Many times over the past few months I have questioned my judgment here. What about tradition? What about sales? What will potential readers think? I questioned also the title I had chosen: Writing on the Edge – The Ups and Downs of a Freelance Career. Having written a kind of autobiography or memoir or whatever it is, I went through many titles in my head and for a long time favored: The Education of a Literary Man. But the purpose of a book’s title is to attract buyers, and the title I finally selected seemed more likely to do that. The art ends with the text. The title is business. So is the act of throwing the work out in front of the public.
Most people seem to be fascinated by writers. I don’t see why, but they are. Almost none of these admirers have much idea of what a writing life is like, and no idea whatever of the business aspects of it, and I thought—perhaps hoped would be a better word—that some of them, perhaps many, would be interested in reading my version of a writer’s career. Especially the side no one ever mentions, the business side. A writer has to earn a living every day of his life just like everybody else, and he better be good at art and business both, equally good, or he won’t make much of a living. Whenever I was composing something, novel, story or whatever, I worked from nine to six every day. Other times I was off searching for the facts, emotions, details that I needed; or else meeting with editors, agents (and often enough lawyers) searching for the assignments and contracts that I needed just as much or more. A professional writer takes no step without an assignment or contract. But to acquire one takes meeting after meeting, takes time, time, time.
In every writer’s life there comes a day when this other half of the literary life becomes even less attractive than it has always been, to the point where one lets it all lapse. I let it all lapse. I decided to retire, and did retire--somewhat. I still wrote many days, but only what pleased me, no assignment, no contract. The present MS, for instance. Wrote it, and then let it lie there in a drawer. Told myself that I didn’t care if it was never read by anyone. An unrealistic idea, as any writer will tell you. Like an actor claiming that he could go on acting in an empty theater. As I busied myself with other chores, the MS began to eat at me. It cried out for attention. I kept being drawn back into it, rereading it, adding and subtracting scenes, tightening and improving, editing and re-editing, but most of all enjoying it. Enjoying the work and the prose both. But attention by me alone began to seem not good enough. The manuscript demanded more than that.
Salaries in the publishing industry are low, relatively speaking, so there is constant turnover. A number of years had gone by since my most recent book came out and most of the people I had dealt with were no longer there. What should I do? Pitch my manuscript to editors and agents whom I did not know? Slave work of the worst kind. Start from scratch on this other half of a writer’s life, this less attractive, less glamorous half? Emotionally it would be very hard. It couldn’t be done with a few phone calls, as it sometimes could in the past.
Well, there was Kindle. Among the chores that I referred to above had been putting my out-of-print books into E-book form and then onto The Kindle. I had by this time put 22 of them on there. I had put 12 or 14 on The Nook so far, and intended to add the rest one by one. All of these E-books were selling regularly—even though some were forty or more years old. Sales figures were not enormous, but were big enough to please me. Big enough to raise any author’s morale.
What about Writing on the Edge, which, being new, might sell better, even much better? Should I go directly to an E-book, then?
A number of big-name writers had done this recently, Stephen King comes immediately to mind. Trying out the newmedium, apparently. Testing the waters. Why shouldn’t I do the same?
And so I have.