Sunday, August 3, 2014

A golden age for writers, so why all the literary disdain?

Writers are a funny lot.

Most of you who know me know I've been writing in one form or another virtually my entire life. As a second grader I tried to write a story following the adventures of Billy the Fish, who was accidentally dropped from an aquarium into a creek and eventually made his way through rivers all the way to the ocean, and I've been putting together stories – fiction and otherwise – on paper and on computer screens ever since.

As I grew into early adulthood, and had fallen head-over-heels in love with creepy and dark fiction, I got it in my head I might one day turn into the next Stephen King. Of course, I was clueless as to how much work, talent, raw drive, work, determination, discipline, did I mention hard work, and yes even some luck, was needed to get anything into publication, much less reach the lofty perch shared by King and others of his stature.

Unlike others I've known over the years who have pursued their writing goals while holding day jobs in construction, teaching, retail, customer service, the law, or any number of other employment fields, I've written for a living. I've spent most of my adult life in the newspaper field, reporting, editing, managing. For a couple of years I left newspapering but kept writing nonfiction, penning articles for business magazines, education publications, and a few other specialty markets.

Along the way I have quit writing fiction, given it up for good, swearing never to go back. I've done that numerous times, sometimes out of frustration with the impossibly slow pace of magazines who purported to be professional but might take months to get back to you on a submission (if they ever did). Other times I felt I was wasting time, that even with publication the pay was pathetically low – the most I ever made from a piece of fiction someone else published was a couple of $150 pieces. Sometimes I had to quit because there simply wasn't enough of me to go around – as the sole bread winner in the house, with a big family (5 kids), my first priority was keeping us housed, clothed and fed, even if that meant working two jobs while freelancing for non-fiction publications on the side (kinda like holding a third job).

Still, I'd always come back, drawn to writing.

I've hooked up with a few writer groups over the years, and I've had the great fortune to be around those who were serious about the craft, who pursued writing doggedly, as if their lives depended on it. Some of those folks are now editors and publishers, mostly with small or specialty presses, others have gone on to see some success as writers, one or two who even now support themselves fully with significant contracts writing novels for one of the Big Five publishing houses.

There were days many of us would commiserate together, bemoaning the state of writing – particularly in the horror field – where it seemed unless you were related to a magazine owner or book publishing official, seeing your own work in publication was as likely as a trip to the moon. A number experienced what appeared to be near-misses, when an agent or Big Five publisher would show interest, string you along, then back away. I had my own experience along these lines a few years back when a couple of agents showed quite a bit of interest in a series of middle-grade books. Alas, it came to naught.

So it's puzzling to me to see some of those very same people, or others like them, be so openly critical of writers now making decent to good money through their own publishing efforts, assailing those indie writers as if they were some sort of affront to Western civilization.

Most of you probably have a Kindle or some similar e-reading device. Amazon is the big kahuna in this field, and definitely the pace setter, introducing technology that allows writers to easily upload and publish their works in e-format, and making it just as easy for readers to access that work, giving readers novels and other works at a fraction of the cost the Big Five boys charge while allowing writers to make significantly more on each purchase than one of the old Big Five publishers would have paid.

In the old days, most novelists with contracts through one of the Big Five publishers (then Big Six) were lucky if they made $5,000 in a year. More often than not the quality of a given submission to an agent or publisher had little to do with whether it saw publication. The marketing folks weighed in on whether a piece was easily marketable according to their guidelines. That was the chief, overriding concern for the so-called gatekeepers of the literary world.

In this new e-reader world a bit of democracy enters the equation. Anyone can write a novel and sell it through Amazon.

I know quite a few who have been doing this for a few years now, some making a few hundred dollars a month, some a few thousand, and I know a handful who are making six-figure annual incomes from their writing. I happen to know one fella who's annual income has inched higher than that.

Here's the part I don't get. Some of my old writer friends, and a few other writers I've come across, seem to really have a problem with those making a good living at independent writing/publishing. They spend their time pooh-poohing that success, saying these people aren't "real writers" (whatever the heck that means). When confronted with the success stories of those who are making good money at their craft, the response is often accusing those indie writers of somehow exploiting the system, discovering a publishing formula that generates money, but isn't real writing.

Sorry folks, but the writers I know making a nice living at this are exploiting one simple formula: They work damn hard (if you'll pardon my French). While some old-school legacy writers sit around, gazing at their navals, wasting time telling everyone how excruciating it is to produce a thousand words a day in a couple of hours of anguished writing, these folks spend their time working – sitting in front of a computer four, eight, even twelve hours a day, producing reams of copy. I know one individual who produces a novel every five to six weeks because he parks his butt in the chair and writes for hours upon hours upon hours every week.

And that, my friends, is the key. Hard work, long-term commitment (it doesn’t happen overnight), combined with a bit of marketing savvy (which is NOT rocket science, anyone can learn and do a little marketing), and a commitment to professionalism in your work. Yes, luck plays into it, and can be the difference between someone pulling down a six-figure income vs. making ten or twelve thousand as a nice little supplemental income.

Yet there are some in the writing field who simply won't accept that, who refuse to believe indie writers are "real writers," and who take every opportunity to bash those in the indie field.

I don't understand it. As I said, writers can be a funny lot. And sometimes a bit petty.

For me, I'd love to get a big-money offer from one of the Big Five publishers. I'd love to walk into a book store and see my work on the shelves there. I don't harbor any ill will toward those who have achieved that. But, I have to say I'm just fine doing indie thing.

My question to other writers is, why aren't you?


  1. I'm one of those "not real" writers who makes a very good living at it. I don't care what the literary snobs think of me, I laugh all the way to the bank.

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