Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Road Signs




There’s been a new development in my career. Long time readers of this blog, or those who have slogged through the back posts, will know that I see my progress as a writer to be a bit like driving on a lonely highway through Ontario or maybe the Mojave Desert. The landscape remains an unchanging featureless plain that is so expansive it's often difficult to tell if I’m even moving. I can look at the Amazon ranks and the BookScan numbers, but that’s like looking at the ground next to the car. You can see it moving, but there’s no context. The blur of gravel and grass is memorizing, to the point it’s hard to tell if you’re going forward or back.

Beyond this you have questions that can’t be answered. Are you making good time? How far to the next landmark? And what is the next landmark? 

Careers rarely come with maps, and if they do, they’re always out of date. The roadside diners your heroes raved about were torn down years ago leaving you seeking your own version of that dreamscape. New towns spring up, others sprawl and a few fade away.  Still, there are signs and it is always exciting to see one.

For a couple years I’ve received a trickle of fan mail. The first few I read over and over with a big grin. People liked my books so much that they took the trouble to write me! The trickle turned into a fairly steady stream that demanded I spend time each day answering them. Funny how people are always shocked that an author will reply, as if we don’t have time for our readers.

Recently there have been a couple of changes. I still get the wonderful fan messages from people who just want to let me know how much they appreciate what I wrote, but now I’ve noticed a couple of new types of emails.

The first is from people asking me to come to their organization to speak. This kind of thing never happened before. Robin had to push to get me a gig on a convention panel of twelve other unknown writers discussing what comes first, the character or the setting—clearly a burning question plaguing the literary community just as much as the chicken and egg dilemma is frustrating leading biologists. All of us were jammed into a hotel room behind a folding table where we had played an unintentional game of musical chairs as there were not enough seats. After a few of these I asked Robin not to bother.

Now without trying I’m receiving invitations. Librarians, book clubs, conventions, podcasts, they don’t care what I talk about; they just want me to come speak for an hour. I’m an author not a politician or professor, so why they think I’m any good at speaking is a mystery. I have a whole bunch of appearances coming up in March and as you can see from the previous post, I just appeared at the Library of Congress where I delivered my presentation on the stage of the Pickford Theater, which is the kind of place you’d expect to see a Ted talk. I had a podium with an official seal and a working microphone. They also have a huge screen that I could have used to project images from this lovely computer system if I knew what I was doing. It was three-quarters of a world away from the folding table and jammed hotel room where honestly no one cared if I showed up or not.

The other new correspondence I’ve begun receiving are reading requests. Some are from aspiring writers asking for advice, but others are from publishers looking for me to provide endorsements to be printed on the covers of new books. I hate to turn anyone down, but multiple requests for me to read novels are too much considering how slow I read.

These requests for my time are road signs I never expected to see along the highway. I suppose I just assumed that authors just wrote each day, sent off their manuscripts, and received checks in the mail. Sure some celebrity names like King and Patterson might be asked to speak at some college commencement, or asked to read new releases for their endorsement, or newbie writers might approach them for advice—but me?

I saw these road signs fly by and realized I had crossed some line. Without a map I’m not sure exactly what it means: county line, state, whole new country? Who knows. Sometimes in this vast open landscape it’s just nice to see something go by and know you’re still moving forward.

10 comments:

  1. Did they read the part about you only liking a few books? lol

    Cool analogy with the roadsigns!


    Splitter

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  2. Yeah, well that whole endorsement thing isn't working out as nicely as people might hope. One publisher is pretty determined to find something I do like. I wish them all the luck. I would love to find more books I could honestly suggest to others.

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  3. Just before my book was released on Kindle, I can remember thinking... 'what if it's not a question of whether I'll succeed as an author...' rather a question of 'what if I do succeed... spectacularly!' Fear comes in two sizes, small and manageable, and big and unwieldy... small we can bully our way through most times, big, and if we're not careful, we can get rolled over by it.
    Here's hoping for continued success Mr. Sullivan.

    PS. Thanks for the words of encouragement as well...

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  4. I think you've arrived, Michael :)

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  5. Hmm. I'm relatively certain you're my new favorite author (in case you're interested, the progression from childhood to now went from Irene Keller to Franklin W. Dixon to L. Sprague de Camp to Michael J Stackpole (still in gradeschool)...big gap where I didn't have any favorites... then Robert Jordan and George RR Martin to all the more current ones like Patrick Rothfuss, Terry Goodkind (well, the first couple books...), Brandon Sanderson, Jacqueline Carey, etc....

    It's not just your books (which are a nice change of pace from the current grey shade of characters and dozens of plot points spun together),
    not just your blog (which you update a ton so there's always something to read),
    not just your philosophical musings (which make for interesting and entertaining reading),
    not just how your inner thoughts click from point to point (everybody likes a tidy train of thought),
    not just your interaction with fans of your writing/blog/philosophy/inner thoughts (which is cool even though your maintain a certain humbleness so I guess you still enjoy it)...

    IF I was a girl, I'd totally use my hand on you after a reading or speaking engagement. And I don't think I'd even be a promiscuous sort of girl.

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    1. Um...yeah. Pretty sure this comment is a whole new road-sign for you, Michael. Congrats, I think.

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  6. I am not surprised that you achieved success after choosing to write for yourself. I have often argued that a writer can only write what he loves, not what he thinks other people might love.

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  7. I was hoping to read a resumé on how the talk at LOC went.. oh, well. I'm sure you'll rectify it asap.



    On another note, I haven't read the last installment in a certain book series of yours... it pains me, because I was looking forward to it since Robin got creative with pricing strategies on your second book on Amazon. Unfortunatly things don't always turn out the way we want and I am currently down to affording one meal per day. Good news is I've convinced the local library to order two sets of your books on their 2013 foregin language budget. Those who wait for something good will not wait in vain.

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  8. Those signboards would be quite dangerous on the road, you know, especially if animals tend to pass by every once in a while. To whoever made those road signs: No offense meant but, you can ask those questions on Twitter. We can't put lives at risk just to endorse our product. :)

    Clinton Hurlburt

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