Success is a fluid, relative thing. Many Americans are taught that hard work pays off, but time and time again, people who work hard never get that elusive ‘American Dream' sold to us as children. Some of us keep working hard, determined to beat the odds. Others give up, accepting their lot in life. A lot of us fall somewhere in between. I'm not saying that's right, wrong, or a mix of the two. It is what it is. Take that as you will.
I'm a prolific writer. When I first started out, my ceiling was maybe 50,000 words a year. Maybe. If the stars aligned, life went perfect, and nothing ever went wrong. Once upon a time, writing was one of those things I did if everything was just right for writing. Yes, I was also one of those people who called myself a writer when I wasn't writing all that much, too.
It took me more than a million words before I started getting decent at writing. Far more than a million words. It's a shifting target, being ‘decent' at anything. Where is the benchmark for being a decent, a good, or even a great writer?
There isn't one, honestly. At least, I don't believe there is. There are financially successful authors. There are authors with a rabid fanbase despite their work being less than… literary.
Some people hate these stories. Some people love these stories. There's no such thing as the perfect author. I have a total love affair with an author who views spelling as optional. Their spelling… quirks… drive me absolutely apeshit batty, but I love their stories. (Yeah, this is a problem for me. A really big problem for me. Yet here I am, reading all of their stuffs because I love their stories.)
Writing and reading are relative.
I've talked about how I've worked at trying to make novel writing a successful career for myself. I've talked about my shelf of shame, projects I've never completed, and projects in the works. I'm going to talk about it again. I'm not feeling great today (cold, allergies, and some sort of blah) and going back over where I've been often helps remind me about where I want to go.
I prescribe to the work hard to get what you want thing. Success is a moving target. Am I one of those financially awesome authors who can afford to buy a new car every year? No. Will I ever be? Probably not. I don't even make minimum wage yet. Yet, however, is the keyword.
Once upon a time, my goal for success was $500 a year. Then it became $1,000. Then it became $5,000. Now it's $10,000. When I hit $10,000 earned in a year, it'll become $15,000. From there, $20,000, $30,000, and so on.
Yeah, I'm one of those people.
For my first exhibit, I'd like to introduce you to the Shelf of Shame. These are projects I view as so absolutely terrible I won't show them to anyone. I have gathered them from the graveyard of my writing folder, put them all together in a scrivener, and use them to remind myself how much better of an author I've become over the years.
There are one to seven different files under each character name, where I struggled to find a story for these characters, failed, got up, and tried again.
Some of these are original Witch & Wolf projects that were so bad I abandoned them altogether–conceptualized or written before Inquisitor. (Winter Wolf actually predated Inquisitor in horrible, horrible forms several years prior to me writing Inquisitor.)
This picture shows how many words I've committed to the graveyard that is my Shelf of Shame. This represents almost a decade of effort, quantified down to 526,555 words of failure.
Failure, like everything else, is often relative to the person failing. These are words I'll never use, but they serve one very important purpose:
They taught me how to write. They are the evidence I struggled, I learned, and I wanted to write bad enough I kept trying.
That is a success in so many different ways. I've named the file my Shelf of Shame, but each one of these stories is a trophy, too. They're the blood, sweat, and tears earned from making the effort to make myself a writer.
Yes, I'm aware of the camp that abides by the basics of a writer is a person who writes, no matter how infrequent the words. I don't want to be that sort of writer.
I want to be a writer who has a viable career entertaining others and telling stories people love. I can't do that if I'm not writing all the time. (Some will disagree on that, too. We can disagree. It's not like my personal opinion on my own writing habits at all hurts or helps you.)
Enter when I decided I really, truly wanted to be an author. I made a new scrivener project for my RJ Blain books, and I've gathered all the drafts, all the effort that went into the books, and I put them all in one place.
Since The Eye of God, I have written 1,372,275 words of fiction. Some are discarded rough drafts/revision editions. Most are my actual books. This excludes the words written by hand, too. That probably adds an additional 400-500,000 words–probably more, actually.
I do a lot of my drafting straight to computer nowadays, although I use pen and paper for basic outlining. Part of me doesn't like that change. I still handwrite certain projects for the love of handwriting, but most of my work is done on my laptop.
Blatant self-promotion time: You can check out my books by hopping over to amazon here. If you want to get your paws on my art or preorder copies of a bunch of unreleased titles, check out my indiegogo. (It ends April 1, 2016, and features coloring books, signed and unsigned print editions, and digital books of upcoming titles.)
If the campaign funds, I'm tossing in KARMA to anyone getting a digital perk, which is basically all perks. KARMA is the first book of a new W&W series. Yeah, that's right. I'm working on a new W&W series. Two, actually. PACK JUSTICE got out of control and became a book one, too.
(Yes, Silver Bullet is coming, and yes, it is a part of the indiegogo.)
Since it's been a while since I've showcased covers for upcoming titles, here's a sneak peek of what's in the works:
PACK JUSTICE will be the next release, with KARMA and SHADOWED FLAME on its heels shortly after. New Me is up to a lot of shenanigans, too. Yeah, that's a link. Yeah, you can click it. New Me writes sci-fi / fantasy dystopian that's, frankly, completely ridiculous and bizarre. She gets really fancy covers, too. Yeah, those covers below. I love writing these books because I get to escape from the real world for a while and enter one where I'm totally allowed to be batshit crazy.
I'm hoping to have The Chameleon and the Hound out in the next few months, but we'll see.
The Dawn of Dae cover tends to get people riled up because it shares pose similarities to a Divergent's movie poster. It cracks me up, because A: I don't watch tv or movies, and I legally purchased the license for the art. (You can't copyright a pose, for starters.) B: I needed a young female model with an older looking man overlooking a cityscape for the book.
You have no idea how hard it is to find a young woman with an older man in a city scape.
Anyway, That's New Me, and she writes really crazy but fun shit.
New Me has a long way to go, but she's worked up 194,385 words of fiction excluding the progress I've made on The Chameleon and the Hound.
So, how is my situation the illusion of success? In so many ways, I've far surpassed my hopes for my writing career. I'm a member of the SFWA. I've connected with some stellar fans. I get to write each and every day.
But, I'm not where I want to be yet. I want to be financially successful. I want to have a fanbase who loves my books so much they're chomping at the bit to get more books. I want to be a better writer.
Since I've started writing, I have written 2,093,215 words of fiction, and I still feel like I'm at the very beginning of my adventure. I have published ten full-length novels. (One being a compilation of five volumes.
Speaking of which, SA Hunt did a cover for the Tales of the Winter Wolf books, and I really like it! He's got a very different style compared to many other cover artists, and he was really easy to work with plus very affordable, so if you need an artist and you have budget constraints, send him a message. He might be able to help you out.
I like how this cover stands out compared to the new cover work I'm having done for the more traditional Witch & Wolf novels. It sets the scene for werewolf stories, has an interesting vibe, and is eye-catching. These covers are really new, so hopefully they'll work well.
I like them, and at the end of the day, I'm happy with that.
Anyway, back to my original train of thought. With over 2 million words of fiction behind me, I want to say I'm chasing my personal dream as hard as I can. Am I successful?
Many people would say no. I don't have financial stability. I don't have a huge fanbase. I don't have a lot of things, but I do have one thing that puts me far ahead of the game.
I'm happy with what I'm doing. It's hard work, but I wouldn't exchange it for guaranteed wealth, and that means a lot.
Here's to the next 2 million words.