Last month I talked about the first three of fourteen novels I wrote before I got a traditional book deal.
None of them are published or will be. They’re me learning by doing before I set down to actually write novels as the main goal of my profession. Surely, once I did make novels my focus the world of publishing, which is fair and respects hard work and dedication, would reward me for my efforts.
Instead, I tried to switch gears and become an indie author
“Oh, so were you one of those people whose Kindle sales were so awesome the NYC gatekeepers of publishing courted you for the audience you generated?”
HAHAHAHA! While you’re dreaming I’d like a pony!
Well, I had books published on Kindle. And they did buy me a little rep. But while Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking and others became part of a hyper-inflated dialog about ebooks DESTROYING bookstores and starting a REVOLUTION in publishing, I found myself burnt out and broken right before the very goddamn worst year of my life.
The kind of year that makes you scream FXXK WRITING.
Between 2009-2010, I wrote five novels.
Two were YA, including a re-draft of my “Karate Kid with Wizards” novel from 2003. Two were horror/dark fantasy. One was a crime thriller. I sent these suckers out to agents and editors, as ya do, while I kept writing novels. The goal was to turn these into a successful writing career for me and my then family.
Whatever caught fire first would be my career path.
Didn’t care if it was YA or crime or fantasy. I figured diversification was smart.
Much of my other thinking was ten-pounds of stupid in a five-pound bag.
A couple things happened in my head. I almost refused to write “for the market.” Instead, I tried to market what I had done as similar to work that was moderately successful. I had a visceral and near sickening sense of authorial integrity: I would write what I wanted and for reasons I was never clear on the market would want it, eventually. Bending my will to reflect the current interests and works of the marketplace made me physically ill. So you can imagine my surprise when my crime novel set in the world of pro wrestling, full of insane villains, BDSM madams, and horror violence, all with a punk-rock sensibility, received zero interest from anyone. Yet, in my mind, I thought DEATH MATCH was my most commercial project! A novel with a Bukowski-esque hero with pork chop sideburns and a Johnny Cash belt buckle solving sick and twisted crimes in a cartoon-esque landscape of sex and violence was me making a compromise.
Clearly, something was crooked in my brainstem.
Finally, in 2011, a new agent liked my YA stuff and was keen on the history side of my house. I signed with them. But as is often the case, our mutual enthusiasms soon soured and we decided to go our separate ways in 2012. I was back to having NOTHING published after two years of work. I’d done an MA on Novels and had no degree!
During that YA year, I was getting impatient with the publishing world not giving me the career I needed and thought I deserved (talk about entitlement!).
And thus I became a sucker for hype on ebooks.
For over a year, the success of a handful of ebook authors was captivating the publishing world while bookstores like Borders were filing for bankruptcy, and medium and pulp presses like Dorchester and their horror imprint Leisure Books were either folding or turning into corrupt and abusive organizations. Fuck mainstream publishing, said the few, the future is ebooks for everyone!
I decided, “what the hell? Why not become a Kindle sensation?” I was a productive mutherfucker, and people liked series books . . . let’s take that dark crime thriller no one would touch and make it into a series! The goal was to experiment and see what would happen.
So, friends helped edit, make a cover, and format the book.
On August 21st, 2011, DEATH MATCH was released for free to thousands of Kindle subscribers.
The goal was to get ‘em hooked and then they’d buy the rest of the series, which I was writing at mach speed. Once I generated fandom for DEATH MATCH, CON JOB and DICE ROLL, the money from Spar Battersea’s adventures in the worlds of pop culture would finally crack me into the world of professional novelists.
Nothing of the sort happened. Yet there was some good fallout.
Two of my favorite authors, Laird Barron and the late Lucius Shepard, read DEATH MATCH, liked it, and provided blurbs. The fact that these senior writers whose careers and work inspired me to be a better writer enjoyed the novel at all was amazing, and I still chuckle when I read Shep’s thoughts.
“Fast, breezy and barbarous, Death Match is a fine, innovative noir from an exciting new writer. Reading the book is like eating a corn dog while watching a lard fire run through a greasy-spoon, it’s both tasty and nasty.”
Though Laird’s was just as great.
“Death Match is a rock ‘em sock ‘em addition to the noir canon. Gritty, relentless, and wry as hell, Ridler brings the pain.”
Plus, as I sought reviews and interviews, I caught notice of a review site SpineTingler who listed DEATH MATCH as one of the best pro-wrestling novels of all time. Rare company, to be sure, but I was grateful they dug it.
Yet, I was no closer to an actual career than when I’d started.
One dead-end school of thought from the endless stream of advice on how to “make it” in ebooks was PRODUCTION. Keep making more books. Push ‘em out. Hell, make those novels 70 pages and release them weekly. Anything to get more product out there will help generate fresh fans and so on.
So, I transformed my first novel from 2009 into a Kindle book.
BLOOD AND SAWDUST, about a runaway kid and a fat vampire in an underground fight club tournament, was based on one of the first short stories I ever wrote that had my “voice” as a writer. It’s full of insane violence, deadly and beautiful women, bad jokes, and sympathetic characters. It was rejected by dozens of agents and publishers because, back then, vampires were largely “pretty” and mine were Fugos with Fangs and Combovers. So, why not Kindle it?
Good reviews followed, but not a career.
So, I wrote another vampire novel, this time set in an entertainment-based dystopia with two people of color in the lead and pretty white people as the bad guys. Based on a short story I wrote for an anthology (where I got “longlisted” for Ellen Datlow’s Years Best Horror for the first time), A TRIUMPH FOR SAKURA was a dystopian action tale that spoke about racism and Dean of Canadian vampire fic Nancy Kilpatrick said the novel was “Hunger Games, Fight Club, and True Blood rolled into one bloody good novel.”
I received more fan letters from this piece than anything else I’ve done. But no career.
And yet, I kept producing. I kept churning.
One agent said I should write a thriller with a strong female character. I did, then was told, “men read thrillers and they won’t read about a strong female lead!” I outlined a thriller with a right-wing hero that made me sick and abandoned before everything I wrote seemed dead and lifeless.
It was 2013. It had been four years and eight books. I had no agent. I had no Kindle career. I had no novels published or wanted by the mainstream or small press.
I was still a failure to myself and my family.
As this reality ate into me, three things happened within months of each other.
As I scrambled to reclaim my life and recover my sanity, I said “Fuck writing.”
And doing so gave me my current career.
Help keep Jay’s current sanity by buying a book, like Hex-Rated, the novel NPR called “Terrific fun, dripping with rich period detail and nods to Ed Wood movies and Jack Kirby comics. Smutty, profane, and unapologetically slathered in pulp, Hex-Rated is a loving homage to all the musty, dog-eared paperbacks stuffed in the used bookstore's spinner rack.”
Or, if you need inspiration without the BS, check out FXXK WRITING: A GUIDE FOR FRUSTRATED ARTISTS.
© 2017 Jason S. Ridler