Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Long Hard Times To Come (an Indie Life post)

I'm not sure of the precise reason, but, when I think of the life of the independent author, this is the song that comes to mind. Okay, the actual reason, the apparent reason is a great part of it: "On this lonely road, trying to make it home... I see them long, hard times to come." It really says it all, even if there is more than just that in the song that resonates with me and this path.

The life of the indie writer is a long, hard, lonely road. Well, unless you just get lucky right at the start. Most of us, though, will not get lucky and any success we achieve will come at the end of a long, hard road.

Right now, I am feeling that long, hard road, and it doesn't feel as if I brought enough water along.

But I knew what I was getting into, or onto, when I started this journey; I do not, however, think a lot of writers who choose to go the indie route really know what kind of journey they're starting. At the beginning, there is some hold-your-breath expectation to be one of those lucky few that have the stars align and light your path with gold-showered success as soon as you step onto the path. You learn very quickly, after that, to breathe... or pick yourself up off of the ground after you've passed out.

And the real problem with the indie road is that it's not, yet, well-trod, no matter how many people are on it. The paths of traditional publishing are well established, paved even, not that they are any less long and hard these days. The buses and limos that used to pick authors up along the way on the traditional road are becoming fewer and fewer and more and more authors are being forced to walk that road rather than catching a ride. But, still, it's clearly marked, and it's hard to get lost.

The road for the indie author, though, is more like a big field, a huge field, with people wandering around in it trying to figure out in which direction to go. There are what amounts to game tracks here and there where several authors have gone before, but those paths fade away and become unclear and harder to follow as the terrain becomes rough. We're just out there trying to figure out which way to go, full of questions without answers, so much so that we forget the questions.
This journey's too long, I'm looking for some answers
So much time stressing, I forget the questions
The real issue is that too many people set out without an actual destination, a goal, in mind beyond that vague hope for fame and fortune. Fame and fortune, though, are not a destination. It may happen but not because there's a road that leads there. Not a seen road, anyway; it's more like an unseen highway that may or may not coincide with the road you're on. If you are, in fact, on a road and not just wandering around hoping to find fame and fortune as if you are in an Arkansas diamond field.

So how do you find your way?

Find your mountain. Pick your point on the horizon and go towards it. You don't have to worry about anyone else's path that way. If you find a path that is going in the same direction, great, but, if you find what looks like a great path but it's leading in some other direction, don't take it. Stick to your path, your road, no matter how long and hard it is. The only question is, "What is your mountain?"

Mine, right now, which is only like a foothill in the overall picture, is finishing Brother's Keeper. That's my point on the horizon. Of course, right now, I'm still working my way off of the path that was called Shadow Spinner, and I have to finish crossing that plateau now that I'm on the top before I can start climbing the next hill, but I am ready to start on that next hill.

So, yeah, you climb your first mountain and find out that it was only just a foothill of a much larger mountain, but, you know what, that's okay. That's the way it goes. And you keep climbing. And you keep climbing. And you keep climbing. You make it past each peak, and you keep going, and, one day, you find that you have reached the top, the real top, and you cross over to the other side, the side with all the people, and they see you come across in the sunrise, you who have never been there before, and they look up at you and wonder about your "overnight success," because, remember, you weren't there the day before, and you look down the long, long, slope behind you, you look back at the hills and valleys, all of which you crossed, and you kind of smile because you know how long "overnight" really was. But it's okay, because you're there.

Or maybe not, because, for you, maybe there is another mountain, and you see that the long, hard road keeps going and that there are more "Long Hard Times To Come." But that, too, is okay. You rest a bit, refill your water bottles, and set your feet back on the path and keep going.

(This post has been brought to you, in part, by Indie Life.)


  1. I'm traditionally published, but I've only set my sights on one mountain at a time - get one book published, get two books published, finish the trilogy I never intended to write. And a ton of really amazing things happened along the journey. Enough that it wasn't the mountain that mattered - it was the journey getting there.

  2. Whew, I don't think I have the stamina to even climb one mountain.

  3. Indie or not, I'm seeing my writing life in the same way.

    One step at a time, with some sort of goal in mind.

  4. Great analogies. I'm with JKIRF, I'm feeling too tired to climb anything. I guess it's good I haven't entered the field yet...
    Tina @ Life is Good

  5. Some wonderfully inspirational words here, Andrew. And yes, like Tina said, great analogies. Here's hoping you get to that mountaintop.

  6. I see you as an author who has already reached the mountain and are making your climb.

  7. Shit. I need to pack a lot of big lunches as well as piles of water. Plus I think I'll need a donkey to ride on when I get tired.
    When I was in film school we were told that it takes about ten years to become an overnight success. It's probably longer for writers.
    I think I'll ride the donkey the whole way. How good are donkeys at climbing mountains?

  8. This was really well written!

    I think what's really great about the current freedom among indie writers is how unique books and stories have become. I was reading some of the excerpts from "100 Apocalypses" on McSweeney's, and thinking "This is really something that never would have existed if not for the explosion in publishing forums." Your books, too, benefit from that, in that they are marketed (mostly, I think?) as YA but they're not really -- not judging by the latest installments, anyway, and I mean that as a compliment. They're like "YA-13," or something.

    Everyone gets down sometimes, no matter what goal you're talking about or what your life is. I remind myself all the time that almost everyone 'fails' if the only measure of success is "I am world famous and rich." Movie stars, bands, models, writers, lawyers, etc.: Very few rise to the millionaire or world-wide fame level.

    But if you are able to do what you want to do and live how you want to live, you're successful, enough.

    As for you specifically, you're so talented that I would be optimistic if I were you. Your books have already found a pretty significant audience, from what I can see. If you make just a bit more of a push, you'll be the next Rowling or Hunger Games woman whoever she was.

  9. It's one step at a time, as well, regardless of the route you choose. If one of those limos pulls up and opens its doors, PLEASE make sure it's going to the destination you've chosen before you climb in. *Cue Pinocchio on his way to Happy Island*


  10. Alex: I think you got a helicopter ride out of it.

    JKIR,F!: It can be tiring.

    Misha: I think yours is an Everest kind of goal.

    Tina: Just watch for the gopher holes when you do.

    Cathy: Thanks!

    Elsie: I wish my sales figures agreed!

    Eve: Donkeys are probably pretty good, but I've heard that what you really need is a mule.

    Briane: Yeah, the ability to do things, right now, that no one would have been allowed to do when publishers had control of everything is... nice. No one would have ever taken House because of the format I wrote it in.

    I don't run on a lot of optimism, especially since I'm so poor at self-promotion, but I do appreciate the kind words about my talent.

    Lauren: That's a good point about being picked up along the way. I should have made that point in my post (since I was thinking about it at one point (but got side-tracked (by a child, probably))), so I'm glad you mentioned it here.

  11. Sorry, but I couldn't handle the song since I'm not much of a fan of the rap style sprechgesang. I did skip forward to the instrumental interlude and that was not bad.

    I like the metaphorical image you create here. I'm seeing all these people wandering in the field and can't help but laugh. I think what you're saying can apply to just about anyone who sets out on their own to try to accomplish something and not just writers. But that trek toward writing success does seem like a difficult one that many don't achieve because they haven't planned the trip in the right way and often get tired along the way and just give up.

    Nice job of making it real.

    Wrote By Rote

  12. I would never set out without a map, compass and a water bottle. Hey, I took the orienteering classes at school. :P

    It feels like, though, that there are some tour groups forming to help people navigate the terrain. Someone sent me a link today to a website that caters to Indies and their needs -- access to editors and cover designers. So, um, maybe I feel like I'm sitting at base camp and I'm starting to fill my backpack for the trip.

    Here's the link if you're interested. I still need to explore it and see if it will help or not.

  13. Oh yeah, it's a tough road all right. You should also be careful because there isn't an end to it.

  14. Lee: In general, it's not my kind of thing either, but I do like that song.

    L.G.: I don't think there is a map. That's the problem.

    I'll check the link out.

    Jeanne: Well, there can be an end, if you decide you have an end. I mean, if your goal is 5 books, you reach the end at 5 books. That's not my goal, but I'm just sayin'.

  15. I'm assuming Justified is some kind of TV show (I don't have TV service) but from the thumbnail and the name of the song, I was NOT expecting rap. Ha.

    I've climbed a few small mountains, and now I'm looking for bigger ones. 14ers, here I come!

  16. I sooo need to watch Justified. For what it's worth, I think you're pretty successful Andrew. You seem to have a great following and people that love your books.

  17. Good reminder to keep you eyes on the prize. Wait, or to not do that, and focus on the next step. Dammit. I'm going to have to read it again to be sure, because now that I think about it, both sound like really food advice.

  18. ABftS: We don't have TV service, either. It's all netflix.
    What is "14ers"?

    Michael: You do need to watch Justified. It's the best writing on TV with great characters. It puts Breaking Bad to shame. Shame, I tell you.

    Rusty: I don't know; I like "food advice."
    And both things are valid. What's my big goal, and what are my small goals to get there?

  19. Not giving up seems challenge enough in itself.

  20. TAS: Actually, that's true and a very good strategy for success. Jim Butcher boils it down to that, actually. Although, in his take, there's a grizzly bear involved.