The Price of Independence

cover,jpegI recently “celebrated” my 52nd birthday and, not unusually, I think, spent part of the day musing and reflecting on my life arc, decisions made, paths chosen.

It can be a somber, sobering process, this kind of self-evaluation, and, inevitably, I get around to my writing.

Thirty years as a professional author and not much of a dent made. Black Dog Press, my imprint (described as a “micro-press” on my Saskatchewan business license) barely scrapes by. It’s no coincidence that I usually publish my titles in the early spring, right after the annual check from the Public Lending Rights folks arrives. It just about pays for each new release.

And let’s be honest, my books sell very modestly; outside a small coterie of readers, I am virtually unknown. I sent out something like 45 copies of my last book, Disloyal Son, to newspapers, magazines, assorted literary folk, receiving precisely three polite acknowledgements and no reviews. Not one. One mystery magazine emailed me, thanking me for sending a copy their way and offering to sell me a full-page ad that could maybe/possibly run in the same issue as the review (hint, hint). I didn’t have money for the ad and they didn’t end up publishing a review. It’s the way things work these days. Kirkus Reviews? Publishers Weekly? For the right price you can commission a four-star review and laudatory blurbs…never mind that no one has even glanced at the book in question.

Publishing is a dirty business, there’s no denying it.

And it’s hard to stay positive, to keep on keeping on, when you know the deck is stacked, the marketplace flooded with a quarter million new releases every year, a clammer of dissonant voices begging to be heard, a hellish, caterwauling chorus.

But it’s the work, that joyfulness I feel when everything is clicking, sentences and paragraphs almost being dictated to me, that’s what makes it worthwhile. As long as I’m able to put pen to paper, as long as those words don’t dry up, inspiration fleeing from me, I think I can endure almost anything.

Creation is everything to me. As soon as I’m done a project, I’m ready to move on, tackle another challenge. And that’s why I don’t spend much time mourning the poor sales of my last novel or short story collection, or grind my teeth down to the gums as I watch their rapid plummet to the bottom of Amazon’s sales rankings. Those four-dollar royalty checks? Hey, bring ’em on.

Just…keep the words coming. In good times and bad. Darkness and light. Ecstasy and despair.

Anything but that screaming silence.




  1. Pam Bustin

    Hey Cliff
    To hit “like” on this is… one of the oddities of this world of the interweb… I hit LIKE as a way to say, “Amen, Brother.” and to show my appreciation of this post and of you, your blog and your work.
    I hit 50 this year – much to my amazement.
    It’s been a rough year… roughest because of seemingly vast stretches of time when the words are NOT flowing for me.
    I hang on.
    Knowing…. though it often feels like merely HOPING on the darkest days… that the words and my ability to SIT down and WRITE will return.

    Hat’s off to you, my friend. For carving out your own path.
    Long may you continue!

    go easy ~p

  2. Cliff Burns

    “Never give up, never surrender.”

    The indie’s mantra.

    Don’t be ashamed of dreaming, aspiring, imagining. Refuse to apologize for having the courage to live life on your terms.

    Yours’ is not the easy way, but it’s the right one. The only one. For you.

    Keep livin’ creatively, kiddo.

  3. Pam Bustin


    The truth of this, “Yours’ is not the easy way, but it’s the right one. The only one. For you.”
    has landed with a great gonging followed by a deep silence in the very middle of my being.

    Thank you.
    I do forget.

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