Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Second Bite of the Cherry

Times change and when they change, they often change fast.

I’m M.E. Hydra, writer of twisted succubus tales, and what’s happening for me at the moment is the fulfilment of a dream. I imagine a lot of people have the same dream. They want to write and they want that writing published and out there for people to read. Too often those dreams end up dying alone and forgotten in the slush pile of an uncaring publishing house.

When I first started out I was very sceptical about Self-Publishing. It seemed like...well, cheating. Sure, you could go to a vanity press, dump a wad of cash and then see your words in print, but did it really count? Who would read it? Who would want to buy it? How would you know if you were any good or not?

That was an important distinction for me. I didn’t just want to be published; I wanted to be published because I was good enough to be published. So I did the obvious thing every budding writer does and researched how other writers got to where they were. My genre of choice was Horror. I started out a Sci-Fi and Fantasy junkie, then moved onto Horror and never really left.

A lot of horror writers—Stephen King, HP Lovecraft, etc—all followed the same path. They wrote short stories, shrugged off the inevitable barrage of rejection slips, got their work published in the small press magazines, then the higher profile magazines, before finally landing the book deals and cranking out novels.

I tried the same and at the start it seemed promising. Sure, I picked up a ton of rejection letters to start with, but I’d been warned to expect that. I dutifully filed them away, learned what I could and focused on honing my craft. It paid off and I started to get acceptances from small press magazines, although some of those magazines were so unstable they folded into oblivion before the publication date.

Then I smacked into a wall.

The problem was moving up to the next level. A friend of mine had similar ambitions, but in Sci-Fi. He took out a year’s subscription to one of the premier UK magazines for science fiction short stories. One year later and he’d seen only one story written by a writer not previously published in the magazine.

This is not a fault of the magazine, or any of the anthologies that were floating around at the time. They’re in the business to sell copies, and stories by established and recognised authors are more likely to do this. The flaw in my route became apparent. To get there, you had to already be there.

Even once you got there it didn’t seem so rosy. The horror section in my local bookstore was starting to look a little anaemic. Outside of the big names, who are admittedly massive for good reason, there was little in the way of fresh meat. Where were the new writers?

Then there was no more horror section. King and Koontz departed to the K section of general fiction and I browsed bookstores less and less often.

The message seemed clear enough. If I wanted a future that involved being able to eat and pay bills, then it probably didn’t involve writing horror books.

And that might have been it. I’d given it a shot and it hadn’t panned out. Time to move on to other things.

It was finding online sites like Literotica that rekindled the flames. I went back to basics, wrote some short stories, posted them and—encouraged by the positive feedback—wrote more. That feedback is invaluable, as is knowing there are readers out there enjoying your work. In this respect the internet is a fabulous opportunity for new writers. The old routes don’t work anymore, but writers still need a training ground to hone their art. Online story sites can help with this in a similar way to receiving a good review for a story in a small press magazine. They can also reach a much larger audience. Yes, it does involve giving some of your work away for free, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, if you can’t get people to read your stories when they’re up there for free, you sure as hell aren’t going to get them to pay for them.

And now I’m here, with a collection of my short stories coming out in October, a second collection scheduled for next February and a third collection nearing completion on my hard drive. I’ve held the print versions of the first two books in my hands already, and it’s a wonderful thing I can tell you.

What happens next I don’t know. I’m happy to get a second chance to finally do something I’ve always wanted to do. Not many people get to rescue a dream from the scrapheap. I might sell well enough to consider taking it up full time or I might only sell a few copies. Either way, it’s still more than would have read them had the manuscripts been buried in a slush pile somewhere.

The times are a changing. They barred the gates so now we’re climbing over the walls.

1 comment:

  1. This is SUCH a familiar story. I write sf and fantasy. Just like you, I wanted "proof" I was "good enough."

    My first love is novels, but I thought I HAD to publish shorts. Voila, I have a bunch of shorts, but did it get me a novel contract? Nope. How long do I have to write a length I suck at before I can write the length I love? I'm publishing 15 of my shorts in an anthology in Oct 2010. Then I'm going to move on to a novel. I agree with you.

    Why wait? Why let someone else tell you "no" when you can just say, hey, screw you, and do it?