Martyr or Mercenary?

I again find myself with a few ‘fallow’ days between completing the first draft of my Heroes of the Space Marines short and receiving rewrites, as well as waiting for the manuscript of Malekith to arrive in the post for checking, sprinkled with some preparation work for a secret project known only as Ssh!… Contemplating more personal projects I am faced with the simple fact that I need to get more work.

On the one hand I can labour away my precious time on a magnificent opus, which I am certain will astound the publishing world with its vision, breadth, plot and characterisation. On the other, I can set my ambitions to a more realistic level and consider a more commercial line of endeavour.

Quality isn’t the issue. I don’t purposefully set out to write something that is sub-par. Questions of style and approach, on the other hand, are fair game. There is a very strong desire from the sci-fi and fantasy publishing fraternity for certain types of work. Preferably these have a strong single-viewpoint character and have the capacity to be part of an ongoing series. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, as some fine fiction attests.

So the question comes to that of risk versus reward. Confidence plays an important part in any creative’s make-up, and so one must have the courage of one’s convictions. If I write something that I feel is remarkable – literally worthy of remark – it may be deemed unsuitable for publication and never see the light of day. On the other hand, if it is published then it always offers the chance of standing out from the crowd and garnering much higher success (and financial reward) than a more middle-of-the-road title. Yet it is very tempting to go with the more secure option (as secure as any publishing venture can be) in the efforts of increasing the chances of having at least some success.

It’s also a question of resources. Creating something mould-breaking, inspiring and all-round seven flavours of awesome takes a lot more time than writing within well-understood boundaries and conventions. I consider myself pretty well-versed in the art of the staple fantasy or sci-fi approach and so can concentrate on the plot and characters without worrying too much about the form.

So we come back to the confidence issue and the necessities of domestic economics. Am I confident that if I do reach for the higher reward I will get there? Or does the pile of bills that arrive every month demand a more pragmatic approach?

Hopefully I can find a ‘third way’ so often sought after in politics. Perhaps I should settle my efforts on an achievable goal that adheres to the tried-and-tested demands of agents and publishers, and yet push that form as far as possible. Getting the best of both might indeed be the greatest victory of all.

Thanks: To those who attended the Angels of Darkness signing in Manchester. Good to meet you, Narry! Sorry I missed you, Rob.

Very Very Recent News: The Malekith mss has just this minute dropped through the door. Very exciting! Two weeks’ turnaround to get it back to the folks at Black Library…

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I’ll try to offer some advice.

    The trick is figuring out what will sell. Just browsing a bookstore will tell you what’s popular right now, like paranormal romance. Now, if you were really desperate to get into the industry and have your work published instinct would tell you to publish a paranormal romance novel, ala Anita Blake. However, the folks over at the Dragon Page (A speculative fiction podcast) seem to recommend that you steer away from what’s currently popular, since it’s popularity could crumble at any moment. You need to figure out what will be popular, or write something that will be popular.

    Now, if you write something that’s good but perhaps too deviant for big, mainstream publishers, there’s always small press. If you can’t get published by all the big names, the story doesn’t have to collect dust. Small press publishers tend to be more open to new styles and ideas, where-as big publishers stick to what’s they know will sell at least ‘x’ copies.

    I’d encourage you work on your own story between commissioned projects. I spoke to Dan Abnett this past weekend at Games Day Baltimore and he was thrilled when I mentioned what was apparently his only published non-commission work, a short story. It’s unfortunate that in his long career he can only truly call one story his own.


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