So I managed to get my fourth novel, The Orion Plague,
out on time for Christmas, which makes me pretty happy. Thanks to my lovely and talented wife Beth and my erudite and talented friend author Ryan King who both gave me some great feedback and edits, I think it’s pretty good, relatively error-free and one heck of a good read if you like military sci-fi action.
I also put up some ads as the twitter campaign seems to have saturated, or something. When Beth first started on Twitter we saw a big jump, but now sales have settled down to “normal” for me, though we have seen slow growth and will almost certainly break 200 sales this month, which will be a milestone.
I saw an interesting short post on the KDP author boards the other day, to wit, that you “only need one viral hit to retire,” referring to things like “Fifty Shades.” The poster and a lot of other writers there jumped aboard to agree. The upshot seemed that a lot of these guys are hoping to somehow write a hit and win the lottery and retire.
And it is like winning the lottery. It seldom happens, and many times when it does, if the writer “got lucky” by writing the right thing at the right time, it’s often fraught with risks. Like a rock band whose first album is a sensation, following it up becomes a problem.
The obvious thing to do is to continue the series. Vampire Lestat, Harry Potter, Fifty Shades, Hunger Games, Twilight all come to mind. But then what? Despite heavy marketing, none of the authors of the above series have actually continued their meteoric success beyond those series.
Granted, most authors would love to have even one massive hit like these series represent. But I wonder about sustainability when the success comes too early. How do you top a mega-hit? How do you avoid always being compared to your earlier work?
George Lucas lucked onto a megahit with Star Wars. Now I’m not discounting hard work and vision – he did a lot of hard work and had vision – but his success clearly outran his talent. If he had not started Lucasfilm and ILM, essentially reinvesting his profits wisely, he would have crashed and burned as a director because, frankly, he’s not in the same league with the great ones of modern genre film. He’s no Nolan, no Ridley Scott, no Spielberg. He made the mistake of writing, directing and producing the last three Star Wars prequels, and turned monster megahits into mere hits that are universally savaged by every Star Wars fan over 13 years old. E. Gary Gygax hit it big with Dungeons and Dragons, spawning an enduring name and legacy in the experience of geeks everywhere (myself included) but made the mistake of thinking he was supremely talented instead of just really lucky to have started a whole gaming movement.
Don’t get me wrong; popular is great, and few would turn down that viral megahit. But that’s not what real authors write for. Zenlike, those who strive for the megahit will find themselves ever farther from it, and those who try to imitate and jump on the bandwagon (right now the bandwagon is post-ap, just look at the books, TV shows and movies of the past couple of years) might make a few bucks then find themselves still in the “hobbyist” camp and not knowing why.
As a metaphor, the stock market comes to mind. If books are stocks, each writer has a choice. He or she can purchase (write) only a few, and hope for a monster winner, or purchase (write) many, and build a portfolio of dependable performers – and still have a chance of a monster hit.
Where the metaphor diverges from reality is that books, unlike stocks, can never lose all value. They can stop performing and selling, and not pay off, but they will never destroy your nest egg (unless, of course, you spent more marketing than you gained from selling, but that’s another matter). They also remain on a writer’s list/backlist, always available to be updated or reinvigorated. Most will at least yield a trickle,and if enough books trickle, that’s enough to live on. As long as the writer keeps writing, he/she will keep the list freshening and keep those trickles working for him. And as I said, you never know. That lottery hit is always possible.
This is completely separate from the pure satisfaction of writing – interacting with fans, knowing people actually like and value what you do, the indefinable that makes life worth living. This is what I have been missing for many years – perhaps for all my life – an activity, an avocation, that is really fulfilling. And because my wife and family has supported me in this it has brought us all closer. It has reconnected me with friends I should never have drifted from, it has reconnected me to my brother Andrew who is also an aspiring author, and it has connected me to new friends who also love to write and read. Possibly for the first time in my life, work is not work. That is, writing is effortful but it is not drudgery. It’s what I should have been doing all along, I think. Too bad it took me this long to figure it out, but thank God I did not wait any longer.