Once in a while you have to stop and look around at where you are. You need to look over your shoulder to where you’ve been. You need to look ahead to where you appear to be heading. Once in a while we need perspective. We can get so caught up in walking the path we feel like we should be walking and miss out on the journey. Sometimes you have to make those leaps of faith, trust in yourself and what you’re doing, or you’ll miss out on the joy of the journey.
Point in case.
When I put my first book out I was still a bit of a big kid and after getting turned down again and again and again I went to a subsidy company and they put it out. It wasn’t a perfect experience and that route got you less respect and appreciation than self-pub does now but it was a way to get my work out. It wasn’t ideal but it worked. It was the same thing that lead me to self-pub. I had had pitches with a couple book publishers, I had submitted to magazines, and to publishers, and to agents and none were interested. They all wanted what they wanted and it wasn’t me.
But I didn’t let it stop me.
I couldn’t get a book out so I did chapbooks and did comic cons and art shows to sell them and my first book. I believed in myself and what I was doing enough to keep going because I wasn’t going to let a broken system tell me that I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t going to let people stop me from doing what I loved. And yes, yes, yes, you can always write, or paint, or sing or whatever without having to produce something for the public. Yes. But there’s a part of the artist that needs the feedback and the audience. Even with thin skin I understand that. I can write a hundred stories just for me – though I have about a thousand in my head that won’t ever get written – but I need an audience to be able to TELL that story.
It’s funny that once in a while the wheel comes back around to remind you how right you were.
The publishing industry is broken. I am just gonna say that. WHY do I say that? Example number 1. So I pitched my weird novel A Shadow Over Ever to a couple companies in NYC when I was there for a horror writer’s con. It wasn’t a real pitch, not a pitch where they were going to really pick up talent. No, they were just trying to look cool and generous. Whatever. So I did these TWO pitches, one to a sorta major player and one to a minor player. I had signed up/paid for one and got lucky and someone never showed and got the other. Yay for me. So BOTH pitches were ten minutes and BOTH had them telling me about what they do for five-seven of those minutes. They weren’t there for me. They didn’t care what I had written. It was a waste of everyone’s time. I got more out of reading a story in front of people, among them big name authors. I got nowhere with that and it just frustrated me further.
Flash ahead to a comic con in 2009 and I discovered self-publishing and my worked opened up. I was suddenly no longer forced to wait for someone to want to publish me. I could publish myself. I had been in mags. I had been in anthologies. Neither opened any doors for me. Neither did getting two honorable mentions for the year’s best horror stories. It was up to me. And in the end it’s always up to us. We need the help from others, and we shouldn’t shun it but if it system won’t work for you then don’t let it work against you. I put together a kid’s book last year that I absolutely adore and I figured I’d try to find an agent first to see if I could get it in more hands. All I ever got were the impersonal emails about how they were not accepting any longer or it wasn’t right for them or whatever. Then this week I get an email from one of them telling me that, darn it, the book was still in their pile and while it was too late to review it I should check out a website they run for kid’s book authors…a site that offers pay services.
And they tell you the system isn’t broken?
But then, just because a system is broken doesn’t mean you are. And it doesn’t mean you have to wait for someone to fix it. It means that you take what you can from what the system offers and make your own way, your own path. Art galleries don’t want you? Put on your own art show. Publishers don’t want you? Put out your own book. If record labels don’t want you then put it out yourself. That’s the thing, you don’t HAVE to rely on someone else to show you the way, you can make your own way. It will be more difficult, and it may not always lead to the places you expect but there’s a beauty in finding the path you are meant to be on and not letting someone point you towards it. We spend so much time in school having people tell us all the things we cannot do, cannot be, and cannot change and we let them talk us out of the people we want to become. It’s a joke. A sham. There’s no guarantee that the things you love doing will allow you to make a living doing them but that doesn’t mean you still can’t do them. That doesn’t mean you can’t find a way. We don’t always get to do the things we love and make a living but we can live while doing the things we love.
The people that tell you to grow up are suckers.
The people that tell you to act like an adult are bitter.
The people that try to control your path are bullies.
Your friends, your family, your lovers, your partners, the ones that are there for you and support you will still be there for you and support you. They’ll also remind you when you are focusing too much on the future, on the What If and not enough on the right here, and the right now.
When I was a teenager I loved to write. I loved to draw too and I let someone kill my love of drawing and I have still never fully recovered from that. Luckily no one did that with my writing. Still and all I grew up in a time where you either had a publisher or you were not a ‘real’ writer. So I got into ‘zines, and that scene for a minute until the world changed enough for me to get my writing to the world as chapbooks, and blogs, and online stories, and finally self-pub books. DIY isn’t the most rewarding way to go but it’s better than never knowing and never trying. Had I known as a kid the things I would do, and would be involved in I think it would have made the transition from a teenager to an adult a lot less painful and lonely. Which is not to say I regret those years because that transition informed who I am and how I got here. But it woulda been nice to know that I was right in not giving up.
We can look back, we can look forward, but we should never obsess over either.
Our path is now. Our path is here. Our path is the very next step we take.
Our path is to try to make ourselves and the world around us a better place because we’re borrowing this space and we’re borrowing this time. We deserve to be remembered for the good we do, not the crap we did. The world deserves to be left thriving for the people that come after us.
We are never promised another spin on the merry-go-round so you sure as heck better chase a dream or two or you’ll end your days looking back and wondering what you let slip away.
To hell with the doubters. To hell with the crap-talkers. To hell with the people who won’t support your dreams. This is your path. It won’t always be right but if you aren’t willing to go off course once in a while, and if you aren’t willing to get literal and figurative crap on your shoes once in a while then why bother at all? Be a robot and risk nothing and gain nothing and wile out your days in indifference.
Every path has its end, some ends are dead ends and some are just forks. It’s up to you which paths to take.