Sunday, April 5, 2015

Where I Am As An Author

As you probably know if you've read the posts in this blog so far, I am a small press author and I don't make a whole lot off my writing.  It started out as something of a hobby, writing from within the furry community where making a living off of any sort of work is unlikely; it's a small, mostly Interned-based community that enjoys stories, art, and other media involving anthropomorphic animal stories and although sexual material is definitely out there, non-sexual stories and art still sell decently well.

The first book I published (also the first manuscript of any sort I actually sold copies of) was a dieselpunk action romance called "Basecraft Cirrostratus," and yes, it did play somewhat to the sexual aspect of things.  I've been told by a few non-furry readers, though, that aside from the sex it's actually a decent early attempt at a story, kind of in the vein of "The Rocketeer" and "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" in a dystopian setting inspired by the neoliberal crony capitalism and dominionist politics of the 2000s.  As such, it was hardly "porn" so much as an adventure story with erotic scenes.

It got decent reviews, and was greeted enthusiastically enough that I began to think that maybe I would eventually have what it took to support myself as an author.  I was called out on being too brief and breezy in my pacing, sort of the opposite of what you hear about amateur authors most of the time.  There were also minor issues with forced dialog and a plot just a little too fraught with convenient coincidences (though I did lampshade it somewhat in the sequel by having all the loose ends from the first book come back to haunt the protagonists).  But after a while, sales slowed and I decided to put something else out.

Riding the initial wave of excitement from "Cirrostratus," I continued to revise the first novel I began, "The Goldenlea," hoping to bring the more mature style at the end stylistically in line with the more naive style at the beginning.  At the end of the day I was unsuccessful and the book was a failure sales-wise.  That one did not have explicit sex; I had deliberately kept it at a PG-13 level or so (well, R if you count the rather nasty medieval violence in the text that I don't shy away from) and I had hopes for it appealing to a wider audience for that reason, but it suffered from being a first novel and from taking too long to complete by the time it finally went to press in January 2013.

But back in November 2010, "The Goldenlea" was temporarily shelved.  I sat down for NaNoWriMo that month and wrote an as-yet unreleased work called "One Could Do Better," inspired by my freshman year at an American university in London.  I attracted the attention of a small publisher with that one in 2012 but by 2013 there was a major falling out between myself and the owner and sole proprietor of that little publishing outfit over what we wanted out of the arrangement.  The work has sat abandoned since then; I haven't shopped it in over 2 years.  I am now re-working it into a piece called "Wild Fox Koan."  I have essentially added a preface that mythologizes the existing text, and I will modify the original text as little as necessary except to make it more true to what actually happened while I was in London.  It will still retain some fictional subplots, but no new ones will be added.

This combination of losing the publishing deal on "One Could Do Better" and the disappointment of "The Goldenlea" put me into a nosedive.  I thought I had lost out on my one last chance to make it big.  I tried to sell a few stories to more mainstream publications outside the furry fandom, and wrote some very good pieces with human characters, but could never make a sale outside the fandom.  I began to despair that I'd ever be more than just a hobbyist.

Then a couple of things happened in the last two years that finally put it all in perspective.

First, I found tremendous inspiration in the life and work of Philip K. Dick.  Although it had taken most of his life to get noticed, he had one simple strategy: rather than waste time trying to get published outside of niche fiction, he wrote the best fiction he could readily find a publisher for.  I began to realize that I hadn't been pulling out all the stops and writing the kinds of stories I wanted to tell because I was too obsessed with getting mainstream success; what I needed to do was just the opposite, to publish the most thoughtful works of literature I could with publishers I already had a foot in the door with.

My first attempt at writing something amazing was actually a surprise ending I tacked onto a book I already had about 60% done, "Escape from St. Arned" (sequel to "Basecraft Cirrostratus").  While the ending was described as "jarring" by my proofreaders, they agreed that my rather risky decision to break several cardinal rules actually made perfect sense, as it drove home the relationship aspect of the story that had fallen by the wayside in an increasingly frenetic action-oriented storyline.  However, it has not sold many copies, but rather served to re-ignite interest in "Basecraft Cirrostratus."

My second attempt at writing a bold story that took chances and broke rules was "The Linen Butterfly," a sequel to "The Goldenlea" that unfortunately went out on one limb too many and was written at a time when my anxiety had gotten very severe.  It is now pending a major rewrite to try to salvage the many good things the story still has going for it.

My third attempt at something adventurous was "The Vimana Incident," and I think this time I nailed it.  I married together all of the elements from my previous books- gay romance,  1930s-inspired settings, medieval settings, political intrigue- and added a dimension of Gnostic-inspired supernatural horror and mid-century space opera very much inspired by Philip K. Dick's novels from 1959 to 1969.  I polished and refined the work as much as I could, painstakingly researched all of the period elements, and kept the rating solidly PG-13.  The initial feedback has been extremely positive.

The other thing I realized recently was that that I'd been making a lot of excuses to myself not to promote my work as much as I could.  I had done some promotion for "Cirrostratus," and it had actually been nominated for a Rainbow Award for LGBT fiction.  What I hadn't done was promote it heavily to mainstream audiences because of the sexual themes.  With "The Goldenlea" I did some promoting but I didn't use social media all that much.  I decided I would try harder to promote my work, increasing my presence on social media as the release of "The Vimana Incident" grew near.

I am now submitting this book for a few reviews and awards, and promoting it every chance I get, and I intend to continue putting out the highest-quality work I can and not being shy about promoting it.

I hope this combination of writing something of exceptional quality and promoting it heavily will eventually bring me some success.  I realize that even brilliant authors might struggle all their lives but even if I never make enough to support myself doing this, I want my work to be memorable.  It's about more than just commercial success for me, it's about being known as a good author with something unique to offer.

For the future, I've still got a few projects in the works that I hope will establish me as a capable writer and maybe give me more leverage to publish work outside the furry subgenre.  I'm hoping "Wild Fox Koan" will finally take me there once I've given it the attention it deserves.

For now, my most immediate concern is with a grueling final term as I prepare to get a BA nearly 12 years in the making, studying off and on at colleges across thousands of miles as I moved from town to town looking for myself after I left London.  I'm finally settling down and getting the degree I should have gotten 8 years ago.  I'm planning to continue my studies but I've got a gap year coming up and I intend to put my energy fully into writing during this period.

Until then, I'll update here periodically.  If you've read this lengthy rant, thanks for taking the time for a TL;DR post.

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