Sunday, October 22, 2006

Treading Water

I get a lot of email.

This isn't a brag, or a complaint. But in any given week, I'll get between 50 and 100 emails about fiction writing.

Some are from fans who want to tell me they enjoy my books or stories.

Some are from writers who want to tell me they enjoy my blog or website.

Some are from peers who want to talk shop.

Some are from people who want a moment of my time to look at their story or query or speak to their writer's group or school or library or convention or conference or who want an interview or a blurb or to use a quote or an excerpt or to enter one of my contests.

I'm also getting a lot of thank yous for helping people, which I enjoy almost as much as the kind words from fans.

I began A Newbie's Guide to Publishing because I wanted a place to share what I've learned about this business. One of the cool side-benefits is that I've met a lot of people through this blog, and have learned a lot from them. It's become a place where people of all experience levels can come to dish the dirt, exchange ideas, and form mutual appreciation societies, which I'm all for.

I have always prided myself in being accessible. I want to be the author that returns emails, responds to appearance requests, gives freely of his time.

But I'm starting to slack.

I haven't really recovered from the Rusty Nail 500 this summer because I've remained pretty busy. Since returning from tour, I've visited an additional 65 bookstores, and have taken business trips to Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. I've also done ten events, and managed to write a screenplay, a treatment, the first 10k of a new novel, and a short story. Plus I blurbed two books.

As a result, email is suffering.

A lot of big authors don't have contact info on their websites, or you can only contact them through a form, or through their web designer.

I'm not a big author, so I can only imagine the huge numbers of emails they must be getting in order to force them to do this. I'm overwhelmed by 600 overdo emails in my inbox. I bet Stephen King gets that per day, or per hour.

Which got me to thinking. Does this career ever become less time-consuming?

I've been working pretty hard to become successful, hoping to reach a point where I can coast. But now I'm wondering if I'll ever reach that point. Will any of us?

Tess Gerritsen is in the middle of a huge tour. I spoke with Lee Child in NY a few months back, and he'd already been on 47 planes this year. Barry Eisler finished his own 330 bookstore tour and then immediately had to head east to research his new Rain book, due next month. I've seen David Morrell more times this year than I've seen my wife, because we keep going to the same events. The only one who doesn't seem to be doing any constant promotion is James Rollins, but he's excused because he writes two 120k books a year. Actually, I have seen Jim four times this year at events, so scratch that last comment.

Can we, as writers, ever reach a point where we can slow down? Does success ever come, or do we fear failure even when we become bestsellers? Does that fear force us to keep working 80 hour weeks?

I've only been a professional writer for about five years. It seems that I'm working just as hard as the day I signed my first contract. I don't think this is getting any easier.

But things have changed. I'm in much better place than I was five years ago. All of the work branding and building name-recognition, all of the intangible effects of constant self-promotion, seems to have helped my career.

I've reached a wonderful point where I don't have to fight as hard for media or events--often they come to me. The time I would have spent searching for publicity is now spent doing publicity, which is much more rewarding.

I've also reached a point where I get recognized occasionally. When I visit a bookstore, the booksellers and fans sometimes know who I am. This is sooooo cool, and always thrills me. In fact, it thrills me so much that I'm visiting even more bookstores. I'll hit 600 by the end of the year.

Which brings me to the point of this blog entry. When I first began in this business, answering email was a priority. I printed out my first hundred fan letters and kept them in a binder. I was amazed that people actually contacted me.

While I still enjoy getting email, these days it takes me three months to respond. It's important, but not near the top of my to-do list.

Five years from now, will I be one of those guys who simply can't respond to email? And if so, is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Can we, as authors, ever reach a point where we can relax a little bit? Or are we salmon who never get to spawn, no matter how far up the river we get?