Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Have I Ruined My Writing Career?

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

Oh, book stores.

All the titles and authors and hardbound editions, taunting me.

I’ve been going to a lot of book stores lately, on tour with the Nightmares Unhinged anthology, published by Colorado’s own Hex Publishing. It’s been fun, but I have to say, I sit looking at the book covers wondering if I’ve ruined my writing career.

I’ll never be a debut author again. Now, my Amazon ranking is available for everyone to see. Agents, editors can see how many books I’m selling. And the numbers aren’t, um, staggering.

Should I have waited for the big game? Should I have written, submitted, chewed on the rejections, written, submitted and dined yet again on rejection steak with extra hate sauce?

That’s what writers have done for millennia. Or at least the last couple hundred years. Ray Bradbury got nearly a thousand rejections before he sold anything, and that’s Ray flippin’ Bradbury. Stephen King filled up a railroad spike on his wall with rejection letters.

I wrote a whole bunch of books, but only got a few rejection letters. I was just too afraid to send out queries, and then when I did get enough courage, the whole publishing industry shifted under my feet. Suddenly, people were publishing books on their own. Small presses, micro-presses, garage presses were publishing books. Books whirled into the world on a hurricane of hope and coffee. Mine included.

But should I have waited for the big game?

It’s too late now. I have three books out in the world with another six in the queue. I’m no longer a virgin. I’m now an experienced lover, maybe (probably) prostitute, and the bloom of my youth has faded from my weary face.

Should I have waited?

If I was looking for status? Yes, I should’ve waited. Getting the big agent and the big publisher would’ve given me more status. It would’ve also given me the satisfaction of a dream fulfilled as close to my fantasies as I could get.

Would I be more famous if I would’ve waited? Roll the dice, I don’t know.

Would I richer if I would’ve waited? Probably not.

Most likely if I would’ve waited another ten years, I’d be about where I’m at. Maybe not, but the reality is, I didn’t wait.

How could I have waited? I’d already spent twenty years working on thirteen books. People all around me were storming the gates of heaven either on their own or with their own small press. I was speaking at writer conferences, and I felt dumb because I didn’t have a book in the bookstore. It just made sense for me to take the plunge.

The reality is, lots of people get the big agent and the big publisher and their books languish, unread, unedited, dead.

My books are out in the world and people are reading them. I’ve walked across many a desert of fear and self-doubt. I’ve made some money, Starbucks money, but cash dollars nonetheless. I’ve lived parts of the dreams.

And I did it while I was still alive. Who knows? In ten years, I might be dead, and if I would’ve waited, I might’ve waited for all eternity.

But I still get sad sometimes. I still have doubts. And regrets? I’ve had a few.

I sometimes think about Jane Austen, who found a publisher for one of her books, but quickly pulled it from the market, too fearful to put herself out in the world. And yet, two hundred years later, if anyone bad mouths Pride and Prejudice, I’ll kick their ass.

Yes, I’m unagented and I don’t have a big publisher. Yet, my books are published. Three of them. Each such a victory.

I might have ruined my career by not waiting, but then again, I’m not dead. I have lots of books to write, and yeah, I’ll continue to query the beast and collect my rejections, and yes, the odds are even worse for me because the publishing industry can look at my sales. However, and this is the biggest, most earth-shattering however possible, if I do hit the big time, the more rejections I have, the better my story becomes. The harder and less likely? The better the story.

And isn’t the point of life to live a really good story?

Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of The Never Prayer, Long Live the Suicide King, and Elizabeth’s Midnight. In shorter fiction, his G.I. Joe inspired novella was an Amazon bestseller in Kindle Worlds and his steampunk story, “The Dirges of Percival Lewand” was part of The Best of Penny Dread Tales anthology published through Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press. His upcoming young adult sci-fi/western epic series will also be published through WordFire Press. In 2015, his second novel won the “Building the Dream” award for best YA novel, and he spent the summer as the Arist in Residence for the Anythink Library. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two ancient goddesses of chaos posing as his daughters.

For more about him, his books, and how to overcome artistic angst, visit He’s on Facebook as Aaron Michael Ritchey and he tweets - @aaronmritchey.