The other night, I had trouble getting to sleep. This isn’t unusual. It’s horribly common for me to lie awake, despite being exhausted, and yet unable to drop off into a refreshing slumber. In this case, it was a strange mood of unaccustomed but also unspecific optimism.
I wouldn’t call myself a pessimist; I’d term myself a realist with a dash of hope. I don’t automatically expect either a good or a bad outcome for events; however I am good at seeing where things are going, which makes me a terrible person to watch a film with. (NB, with friends and family I now tend to watch complete with metaphorical duct tape over my big mouth)
I’ve spent the last years as a self published author observing and monitoring trends, tropes and movements and given the freedom inherent in self publishing, it’s all the more remarkable how rapidly the whole thing has become tied up with mimicking the mainstream in every particular. It’s seeped into my unconscious and conscious mind and it’s filled me with nothing but dread and sadness. There are tens of thousands of blogs devoted to how we must all pull up our big girl (or boy) panties, embrace the business model that sees out books as products to be hawked, and chase the dream of being able to live off our writing. It’s usually followed by masses of advice, of business plans and links to sites that will advertise your books for a small (or huge fee).
Well, the other night, my soul (which is a better judge of these things than my mind) took a big sideways step and said “Bubbles to all that!” Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing remotely wrong with wanting to achieve financial success from writing. What bothers me is the actual costs of doing so. I’m not talking about fees for services (whether advertising, formatting, or any one of the Boomtown businesses that have sprung up to aid authors) but the esoteric costs.
Yeah, I’m going to get airy-fairy, hippy-dippy on you. What do you expect from a writer like me?
I’ll tell you what the pursuit of financial success has cost me. My joy in writing, for a start. My innate belief in the power of imagination. My hope that people are seeking to connect with their own souls. Yeah, I know. None of these things pay the bills and we all have bills. But the odds are so far against any individual writer that it’s occurred to me that the various things we all do to try and bend those odds in our own favour are a total waste of energy. You actually have more chance of winning the Lottery than of somehow making it as a big time successful writer.
On Boxing Day I visited my parents. Dad and I were talking as we did the lunch and we got onto talking about science fiction, his favourite genre (I bought him Lifeform Three by Roz Morris for Christmas) and one of the things we discussed was how science fiction has been one of the driving forces of science. “If no one imagines it, no one can seek to discover or create it,” he said. I was struck by this. Everything that we have built or discovered started first in the mind, as a wild imagining. The kind of thing people think, “How absurd. That’s not even possible,” but some people think, “I wonder if I can make it possible.”
All movements, all revolutions, start the same way, with a huge What if, and then people hold that shining vision of what might be, and work towards making it what is. This is what kept me from sleeping the other night, this vague but shining vision of something entirely different from what I’ve been chasing before. It’s too easy to get repeatedly bogged down with the question of how do I sell more books; I’ve been foundering in that quicksand for long enough. There’s probably NOTHING I can do to create greater sales. I know that my work appeals to a very select bunch of people and because Philippa Rees commented about imagining an audience, I’ve begun to think about that audience.