I almost literally grew up writing, and that may well be because I was raised in a family that placed a very high value on literacy; as each of the five siblings demonstrated an ability to read, it was cause for celebration. Reading and writing being the flip sides of literacy, it’s a good bet the habit of putting things down in words was encouraged, as well. We wrote thank you notes for gifts and letters to relatives at the urging of the adults around us, and all five of us became a bit better than functionally literate.
For me, for some reason, it went beyond that. Way beyond. My first attempts at writing stories happened in middle school. By the time I was in high school I knew writing would be part of what I did with my life, and by the time I made my first stab at college I’d realized that writing was going to be my life. By the time I met she-who-was-to-become my wife I’d sold some magazine articles and essays, and written (but not sold) dozens of short stories and several novels. I wrote with the conviction that any given project could be that all-important first sale, and I did so for more than fifteen years. The clerks at the post office I used in Phoenix all knew me by name, I was in there so often with brown 9×12-inch envelopes. All the while the publishing industry was tightening up, becoming a moving target I could in no way anticipate, much less hit. I just kept writing and tried to believe.
It eventually wore me out. I cut back on time spent writing and pursued other things. I got married – twenty-six years ago this very day, in fact. I went back to school and this time completed a degree in plant biology. I rediscovered the stars. I was looking for other things to do, other ways to spend my time, rather than writing more stories that would never see the light of day. I didn’t actually stop writing; astronomy saw to that as I began to post observing reports and book reviews on the Cloudy Nights Telescope Reviews website. But writing with the aim of making it a profession, a way of life, faded to the background.
This was not, as it turned out, a good or healthy thing for me, as I’ve said before on this weblog.
In the autumn of 2011 my wife and I had lunch with a couple I’ve known for quite a few years, among the few friends I’ve held onto since the fade-out of the sci-fi fandom days. Frances writes as Frankie Robertson, and some of you saw an interview she did with me and posted to her blog not too long ago (one of a string of such, and all well worth reading). At lunch that day she told a tale of self-publishing, of ebooks and beta readers and other very intriguing things. I’d heard some of this from people enamored of Kindle ereaders, heard that people were turning their backs on traditional publishing and turning toward self-publishing. Going “indie,” in other words. I had doubts, and no few misgivings, but this was a friend I’d always thought of as having both feet firmly planted, so it was hard to just brush it off as some crazy fad, the digital equivalent of the vanity press schtick. So I listened, and I read a couple of books she recommended (David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital being the most influential). I Googled things, read more, and came to the conclusion that indie publishing was a thing to be taken seriously. It seemed worth a try.
So I did. I wrote a little book about rediscovering a bit of my younger self (Mr. Olcott’s Skies) and published it on Amazon for Kindle, and on Smashwords for everything else. I did that one year ago today, on a day that I was sure I would not forget when asked “When did you…?” The most important and rewarding episode of my life began twenty-five years before that first book. Somehow it just seemed right that another major development should be marked by that same date. Since then, I’ve seen Mr. Olcott’s Skies reach beyond its target audience in a way that still surprises me, and I’ve experienced the delight of hearing from people who have read my novels and short stories (two of each at this point). The reviews have been good.
In this past year I’ve sold only a small number of copies as such things are measured, less than two hundred all told. Some would be disappointed by such numbers, but I find myself unconcerned. In the scheme of things – and this is true regardless of what sort of career you pursue – a year spent on any endeavor is no time at all. I’ve just now built a foundation for my indie publishing adventure, and learned something of what I need to make this work. When the second novel in the Second Iteration series was released, it prompted sales of the first, proving that the key to all of this is to keep writing and publishing. That’s fine; it’s what I want to do anyway. I’ve only just begun to explore options for self-promotion, beyond simply publishing the next book, and by the way, the third book in the series is developing at a gratifying rate. But most of all I’m having a fine time writing, again. As it was with the Moon and stars, I’ve re-acquired a vital piece of who and what I am. I will not, years from now, be wondering how it might have been, had I gotten a book or two out there before the eyes of the literate public. I’m in the process of finding the answer to that one, right now, and the process is a joyful one.
Reading and writing are flip sides of being literate, and with this first year behind me, I can once again see both sides of that coin. Give it a toss. Heads or tails, I win.