I met Jeff Mariotte while teaching his son. It is my honor and privilege to feature him on this blog. I have admired his career for a long time and am grateful he decided to share some insights into the business on my humble blog.
1. Tell us a little bit about your writing background.
Although I’ve been writing for basically my whole life, my first professional sale didn’t come until 1988. It was a short story called “The Last Rainmaking Song,” which I sold to a prestigious science fiction anthology called Full Spectrum. I was managing a bookstore in La Jolla, CA at the time, and the editor was someone I had met through the business. He told me later that he was nervous about reading my story, because he did know me in another professional context, so if he thought the story stunk it could make working together awkward. Fortunately, he liked the story. A few years later, the regional bookstore chain I was working for closed all its southern California stores. My assistant manager at the time was married to a very successful comic book artist/entrepreneur named Jim Lee, who had just co-founded Image Comics with some of his peers. Jim hired me to write the text on the back of some trading cards. That turned into a full-time job, eventually as VP of marketing for his company, WildStorm Productions, then as senior editor when he sold the business to DC Comics. While I was working there, I started writing comic books. After a while, we sold the novel rights to a comic called Gen13, and I was asked to collaborate on the first Gen13 novel with my friend Christopher Golden, who had also written Gen13 comics. That became my first novel, and was published in 1999. Chris introduced me to Lisa Clancy, his editor on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels he was writing, and I started writing those, and Angel novels. Everything else—novels, short fiction, nonfiction, comic books and graphic novels—kind of snowballed from there. At this point, I’ve written more than 50 novels, somewhere around 150 comic books and graphic novels, a couple dozen short stories (most recently with my writing partner Marsheila Rockwell, with whom I’m also working on some novel projects), and miscellaneous other things. My most recently published novels are supernatural thriller Season of the Wolf and Star Trek: Serpents in the Garden, and next up is a dark thriller called Empty Rooms, of which I’m especially proud.
2. To what do you attribute the longevity of your success?
I’m pretty versatile, for one thing. I like reading all sorts of books, and I like writing them, too. My novels have included crime fiction, horror, supernatural thrillers, straight thrillers, science fiction, sword & sorcery, horror/western/steampunk, and more, and have been written for both adult and young adult readers. If I had stuck to one thing, I might be more financially successful, but I don’t want to stop writing in genres I love. Fortunately, people keep being willing to publish me, and as long as they do, I’ll keep writing.
3. With things changing in the publishing world and advertising world, how have you adapted to the changes? Do you find any impact on how you market your books.
The main adaptation I made was to get a day job again. 2009 was my best year ever as a freelance writer, but by the end of the year, the economic crash had really damaged the publishing business. Lines were being cut, editors fired, advances shrunk. Around the same time, ebooks started becoming more prominent, but publishers hadn’t quite figured out how they fit into the marketplace. As a result, 2010 and beyond were looking pretty grim, so I went back to working for somebody else. I still write all the time, just not quite as fast as when that was a full-time gig.
I was never writing at the level where I had publishers shelling out tens of thousands of dollars, or more, to promote my books, so have always had to do most of the promotion/marketing myself. The difference now is the rise of social media, which gives an author a platform from which to talk to readers and to try to find new ones. Unless an author is lucky enough to get a TV or movie deal or wind up on the New York Times bestseller list, readers have to be amassed one at a time. A person will see a book in the store, or online, scan the back cover, and decide to try it or not. Someone who likes one of the books might tell a friend, or post a review online, but then each person who gets that word-of-mouth recommendation or sees the review has to decide for him- or herself if the book looks like their cup of tea, and then even if they try it, they might or might not like it. So you win one reader at a time, which is a slow, often frustrating process. Ideally, there comes a point when you have enough regular readers to support you through your writing, but for the vast majority of writers, that never happens. I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to do it for a few years.
4. What advice would you give to someone trying to pursue a publishing career in today’s market?
My best advice is to write the best work you can, and then be patient. It’s still possible to have a career—sometimes a very good one—in publishing. The ease of self-publishing these days tempts a lot of people to put their work out there before it’s ready, and that doesn’t do them any good, because if someone does try a book and it’s bad, that reader isn’t likely to pick up the next one. Other people, of course, self-publish very good work, and a fortunate few can make a lot of money at it. My limited experience with self-publishing has not been that successful, so whenever possible I prefer to go with publishers who will pay me for the right to publish my work, and then will make the effort to get the books into bookstores everywhere. That’s the traditional path, and although it doesn’t work for everyone, it’s kept me pretty busy for the last 15 years.