I’m once again participating in the 12 Blogs of Christmas with eleven other writers, organized by fantastic indie writer Martin Crosbie. As part of the event we are to write about—not surprisingly—Christmas. Many of the other eleven bloggers have written about fond or funny memories of Christmas. Last year, I wrote about my fraught relationship with Christmas—acknowledging the magic of Christmas but also the busy-ness, commercial aspects, and guilt associated with Christmas (we have so much, and so many people have so little). So I can’t do that again. Most of my stories about Christmas go something like… we got too much, ate too much, spent too much (even though we don’t spend that much), stressed about a turkey, and were really happy to be able to go skiing and eat leftovers on Boxing Day.
I exaggerate. I’m sure I’ve had some nice Christmases, but since I’m often up to my elbows in a turkey, and have not had any famous disasters, they are not the stuff of stories. Then again, my memory is famously poor (all that time living in another world). This year I’ll be sure to charbroil the turkey, so I have something to tell you about next year (Hmm, I’m getting a strong anti-turkey vibe here. It might be time to start serving Christmas steak).
To me, Christmas is really about gratitude and reflection on a year gone by. In an effort to dredge up some Christmas spirit (and not seem like cross between Eeyore and the Grinch—I promise I’m actually not—Christmas commercials make me cry), I decided to do a post on the 12 writing things I’m most grateful for this Christmas. That’s not to imply that there are not a lot of non-writing things I am grateful for (there are so many of those things), but this is a writing blog (and I think this sentence is a triple-negative) so… here they are (the 12 writing things I am grateful for):
1. The Changing Publishing World
Things have changed a lot in the last ten years in publishing. We’ve seen the rise of the Amanda Hockings and the Hugh Howeys, and the gatekeepers of traditional publishing have lost their stranglehold on the market. Some independent writers are making a go of it, the world of writing is becoming more democratic, and being an authopreneur is becoming a legitimate career choice. The fact that writers can now execute on their own vision for their writing and put it out to the market to decide whether it is successful or not, without being told by a publisher that it's not good enough, is not what they are looking for, won’t sell, or needs massive changes, is an amazing thing. I'm not knocking traditional publishers entirely. They have curated and published many wonderful books over the past century, and they still have a hugely important role in the publishing world. But they have had too much control, and writers—the people who are actually creating the art—have had too little. I’m so grateful that more writers might be making a living from their craft, that being an Indie is a possibility, that writers are actually beginning to have a voice in their own field, and that there is more diversity in the book landscape.
The changing publishing world would not have been possible without the juggernaut of Amazon. Love it or hate it, you cannot deny that the ‘Zon, as we Indies like to call it, has changed the landscape of publishing forever by allowing Indie writers to participate on a mostly level playing field and popularizing ebooks and subscription-based reading. I know this may not be a popular sentiment, but I love my Kindle. I understand those who love physical books, and I also acknowledge that my Kindle has changed the way I read, but I still adore it. I love the ease of always having a bunch of books with me, getting a book I need immediately, being able to read in dark hotel rooms, and not having to find a place on my already crowded shelves for another book I did not care for. I also appreciate being able to purchase so many books for such a reasonable price, which has dramatically increased the number of books I purchase in a year. I know many writers hate Amazon, and I am concerned about the impact Amazon has had on local bookstores and the race to the bottom on book prices for writers, but I'm incredibly grateful that Amazon has given indies a chance.
3. Kindle Unlimited
Since more than half of my revenue is coming from Kindle Unlimited these days, it’s been a fantastic innovation for me. But in addition to the revenue (which is great), it's even better to actually be able to know that people are actually reading your books. While I always appreciate sales (and please by all means go buy my books, it will make my day), I know that not everyone who buys my books is going to read them. With Kindle Unlimited, you can almost literally watch the page turns in your books.
4. Reviewers and Reviews
Writers wouldn’t be anywhere without reviewers and reviews. They keep us going, help us to become better writers, make us reassess the direction we’ve taken with a particular work, keep us humble (although I have to tell you, there are generally not a lot of big egos around the indie writing water cooler), and give us those moments of absolute joy that someone understood, or liked, or even loved our work. And, like Kindle Unlimited, they let us know that people are actually reading our books. We drop our best writing efforts into the world, just hoping that someone will take the time to tell us what they thought of it (especially if they liked it), and I can’t say enough about reviewers (or people who rate books on Goodreads—you are great too). There are many times over the past year I have considered quitting (writing is one of the most incredibly difficult jobs I've ever done, but that's for another post), but good reviews have been what have made me keep going. Recently a reviewer compared me favorably to Paulo Coelho and another said that my story is the best thing they’ve read in a long time. For those reviews and others, I am eternally grateful.
5. New Ideas
As a writer, to run out of writing ideas is basically the end for your career. Sometimes I really don’t know where my ideas come from. I don’t deliberately spend time creating plots, or characters, or concepts. They just seem to arrive, right when I need them, like I dip into some magic pool of creativity or tap into the collective unconscious. I've never had writer’s block, and I get to experience the thrill of a new story (even the crazy ones).
6. Anthology Editors and Publishers
These past two years, I've been invited to participate in five anthologies by indie publishers and editors, David Gatewood, Samuel Peralta, and Chris Pourteau. Many of these anthologies include writers far more established than I, and have gone on to reach much wider audiences than I am yet reaching with my own writing, which has in turn generated interest in my solo works. Because they are generally topic or theme-driven, they have also forced me expand my thinking and create stories that might not have originally been in my repertoire, and as a result, I believe I’ve done some of my best work for these anthologies. Each of my stories has been a gift and a surprise, and I'm so thankful to be included in these anthologies.
7. My Family
I don’t always appreciate when my family leaves the house in a mess as they go off to enjoy the ski slopes while I sit down for yet another day in front of the computer (like today). But they believe in me, and they take my writing seriously, and that is worth more than a clean kitchen any day (I think…).
8. Traditionally Published Writers
Strange choice, right? The divide between indie and traditionally published writers is no secret. Any indie writer can share an experience about being snubbed by, simply ignored, openly dissed or made fun of by a traditionally published writer. Some traditionally published writers think they are better than indie writers. But you know what? Not all of them do. They are open enough to other models of publishing to acknowledge that indie writers are writers too, that some indie books are good, and that we are all sharing in this incredibly difficult journey chasing the same dream. Sometimes I think some of them are secretly envious of indie writers (but maybe I'm projecting there). I have many traditionally published friends who accept me as part of the community of writers, seem to admire my achievements, and understand that there is not just one path to building a career as a writer. There are many more boundaries that need to be broken down, and many more traditionally published writers who need to be convinced, but for these friends, I am grateful.
9. Indie Writers
Almost everyone in the indie world knows how generous most indie writers are. Have a question? Just email an indie writer. Most of them will respond and provide you with more information than you could have hoped for. Most of them will become your friend. It is a rich and diverse community of funny and kind people who gather around the virtual water cooler, support your career, celebrate your successes, and commiserate when things go wrong (most of the time). It is not perfect of course, but it is pretty damn good, and I am very thankful that I am part of it.
10. My Reading and Writing Community
I live in a community where people read and write. Some of them read my books and tell me in the street that they loved or really liked them (I call this a random act of book kindness). Many of them read lots of different kinds of books. I belong to a great bookclub and get to talk about different books each month (and they are reading my novel In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation in February). Our community has a great library and a great bookstore. We even have an event called Rossland Reads (like Canada Reads) where four debaters choose books and then duke it out for three weeks in front of an audience who then votes on which book should be eliminated (kind of like Survivor). We also have six published writers who live in a town of 3700 and many more who live in nearby towns. Although I love my virtual friends, I'm very lucky to live in such a reading and writing-oriented community.
11. Everything that I’ve Learned
Being an indie writer means that you have to do everything yourself, or at least manage your out-sourcing of it. Many of my traditionally published friends eschew this, saying that they wouldn’t be able to do this, or don’t want to have to. They just want to create. I understand their feelings, but doing it all yourself forces you to acquire new skills, many of which actually help your writing. Designing, or overseeing the design of, your own covers requires that you examine hundreds of covers, learn the principles of cover design and conventions for various genres, and think in different ways about your themes, plot, and pivotal scenes. Doing some of your own editing or proofreading forces you to look up and learn all of those things that it is so easy to just click “accept change” on when you have an editor. Recently I have been contracted to do some editing of other people’s work, and I was amazed by how much I’ve learned in the past two years, how many things are now just second nature (I even use the Oxford comma now… most of the time). Ditto for blogging, formatting, and working in my KDP dashboard. These things used to terrify me and I was certain I would screw them up. Now they are easy. Many of the things I’ve learned transfer to my consulting work. So even if my writing career never earns me a fortune, or enough to buy a new desperately needed vehicle, I’m grateful for everything that I have learned.
12. That I Can’t Count
I thought I had twelve things here, but there are, apparently, only eleven. But it is time for me to go skiing (as that really helps me to get into the Christmas spirit). So I’m grateful that I can’t count (at least the first time through), and I’m going to go hit the slopes.
Stay tuned for the next twelve days for the 12 Blogs of Christmas. I will be linking to the blogs and stories of the other writers who are participating. I will be prefacing my links with the twelve things I’m not grateful for in the writing world, or to put a positive spin on it, the twelve things that I think need to change. I might even be dishing a bit of snark, so stay tuned.