When Do We Get to Stop Worrying?

January 28, 2008

I started writing my first novel nearly fifteen years ago.  I signed my first professional contract a year later.  I was at the bottom of the Tor food chain at that point, and that first book needed a good deal of revision, so I didn’t become an Official Published Author until the spring of 1997, almost eleven years ago.  Since then, I’ve published eight more books, I’ve won an award, I’ve had books translated into more than half a dozen languages.  That first novel is in its fifth or sixth paperback printing.

And still, I find myself worrying about the sales of my latest book.  At Chattacon this past weekend, other con guests and I spent a good deal of time talking about the market for genre fiction, the difficulties inherent in making a career of writing, and the financial rewards — or lack thereof — of our profession.  Don’t get me wrong:  none of us was complaining.  We all agreed that we’d be writing even if we weren’t making a thing.  The fact is we have no choice in the matter; we have to write.  If we didn’t give voice to all these characters crowding our minds, clamoring to have their stories told, we’d be like those guys who stumble down the street mumbling to themselves.

But the upshot of it all was that everyone of us worries about the sales of our most recent release, and the terms of that next contract.  My wife is an academic, and while I don’t regret my decision to leave academia — not at all — there are times when I wish there was such thing as a “tenured writer.”  I love my job.  And I think that’s part of the reason I sweat the sales numbers, why all of us do.  I still fear the day when someone says to me, “Sorry, you can’t write anymore.  No one’s reading those books of yours and we can’t afford to publish books that don’t sell.”

My question to my fellow writers:  Any of the rest of you feel this way?  How do you cope with it?  What do you tell beginning writers when they ask you about the business side of writing?

Today’s music:  Old and In the Way — eponymous

2 Responses to “When Do We Get to Stop Worrying?”

  1. Brian said

    I’ve never written a book, but in the back of my mind I picture myself writing fantasy novels when I’m “older”. I turn 31 this year and Im still in the infancy of my chosen profession (veterinary pathology). I have ideas for books, but I havent got into the habit of writing much. Where can I start?

  2. davidbcoe said

    The only way to start is to sit down and write. Not once in a while, either. You have to make a habit of it. You need to carve out time in what I’m sure is an already impossibly busy day, and make that your writing time. There’s no real secret to writing success. Yeah, sure, you need a decent imagination and a certain facility with words. But mostly you need to do the work. To use a phrase that we writers use all the time, “You just have to put your butt in the chair. Next seek I’ll be posting an interview with my friend S. L Farrell, a terrific fantasy writer who also teaches writing. He talks about his at length. Check it out when I post it.

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