Pencils Down

I’ve nev­er been one for obfus­ca­tion when it comes to the writ­ing pro­cess. I don’t want to start now.

When I retired from writ­ing and pre­pared to let my books lay down and die on the Kindle, I was as sur­prised as any­one when they did well. Since March 2011, I’ve sold almost 20,000 cop­ies, and they’re still selling.

I’m now out of books to pub­lish and it’s good time to take stock.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. You can read more about my per­son­al his­tory in this post, which is rather more emo­tion­al than this one, partly because it was the first time I’d voiced those thoughts, and partly because it’s now a Sunday teatime and we all know how dampen­ing to the spir­it they can be.

So, one the pos­it­ive side: I have many read­ers. It’s been a pleas­ure to receive their emails and respond to them. They’re nice people. Can’t have too much of that.

On the neg­at­ive side, writ­ing exacts a toll. I spent the few days before Christmas sort­ing out my taxes, for instance. I spent the entirety of yes­ter­day sort­ing out format­ting issues with The Amber Rooms. In the months lead­ing up to now, I’ve organ­ised my own edit­ing, proof­ing, type­set­ting and all the oth­er crap that comes with pub­lish­ing a book—even one pub­lished for the Kindle.

Parenthetically, I should say that the pub­lic­a­tion of The Amber Rooms has not been pleas­ant. This is my fault. While I think that each of my books has been bet­ter than the last, my idea of what makes a good book has changed some­what between writ­ing Déjà Vu (fin­ished when I was about 27) and The Amber Rooms (a grand old 36). There’s a good dec­ade of life and writ­ing exper­i­ence between the two. The Amber Rooms is too dif­fer­ent a book to work well as the third in a series whose read­ers prob­ably think it should con­tin­ue on a Jason Bourne-meets-Back To the Future theme (not den­ig­rat­ing either of those; they’re great movies). You can read the extent of the dif­fer­ence between my expect­a­tions and those of my read­ers in the Amazon UK reviews (as of writ­ing, there are six; four of them trash it.) I’m not so flighty as to down tools in reac­tion to so few reviews (like most writers, I’ve writ­ten for years in the total absence of feed­back oth­er than my own, which is largely neg­at­ive), but I have a feel­ing that sub­sequent reviews will be of a sim­il­ar nature. It would have been bet­ter to write the story as a stan­dalone. Either way, it’s a les­son, and doesn’t bode well for any future Saskia Brandt nov­els I have in mind, which would be more like The Amber Rooms than Déjà Vu.

Reader, it’s a seesaw. On the one side, we have the joy of actu­ally pub­lish­ing the books. On the oth­er side, we have the paper­work, the usu­al artist­ic frus­tra­tion, and the com­plete absence of any­thing approach­ing a spare time. Since August of last year, final­ising The Amber Rooms has taken up most of my even­ings and week­ends. Routine: Come home from work around six, eat some­thing, play one of three music­al instru­ments for a bit, work from sev­en until nine, and then relax. I could just about man­age that for one aca­dem­ic term, but I can’t keep up that kind of pace for the next one. And bear in mind that I have day job that reg­u­larly requires me to work even­ings and week­ends; indeed, it’s expec­ted, and I can’t per­form on par without doing so.

I could prob­ably write fif­teen minutes a day, but God knows what kind of rub­bish I’d pro­duce under this cir­cum­stance. I could write just for myself, a la Salinger, but that would be equally point­less. Real artists ship. Am I going to write my own bed­time stor­ies? What about the spoil­ers?

The seesaw is fur­ther weighted on the neg­at­ive side by the con­tinu­ing absence of any interest from tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ers. I joke about this a lot, but it is frus­trat­ing because I don’t have any wish to organ­ise my own cov­er, edit­ing, type­set­ting, and the thou­sand oth­er smal­ler things you need to do when ship­ping a book. These are far more time con­sum­ing than the actu­al writ­ing. They’re one of the reas­ons I’ve been writ­ing The Amber Rooms since 2007. Over the past couple of years, my hard­work­ing agents in both the UK or US have had no interest what­so­ever from any pub­lish­er bey­ond, wait for it, ‘inter­est­ing’. I find chaot­ic pro­cesses in con­nec­tion­ist mod­els of arti­fi­cial neur­ons easi­er to under­stand than the edit­or­i­al decisions of pub­lish­ers.

There is one more pos­it­ive thing; a pro­duc­tion com­pany in the US may option the film rights—but (i) that’s ‘may’, (ii) we’re talk­ing about an option, not the rights them­selves, (iii) the prob­ab­il­ity of a film being made is van­ish­ingly small.

There was a Steve Jobs quote I always liked. I believe it’s taken from his Stanford gradu­ation address. To para­phrase, he said that your job is some­thing you’ll do most of your work­ing life, so you might as well do some­thing worth­while. For me, writ­ing is a job, even though it is syn­onym­ous with my spare time. I have to ask wheth­er it is worth­while. I feel more worth­while play­ing music with my friends, or hold­ing a Beaver by the ankles while he coughs up glit­ter, or read­ing fic­tion that isn’t my own.

I won’t say that I’m nev­er going to write again. I’ll revis­it the situ­ation later in the year. September, per­haps. But if you ever see a new book come out with my name on it, I will be sur­prised; more likely, you’ve mis­read the latest from Amanda Hocking.

Thanks to all those who’ve read my stuff. It’s still out there.