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You can't always get what you want...

I had a plan for my writing career. Not a dream - although earning a million and buying a mansion would be nice - but a plan. In every other career choice I've made, I've had some kind of path I hope to follow. By and large, I've found knowing where I'm going, when, why and how - allowing for the odd deviance - has been a good thing.

This, then, back in 2011, was my plan:

I'd write a short story each month, get them published, and bring in some revenue.
I'd get an agent for my trilogy, then a publisher - a big one.
I'd be on every bookshelf in England, Ireland, America and everywhere in between.

Somehow, I've gone from that to being published with a small publisher, being self published, selling only 6 paid for short stories (although I have at least four - count them! four - coming out this year in various places). I got an agent and lost that agent. I'm on bookshelves in Ireland but not so much anywhere else.

Here's the thing: we don't get to choose. There is no path you can set through the morass that is publishing. You can't force any agent to take you on. Even if you do, they can't force any publisher to take you on. You can write the best book in the world, with the best characters, and if the market isn't right for it, you won't sell it to a publisher.

Let's say I'd gotten my dream and Inish Carraig hadn't been turned down by the Big Publisher who liked it but didn't want an alien invasion (sob; it still stings), or Abendau's Heir had gotten over Harper Voyager's very last line.

I'd have had an advance. I'd have had more money spent on promotion (my publisher is great, but there's only so far any small publisher's promo funds stretch). I'd have made it - published by the Big Six.

Except... an excellent writer I know didn't have his sequel taken by his publisher.The algorithms crunched didn't come out in the writer's favour. Another friend was picked up early in his career by a big publisher, but now mostly works with small publishers - his work suits the niche in the market they support. Small publishers can afford to let a writer build - within reason - because they tend to invest for the longer term by investing less in one foul swoop. They also tend to have fewer authors and know more of them personally, which gives a different relationship.

All this is fine, I hear you cry! I can self publish it! I can control things my way!

You can. But you can't force anyone to buy it. You can promote, beg and get reviews, but, in essence, there is little you can do to guarantee a success. The road isn't a trajectory but twists and curves and cul-de-sacs that come out of nowhere. 

These are my current sales ranks:

Abendau's Heir - 262,122 (US) vs 5179 (UK)
Inish Carraig - 283,011 (US)       vs 15,448 (UK)

Now, I have done one high profile promotion for both titles in the UK that I didn't replicate in the US but, even before that, my sales in the UK were stronger (which is why I did the promo that way). 

Would I like to click my fingers and break America? It's the bigger market. I think they'd like my Belfast stuff given the Irish-American links. The answer isn't relevant - because I can't make it happen. In knowing that, I'm able to relax and not break my heart trying.

Okay, have I depressed you all enough? Now for the positive.

You're on a ride you can't steer, can't stop, can't control so you might as well enjoy it.

If you end up the biggest self published sensation, drink it in. If you get the reviews from heaven and not so many sales, embrace the success that is getting great reviews. If you find yourself with a sudden spike, run with it. If Harper Collins come knocking, give it a go, see where it takes you, and hope for film sale. 

A writing career, for me anyhow, has been one of the things in life I can't control. It's taken me places I never expected - to cons, to sensational headlines about my tormented hero, to a podcast where the presenters have never heard anyone who talks quite like me, to invites to write stories I never thought I had in me, to reviews I never, in my wildest dreams, expected to get.

It's been an absolute blast, one it would be a crime to derail by hoping for something different, or by wasting time looking at the next horizon. There will always be another horizon, see - someone selling better, or getting better reviews, or writing a book that makes you want to weep it's so good. But they might not be your horizons.   

So enjoy your ride, whatever it may be, and I hope it takes you to some amazing places. 


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