“Once we turn pro (and even before we do), our Muse has plans for us. Those plans are our career-in-potential. They exist, whether we choose to believe in them or not. And they’re operating upon us, influencing us like the gravitational pull of an enormous invisible star.
If you’re a writer, your career-in-potential is a shelf of books. Your books. Books you’ve written. They exist now, even if you haven’t started Book #1.” ~Steven Pressfield
The above quote is from a post called Thinking a Career, from SP’s fabulous Writing Wednesdays blog series. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend you not only read this post, but subscribe to the series. I think the piece resonates for me because I felt the “gravitational pull” of my career-in-potential long before I read it. I think I subconsciously felt that pull even as I trudged through the writing of my trilogy, and that was—in part—why I did not stop writing after book one was complete. As I describe in last week’s post, I was self-deluding about the work’s potential, unwilling to allow myself to think too far ahead for fear of freaking myself out (and having my career-in-potential fizzle-in-actuality). But I knew I needed to put my own pieces in place on the board in order to learn the game, let alone the stakes.
Masters of My Domain:
“When the student is ready, the master appears.” ~Buddhist Proverb
I didn’t start reading Jacqueline Carey until I was nearly done writing the first draft of my trilogy. But after finishing her debut, Kushiel’s Dart, I immediately saw parallels. JC’s epic, character-focused stories and her detailed alternate-historical settings combine to create the kind of submersion for readers I was seeking to craft. And by the time I read Kushiel’s Dart, she already had six fat volumes (two trilogies) on the shelf—a fantasy lover’s treasure-trove. She subsequently added another trilogy set in the same world, as well as two pairs of urban fantasies, with more on the way.
When I started following JC on Facebook in ‘08, she had no author page, but she ‘friended’ her fans, and I was among the first 400 or so. Since then she’s transferred us to an author page, and the page has grown to over 13,000 fans. I admire the catalog she’s built, but I also admire how she has handled her growing fan-base. She interacts with her readers on an almost daily basis, and genuinely shares of herself. In my experience, she responds to every single thing someone puts on her Facebook wall with a ‘like’ or a personal comment. I’ve written her several times, and in each case she has taken the time to respond in a warm and engaged way.
And the reward for her efforts: loyalty! I’ve seen several stories from fans who’ve hand-sold her books to other shoppers in the bookstore. Not only do her fans (including yours truly) recommend her, they buy multiple copies to give and lend to readers they think should be reading her. Heck, there are even scores of fans who tattoo their bodies with images and words from her work (no tattoos here… yet). Talk about a tribute to an author.
Serial Aspirations: To top it all off, Carey just keeps getting better. After reading her Naamah trilogy, I felt so strongly about her growth that I wrote her to tell her I thought she was at the top of her game. And she never stops trying new things. Fans of her epic historicals (like me) are willing to venture trying her urban fantasy.
I’ve recently discovered Robin Hobb’s Farseer series, and am on my sixth book. I finish one, consider the other books in my TBR list, then download the next Farseer book. So far, I can’t seem to sate my Farseer appetite. Plus I’ve learned a lot about internal versus external plot development, as well as creating micro-tension through constantly rising stakes. She’s another master of the epic historical fantasy domain. I consider writers like Hobb and Carey to be mentors as well as role models. For an epic fantasy writer, they both have careers worthy of aspiration.
Delivering On The First Order: When my wife and I were in the building materials business, we learned a valuable lesson about selling. We knew we weren’t just selling a bunk of lumber. We were selling a service. We sold to lumber retailers, and there were only so many of them in our delivery area. We needed their repeat business—hence, we needed their loyalty. We knew initiating trial was one thing. But once we got that first order, we had to deliver. To get them to commit to us, that first shipment had to be more than satisfactory. It had to be a knockout.
For a writer who aspires to sell a series, the lesson was a powerful one. I think some of my non-writer friends sometimes wonder what the heck is taking me so long (and perhaps even some of my writer friends wonder, as well). Many of them know I have four completed manuscripts, and that I’m on my fifth or sixth major rewrite of book one ( even though it feels like the 15th or 16th). But I know I’ve got to deliver on the first order, or the rest of the series will languish, or worse, never see the light of day.
The Comfort of the Familiar: I’ve been told by several readers that they enjoyed book two much more than book one. And a few have said that, from book one to my most recent manuscript, the writing only gets stronger. I think this is pretty natural and easily explained by my growth as a writer. But I suspect there is something else at work here. Starting into book two or three of a series is a completely different thing than trying a new author’s first book. You’ve become acquainted with the world, and hopefully fond of the characters. As a series moves along, it’s like visiting old friends. You share a history. You know the backstory. It gives a writer a tremendous amount of freedom. And once you have that comfort and loyalty, it even offers a bit of space to experiment and stretch, as Carey has done with her urban fantasy work.
I was discussing this with my wife the other night, and she said, “Sort of like the hair stylist thing.” I am absolutely positive I looked bewildered, because my expression made her laugh. She went on to explain that if you have a stylist you have been using for a while, you not only grow familiar with them, you start to get comfortable. And from that comfort, you begin to trust them. At some point, after several times delivering the hairstyle you know and like, you are open to their suggestions for experimentation. And after a few successful experiments or variations, if they screw up one of your cuts (or color sessions, etc.), you are more willing to forgive it. You go back (perhaps earlier than usual) because you know they can deliver on the sort of comfort you’ve come to expect. A pretty darn apt analogy. One that I never would’ve come up with on my own.
But you wouldn’t go back to someone who didn’t deliver on the first appointment. A series needs to earn familiarity in order to deliver comfort, and thereby to deserve loyalty. So back to getting it right on the first book.
Visualizing the Voyage:
“If a man does not know to what port he is steering, no wind is favorable to him.” ~Seneca
I have admitted I am not an optimist by nature. My wife handles that for me, thank you. I am not saying that I anticipate having the legions of fans Carey and Hobb have rightfully earned. I know it’s a competitive business. And the vagaries of the ever-changing publishing business paired with the fickle tastes of readers will make it challenging to navigate to any level of success.
I know I’m lucky. I’m lucky to have wonderful mentors and readers and writerly friends. Lucky to have found Writer Unboxed, and to have been given some wonderful opportunities to serve there. Lucky to have had the business background, the time, and (even though I often feel the opposite) the patience to strive for the right set of circumstances for a successful voyage toward publication.
I’m sure there will be storms to come, but the experience I’ve gained along the way will help me to steer through. Thus far I’ve had mostly favorable winds. But I know to what port I am steering. I believe in my career-in-potential. I can see those books Pressfield refers to on the shelf.
I’m not sure what to expect from my next destination, but I’m comfortable knowing I’ve done everything I could to make the best of it when I arrive.
Do you see your books on the shelf? Whose esteemed career do you aspire to?
Image credit: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/photo_4149050_books-are-full-of-wisdom-in-this-case-in-grunge-style.html’>fyletto / 123RF Stock Photo</a>