A Writing Career Is A Series Of Cliff-Mitigation Exercises

People who want a writing career, here’s a thing you should know:

You’re always driving very fast toward a very high cliff. Not toward the wall at the bottom, but rather, rocketing toward the edge at the top. The precipice.

What I mean is this:

You get published with your first book, right? And it’s great. It’s roses falling from the sky, it’s a bubbly Champagne feeling in your nose, it’s a lightness to your step — an airy, giddy, level of triumph. And then you realize you’re not traipsing joyfully around a meadow, but rather, chained to the wheel of a fire-belching, fat-tired, steel-cage Apocalypse Car, and you’re barreling at top fucking speed toward what looks like the edge of the world.

This is in terms of money, in terms of ideas, in terms of the continued energy given to your career — you’re eventually going to drive off that goddamn cliff. That one book that came out? Whee! What fun! You got paid for it, likely in thirds — and with the book out, you’ve seen what may very well be your last paycheck. Sure, royalties might one day be inbound, but those are no guarantee, in the same way we are not guaranteed more days to live. You have what you have, and what you have is this book, live or die, sink or swim, succeed or fail.

Ahh, but but but, you also have this career, and a career is not one book. It is many books. Three or five or ten or twenty, spaced over a few years, or a few decades, and keeping that career alive means — well, writing more books. It means getting more attention. It means knowing what book is next, but also what book is third in line, and maybe what book is fifth in line. It means knowing the industry, having ideas, being flexible. A career is peaks and valleys.

And a career is one cliff after the next.

And in knowing that you are — after every book, every contract, every deal — driving ineluctably toward the next cliff, you have to figure out how you’re not going to die. Meaning, you’ve gotta spend the time rocketing toward the cliff performing some kind of… cliff mitigation technique. Choose whatever metaphor you like: installing rocket boosters in the car, hastily constructing a ramp that you will deploy via mobile trebuchet, training a flock of Canadian geese that you will anchor to your car in order to fly your ass over the edge and to the next butte or plateau ahead — whatever image you prefer, go for it. The point is that, your career is constantly in danger of crashing off a cliff. Your money will stop. The energy will slow and fade. You will be lost in the jungle next to the flaming wreckage of your vehicle.

Now, the good news is, it’s never really the end — you can crash, you can burn, and you can still climb up the next mountain and do it again. You may have to. I think every writing career suffers this — few writers have not sailed over the edge, thinking, WELP, THIS IS THE END. Many of them climb back out. Just as many, maybe more, don’t. (Usually the ones that don’t are, woefully, the ones who just can’t or don’t wanna hack it anymore.)

The practical example for me is that, I have three books coming out over the next 2-ish years — the final Miriam Black book Vultures (January), my epic not-quite-horror not-quite-SF The Stand/Station Eleven/The Passage novel, Wanderers (July), and The Book of Accidents (2020, tba).

Ah, but — here’s the trick, I’ll get paid out for those in increments, on publication, so I’ll see some money then, but there are also large tracts of temporal real estate in which I have no books. Further, to line up new books for 2021 and beyond, I need to pitch and sell those books now-ish, but I also can’t contractually pitch and sell new books until my current slate is in the can, and potentially not until some of them start coming out. Part of this is a guessing game — will the books be so successful that a publisher will want more like them? Will they explode on impact, requiring me to rethink my approach? Am I best focusing on some smaller, stranger projects — non-fiction, comics, whatever — to fill the gaps? It’s harder too because I’m a full-time author, no longer fit for public life, so I gotta make this count. I really, really gotta build a ramp, and I really, really gotta get the right angle, so I don’t fling my car into the bedrock, the jungle, or the void.

(Psst, keep your day job long as you can, kids.)

None of this is bad. I… enjoy this process, if somewhat grimly and anxiously. I like strategizing my thinking as to what I can write, should write, what I think my career needs to do, and I note all of this not to complain, but more to emphasize that a writing career is not necessarily just WRITE BOOKS, PUBLISH BOOKS, RINSE, REPEAT. It’s like this fucked-up four-person chess-game, and you’re two of the players, and the other two are The Publishing Industry and The Audience, and the best outcome is not to win the game but for everyone to reach some sort of impossible stalemate where all share in the win. It requires a measure of prophetic gambling, of trying to imagine the things you want to write, trying to hope you’ll love a book you pitch when it’s time to write it in 9-18 months as much as when you pitched it, and it’s also about keeping loosey-goosey enough that you can pitch ten projects and love each and every one of those narrative freakbabies with equal enthusiasm.

I note this because few will tell you that this career is about cliffs, and not falling over them.

But it’s important to know, and so here we are.

Good luck.

p.s. get a good agent who helps you strategize this shit

*revs engine*

*loads up grappling hook*

*checks radar for geese*

* * *

THE RAPTOR & THE WREN: Miriam Black, Book 5

Miriam Black, in lockstep with death, continues on her quest to control her own fate! Having been desperate to rid herself of her psychic powers, Miriam now finds herself armed with the solution — a seemingly impossible one. But Miriam’s past is catching up to her, just as she’s trying to leave it behind. A copy-cat killer has caught the public’s attention. An old nemesis is back from the dead. And Louis, the ex she still loves, will commit an unforgivable act if she doesn’t change the future. 

Miriam knows that only a great sacrifice is enough to counter fate. Can she save Louis, stop the killer, and survive? 

Hunted and haunted, Miriam is coming to a crossroads, and nothing is going to stand in her way, not even the Trespasser.

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