The Indie Trap: Or How I Learned to Play Non-Zero-Sums

My wife recently made the observation that I’m blogging a great deal about my struggles as a writer, and more specifically about the challenges I’ve encountered as I try to generate income from the work I do. And, after some consideration, I have to agree with her. She’s a super smart lady, and I’m lucky to have met her because she’s always got my best interests at heart.

If I were smarter, I’d just reply with a simple “Yep!” and then go do whatever she just told me to do. Writing about writing, especially the struggles a “new” author might experience, is an easy way to limit my readership.

Back when I was in much better health, I began this blog to journal my running experiences. Even then, I used it as a place where I could unload my frustrations and as a place to record and track my injuries and accomplishments. So it should cause little wonder now that I’m essentially doing the same thing, but that’s a trap.

When I wrote exclusively on the topic of running my readership was runners. They’d read about my lows and feel sympathy if not empathy for me in those moments, just like they might read about me running a section of the PCT and vicariously share in my sense of accomplishment and wonder at what my body was capable of doing. Together we created a positive feedback loop that reinforced my desire to run.

When I write about challenges and the difficulties I’ve encountered along my path toward success in publishing I may be getting those off my chest, but the outcome of this is not more words.

I routinely read the journals of some other authors — some at the top of the publishing world others who merely scrape by — and many of these people write about writing. But a moment’s self-examination should be telling me something significant. Authors who bemoan the state of the publishing world are attracting me to their journals because I understand their frustrations.

I am willingly participating in a feedback loop that based on negativity, and that’s not cool. It holds me back, as much as it disinterests you.

Given the current state of publishing, I think this is a critical realization. If I were to write this as a narrative, Hugh Howey would have just tossed me a life preserver — thanks, Hugh — because, within the domain of publishing generally, and speculative fiction specifically, there are a lot of us pretending that this is some sadistic zero-sum game.

The Trap

We’re about a week away from the giving of the biggest, best award in all of Science Fiction. And we’re yet another year into seeing that award coopted and consequently diminished by a small band of social terrorists. I’m not going to WorldCon this year — even though I have the time, money and ticket to attend — because I’m so sick and tired of the Sad/Rabid Puppy antics.

My prediction is that there will be an unmistakable current of stench flowing beneath the cheering and laughter and celebration. “Please God, let there be winners,” is what David Gerrold said before he and Tananarive Due opened any envelopes last year. Some people will walk away with rockets; others will feel insulted, disenfranchised and possibly betrayed.

For a genre of fiction mainly built upon stories detailing the many roads to utopia, I fear we have an existential crisis of sorts. It’s apparently pointless to note that this is the nature of awards. Someone will win, some more will “lose.” Perhaps it’s safe to say, “awards are a zero-sum game.”

The truth is that there are a lot of authors out there, people just starting out and even some who have been trying hard for a good long while, who feel disenfranchised. Most of them have more rejection letters than they’d like to acknowledge. Traditional publishing may not be for these and even if they find a way to make that work, their ideas may not sell well enough to be considered mainstream. And yet a smaller fraction of these feel that the indifference they endure is cause sufficient to act out. Or perhaps the periodic punches sent from above, compel them to their annual dump on the genre’s highest award. I don’t know, but Je suis accablé par la tristesse.

There is Hope!

Shit yeah there is! First, little ducks fluff up your feathers because it rains sometimes. But the wet days will pass. Next, realize that the trap is negativity. Become mindful enough to notice when you’re feeling overwhelmed or wronged or triggered. Then get to work.

Relative to where I began, in the past year, I’ve made some huge leaps.

  • Three more short stories in anthologies headlined by best-selling authors. A small press to be sure, but each time I’ve seen my author rank on Amazon above 100 in the work’s relevant category.
  • I’ve nearly finished my first novel-length manuscript and have the first episode on my own publishing table. Patreon has given me a tremendous amount of creative freedom and honestly I’m just sort of wallowing in it.
  • I’ve found a great writing group on our little island. They eagerly gobble up anything I send their way. The more I participate, the more we all improve.
  • I’m finally starting to get my author platform organized enough to see it working. Between Patreon, WordPress and MailChimp I’m finding new readers.
  • On GoodReads, out of 224 ratings and 54 reviews, my works average 4.10. Until Tess pointed this out to me, I didn’t even know that my collected works had been seen by that many people.

I didn’t realize it until I chose to acknowledge it, but I’ve got a ton to be thankful for and all this is just in the domain of writing. Since I took the time recognize all the excellent things happening around me, I’ve been overwhelmed with gratitude.

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