Roughly six years ago to the day, my first novel was published. Which means that last year was the five-year anniversary and I probably should have celebrated somehow, but I didn’t. Oh, well.
So. Six years. Wow. In some ways, it seems like that’s been forever, like I can barely remember my life before that.
Here’s a very washed-out, overexposed picture of me at my very first signing, at Book Expo America in 2006, three or four months before that first book came out. And sometimes, yeah, it feels like forever, but then I look at that picture and it’s like… OK, so I have a little less hair now, and the scruff has migrated to my cheeks from my jaw. And that cellphone is comical. But…
There are days it feels like forever, and days it feels like no time at all. Most days I still feel like the new guy, and when young(er) authors approach me for advice or (laughably) wisdom, my first reaction is always, “Why the hell are you asking me? What do I know?”
In those six years, I’ve published nine novels. Two more will be out in the next few months. And there are a couple more beyond those that I’ve written that aren’t on the schedule yet.
Like time, word count is strangely subjective and elastic. There are days when those nine novels in six years feel like an accomplishment. And days when I feel as though I’ve been slacking, as though I could have done so much more in that time.
Objectively, though, nine books in six years is more than most who’ve been writing that long. Heck, it’s more than some who’ve been writing much, much longer.
Not that we’re keeping score. And even if we were keeping score, I’m pretty sure the ratio of books-to-years isn’t a fair or even sensible metric.
After all, there are certainly authors with fewer books who have higher sales, better reviews, more Twitter followers — whatever scale we want to use to define success. (And that topic is a BLog post in and of itself, someday…)
If I’ve learned anything in the past six years, it’s that “success” is an indistinct, slippery, chimerical thing. Maybe it’s like pornography, and we know it when we see it.
Me? I’ve been at this for a while and I feel like I still haven’t broken out. (“Breaking out” is a sort of nebulous term that publishers and agents throw around. It’s when you go from being obscure to less obscure, to some ill-defined degree.) Each book still feels like a risky step. Each book feels like it almost makes it, but falls short in some elusive, undefinable fashion. And that’s no one’s fault but my own. My name is the one constant in all of those books.
But in a way, that’s comforting. I like that there’s wide-open territory ahead of me. I like the thought that the future is possible. I like thinking that maybe — just maybe — my best work is still ahead, waiting for me to catch up to it.