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My Un-Dead Writing Career

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Andrew Fox
Posted on Friday, December 14, 2007 - 05:18 pm:   

I've been kicking around the notion of writing this post for a while now. I know I've pretty much fallen off the face of the earth these past few months, at least so far as these boards and the wider SF/fantasy/horror community go. That's been due to several things, some good, some less so. The good is that, despite (or maybe because of) the tremendous black eye the agency received here on the Gulf Coast during and after Katrina, FEMA has been exceptionally good to me and my family, career-wise. After fifteen years working for an agency which did virtually nothing to develop its human capital, working for FEMA this past year has been a revelation. During my first nine months here, I received WAY more training and certification support and more promotion opportunities than I had during fifteen years with the Louisiana Office of Public Health. So I've been quite busy with my job, as well as with my wonderful and growing (but very illness-prone) family.

One major reason I hung in there as long as I did with LA OPH was my hope that I could eventually make a living through my writing career, or at least a part-time living. In the year following my initial (and only) two-book contract with Del Rey, I actually maneuvered myself into reducing my day job to a half-time position, with the full support of my managers. However, the somewhat-regular stream of income from turning out yearly novels that looked possible in 2002-2003 never came to pass, and I then had to back-track and fight a rearguard action to preserve my full-time status at OPH so that my wife and I could still pay our mortgage.

Since 2003, and especially since the relatively disappointing sales performance of Bride of the Fat White Vampire in 2004 and later, I've continually scaled back my hopes and expectations for both continued publication and any financial proceeds from the same. As of the past three or four months, my expectations have pretty much hit zero. I don't expect to be listing any writing income on my federal or state tax forms in the foreseeable future. Although I'd certainly be delighted if my last book, Calorie 3501, or my current project, The Bad Luck Spirits' Social Aid and Pleasure Club, is accepted for publication, I'm not realistically expecting that to happen, either.

What I've learned over the past three years is that, within the current publishing climate, editors no longer look to win -- they mostly want to simply avoid losing. I think everyone in the industry is holding their breath, looking over their shoulders at what happened to the recording industry, and waiting for the mass firings and extinguishings of imprints and houses. The best direct evidence I have for what has mostly reached my ears as rumor and hearsay is two almost identical rejection letters from prominent editors concerning Calorie 3501. "This is a brilliant book," they say. "The writing is beautiful. But I don't want to be the one to publish it." I've received many other rejection letters which gave reasons easier to understand and sympathize with -- the book doesn't fit within our lists; we've recently published something with a similar plot; I don't care for the viewpoint character. But, I really love this book, but I'm afraid to publish it??? To me, that bespeaks an industry which has lost sight of its reason for being. Yes, my last published book has only sold half as many copies as its predecessor. But is that truly an ironclad predictor of how my next, completely unrelated books will fare? If an editor thinks a book is brilliant -- which presumably means he/she thinks that readers with similar taste will think the same -- isn't it within his/her job description to figure out a way to make the project a success by linking it with its potential audience? Or is the industry's current reason for being simply to run out the clock, squeeze out the last few profits to be made by publishing works which are "pre-sold" in the marketplace before the entire distribution paradigm shifts and everyone loses their jobs?

And yet. . . and yet I continue to write. Every weekday morning, I continue to write big, fat books which may never see publication in my lifetime. Thus, the title of this thread. I'm not writing for money any more, or recognition, or for the fun of attending signings and being a panel speaker at regional conventions. I'm writing for the original reason I started writing at the age of eight. Because it is one of the most exciting and satisfying activities I've found to engage in, and because doing it on a regular basis acts as a form of non-drug anti-depressant. Writing is as essential to my mental and physical hygiene as daily runs are to a marathon runner. . . which is a decent metaphor for a novelist, certainly.

Given this, I can't see myself ever abandoning the act of writing novels. I guess I'll just have to wait for the publishing paradigm to change, to see what comes at the end of all this "creative destruction" of the traditional publishing industry. Maybe we'll all be giving it away for free ten years down the road, like poets have been doing for the last century. In that case, I won't feel guilty (regarding abandoning potential income for my family) for "doing it for love" and throwing it out into the wind.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Friday, December 14, 2007 - 08:51 pm:   

Andy, book publishing hasn't lost its way. It has always been about making money, first and foremost. Take a look at SAXE COMMINS AT WORK by Dorothy Commins or Donald Friede's THE MECHANICAL ANGEL and you'll see that book publishing was just as much of a mess in the '20s and '30s as it is now.

What *has* changed, and what you might be a victim of, is that nowadays it's harder to sell a third novel than it is to sell a first novel. (I can remember panel discussions at cons in the '80s about whether it would affect publishing if sales were reported electronically and everyone said this is exactly what would happen. In the '80s, it was really tough to sell a first novel, but after you did, nobody expected book #1 to set the world on fire, and a writer could go for three, four, or five books before a bad sales track record caught up with them. But for at least the last ten years, that has gone ass-backwards and novelists are supposed to start off selling huge numbers. This attitude was one of the things I hated most while I was at St. Martin's . . . and SMP was better than most publishers about it.)

I don't know CALORIE 3501 but it sounds like those rejections you're getting are the equivalent of saying "I don't love this book enough to lose money on it." (Lord knows I said that enough times.) My advice is that you should try not to spend too much time dwelling on the particulars of why they say no---just take note of the constructive things they say and then move on.

Lew Shiner felt like he got chewed up and spit out by book publishing after GLIMPSES. So he wrote a novel about someone getting chewed up by the music industry (SAY GOODBYE). The conclusion of the book is the same as your conclusion: make art for the right reasons, not for the commercial market reasons.
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Lori
New member
Username: Lori

Post Number: 28
Registered: 05-2006
Posted on Monday, April 14, 2008 - 02:31 pm:   

I, for one, stand ready to plunk down cold hard cash (or cold plastic credit) for whatever book you may eventually bring forth for public consumption. If, however, you decide to give it away for free, you have my e-mail address. :-)
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Andrew_fox
New member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 138
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Monday, April 21, 2008 - 04:11 pm:   

Hi, Lori! Very nice to hear from you, and thanks for the encouraging words. Actually, I've been hoping for the past five weeks or so to post a positive publishing-related message here on the boards, but the creaky wheels of contract review have been turning S-L-O-W-L-Y. I don't feel comfortable mentioning the potential publisher as of yet, but I'm very hopeful that sometime next spring, my third novel (Calorie 3501, which, if brought out by this press, will be retitled The Good Humor Man) will finally see the light of day. This is the one I've been trying to sell since 2004. I'll post more details as soon as things get finalized.
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Jaxj11
New member
Username: Jaxj11

Post Number: 1
Registered: 04-2008
Posted on Friday, April 25, 2008 - 05:26 am:   

Andy,
Good to hear that you are alive and kicking. I have been checking this site from time to time just to see how things are going.

Incidentally, I like the new title better. It sounds more accessible to zhlubs like me. I hope you are having an easy Passover. Family pic
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 139
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Friday, April 25, 2008 - 03:24 pm:   

Hey, Jeff! That's a great pic of the family! I'll have to share it with Dara. Wow, have your boys grown up (just like mine have). And don't they look like characters! (Of course, knowing you, I'd expect nothing less.) I haven't seen a picture of your daughter since she was a newborn; she's really cute (looks like her mom).

The contract for The Good Humor Man is moving along, I'm told. I hope to make an "official" announcement next week sometime. Meanwhile, I'm working on the revisions.

A very happy Pesach to you and yours! I hope we get to see you soon. Anything new/interesting going on down in Weston?
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 140
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Friday, April 25, 2008 - 03:30 pm:   

Here's a little more good news. Boutique du Vampyre, located at Royal and Orleans in the French Quarter, continues to sell copies of Fat White Vampire Blues and Bride of the Fat White Vampire like IHOP sells pancakes. The week before French Quarter Fest, about a month back, I went down to the shop and signed a full carton of books. They're just about gone now, and Marita has ordered more. I dropped into the store last night (while on a work-sponsored French Quarter scavenger hunt) and personalized two books for a couple visiting from Maine, here for the first weekend of Jazz Fest.
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Jaxj11
New member
Username: Jaxj11

Post Number: 2
Registered: 04-2008
Posted on Monday, May 05, 2008 - 05:27 am:   

Well, hey it sounds like you are a working author these days.
Not much going on in Weston other than chasing after the 3 pictured above. Going to work is the most relaxing part of my day. Any plans to visit FL in the near future?
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Lucius
Moderator
Username: Lucius

Post Number: 7264
Registered: 12-2004
Posted on Monday, May 05, 2008 - 08:03 am:   

Andy, man. I haven't been by for a while due to personal problems,. but I just wanted to say, don't be disheartened. I know it's tough. I've scratched out a living as a writer for 25 years and there have been times I looked at a bank balance that was pretty damn skinny. But cream rises the top and in your case, I'm sure it's bound to. Don;t get depressed, just get angry...that's worked for me. Use any psychology you have to. It'll be worth it in the end.
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Jaxj11
New member
Username: Jaxj11

Post Number: 3
Registered: 04-2008
Posted on Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - 06:43 am:   

Who would have thought all those years ago we'd be a couple of family guys with 6 kids between us!

Man, I could go for some of those Dornak's(sp) chocolate chip cookies! I doubt that place is still around.
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 142
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - 11:03 am:   

Wrong you are, Jeff. Dorignac's Super-Market is still in business, right where it always was, still selling their (kosher) chocolate chip cookies. It didn't take them too long after Katrina to reopen.
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Lucius
Moderator
Username: Lucius

Post Number: 7442
Registered: 12-2004
Posted on Monday, July 21, 2008 - 11:11 pm:   

Hi, Andy...glad things are working out for you. I'm living in Switzerland--will be here a year at least, working on a movie of Col Rutherford's Colt and etc. Just wanted to say I'm glad to hear you're back in the game and feeling ok.

Take care of Snagglepuss. That cat don't know how close he came? :-)

Hi to Dara and los chicos....
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 146
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Thursday, July 24, 2008 - 12:05 pm:   

Hi, Lucius! So you'll be hanging out in Switzerland for the next year? I see that journalism and film-making have their perks! Yeah, I'm back in the game, so to speak. . . the publishing game, anyway, since I never left the writing game behind. Marty Halpern has been a fantastic editor so far, a real dream to work with. Didn't he work with you on a book or two while he was with Golden Gryphon?

Dara and the boys are doing well. Dara got roped into heading up a big fundraiser for the kids' preschool, KidSpeak, a special school for children with speech and communication difficulties. She doesn't do anything half-assed; she's working on it five or six hours a day, in addition to taking care of the kids, the house, the finances, etc. It'll be a big art auction at the Preservation Resource Center in the Warehouse District on October 18, with music provided by Benny Grunch and the Bunch, the same local band you heard with us when you were in New Orleans doing research a few years back.
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Lucius
Moderator
Username: Lucius

Post Number: 7446
Registered: 12-2004
Posted on Thursday, July 24, 2008 - 03:51 pm:   

Cool. Benny Grunch and the Bunch. I still have their T-shirt.

Yep, marty worked on at least two books with me, Two Trains Running and Louisiana Breakdown. He was great.

I'll try to keep in better touch and maybe see you at Readercon next year.

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