This is a serious question.
Does any writer really have a good sense of where they stand in their field, and how they’re regarded by readers and peers? I know I don’t.
I remember years ago, attending my first signings and cons and getting used to that very strange experience of chatting with people whose names I’d only ever seen in magazines and on the spines of books. Getting used to the fact that they were real people. Weird.
Did they have the doubts I have about myself now? Did Rob Holdstock and Chris Evans realise I was some awe-struck young fan who happened to have sold a couple of stories and looked up to them as pinch-me-they’re-not-quite-real figures? Or were they, as I find myself now, insecure and unassuming when talking to all the youngsters appearing on the scene, wondering if they’ve even heard of me or my work?
Does a writer ever feel established? Secure?
Me? I’ve been doing this thing for over twenty years. I’ve had a dozen novels published, 70+ short stories, and masses of non-fiction. But do I feel established? Hell, no.
Am I a writer with actual fans? Are there people who look out for my next story, and my next book? I’m not fishing for compliments or reassurance here: I really have very little feel for what my profile is, of where I fit.
Here’s my best guess: I’ve been knocking around for years, so there are probably quite a few people who at least recognise my name in passing. I’m probably the kind of writer where readers think, “Oh, I’d forgotten about him.” I think readers would expect decent stories from me and I hope I can sometimes surprise them with a good’un. I’m probably more respected among people within the field, rather than beyond: my books generally pick up good reviews, but there’s rarely much buzz. I’ve been guest at conventions, but rarely top-line. I’ve been in Year’s Best anthologies, but rarely on shortlists. I’m there, or thereabouts, is what I am.
What does it matter, other than in terms of ego? There’s the curiosity value, I guess: I think we all like to know how others regard us. And it’s nice to feel that I’m at least thereabouts. For me the most important thing is audience, and being thereabouts means that my work gets out there in front of people. I want them to read what I write, and to respond to it, and I want to carry on finding those readers for as long as I have things to write.
So who am I? I don’t know. I really don’t know.