Warm Bodies Author Isaac Marion On the Perception of Success


Your debut novel, Warm Bodies, took off to become an amazing success. It's been made into a film and translated into 25 languages. Yet, you've shared on your blog how the follow up title The Burning World did so poorly that your lost your publishing house, and your actual house - the roof over your head. Authors are often viewed as successful, even when our truth is something quite different. Your thoughts on that?

There's this idea that once someone achieves any level of success, they get lifted up to live among the gods and never have to struggle again. If you've heard of their work, they must be Famous, enshrined and protected by some vast corporation, so they certainly don't need you—an insignificant mortal!—to support them. It's been really eye-opening to see it from the inside and realize what a fable all that is. A lot of writers and musicians who are household names barely make enough to pay rent. Those Soundcloud rappers are renting all that bling!

Most artists are a lot more vulnerable than we imagine. And as our culture continues to devalue art and turn the idea of paying for it into a dorky anachronism, it's only getting sadder. I really encourage people to recognize the connection between what they support and what gets created. All it takes to put a bestselling author out of a job is one year of "I'll check that out later."

You put ten years into writing this series, and have chosen to bring the culmination - The Living - into print on your own, having them bound as hardcovers and signing each of the 3,000 copies. You came to this decision after looking into all the avenues available. Can you talk more about why this was the right choice for you as the author, and for this work as a whole?

It was a necessity that evolved into a choice. When Simon & Schuster dropped me I assumed that it'd be easy to find a smaller, weirder publisher who would recognize the opportunity. When a book sells 350,000 copies and its critically acclaimed sequel sells 5,000, it should be obvious that there's a glitch somewhere and whoever fixes that glitch could make a lot of money.

But what I discovered is that no one wanted to take on that challenge. No one was interested in the strange context around The Burning World's failure and no one had a vision for reigniting the series, it was all just numbers to them. I could have kept looking, tried even smaller houses, but I'd wasted a year already and I was fed up. I still had a lot of readers waiting for the end of the story and I just wanted to give it to them, career be damned. I'm still hoping for a wider release eventually, but for now I just want to get the conclusion out there so my readers and I can share these final moments.

Life as a creative is difficult. I know that from personal experience as well as having spent years talking to authors about their careers and hardships along the way. At the same time, I'm a farmer's daughter. One of my first jobs as a kid was a duty called "picking up rocks," which is pretty self-explanatory. What we do as writers is not physical labor, yet I would never argue that our lives are easy. What are your thoughts on the differences between physical and mental toughness and how they apply to our lives as writers?

Oh I know about Pick up Rocks. Farmer's son, here! Creative labor is exhausting in a very different way. If I have to dig twenty fence post holes in the rain, it's not fun, I'll get cold and wet and tired, but the job is clear: dig the holes. There's no question of "Will I be able to dig the holes? What if I get to the twentieth hole and my digger disappears?" And I don't have to invent a new kind of digger for every job! But ultimately, I think the toughness is the same. It's just a basic foundation of resilience, the idea of "This is the job and I'm going to do it."

A lot of people tell me they can never seem to finish any writing, they get halfway and then wander off, and I don't really know what to suggest for that problem because I think the real problem is further behind it. What really matters to you? Do you know why you're writing? Are you just following a whim that can be easily overwhelmed by the pull of Netflix? Or is there a fire inside you that has to come out? Writing is a conflict. The whole world is trying to talk you out of doing it. You have to become a bit of a hard-ass to slam the door in its face and get to work.

What's up next for you now that your series is finished?

I have several big ideas lined up waiting to be written but honestly, this thing is far from finished. It's going to be a long time before I can retreat from society and start writing again. My job for the next several months is going to be running around the world shouting about The Living. Even when I had a publisher this was an overwhelming task, but now that it's just me out here it's going to be all-consuming. I don't even want to let myself think about the next book yet, because it's calling to me, but The Living is the culmination of a decade of my life and I have to give it the parade it deserves.