Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tracy Hickman: "I'm fighting for my life as an author."

This (short) article is at sciencefiction.com. Hickman addressed an audience at AnomalyCon 2014. 

“I have to do more now,” he said finally. A hush went over the audience as Hickman continued to describe the conditions under which authors are laboring under today. One can write 12,000 words and sell it for 4.95, he said. At that price point, his 120,000 novel would have be $49.50, which would be impossible to market.
“I’m fighting for my life as an author,” he admitted frankly, his voice solemn.
He then said that his audience of 6 million no longer find him because the book store is dying. A booksigning in older days would have fans lining around blocks just to have his signature, but a booksigning now might only get six people. “I have a 6 million following,” he said quietly, “and they don’t remember me.”
Now, he works 12-14 hours a day writing four times the books he’s comfortable writing because he makes a fourth of what he used to.
Joe Konrath had some choice words for Hickman at a Newbie's Guide to Publishing (where I first read about this, and Konrath got it via The Passive Voice)
I really don't know what to think. Is the "Old Guard" of writers passing away in the wake of self-publishing? Sorry you feel like you're becoming irrelevent, Hickman? Why are you even considering selling a novel for almost $50? 
At this point, I would love to be an author at a science fiction convention (heck, any convention) speaking to fans. But I'm also fighting for my life as an author--trying to perfect my craft, trying to tell decent stories, trying to find my audience. 
Every author is fighting for their lives, Hickman. Every author. From the newbie to the bestseller. 
You've had 30+ years. You changed the RPG industry (some say you've ruined it).
Many of your books with Margaret Weis have entertained me over the years--including the Dragonlance Chroncles and Legends, but after the seven-volume Death Gate Cycle it was time for me to move on to other authors. 
And you know what? Sometimes I wish I hadn't read your books.
Because every novel I tried to write back in high school and early college started with some adventuring party trying to save the world. Oh, but first I had to develop a detailed setting. 
Its why I preach to any gamer, any writer--especially beginning writers--to stay away from fiction books based on D&D. Read the material that inspired the game to begin with. Read genre's outside of fantasy/sci-fiction. Read the classics. Read history. Read philosophy. Read how to write a screenplay. Read Aristotle's Poetics. 
Step away from the gaming table, turn off your computer(s)--including your damn smartphone (and even those books I just told you to read)--and go experience life. 
Give yourself time to absolutely suck at writing (and DMing for that matter). Don't feel pressured to develop entire world/campaign setting just because TSR/WotC/Games Workshop/Paizo/Monte Cook/GRR Martin did (and says you should buy it). 
Do you know why Tolkien developed Middle Earth? To practice his skills as a philologist (sure, he might have been coping with his experiences in World War I, be denied it in the Forward to the Lord of the Rings.) This leads to me to my final point: 
You have to love what you do, whether its being an author or being a Dungeon Master. You're in the entertainment business--and the entertainment business while probably never have as much respect as, say, doctors and lawyers and people working in the sciences. I think Plato's Republic might have had something to do with this. We're a luxury, not a necessity on Maslow's hierarchy of human needs. Always remember that. 
Stephen King writes because if he doesn't, he can't sleep at night (On Writing), or to keep the sadness away (Night Shift).
Stephen Pressfield writes to fight Resistance (The War of Art).
I write, because if I don't--as the last 15 years of not writing have taught me--I will get depressed, and I will feel sorry for myself, and I will give up my dignity and self-respect and go on a downward spiral. 
Oh yeah, and also like to see people respond to what I write. I love the attention--but I also want to put out quality material. For me, that keeps the sadness away. 
So Hickman, go back your "why" and think about the money later. Maybe its time to re-invent yourself. Good luck. 
The same goes for everybody else pursuing their "calling" in life. 

9 comments:

  1. Tracy has a strange calculation of book value. Those cheap books dont require printing, they are pdf. They also dont sit ln the bestseller table or get into airline book shops. It is a different model and it works.

    If tracy is caught in the middle the answer is not his strange price increase, it is cut overhead and middlemen out of the numbers or go full bore into the hardback world while it lasts.

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    1. I found those numbers strange, too. At first I thought he might be talking about gaming books in print.

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  2. Sounds like maybe instead of writing *longer* books (which sounds ludicrous), he should follow the so-called market trend and break that 120,000-word novel and into ten 12k novels.

    It sounds more like he's struggling with math than writing.

    --Dither

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    1. I've read somewhere that the novella is back. Write ten 12k word short novellas then lump them together as POD book.

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  3. Interesting. I haven't read any of his work, which may be odd as I was really into D&D while in school and some there after. DMing even. Friends would highly recommend the Dragonlance Chronicles, and one (and my father) the Death Gate Cycle. I've even had them in my possession (much like the first Game of Thrones series), but never read them.

    I know I'm missing out in some large way, but I think it's my delving into Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series (the first six anyhow, as that was all that was released at the time of my reading) that played a role in my writer's block. The other aspect being how much I read about publishing houses dictating one's written work.

    Jordan would use so much description and had attention to detail that I felt I had to somehow mimic. If I wasn't able to elegantly describe the entirety of a room then why write at all? What was the point?

    Sounds like we have been in the same boat (may still be?). I had writer's block or over 12 years. I'm not sure if you are familiar with NaNoWriMo, but I participated in 2012, and it was what finally broke me free from my block. Granted, that may have been largely in part due to the people I met, but either way, it may be something you want to look into.

    I've had difficulty getting constructive criticism on my fiction, and I'd like to believe those who visit and read it live by the "if having nothing nice to say, say nothing at all" rule of thumb! lol

    I think with self-publishing it's becoming easier for people to write and get noticed, where as before you would be met with roadblock after roadblock with publishing houses. I guess I don't even hear the worlds smallest violin playing in sympathy. How they could be struggling with the years of publication he has had is beyond me.

    Great post!

    Jak at The Cryton Chronicles & Dreams in the Shade of Ink

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    1. Thank you.

      Finally cranking out the first draft of a novel back in late 2012 also helped break my writer's block--it also showed me the tremendous about of stuff I had to learn and re-learn about story telling.

      I avoided the Wheel of Time Series after trying to read the first book--too much description indeed. And the prospect of reading the rest of the series...ugh. And this was before he died.

      My suggestion criticism: find somebody you trust and who knows you well, and value their criticism above all others.

      Be here's a caveat: Just like you, I'm started near the bottom. So go out and find out what works best for you, read what other successful authors have done.

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    2. I enjoyed the Dragonlance books as a little kid, but when I re-read them after college, I was blown away by how much of his Mormonism (Mormonity?) Hickman inserts into his writing.

      It sounds to me more like he's sad that he's become old hat. It's not that the brick fantasy market is gone, it's that he's not George R.R. Martin and nobody wants to make movies & TV shows out of what he's writing.

      And now I am imagining Tracy Hickman all "REMEMBER ME!!!!" ::deathgasp::

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  4. I have so many Authors I enjoy that I would love to attend a book sining but have never been able to so please keep attending and holding them for those of us who would like to attend one.

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