A few thoughts upon the publicaiton of my 10th book
My tenth book is officially available in book stores this week. Black Sun Descending is the second book in the Red Rock Canyon trilogy. Set in the American Southwest it chronicles the efforts of Silas Pearson, a University Professor turned desert rat, who is searching the canyons and mesas for his missing wife, Penelope de Silva. Penelope set out on a hike nearly five years previous and never returned. Silas, worn thin by the search, and plagued by nightmares where his wife leads him to the discovery of bodies buried in the desert around Moab, Utah, has never given up.
Black Sun Descending is set in Utah, and also at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona, and around the Glen Canyon Dam. The first book in the series, The Slickrock Paradox, is widely available. The final book in the trilogy, The Same River Twice, will be released next year at this time.
If you had asked me ten years ago today if I’d be celebrating the release of my 10th book I would have thought you both mad, and a little cruel.
Ten years ago I had yet to publish a single book. I had a stack of PFO (please flounce off) letters, that in the words of William Faulkner I could use to “wall paper my room.” I had been methodically pitching book ideas to publishers for a decade at that point. I had a chart. No surprise there. In one column were my various book ideas, myriad even back then. In the next, the publisher who, according to both the Canadian and US Writer’s Market books I might be able to trick into publishing my tomes.
At that point I had all but given up on freelance writing, after publishing about one-hundred and fifty stories in various magazines, journals, newsletters, napkins, etc. It was just too much bloody work for too little return on investment. It was books or bust, and it was looking dangerously like bust.
In 2005 something happened that changed all that. I moved from Canmore, Alberta to Victoria, BC, and on the way stopped off in Vancouver for a week. I had pitched Arsenal Press on a book idea a few months before and called the Publisher Brian Lam and he invited me to come in and meet with him. I expected it to be another interesting, but nearly pointless conversation, and believe I may have been stunned speechless when Brian told me they wanted to publish my book Carry Tiger to Mountain: The Tao of Activism and Leadership, and would a small advance be OK?
I remember walking back to where I was staying to break the news to friends and family thinking, Holy Crap (I used a different word but this is a family friendly BLOG), this is really going to happen!
By the time Carry Tiger came out the following year, I was already falling into a familiar pattern of pitching my next books before the previous one comes out. It took two years, but The Cardinal Divide was accepted up by the nice people at NeWest Press and was released in 2008. Two years later came the next book in the Cole Blackwater mystery series: The Darkening Archipelago.
Things picked up in pace after that, and in the last four years I’ve published eight more books, including the first two in the Durrant Wallace historical-mystery series, and Running Toward Stillness, a collection of essays on Buddhism, running, family and personal catastrophe turned poignant learning opportunity.
It’s hard to remember what it felt like ten years ago, believing that I would never publish a book. Hard, but not impossible: it felt like there was something empty inside of me. It felt as if my life’s purpose, or at least a part of it, would be left unfulfilled. It was frustrating and sometimes made me angry to see what some publishers chose to release instead of my books. At times it made me a little cynical.
This isn’t a rags to riches story. Despite having published a fair mess of books in the last eight years, I’m not making much money from them, and that’s a source of frustration for both me and my publishers. A publisher needs to sell a thousand books to break even, and only a couple of mine have done that. Sometimes when discussing book sales with my publishers I simply can’t believe how hard it is to make a buck in this business these days.
Books making money means I get to write more books: it’s a simple equation. If a publisher keeps taking risks that your next book will pay off for the press, and it doesn’t, then the publisher decides to invest elsewhere. Writing books is a business, one I’m happy to be a part of. Yes, it’s a creative exercise and part of the manifestation of my Dharma and all that, but it’s one with a bottom line. If all I cared about was communicating my thoughts and ideas to the unsuspecting, unwarned public then I’d write more blog posts.
That said, I keep writing books as fast as my publishers will print them. I have a different chart these days, one with book ideas on them and which publisher has agreed to usher that volume into the world. I’ve got a lot more book ideas than publishers, but at least I know where my next half-dozen books are going to land. The book ideas are essentially always pounding on my head, and I have to get up early so I have time to let them out. There are about forty ideas on that chart, so even if I can keep up the pace of two books a year, which seems unlikely, I’ll be in my mid-sixties before all of my current ideas see the light of day. And the ideas don’t stop coming.
I suppose my final through on the publication of my 10th books is of gratitude. First, to the people who have supported me through all of this. My partner Jenn first and foremost: writers are distracted, often preoccupied, dreamy and distant. We squirrel ourselves away in our writing spaces at odd hours – for me that’s most mornings at 5 am – and emerge bleary eyed and in need of caffeine and coddling. Jenn puts up with all of this and so much more.
My publishers – Arsenal, NeWest, TouchWood and Rocky Mountain Books – have all taken a chance on me and for most that chance has yielded only the pleasure of my company and some nicely turned out phrases. Thanks gang. I’ll keep trying.
And my readers; yes, I know there are lots of you out there, and it’s for you that I rise early and keep banging holes in my keyboard, churning out stories and essays and captions for photos. Thanks for making it possible for me to live my dream for the last eight years; you make me want to write better, more thoughtfully, with more passion, so that together we experience the mystery and delight of being alive on this strange blue world.
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