Business Musings: Giving Thanks
I would love to say that American Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. That would reflect so well on me.
Unfortunately, it is not.
My favorite holiday is Halloween. In fact, as I write this on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I’m still dealing with Halloween things—not a candy stash, mind you, but the Halloween jewelry that I bought for 75% off (and will wear year-round), finishing watching Stranger Things 2 (I got behind), listening to the Stranger Things 2 soundtrack on my runs (heading past people with the “Ghostbusters” theme blaring and getting a look of stunned surprise is one of my favorite moments from this week), and trying to figure out if I need (another) skull-shaped mug just because it’s on clearance. I’m noodling over doing a Halloween anthology/series/short story as well.
My second favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. It makes me stop and reflect about the year. American Thanksgiving was created to encourage us to give thanks for the bounty we receive every year, and when I was a kid, it was a weird little standalone holiday that didn’t presage anything. It just happened on a Thursday toward the end of November, and little kids dressed up in Pilgrim and really offensive Indian costumes (nope, not Native American anything, because we didn’t know that phrase then), and threw together a badly performed pageant, and then we all went on with our lives…until (depending on your religion), the holiday season started either with Hanukah or with Advent or the season of never-ending commercialization of something you don’t celebrate at all.
Now, Thanksgiving gets rolled into the holiday season, which used to start the day after Thanksgiving (now known as Black Friday) and this year seemed to start the day after Halloween. We shall feast and shop and do all our holiday stuff, and feel a little insecure because we’re not doing enough to celebrate the season, and then the new year will arrive, and everything will change, or at least, go back to normal.
(For the record, the start of the new year is my third favorite holiday—not the actual day, but the chance for a new beginning.)
I still spend Thanksgiving the old-fashioned way. No, not in some offensive costume while performing in a bad pageant. Feasting, yes. But giving thanks as well.
I reflect on what I appreciate about my life.
When I planned this blog, I thought I’d list all of the cool things I learned in 2017. However, as I looked at my list, and my potential list, and added the things I had missed, I realized that the very list of cool things is overwhelming, and not something I can write about quickly.
I want to take some time with these cool things, so I’ll probably do this as a ramp-up to 2018, because there’s a lot of great things.
Instead, I’ll first examine the things that have made a difference for me in 2017, and then I’ll look at a couple of other things that have extended over the years.
The Luxury of Being Overwhelmed
I realized somewhere in the middle of the Business Master Class we held in October that my to-do list was so long it might never get done. I had known I would get overwhelmed during the Master Class, but I hadn’t realized that I would be overwhelmed going into it.
I used the Master Class to focus on what I really wanted to do, figuring that would cut down on the overwhelmed feeling. Even with that focus, I still came out feeling overwhelmed…but not with should-dos but with wanna-dos.
Wanna-dos feel different than should-dos. Should-dos come from the outside—everyone else is doing them and being more successful; if you want to make a million bucks you should do this one thing; readers expect indie writers to do this other thing; and so on. Should-dos give me that same squidgy feeling that I used to get when my mother told me we couldn’t do something because it might offend the neighbors. (You mean they’re watching?) Or, to keep the seasonal metaphor going, the same uncomfortable shiver I used to get when someone told me Santa Claus watched our every move, kept a tally, and wouldn’t bring toys if we were bad.
I used to think—heck, I still think—that “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” is a threat song. (He sees you when you’re sleeping, you know. Ick, ick, ick.)
Wanna-dos come from the inside. I hear about whatever the item is and really want to do it—not to chase some illusive million dollar payout. Not even to get 15,000 readers on my newsletter. But because the wanna-do sounds like fun, or it sounds like it’ll benefit me or my career, or it fits with my publishing and writing game-plan.
In the past few weeks since the Master Class, I’ve gone over my list with WMG, and they went over their lists with me, and we’ve trimmed or reorganized a lot. But even before I gave them my list, I cut the should-dos, even though some of them sounded like brilliant ideas.
They just weren’t brilliant for me.
All of this left me less overwhelmed than I had expected, but I’m still overwhelmed. I have more to do than I can possibly do, not just tonight, not just this week, not just this month, but maybe in my lifetime (that includes all the writing projects).
I’m excited about this. It is a change from what writers used to experience.
Back when I was traditionally published, I would be terribly overwhelmed. I couldn’t get answers to my questions; I felt like most things spiraled out of my control; and I constantly felt behind or as if I had to work even harder just to maintain my standard of living.
As for having more projects than I could do—sure, I had that experience, but I often didn’t want the projects. I got to the point where I would turn them down even when I couldn’t afford to. In the last decade before the Kindle revolutionized publishing, I was writing novels on spec, mostly because I wanted to go in directions that the traditional industry wouldn’t let me go in without a pen name and proof that I could actually write in that genre.
I sold a lot of those books which is why I have so many active pen names, and I always felt as if I could lose the series, the project, the opportunity at any second.
That’s a different kind of overwhelmed, and one I don’t miss at all.
Right now, I’m lucky to be overwhelmed…with things I want to do. It’s a true luxury and I’m grateful.
The New World of Publishing Enabling The Old World
In 2017, I’ve sold subsidiary rights to novels that wouldn’t have existed without the new world of publishing. I made several film and TV deals that wouldn’t have come to pass without the new world of publishing. And my fan base and reputation are growing because I can publish what I want, not what someone else tells me I have to write.
I get approached all the time now for side projects off of the novels that traditional publishing either didn’t want or had taken out of print long ago. Half of what overwhelms me are the opportunities, and the time I must take to manage those opportunities—even if I say no. (Which I do quite a bit more than I would have expected.)
The old traditionally published me still lurks inside the new world me, and the old traditionally published me is astonished every single time one of these opportunities comes my way. Somewhere, deep down, I had bought into that argument that writers are nothing without their traditional publishers.
I hadn’t really realized just how wrongheaded that was.
This change in the way publishing works thrills me.
I like the fact that I have a choice. I can—and do—put out whatever book or story I want to publish, and then there is a reaction to that. I then can choose whether I want to hang onto, say, rights in translation or TV rights or game rights until such point when I can figure out how to exploit them myself. Or I can sign a contract with a traditional publisher in another country or a production company or a distributor and have them do the work they promised to do.
This change astonishes me almost every day, and I’m so grateful that I now live in a time when all things are possible (or so it seems).
Speaking of Opportunities…
The fact that the opportunities in this new world seem endless informs my creative decisions. Here’s a case in point:
In June, I finished a novella that I knew wasn’t saleable to any traditional market. If I had written the novella as a traditional story, it should have been an adventure tale with a ragtag band of heroes conquering their corner of the world.
Instead, I made the ragtag band normal people, and I wrote the novella using a literary technique. I cycled through six points of view in 22,000 words, and never repeated a point of view, and in the end, the entire ragtag band decided not to complete their mission even though it would succeed, because it wouldn’t benefit anyone to do so.
I don’t know how I would have written this piece had I attempted it fifteen years ago. I might’ve written an underwhelming adventure novel. Or I might have abandoned it midway through.
I did test the salability, because that’s what I do with short fiction. I sent the novella to the proper editors. One loved it, but decided the genre was too slipstream for her. Another wanted me to write that adventure story. Still another was confused by the literary style while confessing that the style held him into the “moving” story all the way to the end.
I thought of sending the novella to the few literary markets that take such things, but after careful consideration, I decided that I didn’t want anyone tampering with my words in the way that literary markets tamper. (I’ve sold to those markets before; usually I don’t mind the suggestions. Here I would have.)
I like the novella the way it is. It does exactly what I want it to.
Decades ago, I would occasionally commit a novella or a short story or a novel that I knew fit in no market whatsoever. I would either sit on the project until some new market developed or I would send the project out to markets for years, hoping to change someone’s mind.
On a couple of those projects, I actually let the tampering occur, or wrote the adventure story, and ended up with a piece that I actively loathe. On my copious to-do list is a restoration of those pieces to the author’s preferred version—or in the case of one of them, restore it to something no one except me (and maybe Dean) will know as the same project at all because the editorial messing made the project unrecognizable.
Now, though. Now, I can spend a week writing a labor of love that I know from the very start has no natural market, and get that labor of love in front of readers. Readers might like the piece; they might hate it. That’s for them to decide.
But in this world, now, the readers get a chance to see everything the writer wants them to see.
And that’s so completely and utterly cool. I love this! It makes that overwhelmed feeling worse and it also makes everything worthwhile.
I am so very grateful for this, because it informs my creative process each and every day.
And…Speaking of Readers
I’m writing this as if we live in a writer’s paradise, but that’s not entirely accurate. The accurate way to view this new world is as a reader’s paradise. Anything the reader wants, the reader can find if she looks hard enough.
And almost everything is in print, so if a reader hears about a book, he can find it, usually with a simple online search. Often he can purchase that book as well with the click of a button. In many cases, that book is available in a variety of formats, so he can start reading the ebook immediately if he’s so inclined, or he can get an audio edition or a paper edition or whatever he wants.
Readers are enthusiastic about what they like. They don’t usually share that with the writer, though. Usually they share with their friends. There are millions of mechanisms for that sharing to occur now, from reviewing online to like buttons to share buttons to reader communities and more than I want to outline here.
Some readers want to do more than buy a book or a series. They support what they love through a wide variety of online services.
Dean and I have used a bunch of those services this year. We ran a Kickstarter for Pulphouse, and crowd-funded the new old magazine. We have done a bunch of Storybundles, selling our work at a discount with the work of other writers to introduce us all to a new audience. We are constantly doing BundleRabbit anthology projects—more than I can keep track of, to be honest, again, introducing work to a new audience.
We sell subscriptions to our magazines online. We both run blogs that are reader-supported. We both have Patreon pages.
A year ago, I honestly didn’t know if Patreon would work for me. I’m not as active as I want to be, and—shoulds again—probably not as active as I should be. But people support my nonfiction Patreon, which was 2017’s experiment, and it was more successful than I imagined it could be.
I like the one-on-one with readers. I like hearing that they loved a book or had reservations about another one. I love sharing the free fiction every Monday, because I learn what readers enjoy of my non-novel, non-series work.
I get questions and comments that force me to think or re-evaluate or inspire.
I used to get all of that at conventions or from the occasional letter (forwarded from a publisher). Now, I see it in real time if someone wants me to.
It’s nifty and exciting and fun.
As a writer, I’m so grateful to the readers for their support. As a reader, I’m happily overwhelmed with more things to read than I have time for. I have options—everywhere!—and I love that.
It became clear to me in the 1990s that writers burned out. Some rarely made it past ten years as a published novelist. Those who did, and who continued to publish a lot, had a mechanism for shutting out the world around them. Or they ignored the should-dos by using pen names (even though their regular name was golden). They avoided conventions, rarely talked to editors, and had war stories that make the ones I’ve published on this blog over the past eight years sound like child’s play.
I knew it would take a lot of work to be a lifetime author.
What I hadn’t realized was how wearing all that noise from outside was on the creative side of the brain. Writers used a large chunk of their creativity just figuring out ways to stay alive in the business, to avoid being pelted with junk, to protect themselves and their desire to write.
I also hadn’t realized how that wear and tear had started to effect me. I wrote a lot, but the enjoyment wasn’t always there. I had to do side projects or simply take time off from the actual writing, which my younger self wouldn’t have understood.
I finally figured out why romance writers would talk about “books of the heart.” Those were books the romance writers had to write, even if they weren’t marketable.
I remember listening to old audio tapes of the Romance Writers of America conference (which I purchased faithfully every year), and long-term bestselling writer after long-term bestselling writer recommended scheduling a book of the heart into the busy year, just to keep the creative juices flowing.
It was a survival technique, one I had to adopt long about 2005.
And now…I don’t have to use that technique. Every book is a book of the heart.
My creative side is wallowing in opportunities. It will take its time on a project—as it’s doing in my Diving universe right now—exploring side roads that traditional publishing never would have touched. It’s also springing up with new ideas, and encouraging me to schedule those between the bigger Diving project (hence that novella).
My creative side is scheming again, without telling me. It used to buy books for an unknown future project—a habit that disappeared long about 2003 or so—and that habit is back. Why am I buying books on a historical period that never interested me in the past? I have no idea, but I know something is cooking in the back of my brain—and I’m enjoying the process again.
I think that’s the thing I’m the most grateful for in this new world of publishing. I enjoy my work again.
In fact, I really shouldn’t call what I do work, since it’s the thing I used to do on my days off from my “real” job. I am back enjoying storytelling in all its forms.
I always reassess at this time of year, looking at the year behind me with an eye toward what I appreciate and looking forward with an eye to what excites me. I was melancholy last year, and writing the blog improved my mood.
I’m not melancholy this year. I’m determined and ready for a winter of reading and writing—which I’m looking forward to.
I love this opportunity to reassess. I like the touchstone.
I also like that it comes with a feast.
One Final Thought
Thank you—every single one of you—for reading the blog. For supporting the blog. For buying the occasional book of mine. For buying books, whether they’re mine or not. For having a dialogue about the industry, about the craft of writing, about storytelling.
Thank you all.
I wish you the best in this season of thanksgiving, even if you don’t celebrate the holiday. And I hope you find time to enjoy some downtime, reading something you love (and maybe having pie).
Until next week…
“Business Musings: Giving Thanks,” copyright © 2017 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Canstock Photo/karenr.