4.11.2013

To All the Hand-Wringing Doomsday-Worrying Tea Leaf-Reading Publishing "Experts"

My Amazon rank is falling!!
You should be writing books.

Not sitting at your desk typing out yet another fevered missive to the author's blogosphere about how publishing is doomed, writers are being forced into poverty by Big Evil Corporations and pirates and libraries, and soon we will all stand by and watch helplessly as our livelihoods, which once afforded the likes of Patricia Cornwell to buy millions in real estate and helicopters, are reduced to a copyright-less exercise in pauperism.

Instead, you should be too busy working on your latest fictional enterprise to even give more than a passing nod to the notion that your career is going down the toilet. Because you know what else will make your career go down the toilet?

Not writing books.

I understand it's hard to make a living as a writer these days. Perhaps harder than ever in some respects. But I think people seem to be taken in by the Stephen King/James Patterson/Stephenie Meyer/JK Rowling fantasy. That if THEY have made millions, or your good writer buddy has made enough money off his self-published books that he was able to quit his day job, then certainly...

Of course, that's a nice corner of bullshit to paint yourself into. It's like any other industry out there. You have the gods at the top, while the rest of us spend a lifetime shoveling our shit in the shadows, known only to a few generous souls who are willing to kick a quarter to us for our efforts from time to time. I'm sure that very talented saxophone player down in the subway who plays to people who treat him like so much window dressing they pass by on their way to their cubicles every day (while dropping their spare pocket change into his open instrument case), or the guy who sets up his easel and a couple chairs near a city farmer's market with  a sign that says Your Caricature Here, $10, don't spend much time worry-warting about the status of their chosen art forms every five minutes. They're too busy doing what they love and trying to stay alive in the process.

Poe is getting real tired of your shit
Lest you forget, you chose to be an artist, and artists are traditionally quite poor, or they will never make enough money strictly from their art to support themselves. You know that guy Mozart? He was buried in an unmarked grave, and at the time of his death was not particularly regarded as the genius we call him today. Charles Dickens made decent money, but he also had a wife and ten kids to feed. And a mistress to support. Vincent Van Gogh took his own life, penniless. Edgar Allan Poe was probably the most quintessential starving artist of his time, having not made a dime off most of his work. And Oscar Wilde, a flamboyant man who lived mainly off of the generosity of his friends and lovers, has been famously quoted as saying that he would die as he lived, beyond his means.

So you know what? All this stuff you're reading about, all this apocalyptic "the age of the author is dead" claptrap from Scott Turow and others, is a complete waste of time. The sky is not falling, at least not anymore than it has been. If you're banking on your monumental talent as an entertainer making you rich, or even making you enough money to not need income from other sources... well, that's your first problem. You shouldn't be banking on anything other than churning out the best work you possibly can and then marketing the living shit out of it. And if the money should follow, hooray for you.

Riches... or even appreciation or plain old recognition are rare in this business and always have been. If you're lucky enough to have made enough royalties from your work to sustain your lifestyle, good for you. Be grateful and keep doing whatever you're doing. If you're not one of those lucky few, keep working. Because as tempting as it is to gaze into the crystal ball and divine The Future of Publishing (or movie making or music or painting or interpretive dance) and find reasons outside yourself for why your work isn't selling, the only thing it really does is take you away from what you should be doing: writing.