WE HAPPY FEW...
Recently I had the opportunity to speak to a group of wonderfully bright and energetic college students about the wonderful, wacky , soul crushing world of writing. Specifically about how one goes about getting published. One of the comments I heard over the course of this invigorating event that really stuck with me was this.
"When are we getting rid of big publishers? When are we going to make publishing more accessible for everyone?"
One of the other writers who was attending the event fielded this question and explained that in China they have a unique system where individuals serialize their work and if a publisher likes it they approach them about collecting the serialization into a book. This may be one possible evolution of the publishing dynamic. Another person within earshot talked about self-publishing and the avenues that had opened. Another person mentioned writer collectives and communal publishing entities. But none of these answers seemed to satisfy the person who posed the initial question.
"Why can't everyone just get compensated equally for their writing?"
To be honest that last sentence is a fair bit of paraphrasing but essentially the person who posed the original question seemed to be asking why couldn't they write whatever they wanted and get paid a lot of money. A sort of socialistic infrastructure but with capitalistic rewards.
I didn't address the issue at the time because frankly it took me awhile to order my thoughts in a way that didn't involve screaming and gnashing of teeth. But now after some reflection and some wine let's try to address this query.
The idea is a noble one isn't? Anyone who fancies themselves a writer should be able to put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard and ignore all criticisms and editorial suggestions and have mysterious financial benefactors toss millions of dollars at them. Don't we all wish that was the case? But if wishes were horses beggars would ride.
Now before we go any further let me be clear. The current business model in respect to publishing has it's share of problems. As a black man who writes rural crime fiction I have had many doors slammed in my face. Hell, I have a lot doors that never opened to pay me the courtesy of then slamming in my face. However there is a dirty little secret in the arts. One that some of us, like the person who posed the question at the conference I attended never want to confront.
Some people are better at their chose art than you are.
Art is inherently subjective. Beauty is most definitely in the eye of the beholder. What one person thinks is remarkable another person wouldn't use to line a birdcage. However one would never say a fish is less of an important part of the ecosystem because it can't climb a tree. Thus we should accept the conceit that some of us are better at writing than others. And I am including myself in this axiom. There are literally dozens if not hundreds of authors whose work leaves me in awe and whose skills I know fare outstrip my own. I accept that. It doesn't diminish me as a writer. But talent is only one part of the equation.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer I admire for his talent and his drive. He is always hustling. Always signal boosting. Always trying to get better as a writer and an author. Hustle, drive, hard work can level the playing field for writers. Yet if we accepted the model that the person who posed that question wants us to adopt I feel as though hard work and talent no longer matter. Everyone regardless of skill or desire or drive would receive the same amount of monetary and literary adulation.
That to me in a word is insulting.
I know I am not the first or the last writer, of any genre, who has worked hard. The concept is inexorably tied to the endeavor. Writing can be gratifying. It can be exciting. It can even on rare occasions feel easy. But don't fooled. It is a mind searing, lonely difficult job that required discipline, dedication, education (and I'm not just talking about an MFA) and skill. It is an almost magical alchemy of imagination and grit. And not everyone can do it.
The same person who posed the question also remarked that they couldn't find the time to write.
I find that those two ideas are often time entwined. Give me a lot of money but I don't really have the time to write. But when I do write don't dare share with me anyways that my writing could improve.
The harsh truth is there are no participation trophies in this game. And lest you, gentle reader, think that this is a screed against Generation Z or millennials the person who posed the question was older than I am. And I'm no spring chicken.
Stephen King has a lot of great quotes about writing but the one that sticks with me the most is this
"You can approach the act of writing with nervousness , excitement , hopefulness, or even despair- the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenchedand your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take names , You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again. you must not come lightly to the blank page.
As I said before the publishing world has it's share of problems. Under represented groups not having the full support of publishers. Unequitable royalties and contracts. Shifting dynamics that seek to exclude some voices. But the one thing that I have seen in my short , short career. If you approach the work with seriousness and determination and a thick skin sometimes the cream will rise. This writer's life isn't for the faint of heart. It isn't for the dabblers. It's for the ones who apply their inherent talent and meld it with hard work. Who find the time to write. Who make the sacrifices. Who do not come lightly to the blank page. Those are the ones who get the rewards. Because they earned it. It's not for everyone......and everyone can't do it. But those who can are few......
A happy few. ….( with apologies to Henry V and St.Crispin)