Over the last couple of days I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about career. There’s a saying in publishing that it’s one thing to be published, another to stay published. A year ago I was worried about ever getting published. Now, with the book out and deep into writing book two, I’m starting to look ahead and formulate a long term plan for my writing and where I want to be.

At lot of this was sparked when I was saddened to find out that an author who has been incredibly helpful in my career has gone self-published because of the current publishing landscape. Now don’t get me wrong, publishing is filled with excuses. It’s easy to blame lack of success on any number of factors when the simple truth is usually that the books weren’t good enough. But here’s an author who is widely acclaimed, award nominated but whose books haven’t sold in great numbers, finding that they are unable to place their books with big publishers. They didn’t rage, instead being very pragmatic about it. It is what it is.
However, one of the golden pieces of advice they gave me was that I would have similar difficulty placing my book. As cross-genre as it is, it falls between the cracks of the classification silos we have. I’m not sure I fully understood at the time, after all the success of publishers like Angry Robot has seen a greater acceptance of cross-genre, but now, with an older and slightly wiser head on my shoulders, I think I am beginning to understand.
I have friends who write New Weird who over the years of building a successful career have toned the New Weird elements back and back to become more commercial. And New Weird, thanks to people like China Mieville, has a greater acceptance than a lot of cross-genre. And whilst larger publishers like Angry Robot have embraced cross-genre they are naturally and very sensibly at the commercial end of the scale.
I sit at the far end of that cross-genre scale. It’s not a bad place to be and in terms of creating a career, having your own niche is a real bonus. However, it’s a hard sell. Thank God for small presses like Anarchy. In terms of a career, I do sit there on the fringes of genre. I’m genuinely more than happy with the reviews and sales I’ve got so far, even in these early days, and in terms of career direction, it’s maybe a little early to start really worrying about it. Not too early to start thinking about it though.
Last year, just before I got the deal with Anarchy, I tried to write a more commercial book, a simpler sell that sat more nicely in the classification silos. Trouble was, I found myself feeling it was missing something before coming to the conclusion that cross-genre really is my spiritual home. I love mash-up tropes and putting something unexpected but not entirely unknown into a story. Writing anything else, at least at that time, felt like an artistic compromise. In all seriousness I desperately wanted to put Kaiju front and centre into a swords and sorcery epic.
But you know, I am master of my own destiny to a large degree. If I write an exceptional hard cross-genre book I could pretty much change the genre landscape. But it would have to be really exceptional, and whilst I’m a lot better than I give myself credit for, I know the limits of my talent and I am not an exceptional writer. There are but a few each generation across all genres that are.
So the option is: stay small or independent press and write hard cross-genre, or find ways I can do more commercial category silo-friendly books. Is there a way I can do both? Some actors do big summer blockbusters to afford them the ability to do smaller independent projects. I’m not someone who can phone work home, I have a will to make any project be the best it can be. Does that mean I am even capable of being more commercial?
All these aren’t decisions I need to make for years. I’m one book into what will hopefully be a four book series, and those other three books will develop and (hopefully) mature me as a writer in ways I can’t foresee. As someone who doesn’t have a bad paying day job, the idea of being able to write full-time is a loftier goal than some without some serious lifestyle changes. But I like the idea of having a long range career plan when it comes to writing. I don’t know why, every time HR in the day job ask me my career plan I pretty much shrug. Perhaps it’s because at the back of my head the real career plan is, one day far in the future, being able to write for a living.