Sunday, 1 July 2012

One decade later ...

The 1st of July, 2002, is the earliest electronic record of my writing activities. I had been writing for years before that date on a casual basis, inspired by fantasy artwork and role-playing games to create a fantasy world of my imagination, but that was the point when I finally started seeking information on how to publish my work.

Looking back, my work was nowhere near ready, but that didn't matter: I made the conscious decision to set aside my preconceptions, learn what needed to be learned, and start taking my writing seriously. I knew I wanted to be published. I knew it would take me a very long time to get there, and that I would need glacial patience if I was to succeed. So I took the first step on the odyssey. The goal seems as distant now, in some ways, as it did then--but the Alex of 2012 is an adult with a decade of human experience and adventure to his name. The lad of sixteen with high ambitions has been patient, and has invested thousands of hours of his life to the cause, slowly honing his abilities and gathering a million memories and experiences with which to craft future stories.

When I was sixteen I wrote about dungeons, monsters, and evil sorcerers. Now I tear apart my own life to get at the stuff that really matters, and I fill the heads of my characters with more tangible magic: love, heroism, the silence of the wild, the conflict we all feel between a life of meaning and a life of happiness, and the slow crack and groan of mountains as they breathe through the centuries. In 2002, characters were an afterthought; now they surprise me by teaching me things I never knew about myself.

But for all the progress I have made, a decade has passed since those hopeful days: a decade of failed novels, and novels that were never quite good enough yet better than the last. For five years I have been writing about mountains and trying to distill everything about them I love into a single story. The result of this effort, The Only Genuine Jones, is currently on an extended mission to find a literary agent. The story is, I am convinced, the best material I have ever written--but of course I'm not satisfied; I can always produce better, can always improve. My ambition reaches higher and I experiment with more complex themes, better characters, a more meaningful overall experience. As my writing evolves so does my interpretation of the memories that drive my work, and more questions are raised to answer. It's a never-ending process that every writer will be familiar with.

As this process grinds on through the years, in many ways like the glaciers that I so admire (moving a little every day and changing imperceptibly over time), the world has been changing around me. In 2002 the vast majority of books were physical objects made from paper, and although the publishing industry was struggling, things seemed not hugely different from a decade before that. In 2012, the rapid rise of the Web, of smartphones and ereading devices, has resulted in a cataclysmic revolution in the publishing world--so vast, so far-reaching, that we cannot even begin to see the full effects from our vantage point, marooned in the present day. Writers are finding it more difficult than ever before to find an audience the traditional way. The chance of publishing your book was always slim, but now the odds have become astronomical. If I was in it for the money my investment would be better served buying lottery tickets.

Ebooks are the future. This is now an incontestable, immovable fact. Even if it weren't for the shift in consumer habits, paperbacks are disastrous for the environment: up to half of the volumes printed get pulped before they are read, and even those purchased by the end reader will probably be read once or twice before becoming so dog-eared that they are given away or discarded. Digital books, however, are clean and efficient. They require no physical storage space. They are cheaper than physical books, and with careful management they can last longer than paperbacks (but not longer, I would argue, than a quality hardback).

In short, after months of encouraging but definite rejection letters, and a gathering sense that the legacy publishing world has nothing to offer me, I have made the decision to begin the process of turning my novel into an ebook. My first decade of writing began with an important decision; so has the second. I will stop wasting my time, money and nerves chasing the traditional route to publication, and I will join the thousands of writers taking direct control of their careers in independent electronic self-publishing.

I hope to post far more often on this blog in future; it will become a chronicle of my new journey into the second decade of my career as a writer.
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