Why you should not be a writer…

Writing is a joy. It’s an amazing way to bring things into existence that would otherwise only exist in our minds. It’s the closest we can come to imitating our creator God, and I believe He loves it when we strive to be like Him. After all, we were created in His image, right?

But there’s a disturbing trend in the writing industry. I’m watching my writer friends left and right experience burn-out at increasingly faster speeds. And I’ve heard more than one despair that they should just quit. I’d be  lying if I said similar thoughts haven’t crossed my mind over the past six months.

Here’s what writing used to be. A person would work really hard for years, perfecting their craft and writing their novel. They would slave hours upon hours editing those words to a brilliant shine. They’d send it out to agents and publishers hoping to get someone interested. Eventually…success! Someone sees potential in the work and takes it on. The book is published. The reading world recognizes what it means for someone to slave over a book and what it means that a publisher has confidence enough to present it to the world. They respect the author for their hard work.

Let me repeat that last line. They respect the author for their hard work.

There’s the problem. That doesn’t happen anymore. There is no respect. People expect authors to BEG them for interview opportunities. They expect free copies of the book for reviews. They expect you to pay THEM for promotional opportunities. PAY! And even when you try to give things away as promotion, often most people don’t even care.

The system is so backwards. Maybe it’s because of the self-publishing craze, I don’t know. Maybe there are just too many people out there claiming to be published authors. Being published isn’t special anymore. Maybe there’s too much crap out there to make writing respectful. But authors, real traditionally published authors, deserve recognition for all the hard work they’ve put in and all the years of waiting and agonizing for someone to take a chance on their books.

It’s shameful. Recently I was contacted by the librarian of my hometown library. They were having a big literary expo to celebrate the library’s one hundredth anniversary. They were going to have a big open house with a panel of authors to speak to the crowd.

She told me I could pay $20 to set up a table and sell my book like the other local craft people. Seriously?? I’m a TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED AUTHOR! There aren’t that many of us in this little bitty town, population 6,500! I should be ON the author panel, not piddling my wares begging people to buy from the poor local author. And I certainly should not have to pay for the opportunity IN MY HOMETOWN!

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on, listing many such experiences I’ve had. The system is broken. Small-press authors have to do their own marketing in a hostile environment that doesn’t recognize their legitimacy as authors. It’s practically impossible.

I’m looking for a way to fix the system…or at least by-pass it. There’s got to be a fix for this. Us small-press authors shouldn’t have to put up with this. We’ve worked too hard to be treated as illegitimate by the reading community and as embarrassing step-children by high profile authors.

I’m brain storming. I ask you to help me. Authors – what can we do to change this status quo? Readers – what can you do to return respect to hard working writers?

That’s my rant for today. Let me go get my paper bag.

-k

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6 thoughts on “Why you should not be a writer…”

  1. I wish I knew, working promotion is hard enough without adding to that the need to pay for that promotion. One thing we can do is read each other’s work and promote one another. Not easy, I know but we should. I just had a thought as I sat here commenting. Perhaps, a website, or Facebook page, or a Twitter where writers can post their works, I am just thinking out loud….

    1. That’s been tried many times. The problem is that you create an “echo chamber,” bouncing the same things off the same people. Eventually you find yourself spinning your wheels in the mud and never getting anywhere new.

  2. Kevin, you bring up good points. As a small press publisher, it is hard to get the authors you represent into stores, into venues, into events where they don’t have to pay.

    I have found several small town bookstores – independent stores – who will give an author a chance if they like your work. But there are not many I have found will do this.

    It pays to have a gimic. Something to break the silence (avoidance) between potential customers who want to walk past your table, but don’t because of the gimic.

    On the other hand, being a writer is a lonely pursuit. You create, try for publication, and if you don’t fit the image of what is popular, few will take a chance on you. Even 50-100 years ago authors had to create buzz over their books, just like today.

    I see the new self-publishing movement allowing some of the unique works to be seen if the authors fight hard enough. It is similar to the music scene. If your music doesn’t fit the norm, you can’t get a CD. But now, cutting a CD in a true recording studio is not cost prohibitive and many are doing this. Some fabulous works, unique and original are coming out.

    But just as authors and musicians get discouraged, I don’t see that much has changed. There have always been gate keepers and the true purpose of a gate keeper is to keep people out who don’t fit the norm.

    That is true for a lot of writers and only persistence will bring about success.

  3. I think a lot of it has come about because of the availability of “free” access to so much entertainment. I put “free” in quotes because it’s only free to the consumer. There are still advertisers and sponsors who make things happen, but consumers want a bargain. They pay 99 cents to rent a movie or $9.99/mo for unlimited access to movies that cost millions to produce.

    Authors started off giving away samples of their writing to entice, but now whole books are given away under the guise of marketing. It may work for bigger publishers, where giving away a few hundred copies means gleaning thousands and thousands of sales, but it doesn’t work for small press.

    And yes, I see a lot of us simply not being taken seriously. I’ve been very fortunate to have friends, the library, and local businesses get excited over my book. But I’ve been disappointed by some who seem to look at the writing as though it’s just no big deal.

    Another thing I’ve found, regarding the general, non-writing public: they have no idea how little it pays unless you’re a big name. Seriously. When my husband told his friends I’d written and published a book, they were all like, “Wow, you’re going to be rich!”

    I’ll wait while you stop laughing….

    Seriously, a lot of readers think we can afford to give away books because we’re making money hand over fist. Sigh….

  4. I feel your pain, Keven. For the first time in years I actually seriously considered quitting writing. It’s not that I don’t love what I do, it’s just that it takes a massive amount of time and energy to produce a novel of publishable quality. And then there’s the blogging, interviews, research, cover design, not to mention spending time with your family and holding down a stressy full-time job to make ends meet. There are only so many hours in a day.

    I know sites like Facebook are important marketing tools but they do irk me a little because it feels like I’m in a market square full of farmers but no customers. I seldom talk about my book anymore on there because, like you said, all you hear after a while is echoes. And I’m pretty sure people get bored hearing me talk about the same thing. I love discussing writing (specifically, my writing) but it becomes a monologue after a while. Which is why I think the Cheesecake site is such a good idea.

    The best piece of advice I received was from Cat in response to my comment to her that I wished good reviews translated into good sales. Her advice was to think long-term. People who like my earlier work will probably invest in later books, plus more will join as they see my body of work grow.

    I think that in traditional publishing it was harder to get a contract, but it did mean a better chance at making a career out of writing. But, even then, there was no guarantee of success. Publishing houses invested more marketing cash in those books they expected to do well. A perfect example is Philip K. Dick. He was published and a prolific writer, but never had much financial success. I remember reading a piece by another well-known novelist who said the author’s job was to build a following of loyal readers. To be successful, a writer has to work hard to find and keep their readers. He owes it to his readers to work hard. He must win their trust, and that takes time.

    Well, that’s my 0.015 Euro cents worth. Nothing new, but I feel better for sharing :-).

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