Thursday, May 9, 2013

Embrace Obscurity


Did you see Larry Crowne, the Julia Roberts & Tom Hanks movie? I loathe that film because whenever I write a blog post, I feel like I'm that slob of a husband of Julia's. Yeah, I have nothing but time on my hands, so I spend it writing, which everyone knows isn't "real" work. The cool thing about obscurity, in this case, is that I can write whatever I want and NO ONE WILL CARE. I'm not a brand, and by the time I become one, evolution will have put Morlocks in charge of the planet.

Blogs and websites that cater to authors are chock full of smarmy pep talks designed to inspire and encourage. An unprecedented crush of ebooks, a flood of Biblical proportions, is keeping you and your titles beneath the horizon. Still, however, you read optimistic posts just to remain focused on the dream of landing one of your titles onto a NYT list. Well, are you still fired up?

Reading motivational sludge is like a football team listening to the coach's rousing pep-talk moments before everyone hollers and races out of the locker room, ready for the big game. Yet, in this scenario, they rush out onto an empty field devoid of a team to play and fans to cheer them on to victory.

You, the quarterback, tuck the coach's speech away into a back corner of your brain and trudge off the field in search of a cold shower. Maybe next time someone will show up, you hope.

Obscurity is the prelude and finale to every artist's career. The good news is that if you're reading this, you're career as a writer has just begun (no well-paid author would waste valuable writing time reading my self-help drivel), and as such, you have nothing but blue skies ahead of you.

Instead of obscurity being your wasteland, I challenge you to embrace it as your playground. The benefits and perks can far outweigh the rewards of being a mid-list or branded author. If I repeat those words often enough, I'll probably believe them one day.

This post isn't motivational; I didn't write it to cheer you on. On the other hand, what I wrote isn't designed to tear you apart, either. I'll leave trashing your heart and artistry to your friends, family, and surly readers for the time when your career is soaring.

Instead, I offer a twist to the bitter lemon of obscurity.

Scrooge Was No Fool

This is, by far, my favorite reason why I choose to remain obscure. Sure, I have to sabotage my perfect stories, but plot holes and poor character-development ensure I retain my grip on my money. I can spend it on food and bills and save enough to avoid living on the streets with a guy named Mumbles.

When the day comes that relatives and friends discover that I'm making money writing books, they'll expect handouts on a scale that would make Santa Claus blush. Oh, the hostility and hatred … and that's just from me.  I shudder to think how friends and family will react when I tell them no or how they'll treat me if their gifts aren't from Macy's.

They'll rue the day when, from the ashes of my overwrought imagination and sleepless nights, a finely tuned writing machine emerges. I, the Phoenix, will methodically crank out money-making prose. Magnificently enriched and benevolent, I shall be packing forgiveness and tons o' goodies. I will understand that showering love and attention won't be good enough for my family and friends; they'll demand the bling-bling … and I'll encourage each of them to write their own friggin' novel.

Most images I use on book covers I get from public-domain sites. I'm sure the design artist doesn't mind giving away works for free, right? Hmmm … No, I'm almost certain I don't care about the double standard …

Grow Yourself Some Alligator Hide, Princess

Another benefit of obscurity is that my spouse, parents, siblings, and even my children don't pretend to be supportive of my passion and effort. I don't have to fend off jealous barbs about my stories, characters, grammar, clothing style, choice of toothpaste, and the like. When that does happen as my career takes off, I'll have my agent return their calls; I'll be too busy running their Prias off the road with the limo my fans buy me.

For now, I have to live with the fact that no one cares about my aspiring career. I can't get family to read my short stories, let alone the novels, so my craft remains unadulterated. I get to write and publish exactly what I want with no fear of upsetting my spouse with one too many commentaries about the mother-in-law's bushy moustache.

Critics refer to my artistry as a "hobby" that I'm "dabbling" with. The Bar of Expectations is set so low for me that I get attaboys just for finding the courage to get out of bed each morning.

Condescending backrubs and head pats are plentiful, given when someone passes behind my desk chair. Instead of a constructive critique, they offer little more than a tongue click or a snide comment pooh-poohing my plot.

I daydream about ripping the offender's face off and cramming it through my shredder, all the while screaming, "It's fiction, you idiot. None of it's real." But then, I notice I'm alone in the room … all alone. (*sniffle*). Instead of sharing playful banter, I just slap on a foolish grin and wave happily at his/her rapidly disappearing backside, knowing that one day, I'll thank them for their lack of support with their share of lavish gifts.


Obscurity keeps me from being pigeonholed into a specific genre demanded by my publisher and readers. I can experiment with the most bizarre plot twists and character quirks imaginable. It's refreshing that there's no pressure to write formulaic factory books—the brass ring.

Planning ahead for my inevitable fame and fortune, I created multiple identities via pen names. I have begun using a different one for each genre I write within. I couldn't get away with this approach unless I was obscure. Think about it—once I'm a famous novelist, my breadwinning genre will demand a significant chunk of writing time and attention to keep the money flowing. My new and refreshing stories will have to exist under separate personalities, and none of these can be worked hard until my cash cow's milk has run dry. Not a problem when one is buried deep within obscurity because it lets me do that NOW!  I get to goof around and see what sticks.

IRS? No Royalties = No Worries!

Taxes, shmaxes, The Man can't take what I don't have. Without book sales, I don't get paid. The financial headaches that plague mid-list and brand authors are inconsequential to me. Every end-of-quarter and April 15th, I grin because I don't have to calculate the potential income I might earn from a fickle readership. My taxes are based on the single W-2 I get from my shifty and unscrupulous employer. None of my royalties are wasted on legal and financial services.

My Day Job

Obscurity gives me the opportunity to refine my skill at sucking up to my boss and his/her cronies. I can't afford to lose my job because my book sales are in the toilet, so I've really become a people-person at work.

No Black Eyes

In a favorite dream, I'm competing in the 100-meter dash against the super-model Cindy Crawford. My strategy is simple: I keep a few paces behind her for the first 70 meters and wait for gravity to work its magic. Cindy's 38DD boobs bash her in the face with each stride, eventually knocking her senseless. Before collapsing from the pain of getting two black eyes, she yells to me, "Curse you and your tiny boobs, LC!" Then, I do a touchdown strut across the finish line.

Huh? Well, since I don't pack the big guns of the Famous, obscurity works against gravity and protects my stories from piracy and tyrannical reviews common with high-profile authors. This means I save gobs of money on legal fees and aspirin. See? No black eyes.

Unfettered Vacations

When not writing, I relax in my pool chair, sipping Corona knock-offs in front of my wall mural of a Caribbean sunset.  Without a beach nearby, my cat's litter box is an adequate substitute, even though I avoid driftwood and the tidal pools. I did chuck my ringing mobile phone into the mural's water once. Unfortunately, my neighbor was home. He responded to the hole I'd put in the wall by crushing my phone into silicon dust. If I were a B-list author, I'd already have a replacement phone, but since I'm obscure and broke, does it really matter that my voicemail box is full?

Well, Almost No Black Eyes

Writing short stories is inexpensive therapy for me. I publish and give them away for free. I never expect reviews of my free stuff; however, there are readers who feel obliged to hammer a stake into my heart anyway. Because of the internet's longevity, spite-slathered reviews will be forever tied to my titles, and I detest that fact.

As I write this, I wonder if I'm growing out of obscurity. A hateful review means that I succeeded in drawing enough emotion out of a reader that s/he felt compelled to react. Being obscure, it would be less of a sting if the reviewer had actually paid money for the title s/he blasted, though.

As such, I prefer to remain in my bubble of obscurity, safe below the horizon of fame and fortune and out of reach of dorks disappointed because I don't write Barney stories.

Out of necessity, brand authors and high-profile mid-list authors have to keep their mouths shut all the time and hide behind their publicists and attorneys. As you can see from this diatribe, I ain't got nothin' to lose. After all, when you're obscure, is there a level called "Obscurity minus One?"

Neener, neener, neener

I'd like to thank Ruth Ann Nordin for publishing this post on the Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors blog. I do appreciate the kind feedback my observations received from SPAHA's readers. See the comments at: 



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