Lying in bed last night I formed a long and depressing post reacting to the most recent Interzone Readers Poll. I'm a little more at peace with things this morning, but I still wanted to go through my thoughts on the subject.
I had a pretty bad reaction to last year's poll, I'll admit. Both the stories I had in 2006 ended up in the bottom third of voting, and I kind of wondered what the hell I was doing. This year when they posted some of the results online I had at least made the top ten. Specifically, Toke placed tenth. I had a couple immediate thoughts on this, which developed into other thoughts. Anyway. In order:
1) Toke? Really? I think it's a good story, but between the two I had in 2007 I really thought Algorithm was a much better story. At the time of its publication, I felt it was the best story I had written.
2)Well, I'm glad to have made the top ten, at least.
3)Then again, I'm in tenth. Tenth place is still nine places too low.
4)I wonder where Algorithm ended up?
I got the relevant issue of Interzone yesterday, and guess what? No Algorithm in the top 20. Once again, my favorite story ended up in the bottom third. Swell.
I've been thinking a lot about how I define success in this industry. Because we're talking about an art form here, you're going to get varying tastes and preferences. It all comes down to how those preferences get expressed, and whose tastes take dominance. Editors, for example, like certain things. I have no doubt that the editors at IZ liked my work. I know that I liked it, and many of my readers liked it. But the majority of readers? Less impressed.
Now, I'm not going to change how I write. I'm not sure I could, to be honest. But I'm beginning to feel like maybe I'm an acquired taste, and that breaking through to a larger audience is something that may never happen. I'm jumping the gun a little, obviously, since the book isn't even out. I'm sure the editors will like it. I know I like it. But all those readers out there, the ones who go from shelf to shelf and buy the author's happiness in $7 packets? Who knows.
And if I end up the kind of successful that develops a cult following and limps along in the midlist, grinding out a book or so a year but never able to support myself on proceeds, and I get a moderate amount of recognition from my peers but nothing like commercial viability?
Well. I have a word for that kind of success. That's the kind of success that's actually failure. That's the kind of success that keeps you in your bad job, and makes you burn out on late nights, and takes all of your free time and converts it to mild depression and no social life.
I won't accept that kind of success. Sorry.