discussions genre stuff

Mid-Career Advice, & Why You Can’t Moan

There are some interesting discussions to be found at the blogs of Tobias Buckell and Jay Lake, where they discuss the lack of mid-career advice online.

The audience changes. For one, the aspiring authors, whether they realize it or mean to do it, start pushing back. If you start thinking out loud about problems they wish they had, there gets to be a certain tension. I full on encountered this when I had just finished my first novel. At a con a dear friend (and to this day still a dear friend and someone I respect a great deal) had asked what the toughest part writing this novel was. I’d responded that I’d just become noticed enough that halfway through I got asked to write two short stories, and paused the book to do so. My friend responded, ‘wow, I wish I had that kind of problem.’

Both posts are well worth checking out.

I’m moving on from being a freshly minted author in the UK, though I’m very much still a mere babe in the US; but I find what Tobias and Jay wrote is true – you carve your own career, so you quickly find yourself isolated when it comes to finding much useful advice.

Authors tend to bitch about the industry only to each other. This happens mostly at a convention bar, away from real people, because actual real people do not want to hear an author complain about their lucky situation. “Ooh, you poor thing with your international book deal. I’m sooo sorry for you.”

You get the idea – it’s bad juju. But there’s a whole lot of stuff that crops up when you’re published that you never expect. It’s not just delivering a creative concept to deadline, but the publicity you have to do, the emails that flood into your inbox, the signings, the bizarre new psychologies, the immensely time-draining fluff, and it’s all just to prop up your career so that you are able to deliver another creative concept to deadline. I have a full time job as well – this is a good thing, because I don’t have the sudden financial dependency on the written word. I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to feed myself for the next month.

Of all the wealth of crap online that concerns this industry, with the odd gem shining through, there is indeed precious little of value to teach you how to cope with being a writer. Posts on “how to become an author” are everywhere, and most of them bore me to death – sometimes because I don’t trust them, but mostly because I’ve moved on from that phase now.

So I’ll stay tuned to those two blogs to see what develops, and in the meantime, I might well buy this book.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

5 replies on “Mid-Career Advice, & Why You Can’t Moan”

I had an interesting conversation with a friend recently, concerning this sort of thing. We were talking about the imminent release of The Crown of the Blood, and the implications of it.

The meat of the discussion was that whetever happened, there would be implications, and he asked what my plans were in three situations:

a. The book is received well below my expectations.
b. The book is received on par with my expectations.
c. The book is received well above my expectations.

Each will require a different reaction and attitude to what I will be doing in the future. I don’t know the answers yet (if I ever will), but it reminded me that nothing is ever quite settled as a writer.

Even with a book or two (or a dozen) under your belt, you still have to deal with the consequences of each and every release as if they were the first. That may be disappointment, more of the same on an ongoing trajectory of recognition and sales, or it could be the breakaway hit that changes your life dramatically. Each comes with its own benefits and challenges.

Blimey, Gav – that’s a very thorough assessment! But you’re right, there are implications for each and every release. But it’s good to look at it in terms of benefits and challenges, and that the career is more unpredictable than many.

I can’t say anything about being a mid-career novelist. You get to deal with “bizarre new psychologies”? I’d love to have that problem! (Actually, not sure what you mean and not all that sure I want to know.) I think there’s a general hole all around for mid-career advice. There’s a out there about how to get started in just about anything, and then about how to plan for retirement. The middle of the road stuff tends to be about balance and understanding priorities. I think that’s because as Jay Lake says every mid-career faces unique challenges. That can be extended beyond writing to just about any career.

As for Booklife, I was actually reading it as I brought up this page. I’m finding it helpful, lots about blogging and using social networks. You might not need that part, but the later areas of the book are about things I’ve yet to encouter. I wish I had those problems! Well, actually the stuff on balance is kind of helpful…


There are authors who don’t do much more than write the books they’re contracted to write, write them well and get on with their lives. It’s not stuff that we HAVE to do, although it might seem that way. I think it’s important to remember that most of the “time-draining fluff” we CHOOSE to do in order to try and hold on to something that many people aspire to have and don’t: A contact.

DJ – Well, I think the bizarre psychologies is more a case of trying to cope with things you didn’t think you’d have to. And that can be quite wide-ranging. But yes, it’s certainly a case of the problems being fundamentally a good thing.

Stephen – there are, but they’re very lucky writers, and I’d suggest they were in a minority. And you’re right, there is an element of choice, but it’s a bit of a harsh one: it’s like saying the choice is “do you want to sell lots of books?”; the answer would of course be “yes please”. The time-draining fluff is, as I see it, necessary in order to build solid foundations for a career. The time-draining fluff of (for example) running a blog has really paid off, and while it’s my choice, it wasn’t the decision I was looking to make when I wanted to write a book. And it’s not to say I don’t enjoy it – just that it gives me something to moan about. 🙂

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