I have a couple of short stories that aren’t coming along the way I wanted. One is called “The Guns of Brixton” and is lifted from the Book You Will Never Read wherein our (at this point, still future) rock star hero is accosted in London by three Irish thugs who want the engagement ring he’s just bought for his upper class girlfriend. The other I just drafted this weekend and is next month’s Jim’s Shorts feature.
Both have an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink problem, though the latter story is shorter. Both are drafted, yet both are not something I’d show people. So why finish them?
Because to get good, you have to suck. Even Stephen King writes crap you’ll never read. (Some say he writes crap that gets on the bestseller lists, but I’ll save that criticism for Jonathan Franzen.) Nevertheless, nobody came out of the gate with a runaway hit. Maybe JK Rowling, but she is a rare, rare exception. One might say King hit a home run with Carrie and hasn’t stopped. Carrie was King’s fifth novel, and we’re not even counting his first Bachmann novel, Rage. His first one, he says in Secret Windows, was utter and pretentious crap. His second one was readable, just not publishable. By the time he sat down and wrote that scene with poor Carrie White getting pelted with tampons, he was ready to scrap that book.
One downside to the rise of self-publishing is that a lot of writers don’t get told no enough to do better now. We can sing the praises of the Great God Amazon and how it’s made getting work out there easier. Well, that’s true. It’s also created, in the words of Chuck Wendig, a shit volcano because all of us – Stephen King, Chuck Wendig, me, or that pretentious ass in your college English class who can’t stop quoting Faulkner – think we are the Second Coming of Shakespeare with our first novels. Everyone does. And while JK Rowling did catch lightning in a bottle with the first Harry Potter novel, most of us have been told no on the first try. Well, I got told yes, and if I’d waited two weeks to talk to an agent, I might have been told differently. I’d have had a more realistic view of my work and my skills. Northcoast Shakedown is easily my most popular book, and yet it makes me cringe to read it, like a musician seeing a video of his high school band playing in the garage years after he started selling out stadiums or at least getting steady bar gigs.
But this is not a knock on self pub. I mean, hello! Still, without someone taking a pass on work that could be better or an editor fine-tuning a novel, chances are your first self-pub effort is going to be something many writers keep hidden in a trunk somewhere. Like Stephen King’s pretentious literary novel. (He didn’t always writer horror, yanno.) That’s fine. Only instead of an agent or a faceless editor saying no, you have the sum total of Amazon’s customer base doing it. And Barnes & Nobles. And Apple’s. And Kobo’s. Ouch. Good writers get told no.
Now no one knows better than me how frustrating promoting your work can be. But look, you’re not going to write The Son Also Rises your first time out. Go ahead. Write that embarrassing trunk novel. Self pub it if you must. With rare exceptions, a bad novel is not something fatal. To get to The Fault in Our Stars, you have to write a little Law & Order fanfic to learn the ropes.
So go ahead. Embrace the suckage. And listen when they tell you how you suck. Then suck less next time.