By M.Christian (Guest Blogger)
Currently I’m involved in a very special publishing endeavor – sorry for the tease; I’ll come to it shortly – that has gotten me thinking quite a bit about writing, especially about what it could meant to be a successful writer.
An odd word, that: success. In some cases it can be a very clear-cut. Getting from point A to point B? Success is just making the trip. Balancing your checkbook? Success is making it all add up (and, one hopes, remaining in the black). But for writers … well, it can be rather, shall I say, slippery.
For example: finishing a book or a story. That can be a form of success – though too often it feels like there’s always more that could have been done. Selling a book or a story? That can be successful – though many times there’s the nagging doubt that it could have gone for more money, higher status, etc.
Then there’s the big form of that word. What does it mean to be a successful author? Excuse me for evoking my inner Cranky Old Pro, but far too many authors seem to think that being a successful author is not just finishing books and stories, selling books or stories, winning awards, making money – but making sure everyone, everywhere, knows about it.
In other words, the world of professional writing – or creating anything, it seems like – has become about who you are and not what you do.
Okay, that’s a broad statement, but bear with me. This new endeavor – which I still won’t talk too much about … yet – involves a lot of looking backwards. I’ve never been a fan of nostalgia … my childhood wasn’t exactly a pleasant one … but it has been a real eye-opener when it comes to reevaluating what, for me at least, success actually means.
Let’s talk about science fiction for a moment – but, rest assured, the message is the pretty much the same not only for every genre but every form of artistic creation as well. Right now being a science fiction writer is a big deal: one story, one sale, one award, and everyone’s awash in self-congratulatory promotion.
Yes, PR is more important than ever, what with the evolution of ebooks and self-publishing and all. Going from (yeah I know I might be exaggerating) 1,000 books published a month to 10,000 books a day means that getting your name out there is crucial … but there’s a big difference between trying not to vanish, trampled under the hordes of other writers, and losing sight of the what being a writer is all about.
Part of this project I alluded to in the first paragraph is stepping into a wayback machine to look at many early SF authors and their works. Back in the 1940s and 50s, and up to the 60s or so, was when many of the SF legends began their writing lives. If you haven’t, you should definitely pick up a few old SF digests or pulps or cruise a few select sites and check them out.
Sure, far too often their covers were beyond pulpy (half-naked women, Green Men from Mars, stalwart heroes firing blasters, Green Men from Mars holding half-naked women high in the air while stalwart heroes fired blasters at them, etc.), but look at who was slowly making their way up the mastheads of those tawdry pages: Arthur C. Clarke, Alfred Bester, Philip K. Dick, Edmond Hamilton, Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, and (later) James Tiptree, Jr.
(AKA Alice Bradley Sheldon), Octavia Butler, and so many others.
Oh, sure, it’s worth a giggle or two seeing authors that we now consider to be legendary on these covers – but doing so is what changed the way I, personally, consider a measure of success … and, perhaps, will change the way you think about it, too.
Back into the wayback machine: no internet, damned few bookstores that would carry digests or paperbacks (they were mostly sold on newsstands), almost no reviews (except in other SF magazines), and pretty much zero, nada, zilch in the way of respect.
Being a science fiction writer back then was a low-paying, quasi-shameful, writer’s life. You were lucky to get your name spelled right on the cover, let alone have that cover depict anything to do with the book you wrote. Adding insult to injury, how much you got for your next book had everything to do with how much your last book sold: if it didn’t … well, then you took what you could get.
But these authors kept on writing. They didn’t have even the possibility of attracting anything but scorn from big publishing houses, let alone movie deals. They didn’t have a way of reaching out to fans – or even fellow authors – other than writing actual letters or attending what few early conventions existed back then.
So … no money, no fame, only a small cadre of fans, humiliated and the source of almost constant derision from authors in other genres … sure, we know them now, after 50+ years, but what kept them going then?
They were writers: they loved – beyond all else – to tell stories. Sure, for many of them churning out stories and books was a way of making at least some money but, let’s be honest, there were better ways of doing that.
This is what I mean by success. Now we look back at these authors as being successful because their names – even beyond science fiction fandom – are well known and even respected, and even a few of their properties are valued in the millions. But it wasn’t always that way.
Yes, that was then and this is now, but they got from where they started to where they are now because they lived to write stories … and managed to keep at it long enough for the rest of the world to finally catch up and take interest in those stories.
No, it’s not a guarantee – those same pulp pages are full of authors who didn’t last long enough – but the point is still pretty much valid: these celebrated authors began their writing lives not because of winning awards, raking in the cash, or the adoration of legions of fans, but because they lived to write.
And that is what I’ve come to consider to be a personal definition of success: to live for the writing, to remain passionate and dedicated … while the rest, as they say, is gravy.
About M. Christian
Calling M.Christian versatile is a tremendous understatement. Extensively published in science fiction, fantasy, horror, thrillers, and even non-fiction, it is in erotica that M.Christian has become an acknowledged master, with more than 400 stories, 10 novels (including The Very Bloody Marys, Brushes and The Painted Doll). Nearly a dozen collections of his own work (Technorotica, In Control, Lambda nominee Dirty Words, The Bachelor Machine), more than two dozen anthologies (Best S/M Erotica series, My Love for All That is Bizarre: Sherlock Holmes Erotica, The Burning Pen, and with Maxim Jakubowksi The Mammoth Book of Tales from the Road). His work is regularly selected for Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and others. His extensive knowledge of erotica as writer, editor, anthologist and publisher resulted in the bestselling guide How To Write And Sell Erotica.
In addition, he is a prolific and respected anthologist, having edited twenty five anthologies to date. He is also responsible for several non-fiction books, notably How to Write and Sell Erotica.
M.Christian is also the Associate Publisher for Renaissance eBooks, where he strives to be the publisher he’d want to have as a writer, and to help bring quality books (erotica, noir, science fiction, and more) and authors out into the world.
He can be found in a number of places online, not least of which is mchristian.com.