I attended a lovely writing conference. The best value of these get-togethers is often not in the classes, but in the networking, either by finding an agent, getting useful feedback or networking with writer allies who can hook you up with what you need (e.g. a graphic designer, beta readers, a photographer, an inexpensive website developer, software you didn’t know existed etc.,…)
A couple of instructors at this conference gave me some really great technical information. Much of the discussion was about stuff you’ll find on this very blog (Shameless plug. Subscribe and send love.) Much of the talk was yet another rehash of commonly known information (e.g. get yourself an editor for your self-published work). A bunch of it was stuff you see spread across the internet endlessly for free (e.g. a rehash of the Amanda Hocking/Barry Eisler unfoldment).
(Heh.Unfoldment. I like that.)
There was also some bad advice. But today, let’s focus on the health of the publishing industry: It’s sick. Really sick. Especially for the ones upon whose brains and bones rest the cracked foundation: writers.
Of course, it has been thus for a long time. Even when it was healthy, publishers operated on thin margins and predicted imminent doom. Many of those publishing companies anticipating the end were right; I worked for several that are long closed. (I didn’t kill ‘em, but I helped hold ‘em down. Good times.)
We all know the common complaints today: fewer editors, the corporate profit-push squeezing the midlist, the crash of the bookstore (ask your parents, they’ll tell you what they were), the discount tyranny of the chains and the crush of all that self-publishing pressure and the ennui that sets in when you realize you’re a rusty cog in an old machine that needs a lot of parts replaced.
I’d like to suggest a new measure of the health of the industry:
How many jobs do the major players have?
A short, relevant aside: I am currently a part-time massage therapist, columnist, feature writer, writer-writer, blogger and editor. Also, I’m a house husband and stay-at-home dad. That’s plenty of hats. Okay, I’m a freak, but not as much as I used to be it seems. And I’m cutting down my number of roles soon (Hint: keeping the sexy wife, brilliant kids and the horror writing that chills my
victims’ readers’ blood.)
Aside over. To business:
Now watch what happens when we look at instructors at writing conferences:
People at the top of their game aren’t making their living from writing.
Of all the people I encountered at the writing conference, two were at it full-time. Andrew Pyper wrote a book I loved called The Killing Circle and gave a funny, charming and wise speech. Wayson Choi spoke briefly and he’s also plenty charming. (Just read Not Yet, liked it.)
Mr. Choi gave the same encouragement he did last year: You aren’t alone in this. We are all together in this. (As if writing and actually getting published is equal to a struggle with a terrible disease and all caregivers and support for the afflicted must be rallied.) As if the diagnosis is in and it’s not good. The doc is giving you that look that says you might make it, but the treatment is so horrible and there is so much pain to endure, refusing to undergo medical torture is a worthy consideration. Getting better (or published) is sort of like winning the lottery.
(Trivia bonus: Wayson Choi is not only published but once won $100,000 in a lottery. He also survived terrible lung and cardiac problems so he might be the sweetest, luckiest sumbitch you’ve ever heard of. Sure, lots of people win big prizes and survive heart attacks, but to be published? That’s rare!)
But are writing conferences really about getting published? There’s a lot of amateur desperation in that big hall. Nice people, but not all writers. Dilettantes and the terminally confused are also a large component from what I could tell.
I don’t count delusion against people, by the way. To be a writer at all, you must be deluded…well, for fiction writers, it’s a job requirement.
Are writing conferences helping these people get published, or are they just another income stream or promotional avenue for poverty-stricken writers? Several presenters used their seminar teaching position to flog their books and editorial services pretty hard (though I didn’t mind the guy who had the grace to be funny about being spammy.) The rest were so fed-up, sad or desperate they were perspiring audibly.
When the “stars” in an industry have to spend a lot of time doing non-writing activity to eat, that’s another indicator of an industry on life support.
If any other industry had this much necessary moonlighting (go ahead, name any one you like), you wouldn’t want your kid on that career path. Imagine if all the civil engineers also had to work as mail carriers and mimes to avoid starvation. Suppose all the doctors were also telemarketers/poets/screenwriters/dog walkers/financial advisors/supply teachers, just so they could cobble together one living income from all their part-time jobs. There’s nothing wrong with any of these jobs but…
But if you have to do it all…well, my point is, sorry…you should quit.
If you think you can quit, then good. You’re free to move on to something that could give you the security of three squares, dignity, hope for the future and some level of satisfaction.
If you can’t quit, either….
Maybe my writing as a disease analogy wasn’t so inept after all.
Filed under: publishing, Rant, Rejection, Useful writing links, Writers, writing tips, Andrew Pyper, Publish, publishing is sick, self-publish, Wayson Choi, writer, writing, you should quit