Examining the Author Reader Relationship (also Where in the Hell is the Next Paradise Earth Book?)

by

Gin Tonic

If you have been fol­low­ing me in recent weeks you’ll notice a heavy empha­sis on my cur­rent comic book projects. I’ve got three at present: two web­comics, Pretty Face and Human Wrestler; and But­ter­fly, one half of a split-comic which serves as a pre­quel to Deep Pen­i­ten­tiary 6, a pulp novella I released ear­lier this year.

Have I given up on novel writ­ing? That may have been the con­cern of one of the read­ers of my Par­adise Earth novel series. She wrote:  “Seri­ously. Freak­ing cliffhanger end­ing and now you’re play­ing around with a comic strip? Get to work!”  I believe the crit­i­cism mer­its a response, not just for read­ers, but also fel­low writers.

I under­stand the pain of hav­ing to wait for the next install­ment of a series.  Mad Men is my favorite show and I’m star­ing down a year until the next sea­son. Novel series often do not fare bet­ter. George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (which begat the hit tele­vi­sion show Game of Thrones)  expe­ri­enced delays of up to six years between install­ments. It is a source of frus­tra­tions for fans who often echoed my reader’s com­ment “Get to work!”  

Author and comic book writer Neil Gaiman addressed this com­mon crit­i­cism of writ­ers on his blog, point­edly stat­ing “George R.R. Mar­tin is not your bitch!”  He also made valid points that not all writ­ers cre­ate in the same man­ner and that often a lull in out­put can serve the book better.

While I will nod my head toward some of Gaiman’s sen­ti­ments, I will say his real­ity as a very suc­cess­ful author is a bit dif­fer­ent from new writ­ers who are strug­gling to main­tain even a  poverty stan­dard of liv­ing based on their craft. George R.R. Mar­tin looks quite healthy and prob­a­bly hasn’t been liv­ing on ramen noo­dles in the lengthy interim between his releases.

My first pub­lished novel Par­adise Earth: Day Zero was very well received, cur­rently hold­ing at five stars on Ama­zon.  Nev­er­the­less, I’m still not in the black with it and won’t be for the fore­see­able future.  That’s fine as the book was a pas­sion project for me and I didn’t really have pub­lish­ing aspi­ra­tions for it to begin with. I’d really love it if my enthu­si­as­tic fam­ily mem­bers are prophets and the series is going to get me rich, but I doubt it. For­get being rich, I’d love to just be in a sit­u­a­tion where I could sim­ply sus­tain myself through writing.

While hav­ing a book on Ama­zon or on the shelves of Barnes and Noble is a good start it is a rough com­pe­ti­tion in a sea of thou­sands of other books all vying for the eyes of read­ers.  If you want to get books in their hands it often means per­son­ally putting the books there.   Like many author friends, the amount of books I can sell at pub­lic appear­ances dwarfs what I move on Ama­zon.  But even in per­son it is no easy sell. There are lots of con­ven­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties out there for those who write genre nov­els like sci­ence fic­tion, fan­tasy or hor­ror. Despite it’s apoc­a­lyp­tic over­lays Par­adise Earth has a soul-searching lit­er­ary cen­ter and acts as a dis­ser­ta­tion on faith.  Are there con­ven­tions that focus on exis­ten­tial lit­er­ary nov­els? If there are, please let me know!

It is a real chal­lenge to earn a liv­ing from writ­ing nov­els. My friend and col­lab­o­ra­tor Shane Crash brought up a very good point on a recent pod­cast that we were inter­viewed on.  He observes that in the past writ­ers could sus­tain them­selves by writ­ing short sto­ries between nov­els.   In the present the short story mar­ket is vir­tu­ally non-existent, often only pay­ing in con­trib­u­tor copies.  If you want to write for a liv­ing, it often means fig­ur­ing out an alter­na­tive. Pub­lished author friends of mine sup­ple­ment their novel writ­ing with tra­di­tional jour­nal­ism, Web arti­cles, table­top gam­ing books, and even song­writ­ing. In his book Starve Bet­ter, author Nick Mamatas sug­gests that writ­ing col­lege essays for academically-challenged stu­dents can be a way to put food on the table.  You have to get creative.

For me that is where things like comic books come in.  Comic books con­ve­niently pro­vide another avenue for mak­ing a lit­tle bit of money through writ­ing.  As a real-world exam­ple, I’ve launched two crowd fund­ing cam­paigns recently through Kick­starter, one for a prose book and one for a comic book.  Both books are set in the same world and involve an ex-cult assas­sin named Theta But­ter­fly.  Both cam­paigns had com­pa­ra­ble goals.  In order to get the prose book to make its goal I had to hus­tle every­day online pro­mot­ing it in var­i­ous ways. I was for­tu­nate to get some gen­er­ous back­ing from my read­ers to push me to the fin­ish line.  In con­trast, the comic book is on the cusp of mak­ing its tar­get, halfway through the cam­paign, with very min­i­mal online mar­ket­ing.  My mod­est  goal is noth­ing com­pared to many Kick­starter comic projects that make thousands.

More impor­tantly, comics are also a great way to tell sto­ries to a poten­tially dif­fer­ent audi­ence. As a writer, my pas­sion is telling sto­ries and I  fell in love with the comic medium as a way to tell dif­fer­ent kinds of tales. Unfor­tu­nately the idea that comics are sim­ply super­heroes beat­ing the shit out of each other per­sists. It’s not exactly unfounded as those books are the monthly best­sellers. How­ever, the suc­cess of The Walk­ing Dead, a zom­bie hor­ror book, has opened the door for many alter­na­tives to capes and tights.  My cur­rent favorites include Saga (sci-fi/fantasy) ‚ Fatale (supernatural/noire), and Li’l Depressed Boy (romance).

My work-in-progress Pretty Face  is a smart comic focus­ing on things like the cult of celebrity, intel­lec­tual prop­erty abuse, unjust war, tor­ture, and pri­vacy rights. It’s also a love story between two women, a young pop-star and an anorec­tic super­model.  To be accused of “play­ing around with a comic strip” is pretty dis­parag­ing in regard to a cre­ative work that is just as deep as any novel I could ever write. I love this story and am so excited to have the oppor­tu­nity to see it brought to life by a skilled artist.

I’m not just lim­it­ing myself to comics either. I’ve sup­ple­mented with some travel writ­ing at Vagobond.com and am cur­rently work­ing on a Dis­ney World guide­book with a twist.  My prose web-series Hap­pi­ness: How to Find It is get­ting ready for print with an expanded end­ing and a fresh edit.  While I under­stand what the reader meant by “get to work”, the sim­ple truth is that I am work­ing very hard to man­age all of these var­ied projects at once. If any­thing, I need a vacation!

Are writ­ers the reader’s “bitch” as Neil Gai­mon put it?  The Inter­net has cer­tainly changed the face of how peo­ple con­sume enter­tain­ment media like books.  Bor­ders book­store has already closed up shop and things don’t look good for Barnes & Noble.  In the wake of this some estab­lished writ­ers are leav­ing the big New York pub­lish­ing houses to go inde­pen­dent, opt­ing to sell directly via online mar­kets like Ama­zon. From my per­spec­tive it seems like we are head­ing back to a patron­age sys­tem, with the artist, or in this case the writer, hav­ing a more direct rela­tion­ship with the read­ers who sup­port them.

One of my per­sonal role mod­els is musi­cian Kristin Hersh, who was a pio­neer in this new rela­tion­ship.  Early in her career she was signed to major record labels as a solo artist and with her band Throw­ing Muses. Later she went com­pletely inde­pen­dent and started a sub­scrip­tion ser­vice by which fans could pay an annual fee in exchange for  hav­ing access to work-in-progress songs, show tick­ets, and a com­pli­men­tary copy of fin­ished albums. She also started a new band called 50 Foot Wave that released all of its albums online for free.  By doing this she became com­pletely fan sup­ported with her lis­ten­ers bear­ing the cost of pay­ing for expenses like record­ing.  There are other mod­els of musi­cians becom­ing fan sup­ported out there, and many of them have roots in what punk rock bands have been doing for years.  Amanda Palmer of the Dres­den Dolls elo­quently speaks about this changed dynamic in a TED Talk enti­tled the Art of Ask­ing.

As a writer every one of my read­ers def­i­nitely count. On the Kick­starter for pulp-paperback I had some of my read­ers giv­ing much more than the book cost.  When they gen­er­ously sup­port me like that it becomes hard hold Gaiman’s atti­tude that the writer owes the reader noth­ing beyond the book they paid for.  To me that just smacks of old cor­po­rate style think­ing, with the author punch­ing out a prod­uct for the reader to pur­chase, with var­i­ous of lev­els of sep­a­ra­tion between him and them.

The new, more direct approach calls for more com­mu­ni­ca­tion between writer and reader.  I hope that this lengthy response serves as a step in that direc­tion.   Both the writer and the reader have needs that should be rec­og­nized and respected.  As a writer I have the need to find ways to sup­port myself as a writer and also express myself cre­atively in var­i­ous dif­fer­ent ways.  I also have the need to take a break from time-to-time. The Par­adise Earth series is very, very emo­tion­ally drain­ing for me because it is a very per­sonal story.  It is dark, grim book and writ­ing often feels like I’m exor­cis­ing a demon in order to write it.  It’s not a lot of fun and takes a lot out of me.

That being said, the read­ers who have enthu­si­as­ti­cally sup­ported the first book need the rest of the story. I hear you! I’m opti­mistic that I can get the next install­ment out about a year after the first was released, but a lot of that depends on the publisher’s sched­ule as well.  After this month the comic projects will require less atten­tion and I’ll be able to refo­cus down that dark road and you’ll be hear­ing more about Week One.  I can say that the cover is com­pleted and I do have a rough first draft.

I sin­cerely thank you for sup­port­ing me, leav­ing reviews on Ama­zon and Goodreads, and most impor­tantly of all read­ing and shar­ing my books! If any­one would like to help out you can donate to my cur­rent Kick­starter for the But­ter­fly comic.  Even if comic strips are not your thing, back­ing that project helps me become more self-sufficient as writer, which will free my sched­ule for nov­els and other excit­ing things.

¶ Despatched on Thursday, September 5th, 2013 at 11:45 am and sorted in Writing. ¶ { ReTweet }

2 Responses

Jaclyn GuilbeaultSeptember 5th, 2013 at 12:32 pm

I would love to see a sequel to Par­adise earth. I read the first book about ten times, each time it brought back a dif­fer­ent memory.

PatriceOctober 15th, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Well, I waited ten years for the final book in Mar­garet Atwood’s dystopian Mad­dad­dam tril­ogy, and my (now deceased) par­ents waited their entire life­times for armaged­don, so you’re doing fine.

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