C.J. Cherryh in her own words: B. 1942 until further notice, trained as a classical archaeologist, Latin and Greek, have written since I was 10, taught highschool to support my writing habit; and first broke into print in 1975. Of course no one I knew happened to be in town that weekend.
Typical. You don’t get fame and fortune. The ones that hunt it tend to be obnoxious, and not people I like to hang out with. But being able to tell your friends is a good thing, and if your friends aren’t glad for you, you need new friends.
I went to fulltime writing back in about 1979, and I lose count of how many books I have written. I’m always working on something. I live in the Pacific NW, with another writer and two cats, one apiece. We travel, we take pictures, we run an e-book enterprise, and we figure skate and garden for recreation. (Editor’s note: C.J. Cherryh has banded together with Jane Fancher and Lynn Abbey to create Closed Circle, a site where readers can get free samples and buy ebook versions of their backlists.)
Writing is not about being a writer. It’s about writing. When things are going badly, nothing’s right, and when a scene is flying, it’s better than anything you’ll ever experience. A writer is not so much something you are as something you’re constantly becoming: you’re constantly learning and evolving and changing, or you’re stalling out and need to get moving again.
Writing drives your interests in life. When they ask who wants to ride the elephant, you know suddenly you really need to do that, more than just about anybody. I draw the line at jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, but that’s because I’m a bit of a klutz, and if anybody would screw up the ripcord, it would be me.
Travel is good for you. Meeting unfamiliar situations is bread and butter to you. Where do you get your ideas? You inhale them, breath by breath, and stale air is just not good for creativity. You study everything. My passions range from astronomy to geology to genealogy to koi ponds and marine tanks. I weave, but the loom is gathering dust. We’ve got some square-rigger wooden ship models we’re intending to build, but so far re-tiling the bathroom takes preeminence, and so does building a rock garden in the yard. In short—we do things. We do a lot of things. If we don’t know how, we start anyway, and look up the instructions as we go. It saves money, it means we know how to fix it if it breaks, and, like the skating, it keeps us moving.
The writing scene is far different than it was when I broke in. New York isn’t supporting backlist as it used to, and yet the big companies are wanting every right they can possibly lay claim to. Particularly e-rights, in which most publishing houses are far from expert.
So for the first time, I’m saying, to new writers—consider New York to build a reader base. But don’t get locked into it by signing really bad contracts. And don’t expect that your book will be re-issued. The distribution system doesn’t want ‘old’ books, never mind they’re the background for the ‘new’ books. If volume 3 of a set sells better, they want more volume 3 but won’t order volumes 1-2. That’s how insane it is. So keep every right you can lay your hands on. Recover every right you’ve got a chance to recover. Don’t hand the darling of your heart to the first publisher who offers unless you have good reason to believe they’ll treat it well. Don’t go begging, and don’t take a deal that doesn’t pay you actual money, unless you remain in control of the rights and have a reasonable expectation you know how to do your own marketing.
Writers doing their own marketing still tend to get no respect, because there are too many people throwing books out there with no preparation, no editing, no professional polish, and way before they’re ready for prime time. The best thing professionals can do is band together in small associations and try to assure professional quality, during these transitional times. It’s a good bet that things are going to shake out in a major way, and the writing business is not going to be the Victorian model it has been since the late 1800′s…not now, and not for the rest of time. My own theory is that it’s going to be far more like the Roman and Renaissance model—a handful of respected writers essentially distributing their own work, before all’s said and done. Modern literature came from that situation. And literature can thrive under those circumstances.
In our experience, honest readers are willing to support honest writers who give them quality material. We have people breezing through the site howling because they have to pay money for the downloads, and more than 99 cents for a book of 500 pages. But the majority are readers who will happily pay reasonable book prices directly to the writer, because they feel they’re getting something worthwhile, and they’re doing the very basic support of the arts that makes both sides of the transaction happy.
Honor those readers. Respect them and support them as they support us—because that is the direction I think we’re moving: toward direct contact between the reader and the writer. I answer their questions, I discuss with them, they buy my books, and we have our own community. I still publish via New York in the main, but that is an increasingly fragile situation. I say go in with your eyes open, find out about the industry, and have an agent, because it’s increasingly difficult to market and sell, and if you find yourself technologically and marketing-wise dependent on others, you will be at disadvantage. Band together with people with other skills, and use the internet that’s threatening our industry for all it’s worth. Writers, after all, have the essential part of the product that readers can’t do without. And with that situation comes a creative freedom we haven’t had in centuries.