Since its publication, The Crown Conspiracy and the rest of The Riyria Revelations series has been well received—but conditionally. For the first year most people bought the book from me either because they liked the cover art or out of pity for the poor man standing at the little rickety table at the front of the bookstore who everyone is ignoring. Reviewers had to be cajoled or begged to pick it up and the reactions always began, “I was very surprised…” I was sure the standard bar was a line painted on the floor. And yet, “I was surprised…” is light years better than “This is an example that anything can get published.” So I wasn’t going to complain.
Somewhere around last summer, the comments began to change. The surprised readers faded, and were replaced with “For an independent novel…” I sensed I had moved up a notch but the whole scale thing was murky. All I knew was that the training wheels were still on the bus and I was still at the kiddy table. There’s a certain comfort in that. I received lots of positive encouragement, but it always felt like pats on the head and delivered with a tone that meant, “You did real good…for a little kid.”
I’ve always been a little wary of praise. It’s a trap writers can get into. Friends and family are quick to tell you how great you are, just as your mother praises the Crayola drawings on the fridge, but the next day when you sneak down to the city museum with your lunch box full of masterpieces, you face a rude and rather embarrassing awakening. They were just being polite. Yes, there’s a downside to being polite. Polite people can really mess you up. This might have something to do with my famous lack of tact.
I’ve been fooled before, so I am always skeptical of praise. I take it apart and look for clues of insincerity. If the person knows me, that’s an automatic disqualification. Even if the person only knows me via email. If the person can in anyway feel obligated to me or want something from me, again instant disqualifications. If the person is just commonly nice, again I set that aside in the reject pile. Even if all of the above aspects are missing, if the reviewer can reasonable guess that I, or someone I know, will hear or read the remarks, again I must assume their kind words are the result of politeness.
Only those who know I’m not listening can speak freely. On occasion, I am able to find posts on small forum boards about my books. And while over all they speak well of my work, there is a night-and-day sort of approach. Punches aren’t being pulled in these secret fight-club worlds and they don’t hesitate to hit hard. Yet, even here they know the books are put out by a small press and they cut a little slack. And when you’re in Special-Ed, it’s hard to know how you stack up against the real world.
But today I found something new—something most unexpected.
Included in the online magazine Suite101.com there was an article entitled: The Best Fantasy Books of the 21st Century, and lo and behold—I’m on it.
I’ve never heard of Suite101, and I have no idea who “contributing writer” Ben Lingenfelter is, but it’s defiantly not “Bob’s Webpage.”
Reading the article, I am immediately struck by the stark lack of “I was surprised…” and utterly floored at the total absence of even the mention of “Small Press,” or “Independent publisher.” But what knocked me cold were those names listed with mine.
• Joe Abercrombie
• Jim Butcher
• David Anthony Durham
• Steven Erikson & Ian Cameron Esslemont
• China Mieville
• Patrick Rothfuss
• Adrian Tchaikovsky
• Jay Lake
These authors don’t sit at the kid’s table. Not one of them is published through a small press. What am I doing on this list?
None of it adds up. I’ve looked. I’ve done some research, but I can’t find the disqualifier here. There’s a place card at the adult table with my name on it, and I don’t think it’s a mistake. I’m not saying I’m sitting down or anything, but I have to admit, this is nice.