Saturday, July 7, 2012

What Can Independent Authors Learn From Swamp People?

Anybody who follows me on Twitter knows that I have a few things I'm passionate about.  My readers and of course, my writing.  That's obvious.  All the expected geek cultural interests that go with being a genre author.  That's also kind of obvious.  Picking on Nicholas Sparks and making up stories about how we used to work at Hustler Magazine together, but he insisted on pushing me towards being "More vulgar and abusive."  That might throw some people off.  However, most of them might be confused by my insane commitment to the TV Show Swamp People.
In my mind, Swamp People (and by extension, Gold Rush) are actually boot camp for any independent author/ publisher.  In fact, I think they should be required watching.
Stick with me on this one.

First, A Little Lesson in Gator Fishin'
Gator Hunters in the Louisiana bayou face extreme challenges in their efforts to eek out a living by fishing alligator.  They receive a limited number of "tags" from the LA Fish and Game Commission and are allowed only thirty days to do it.
After the thirty days expires, if you haven't filled your tags they become useless and fishing alligator a criminal offense.
Buyers pay much more money for larger gators both for the meat and the skin, so gator hunters are forced to do whatever it takes to catch the largest possible ones.  Here's the trick.  You cannot release the smaller ones.  If you catch a gator, you have to keep it and burn one of your tags.
The men who choose to make their living this way have to invest massive amounts of money before the season even begins to acquire fishing rights to land, bait, and boats.  Their biggest expense occurs on a daily basis in the form of fuel.  These guys burn approximately $400 a day filling their boats up with go-juice.
No one guarantees their success.  Gator seasons are routinely plagued by floods, hurricanes, heat waves (temperature has a major effect on gator eating habits, which determines whether or not they'll take bait.  Bad storms sometimes make the water cold, and the gators think it's time to hibernate so they stop eating as well.  It's a constant struggle.) and more.
It comes down to a few simple things:
How much does a gator fisherman know about his quarry?
How hard is he willing to work to catch them?
How much is he willing to risk to be successful?
And after all those things are addressed, it comes down to a little bit of luck.

Anybody who has any experience publishing is now nodding their heads saying, "I get where he's going with this."

For me, watching Swamp People is an affirmation that hard work pays off.  It's a constant reminder that nothing is guaranteed and nothing worth having ever comes easy.  However, as the swampers so often like to say, "If you want something, you got to go get it."
I admire the guys who live off the land and battle the elements more than I could say.  There have been plenty of days where sales were slow and I thought about them, how they sometimes come back with an empty boat after a hard day, but they don't complain and they don't think about quitting.
Is it hard?  Sure.  Any way of making a living is hard if you are attempting to do it for yourself and not be a desk jockey or a factory worker.  If you want to be your own boss, you need to cowboy up and get to it every time you set out.  Every day.  Whether the day before was a staggering success or failure.

Gold Rush New Season Pictures Discovery Channel's Gold Rush Alaska has many of the same lessons for us.  Their struggles are with gold, which they know is in the ground.  All they need to do is be willing to dig it out.
That will require massive investments of money, time, manpower and the risk that they are digging in the wrong place.  How is that NOT a direct metaphor for writing and publishing?  

My new novel Magnificent Guns of Seneca 6 will be released in the next week or so, and I've already invested more than I can possibly hope to recoup.  At least right away.
At completion of the first draft, I've spent $400 to get a cover professionally designed by master artist Carl Graves.  Carl does covers for the big boys, like JA Konrath, and my thought is that if I want to hang with that crowd, I need to dress as nice and look as good as they do.
The $400 was nothing compared to the man hours I've put in on that project alone.  According to Microsoft Word, I've spent 12,578 minutes producing the first draft.  That's 209 hours of waking up early, staying up late, cramped in front of a computer screen, all while working a full time job, all while missing out on other things.  I don't say that to complain, mind you.  I say that as a demonstration of the commitment it takes to participate in our profession.

When other authors ask me, "Where do you find time to write?" or "How do you do it so fast?" I have to laugh.
I think about the swampers down in the bayou who work from sunrise to after dark, battling mother nature to try and drag a living out of her waters.  The gators are nasty, strong, dangerous things that will tear your limbs off if you aren't paying attention.  Only the best make a living at it.  Only the best thrive.
And if that's not something to admire and relate to, I don't know what is.

So get off your butts and get to work, my fellow authors.  Nobody promised you nothin' and if you wanna make a living out here in the swamp, you better be prepared to face some harsh challenges.  I been out here long enough to know exactly how rough it get, but that don't stop me a little bit.  I'm a get my gator.


  1. Love the idea of publishing as a swamp.

    LOVE IT.

    And your analogy here reminds me of something that Stephen King wrote about writing (I think it was in "Lisey's Story"): that all writers are fisherman, setting out in our sloops and cutters in the hopes of catching a keeper. And sometimes, if we're brave and crazy enough to venture out into the deepest, roughest waters, we catch one of the really big ones.

    I'm sure the similarities there weren't accidental, even if they weren't on purpose.

  2. Thanks, brother. I'm actually not familiar with that one, but I have unknowingly ripped off King's analogies before. I wrote about a water dowser my dad hired when I was a kid, only to find out later that King wrote about a similar experience with his Uncle in Danse Macabre (I think...haven't read Danse Macabre in twenty years). I think when someone is as prolific as Steve (who is, admittedly, the master) we're all bound to budge up against him once in awhile. I felt bad about the water dowser similarity, but what can I do?
    There's a very strong analogy King uses in On Writing about writer's being fossil hunters. For me, that's the one to beat.

  3. I ripped off the fossil-hunter analogy in my own novel. Knowingly. :D