Now I want to warn y’all this is gonna get long as fuck and real raw about a lot of things. If you’re new here, put on your hardhat and athletic cup. If you’ve been here. Sorry boo.
For background, a few years ago I decided it was time to level up my career. Post a fairly brutal doxxing by other writers, I felt like I really needed to re asses, set some goals and get the fuck to work. When I found out I had a book of poetry coming out, that was my cue.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been in these lit streets since the late 90s. Like most writers, especially those of us swimming in the big ass ponds of poetry and short fiction, I’ve had ebbs and flows. I’ve rarely had a lot of success in poetry. There was a time period where I was a bit notorious amongst white poets because I’m a big ole mean ass Negro who hates free speech.
I was gonna link a bunch but nah. If you want to read my older stuff, links live in the sidebar.
I had a few minor moments, at one point my short fiction high my acceptance rate stayed up in the high 70s with about, 10-15 submissions per week so that was tits.
I got to know some poetry folks who made me feel great. I went to AWP (this is actually a hilarious story so I might try to make a video about it) I got to meet Roxane Gay at the first one and almost peed my pants. In the years between what like 2014-2016ish I was feeling myself in the, obscure but getting some great feedback area of writing.
In 2016 or so I decided that since I was armed with knowledge, a network of readers (a thing a writer I really admire complimented me on was how I engage with folks, that was just great) and I believed.
What I believed was that, in spite of my big mouth and all my shade at the lit community etc that I could carve out some kind of little financially sustainable writing life. I started with freelancing. After my first non-fiction publication I had a taste for it. I have an ability to write about things like racism, fatness etc in a way a lot of folks found good at the time. I had some experience from writing at XOJane. I’d figured out how to deal with things like:
- Being told for years what a shitty asshole I am for writing things.
- Being doxxed/harassed by angry racists, angry feminists and some other folks.
- Being told explicitly (with pull quotes and footnotes) why folks were hate reading me and then why they wanted to make sure I know how much I suck.
- Death threats.
- Folks trying to get me fired from my dayjob.
- Etc etc etc.
All those things continue to suck but I learned how to deal with it. My next plan for my glow up when I realized that to be a “successful” freelancer I’d have to eat a lot of shit, I decided to scale WAY back. Also real talk, dealing with white women in the sooper seekrit internet writing groups, fucked me up and in a lot of ways forced me out. That’s fine.
Some things I’ve been successful at in the last few years:
- Figuring out I am not good on spec.
- I am too stubborn to settle.
- I refuse to eat shit for a byline.
- I still write pretty ding dang good fuckin essays.
Don’t get it twisted. I am a fucking bad ass writer. I am. I cannot be fucked with and I continue to sometimes write some really bad shit. Overall. I’m a bad mother fucker.
I am Fat Laila. (MY FAVE INTERNET CHONKY KITTER DO NOT FAT SHAME HER THIS AIN’T THE PLACE BRO) Look at her. This is raw footage of my work and shit. No I just really wanted a giggle break. Stay with me.
So when I decided to level up, I felt intensely ready. I did some courses from places like the Void Academy. FYI the links I share ARE good shit. They just aren’t the good shit for me in particular. When Medium launched their pay program. I put some stuff behind the paywall and pretty much failed hard. I learned SO MUCH from my beloved Milcah. I have held this advice so tight in my little hand. I very literally say it to myself a lot.
From my journal from the time, my number 1 goal was GET MY SHIT READ. Thus I embarked on the type of marketing and self-promotion folks say to do for years.
It didn’t go well.
I had a beautiful most amazing little poetry book come out. Buy her here. Shit this part burns. But I did the thing folks say to do. I reached out to a LOT of people. I offered review copies and I think I got 2 reviews. more stuff I haven’t told anybody. I sent emails, queries etc to lit venues offering review copies, I answered a few very specific calls that put my book into their wheelhouse. Out of 60 emails of this nature sent, I got zero replies.
Privately I was fucking devastated. Part of how I experience anxiety often means I want to apologize to people for bothering them with my needs or whatever. It is just a thing. I was really tempted and so heavily triggered I almost asked my publisher to cancel the book.
I’m glad I didn’t. It is a good little book.
Now here is where I really started to see the pattern of my career at work and exposing a lot to me. Now, in terms of how people respond to my work, even here in Seattle people really love it. On a personal level, people tell me how much they like things I do. Some folks wrote me really lovely notes about how much they enjoyed the book.
After publication, I tried another round of promotion in the review angles and again, nothing happened. Nothing. The few folks who took review copies never said anything about it again. It has taken most of my self control to not email ALL of those people to ask if they just hated it. I don’t need to know.
I know enough.
Those months are what my career is at this point. I’ve realized these things:
- The agents I’ve queried have all been either super interested and then once they saw more of my work *who I actually am* they ghost. Or their advice is to cut the social justice stuff, talk about racism less etc.
- There is something about ANY of my work that does not keep the attention of people enough to really support it in any material way.
Again, I’m not talking about my ride or dies. I’m talking about the 5k+ folks in my social media, other people. I just ain’t it bro.
Superficially that makes my inner child wail. I want to lay face down on the floor. I want to suck out my personality and brains and everything and try to be more like the badass writers I’ve been compared to (or mistaken for in Ijeoma’s case) Roxane, Nikki. All writers I admire deeply.
If I could in fact eat or otherwise ingest some of their successes and turn them into my own, maybe.
I am not them and that is okay. I don’t have to be.
I could honestly go on forever. I know a lot of super talented, successful amazing writers. I stan them. I get so excited when I see their names in the news and on best of lists etc.
And just this year I realize, that is probably not going to happen for me. I hate it and it breaks my heart into a million pieces but that is just what it is. Whatever it is about me, my work, etc is not gonna be the thing that gets me the big money or the big publication or probably a spot on any best of list.
I’ve accepted it and that my beloveds is why I’m closing my professional FB page. It is why I’m not doing a newsletter anymore, why I’m not going to bust my whole ass trying to get people to do the TWO things I need.
Action doesn’t happen for me when I ask. Unless I’m having a complete panic fueled meltdown and as I’ve said that is exhausting and humiliating and also doesn’t really work in terms of success I can link to it. When I do that, I might get a few bucks thrown at me on Kofi or maybe an extra 2 shares but folks ain’t reading, ain’t buying, ain’t sharing.
So that my friends is the end of this part of my writing career. When I publish on Medium I might use the paywall I might not. I’m writing a lot of fiction. I’ve got some horror coming out this year. I want to get back into noir.
My failure to not get famous, that wasn’t the point. The point was to move my life into a more sustainable model, maybe someday sell a book and keep writing and making some coin. I failed. There were a lot of reasons but I failed.
So like I been doing for 20 years, I’m gonna do what I know how to do.
Write like a mother fucker.
So that’s it y’all. A different adventure begins. Please stay tuned, next week I’m gonna talk about stuff I’ve got planned, we’re gonna nerd the fuck out about horror and weird fiction. It is gonna be lit.