Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Writer's Journey: Tired of Busting Butt. So what now?

*Whine Alert.  Grab some cheese before you read on.*

"Karina, you do great work...but people don't believe it."

I was a first lieutenant in the Air Force when my supervisor told me this.  Twenty-two years old, working hard and apparently producing great work, but nonetheless, for the most part, I did not have the confidence of my chain of command and my coworkers that I could actually do the job--even when the fruits of my labors were there for them to see.

I still remember my first reaction--to get upset.  My second was to ask my commander, "And what are you doing about that?  Because I am doing good work and busting my butt for this organization."  However, the Major was being sincere and seemed frustrated over it, too. Plus, he was a Marine, and you don't whine or demand entitlements of a Marine.  Besides, I was an officer--give me a problem and I'd handle it.  So I said, "Okay, why, and what do I do about it?"

"I don't know," he replied. 

It's 23 years later, and I find myself having the same conversation.

I am a very good writer.  I write tight prose and fast-moving, complex plots.  People love my characters.  My humor can make people laugh out loud in public and even spit out their drinks.  And this isn't me bragging--this is what I get told by folks who have read my work.  My novels and anthologies have won popular and judge-based awards, and have four or more stars on Amazon.  My publishers tell me I'm one of the hardest working marketers they have--and more than one has hired me to teach the basics to their other authors--which I do well.  Even when I've asked for help, I get the same advice I'm already following.

And yet...  My Amazon rankings are low.  My sales are low.  My blog and website hits are low.  I work hard, do the same kind of things other more successful authors do, and even with high-quality work, my books are not thriving. 

Karina, you do great work...but people don't believe it.

When it comes down to it, that's why I'm tired of writing.  I love writing, but I'm tired of working so hard to create great books and to promote them, yet to achieve so little in terms of readership.

I left the active-duty Air Force in 1993 to stay home to raise our first child.  I have to admit, much as I wanted to be a stay-home mom, some of it was because I was tired of working hard and yet not getting the recognition commensurate to my work.  I didn't enjoy the Air Force that much.

However, I love writing.  I've never had such fun or felt such satisfaction as I do when creating and polishing a story.  But I'm tired, tired, tired of busting butt for such small returns.  And it's not even the money, per se.  We're financially well-off; money is a measure of success and readership--though I do feel I should at least get back what I invest.

 So, now I'm back to the question I had asked my commanding officer nearly two decades ago:  "Okay, why, and what do I do about it?"


Elaine Corvidae said...

I hear you, Karina. Like you, I felt my career was at a standstill. Last year, I was looking at the tenth anniversary of the release of my first novel, and didn't feel like I'd progressed that much since. I had lots of great reviews, but I never got any traction in the genre, with the exception of a small group of fans. I was pretty burned out.

In April 2011, I sat down and started a book just for myself. It wasn't the sort of thing I'd ever written before, and maybe the combination of that and the fact that it was just for pleasure flipped a switch in my head, because for the first time in years I couldn't WAIT to get to the keyboard. I spent all day writing contracted books, and rewarded myself by writing all evening on my own project. I had a blast, and a friend encouraged me to think about writing in this other genre professionally.

So I did. I came up with a pen name, and started writing. Because it wasn't related to what I had been doing, I was able to come at this new writing career with a completely fresh approach. I've drawn up a new business plan, taken a bunch of marketing courses, and am basically committed to trying to do things differently than with my fantasy/sf career.

Will it work in terms of books sold? I don't know. My first release isn't until next month. Maybe things will work out and maybe they won't. If they don't, I'll revisit my business plan and identify what worked and what didn't, and try again. More importantly, I feel like I've gotten a new lease on my writing life. I've shed a lot of the baggage I was dragging around, and if nothing else that has to be good for my mental health.

Karina Fabian said...

Tell me about the marketing classes you took, Elaine.

Ann Margaret Lewis said...

I think a lot of us can feel your pain, Karina. You walk into any Barnes and Noble and see all the CRAP being carried many books being covered by major publishing companies that are garbage, and you wonder...where did I go wrong? You DO write well. You are funny and amazing as a writer. The key is to get someone (other than me) to see that. Makes me wonder what the heck the deal is, and why I bother as well.

Sarah Reinhard said...

As a fangirl, here's a big hug!!!

I think fiction is sooooooo much harder than nf, and...I love your stuff, pass it along to anyone who will sit still and
Isten. So? I got nothin. But it is something highly on my mind.

But what Ifeel when I read this is...sad. And mad.

You kick butt. Pllllleeeeease don't leave,