Through some quirk of my intermittent talkativeness, some of you may know i started my college career as a music major. I wanted to be the next Mozart*. It didn't quite work out. See I had to take two courses in my first semester - Music Theory which i got an A in with no trouble, and sight singing which was a long hard struggle. At the end of the semester, the sight singing instructor asked me to step out into the hallway and explained:
"I'm going to give you a D for the semester. This means you move on to the next level where I hope you pick up some of the abilities you haven't got the hang of yet."
The instructor said all this shyly like he was afraid of hurting my feelings.
"Wait," I said. "What did I actually earn for the class?"
"Oh, an F," he responded.
"Then," I said. "Just give me the F. Then I won't have any false hope, and I can move on to something I can do."
The professor quickly agreed to fail me, and I did move on. I put my energy into being an English major and I was successful at that. Now I'm an English professor.
As the story illustrates, having a proper estimate of yourself - of your worth, of your abilities - is crucial to me.
When it comes to writing, however, I've found the waters to be muddy. In fact, I'm not even sure who is supposed to give me my grades.
See, I know I'm a good writer - I have talents in that way, and I've written good short stories and novels. Editors and reviewers have agreed with me on my talent. But the large numbers of readers that make an author commercially viable have not agreed. Most haven't even heard of me though I've done just about everything I could think of to change that. However, just as in college, an INC does not allow me to move on to the next level.
Currently, the career stands at this: St. Martin's Press has a fifth Precinct Puerto Rico novel that they bought from me years ago. That's supposed to be published in late 2009, but might go into 2010 or, if they decide to cut their losses, it'll never be published. My agent has tried selling other books that I've written and gotten back very gracious rejections: "Steven is a very talented writer but given his sales figures we can't..."
I have, therefore, three options:
1 - I can publish my books at ever smaller publishers (especially if I can find a publisher that is interested in"growing down" their sales). Dorchester has said, for instance, that they simply can't take my books anymore - apparently, their current business model doesn't call for losing money...
2 - I can publish under a pseudonym. Something that hasn't been burned up with booksellers. I'm thinking "Laura Lippman." Of course, I couldn't continue the series under the new name.
3 - I can switch genres - write sci-fi for instance. This would also probably go along with a name change. I'm thinking Isaac C. Clarke...
Of course, there is the fourth option: Stop writing.
People will say that a real writer NEEDS to write (for publication) like writing (for publication) is oxygen, but I've never thought that. I think I've proven that I'm good at writing. I've also proven I can't sell for beans. Unless something happens soon, it simply won't make sense for me to spend hundreds of hours a year to write a book that no one will pay to read. Sorry that it comes down to money - money often controls where it should enable - but there you have it.
So then, the initial question - Bouchercon or not? I've no doubt that the Baltimore Bouchercon will be talked about for decades. The Jordans are smashing people. There are also a lot of people I would like to see - friends I only see once a year. That is a strong draw. But...
1 - It'll cost a thousand dollars.
2 - I won't have a new book out to flog.
3 - I will have a brand new bouncing baby.
4 - It'll feel awkward telling people "Me? A writer? Well, that depends..."
Anyway, this is the conundrum I'm working through this week. Help me if you can...
* As the saying goes "By the time Mozart was my age, he was dead three years..."