A Writerly Proposal: Collectives

This opinion piece from The New York Times, called, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reader,” has sparked a small Twitter revolution this evening (one of many, I’m sure), and got my husband and I chatting once again about publishing.

Writers and readers like Colin Robinson, author of that post and—dare I say it—elitist reader, likely detached from “average” readers like myself, the voracious consumers of genre and commercial fiction, argues that the digital ADD of contemporary readers has led to the death of the midlist and the popularization of writing and reading generally, the so-called “displacement of literary culture’s traditional elite.” He says that current publishing models are leading to the death of the midlist author and a general decline in quality, both of written works and engagement of readers with books and each other.

That’s quite a mouthful.

Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan of the “article,” and I’m quite sick of seeing opinion pieces bemoaning the sad state of readership and fiction.

Yes, yes, anyone can self publish on Amazon, and yes, yes, cheap prices may be cheapening content. Yawn. I’m sick of the bitching and ready to start seeing some positive action to make things better.

I’ve gotten myself away from the point I wanted to make—you see, this is the drivel written by easily distracted, untrained female writers like myself!

*grin*

Anyway, husband and I were talking, and my recent infatuation with the marvelous and magical anthology Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells made me think that I’d love to see collectives of writers in similar genres and with similar styles producing serialized novels and/or collections of short stories in digital format.

Writers like, say, the Spellbound Scribes, could work together and release a monthly e-zine of fiction that readers could subscribe to for a low fee, and we split the revenue among contributors. Readers get to read writers they love and meet new authors, follow novel-length stories month by month, and read shorts from writers who aren’t contributing a long work at the moment. If an author I knew I loved joined in on such a project, I’d subscribe in a heartbeat.

Voilà. A new model, right there, one that benefits readers and indie writers. Yes, it’s a commitment. Yes, we would have to police our own quality, and yes, we would need to recruit an artist or two to contribute. But that’s why it’s a collective: authors work together to write, market, and publish their own work.

Easier said than done, but I’m nothing if not a dreamer.

 

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Defining Moments

I can remember every defining moment in my writing career.

1. At 8 years old, I started writing a story about a foal named Midnight. He was black (obviously), and I drew all the pictures in the book myself. I don’t really remember what the book was about, but Midnight sure had some great adventures.

2. At 10 years old, I started scribbling my second book in a little floral-covered notebook. It was pretty heavily influenced by both Braveheart and Dragons of Autumn Twilight. Sometime in the next few years, it turned into a big, epic fantasy, separated from its two parents by a big dose of Anne McCaffrey. I started writing it in a GIANT binder that I carried around with me so that I could write in my free time. All my elementary school friends read it as I wrote it, and I like to think they enjoyed it.

3. After transferring to a new school at 13, I tried to keep up my old habits. I broke out the big binder in class, and a popular girl named Devon, with those late-90s skunk highlights, asked what it was. I told her, and she made fun of me. I put the binder away… for the next five years.

4. In college, I returned to my creative writing–at least in my mind. I was writing on my computer by then, and when my roommate came in one night, she asked what I was doing. “Writing my fantasy book,” I said. “Oh!” she said, surprised. “I’ve just… never seen you actually doing it.” And she was right, because even though I thought of myself as a writer, I never actually did it anymore. But I started again.

5. I told my adviser, junior year, that I was thinking of becoming a reporter because I wanted to be a writer. She said to me, “You know, reporting isn’t writing.” I shrugged it off and became a reporter anyway, but I always remembered that bald statement which is, arguably, true.

5. In Berkeley, California, three years later, I said to my now-husband, “You know, I think I’d like to quit reporting and start really writing. On my own.” He said something semi-dubious, like, “Oh… but what would you write?” I said, “Fiction!” Being the wonderful man he is, who knows what my real dream is, he said, “Oh! You should definitely do that.” So I started writing The Radiometry Conspiracy.

6. In Chimayo, New Mexico, two years later, I finally did quit reporting, and later the next year, I finished that book. I quickly realized it was unpublishable, so I started a new book. One that was funny and smart, and I thought I could probably sell it.

7. On August 30, I sent my first query.

That brings us up to now, after nearly twenty years of hoping and dreaming. I’m still working on querying agents, and still getting as promising results as I could hope for without becoming an overnight success. Monday I got a heart-breaking rejection on a full submission, and I decided to bail on writing the sequel to Shaken until I knew what the future might hold. I handled the full-rejection pretty well, and started plotting a completely new book that very evening. But last night I got a very fast rejection on a query to an agent I didn’t even really love.

And something snapped. I cried and cried and cried. I sat up till 1 a.m. wondering if I’m making the right choice, continuing to pursue a path that is difficult and thankless and–worst of all–unpaid. If I just settled down and went back to reporting, or even took a retail management job, the husband and I could afford to buy a house, have kids, and, well, live a normal life with vacations and bills and hobbies in our free time.

I sat in bed, crying, and wondering if last night was another defining moment: the moment I would give up.

But there was a tiny part of me that just kept insisting that I have other submissions out, other queries out, other stories to tell, and it refused to stop thinking about the new book. So eventually I came to the conclusion that if last night was a defining moment, I wouldn’t know it until later. I went to sleep.

This morning, I sent off some more queries. I did some more plotting. I also got another request.

Maybe last night was a defining moment, but probably not. I’m still here, still dreaming, still writing. I won’t know till later… but there will be a later.