Thursday, April 18, 2013

On Writing: Oh, joy.

I love to write. I can't help myself. Sometimes the urge to create stories and novels is so overwhelming that I literally cannot stop. There are times when it's not only not a labor, it's so easy and comes so naturally that it's almost like breathing, or having a heart beat. And, of course, when the inspiration runs out and it becomes a job, I push on until the project is complete.

It has been almost three decades since I actively began to pursue selling my stories to real editors at real publishers. I did what any other writer did in those days, I found a list of active markets and submitted by work. Some writers are so frightened of rejection that they won't submit their work. I've never understood this kind of cowardice, but it's there, in spades.

Today, so-called "writers" don't have to submit anything. They can self-publish their crap and claim to be "famous writers". The days of running the editorial gauntlet and refining one's craft seems to be a dead issue.

One thing that I have never gotten from selling my work is a sense of joy. Yes, I want to sell my work. I want to make money. I want people to read the material that I spent so much time and effort creating.

But I've never gotten much of a sense of pleasure from seeing it in print. I'm not one of those people who freaks out and jumps up and down with excitement and a false sense of inflated ego when the books arrive. I leave that for other people. If that's what floats yer boat--yer welcome to it.

I did not freak out when I sold my first short story. That was to a major publisher (Tor Books) for a
hardback anthology (SCARE CARE) edited by a best-selling author (Graham Masterton). It was nice, but I did not feel any great pleasure and my brain was not flooded with dopamines.

So I figured maybe it would feel different when I sold some comic scripts. I finally did that, too, selling hundreds of pages of scripts to all sorts of comic book publishers, including Marvel Comics. Eh. It was okay, and I enjoyed cashing the checks...but I didn't run around rending my clothes and screaming about how great I was or how good it felt.

Then I figured, maybe I would get excited when I sold my first novel. That was something that had eluded me for long years. Despite having at one time a very high powered agent I just couldn't sell that first novel. So I kept writing novels and I kept submitting them (sometimes with an agent and sometimes without). I just knew that when I finally sold my first novel I would be filled with joy. When I sold THE FLOCK, I was pleased, but hardly filled with ecstasy. It was just part of a difficult process that had begun when I was in my mid-20s, and when it finally happened I couldn't generate any sense of euphoria over getting a paycheck for something that was, essentially, hard work--years of it.

I've now sold many, many short stories--I long ago lost count, but it's over 70, I think. I stopped counting when it became a rather pedestrian occurrence for me.
I've sold hundreds of pages' worth of comic book scripts (and learned, in the process, that the comic book industry is the nastiest of the various arms of publishing). Being in the industry never thrilled me and I drifted away from the format.

There have been just a few exceptions to the rule. I did get a big kick out of conceiving and selling an anthology to Arkham House Books. And I got a thrill from having a short story in THE BLEEDING EDGE and being allowed to do a signing event with the other authors, who included one of my idols, Ray Bradbury. Plus, my sale to Weird Tales completed a childhood dream, so that one actually pleased me no end. However, those were, as I say, exceptions to the rule.

I've now sold eight novels, two to a major publisher (Tor Books--the same folk who, ironically, published my first short story), and for me it's not a big deal. It's just something that happens after I've completed a work. It's cool...but those who are filled with a false sense of greatness...I just don't get it. All I want to say to them is "get a fucking grip and take the ego back about ten notches". I get my joy from writing by writing. And I get a sense of accomplishment when I sell the words I wrote. But I don't understand these jackasses who strut around bragging about their books--especially when their books and stories are self-published and generally don't deserve to be seen (the folk one of my pals calls the "self-pubbers").


MarkGelbart said...

I was never afraid of rejection.

My proudest sale was to a literary magazine called The Rejected Quarterly. They only accept stories that have been rejected at least 5 times. I had to submit 5 rejection slips with my manuscript.

Before they accepted my story, I joked with myself about how bad it would feel to get rejected by The Rejected Quarterly. Based on data from The Writer's Market, I calculated they do reject 97% of their submissions.

James Robert Smith said...

When I first started to submit material in a concentrated and serious manner, I would save every single rejection slip. The file was enormous. It never bothered. I learned from it. That is something that is completely lost today in the world of self-publishing. No one learns from their mistakes and no one has good editors to guide them along and to tell them what they are doing wrong and what they are doing right.