Summer Update: Playing the Long Game

Scott William Carter   July 8, 2010  

With a book and two collections published in the span of a couple months, this last spring was one of the biggest periods for my writing career.  Unfortunately, no, Oprah hasn’t called, but since over 75,000 novels are published each year just by major presses, I can’t say I’m too surprised.

How do I feel about this turn of events?  Pretty darn good.  And yet, I can’t say life has changed all that much.  Some family, friends, and coworkers may see me in a slightly different light — it’s one thing to tell them you’re a writer, and another for them to see your book on the shelves at Borders — but life for me continues pretty much as it was before:  Help people with technology issues at the university by day, be a good husband and father by night, and squeeze in the writing wherever I can.

My daughter’s seven, just completed first grade, and is having a blast riding her bike without training wheels.  My son’s four and we have hopes he’ll survive childhood, yet his indefatigable ability to put himself in harm’s way never ceases to amaze us.  Though my wife’s foresight in putting rubber padding on the edge of the fireplace — seven years earlier — finally paid off the other day.

Did all the publishing doors open in New York after I published my first book?  Sadly, no.  I’ve had a lot of near misses with some other books lately, which can be frustrating, but it’s also a reminder that I’m writing well enough to attract the attention of major editors.  The temptation is to rush out there and self-publish, especially now when there’s so many opportunities for writers to do just that and actually make some money (check out J.A. Konrath’s blog for more info on this), but if  you want to reach a wide audience, that’s not always a smart move.  It’s a smarter move than it was ten years ago, but it’s still not usually the best move.

Often the best move is to keep putting your manuscripts in front of major NY editors because they’re the ones who can give you access to the widest possible readership.  This may not always be true, but it’s still true now, and it’s certainly true for the kind of novels I’m writing. However, because publishing continues to change at a rapid clip, I’ll probably have to re-evaluate this decision fairly often.

I keep focusing on the long game.  I keep focusing on keeping productivity high, on striving to write the best I can, and placing my trust that in the long run that if I keep reaching for the widest audience possible, good things will happen.  That’s all you can do as a writer.  I recently finished my seventh book, a little fantasy with a very unique hook, and it’s now in the hands of editors.  I’m already well into my eighth, a young adult novel with a very distinct voice.  I continue to toss in short stories here and there, but most of my focus has been on the novels.

What else?  I’m dramatically curtailing the time I spend online.  I don’t post on this site all that often, or on the social networking sites either, but still, I realized recently that far too much of my reading time has been devoted to the Internet, particularly the most shallow and insidious form of it.  While there’s lots of good stuff out there, it’s come at the expense of spending that time with good old fashioned books.  Since books, and novels in particular, are my creative fuel, that’s something I have to change.  To use an analogy, it basically feels like I’ve been consuming too much junk food and not enough stuff that’s good for me.

The Internet can be a powerful tool, to be sure, but that big flowing mass of information can be terribly addictive.  Before you know it, you’re checking your email every fifteen minutes and worrying about whether Lindsay Lohan has gotten out of rehab.  Not good.

I’m not sure how other writers feel, but for me, there is a refreshing clarity of thought that comes when I disengage a bit from the hive mind, when I stop worshiping at the Altar of the Now and work at my own pace and in the solitude of my own thoughts.