June 7th, 2011


The Life of an Author: On the Day After

Yesterday, I wrote about my experience trying to sell Beneath the Red Sun, and in particular, being dumped by my agent.

It isn't a good experience, no matter how you spin it. There's nothing good in being told that someone doesn't want to represent your work, sorry for not letting you know earlier, no goodbye, just as there is nothing good in being told your partner doesn't want to be in a relationship with you anymore. It's all bad news, and for a while, yeah, you feel kind of shitty about it. I admit, I felt sorry for myself. It was good. I indulged in a minor array of moments in which I assured myself I had made mistakes, that it was my fault, that I would never amount to anything. You've all been there. I've been there before. It's part of the whole experience of getting bad news. I may have also spent some time discussing the unprofessional nature of publishing, and I may have thought many uncharitable things. At the end of it, though, there has to be a shrug, a whatever, and a choice made about what you're going to do.

In my case, I sat back and looked at my world of literature, and decided I wasn't doing to bad.

I had a book released at the start of the year through Twelfth Planet Press, Above/Below. People have liked it, and gelled with what was attempted with the format of the book, and the story that Steph Campisi and I presented. I sold a short story collection, Dead Americans, to ChiZine Publications, which I'm pretty excited about, as CP do very nice looking books. I have a short story being reprinted in a Year's Best anthology and an excerpt from Black Sheep is being reprinted in German education books.

It is, as I said, not bad.

Now, other people, they would look at that, and there will be some who don't think it is much; and there will be others who look at it and think that it's heaps; and there will be me, who will note that it could be better and it could be worse, but either way, there isn't much money involved, but that's okay. I'm still writing, still creating, and the truth about money in literature is that there are ways to make it easily, and ways to make it difficultly, and the way I have elected to try and make money is the latter. My business is art, and art is my business: I create the art that interests me, that I believe in, that appeals to me and rewards me intellectually and emotionally, and afterward, I try and sell it. I try and sell it smartly, I try and sell it well. You can argue how successful I am at that or not, but regardless, I do attempt to be intelligent about the choices I make. I don't, however, try and make my business writing, wherein I will take on any gig to get by, and write work for hire, copy, and everything else that a writer can do to make ends. To pay my bills I teach. I would rather pay my bills with my art, but therein lies the struggle.

What that means is that yesterday, I lost a business opportunity. The small and large of it is that I lost someone who can knock on doors I can't, who can sell my work where I can't, and who will help me grow in terms of audience of opportunities that I have. I did not lose my art. Sure, being dumped by your agent, having to deal with that issue to begin with, having to door knock and query and all of that, it does get in the way of you creating. There are times when you don't work because emotionally it's not in you. There are times when you just don't have the time. But regardless, when you step back from events, you have to be able to put it into perspective, and to acknowledge the things that you do have, and the things that you do not.

Quite often, this is the most difficult thing for an artist to do after hearing bad news. I know more than one person who has become embittered by the process, who has left the field of creation and moved elsewhere. I even know people who think I am nothing but a fool for continuing after such events. Hell, perhaps you, who is reading this, perhaps you think that as well. But then, maybe you don't. Who knows. The truth is, after bad news, you either step back and see the broader picture, or you don't, and you make your choices in regard to however you feel about it. Me, I spent some time last year thinking I ought to give this up--I made a deal with myself that by the time I was thirty-five, if I had not made a decent chunk of cash, it would be time to go and make money properly. There's a lot of ways to do that. I have a background where I could go and make money that isn't the soup and bones that is the cash I make from teaching. But, in truth, there is no joy in doing that, and as I spent a chunk of last year getting my shit together, putting the world into perspective, and reconnecting with the things that made me love writing in the first place, I realised I wasn't changing anything, regardless of my age.

Yesterday sucked, I know that. But it's the next day and, while a business opportunity is gone, all the art that I created and which opened that door, remains, and it remains in me.

And that, I believe, is the important part.