all that. The novels and the collection haven’t sold particularly well, and the reason for that is very simple. I genuinely don’t believe it has to do with the quality of the work. That might be just ego in my part, but I think each one of those projects is solid, and was well worthy of publication. The reason they haven’t gotten the attention they deserve is because there’s no advertising campaign behind them. And let’s face it, that’s what a literary agent is really for. An agent’s job is to sell your work to a publishing company…it’s to say “hey, I feel that this is a guaranteed hit, and you’d be well served to get behind it.” And, based on the reputation the lit agent has established, the publishing company does just that. They get behind the project, they promote it, and they get people in the literary world whose opinions matter to read it and say nice things about it, so that they can be used as blurbs on the book jacket. By my self-publishing, I have assured that there is no campaign to promote my work. There’s no promotion for it at all, so there’s no fanfare. There’s no one famous saying “this is worth reading.” So, other than a little word-of-mouth I’ve been able to spread among family and acquaintances, no one has been enthusiastic about my published efforts. None of them are likely to become a best seller that way.
Perhaps it would be different if I was a social media-oriented person. I suppose I’m a Millennial, but I’m one of the oldest of that group, and, unlike so many others in that category, I hate Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and all those other self-promotion tools that seem to be second nature to so many fresh-faced youngsters now in their twenties and early thirties. Since I have no patience for that sort of thing, that’s yet another form of advertisement for my work that I’m not utilizing. The bottom line is, without things like that, I’m not likely to sell any more books than what I have been. I’m halfway through a new one right now, but unless I manage to attract some interest in it from a literary agent, I don’t find it likely that it’s going to sell any better than any of the others, even if it’s the best thing I’ve ever written.
I feel like the narrative surrounding who I am as a writer keeps changing, at least to myself, the older I get. If I had been “discovered” right out of college, while still in my early twenties, I would have been a prodigy. Much as I wanted that to happen, I can now recognize that the quality of my work was nowhere near good enough to warrant that kind of attention. Finding success when in one’s late twenties or early thirties happens to a lot more writers, so if I had followed that career trajectory, then it would have seemed normal or natural when comparing myself to many of my peers. Now, in my mid-thirties and still not having achieved the success I crave, I’ve gotten to the point when I wonder if I ever will get to where I want to be. I know that there are writers who didn’t find an audience or widespread success until they were well into middle age, or past it. I think of Brian Jacques, for instance, writer of the Redwall series. I know he didn’t really catch on until he was into his middle years. And there are many other examples…but what I keep thinking, as it relates to myself, is simply this. I’m past the time where wanting and needing to be a famous or successful author made me get up in the morning burning to achieve that goal and that one alone, where it seemed like nothing else would do. I think I’ve reached a point now, mentally,where I understand that I’m never going to reach the lofty heights that I set for myself. I’ve come to a time where I allow other things besides my writing to define me, and honestly, I’m glad of that, because if I still wanted so badly what I don’t think I’ll ever have, I’d probably have driven myself completely crazy a long time ago. The fact is, I’ve adjusted my expectations. And maybe I’ll still find the success that I want, miraculously, against all odds. But if it does happen, at this rate, it won’t be till I’m an old man…and by that point, I may well find that what was once so important to me no longer has the same luster that it did when I was a younger man, and a more idealistic one. As a famous poem has it, a dream deferred has the capability of exploding, but just as many times, I think, it wilts away on the vine.