Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
I might very well be finished writing novels.
That’s not an easy thing for me to write. It’s like saying my heart has stopped beating or I don’t like music anymore. I’ve been writing novels since I was in my mid-twenties. Forty years. I’ve managed to coax seven of them into published existence.
But my experience over the last decade has driven home in a big way that writing novels, at least the kind I like to write, has been relegated to the category of hobbyism. I swore a long time ago that I’d have to quit if my writing ever took on the tinge of a hobby. A hobby is something like making decorative birdhouses in your basement. Stenciling celebrity portraits on Ikea dinner plates. Knitting humorous cummerbunds (that one’s from George Carlin). I can’t allow myself to think of my books as anything like that.
And that puts me in a tough spot, because the main thing I’ve learned since 2013, when I self-published my second novel, Yesterday Road, is that selling literary fiction is next to impossible, and attracting agent interest in my new work is definitely impossible. Those were the two avenues I saw as potential ways to get my stuff out, and now I know they’re both obstructed with large, undeniable signage: ROAD CLOSED.
There’s nowhere to turn. And, not to gripe any more than usual, but my last few books have garnered fewer and fewer sales and reviews, to the point where I know all the participants by their first names.
The Prospect, my latest, sits on Amazon with seven reviews after almost three months of availability. Some people who promised reviews never delivered. That’s life. Self-publishing is like direct mail: You put out a lot of invitations in the hopes that maybe 2% of them yield something.
Eternity Began Tomorrow has eight reviews. Fascination, 10.
In contrast, Yesterday Road attracted 42. Wow, those were the days.
You can imagine that a guy’s motivation takes a hit with data like this staring him in the face. That’s why I’m plum out of ideas for new books. I got nothin’. Nowadays I keep anticipating the inevitable failure. I know the outcome ahead of the game. The months of composition and revising will be like spinning my wheels in sand dunes, and I’ll get a big case of heartache at the end of the day. And a lot of sand in my underpants.
I’m just telling you how I feel about all of this, at this stage of the game. There’s nothing that can be done about it. I’ve driven the clown car about as far as it can reasonably be expected to go, a lot of it on fumes.
But this isn’t to say I’m done publishing. I have two more books I want to get out in the indie market, both already written, revised, and polished. I’ve been holding onto them, dreaming of an agent’s enthusiasm. No such luck. Now I’m officially out of projects for queries, so it’s time to get going on those two.
One, set in the summer of 1973, is called Three For a Girl, and I’ll publish it first, next spring, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Senate Watergate Hearings, which figure in the story. I’ve already designed the cover and can’t wait to show it to you.
The other, which will be my last, is The Autumn of Certainty, and it’s a big novel about baseball and the death penalty, set during the Depression. It’ll be a good one to go out on.
Of course, all of this might prove to be baloney if an idea strikes me that I can’t help but pursue. It’s just that, as of right now, from where I sit, my imagination can’t quite see that happening.
As the great Japanese novelist, Yukio Mishima, said, just before committing seppuku: “I don’t think they even heard me.”