Monday, April 05, 2010

Who Needs Integrity?

"So, let's say that the publisher is the wholesaler who peddles the goods to the consumer, either directly or through a retailer. The author supplies the wholesaler."

She examined me with scorn. "That's a horrible way to look at it. What about art?"

What about art? I always ask fellow writers about their goals. Without exception, serious writers say: "To be read."

But when we start talking market, they become flustered and angry, feeling as though someone is trying to control their creativity. Yep, it's sad when the real world intrudes upon the fantasy, when we realize that writing is hard work and when we understand that compensation is often based on market forces such as supply and demand.

"I want to be read, but I don't want to compromise my integrity," she said.

"You find a need and you fill that need," I replied. "That's why you look at submission guidelines for publishers and why you examine what your audience wants. I can appreciate integrity, but how much integrity do you need to masturbate? Isn't that what a writer is doing when he or she writes for herself? The person who says 'I write what I want to write,' is a person whose gone blind and, or, has hair on his palms."

"You're crude," she said.

"I'm just expressing integrity."

"There has to be more than the market. I spent a good deal of money on a college degree. My MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) is worth more to me than an editor's red marks on my manuscript."

"That's the problem with going back to school, eventually you have to re-enter the real world and actually find application for what you've learned. You know, I once did a search for MFA and the job market. Pretty much the only real place for an MFA to use that degree is in education. Unfortunately, higher education is a hard nut to crack, especially since many schools are hiring less and less full time instructors and instead going with adjuncts who they can work harder and pay less..without benefits."

"You really are a cynical sonovabitch."

"I'm just channeling my inner Raymond Carver," I said. "Or one could find work somewhere in the shrinking publishing industry. Maybe work in helping edit a magazine. But then that takes us back to the marketplace, doesn't it?"

"I just want to write," she said.

"I want to be a movie star," I answered.

Mr. Demille?


SQT said...

*Just* writing is great-- if you don't want to make any money.

Angie said...

What you said, exactly. [nod]

A writer who only wants to be read can write whatever they want and post it on the internet. Leave comments on and you'll even get feedback. My fanfic, posted for free on LJ, gets a very nice stream of comments. Although even there it depends what you're writing -- more popular fandoms (based on source material) get more comments than tiny fandoms, and if you're writing something romantic, more popular pairings get more comments than less popular ones. But still, taking money out of the equation makes it much easier to be read, if that's your goal. (And even without comments you can install a hit tracker and see who's actually reading your stuff, whether they comment or not.) Writers who say they just want to be read, but then complain that no one will buy their work are fooling themselves, or think they're fooling me/you/us.

I've even run into writers who claim that they write Only For Themselves, that they don't care whether anyone reads their fiction or not. And yet they post it online, in public. I call bullshit -- if they were writing only for themselves, there'd be no need for their stories to ever leave their hard drive.

I want to write what pleases me to write, yes. That's one of the reasons I write in such a tiny niche market, for the most part -- that's what pleases me, and there simply isn't a big New York market for that genre.

Even among the small e-pubs, though, there's a hierarchy of sales, and my publisher isn't one of the ones on top, sales-wise. I could target one of the big houses and probably make more money, sure, but the big houses tend to all position themselves as erotic romance publishers, which means they require a lot -- I mean a lot -- of sex in their stories. I've talked to writers who were told to add sex, up to a sex scene in every other chapter. I could do that, but I wouldn't enjoy it, so I don't. My own publisher, for all their middle of the road sales record, will take anything which fits their identity -- GLBT fiction. Most of what they publish is romantic and/or erotic, yes, but they will and have published books with no sex at all. I value the freedom to add sex how and when I please, rather than to spec; it's worth it to me to make less money if I can write what I want, as I want.

If money is important to a writer, then fine, there's nothing wrong with that. But they should own that desire, and work toward it without griping about how the world should support their Artistry, just because it's art and that makes it all special.


Anonymous said...

I think the Mr. DeMille comment about sums that conversation up.

I once had one of my more artistic friends ask what I wanted to get out of my writing. I said, "A paycheck.

He looked at me with horror, his eyes filled with the fear that I would become a sell-out. "Would you write teen vampire fiction if a publisher asked?"

"Yes. Yes, I would. And I would be damn proud too, because it was my teen vampire fiction."

In my opinion, a paycheck for writing sellable fiction rather than "art" is better than a paycheck for doing any other job.

Christina said...

I found that new writers don't want to hear this. I've stopped giving advice in forums because it always comes back to "You are killing my dream" etc. I feel like saying, "No, I'm being realistic about the industry and the business of writing. You aren't." But then I feel childish, so I just stopped giving advice period. People don't want to know about the hard work that goes into this. Eventually they'll see if they try for a paying market.

Charles Gramlich said...

The brutal honesty is that none of us are doing it for the money. Of if we are doing it for the money, we're idiots because we're not making enough to wipe our own ass with.

Angie said...

Charles -- I think the problem starts when someone wants to write what they want to write, but they want money too, and get whiny when they don't get it.

I want money for my writing, sure. I also know that the odds are against my ever making very much, and I'm okay with that. If money were my number one goal, then sure, there are a lot of easier ways of making it, with much better odds of success. But when writing is the number one goal and making money at it is the number two (or at least somewhere up toward the top of the list), that can cause problems for writers who are operating based on how they think the industry should work, rather than how it actually does work. It's that whole playing-by-fantasy-rules thing that makes people stupid.


Charles Gramlich said...

Angie, oh I agree, and I always write first for the pleasure AND for the money. I just realized a long time ago that if money were really my primary motive I'd be going about this thing a lot different.

Stewart Sternberg said...

SQT, thanks for the card by the way. As for the "just" writing, I think the issue, as I'll address in a moment, isn't money as much as it is being published.

Angie,I think it's wonderful that people write for themselves and are content with that. And as I'll address Charles in a moment, I think that the issue isn't money, but being published and distributed across a wider spectrum.

Christine, we all have egos. What better salve for ego than to be told you are good enough with a pay check? Or by having someone send you an email or letter, thanking you for what you've written, or blasting you for it.

Christina, yep. Yep. People have idealized views of the writing profession.

Charles, you are correct. No one does it for the money. But money is some measure of value. If we are rewarded with being published in a magazine or sell a book that has some level of distribution, then that is a satisfactory reward. Actually, I take that back, I think money is there for the person who is willing to write non-fiction in the forms of essay, grants, and newsletters, etc.

Rick said...

Writers seem to take themselves so seriously. We were having dinner at this couple's house a few weeks ago, and the wife is a union carpenter. The husband is an accountant. So the four of us are talking about the carpentry the lady does and I said, "Wow. That must be really cool to be able to build things." She says, "It is. But if you want to see some quality woodworking, you should see the stuff our next door neighbor makes. He makes fantastic cabinets and furniture." So I asked, "Is he a carpenter like you?" And she says, "No, he's a truck driver. He just loves woodworking." So I asked, "Does he sell his stuff." And she said, "No, he just does it because he likes to do it."

If these folks were writers, the lady would be saying she was a professional and she studied the requirements for the job, etc., and she even gets paid for her work. She might have said the truck driver wasn't a real woodworker, because nobody was buying his stuff. You can't be a quality woodworker if no one buys your stuff or sits in the chairs you build, can you?

Carpenters are okay to talk to about their craft- they don't spend a lot of time positioning each other.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Rick, carpenters don't have to listen to those who work in wood whine because no one will sit in their chair or use their cabinets. But don't kid yourself, let one of the truckers who fools around with wood try and take a way a job from a union shop and he'll get a brick through his windshield.

Jon said...

Write for yourself. Write for art's sake. Write for your passion. If you write to earn a living, you'll starve. Do I want to see a check for a story? Hell, yes. Do I need the cash? Hell, no. Money? It's just a way of keeping score.
What moves me? Just the notion that some person, somewhere is sitting with my story in her/his hands, my words sifting into their brain. I imagine that they might smile. If that doesn't affect you more than a fifty dollar check, well, I guess we're just different.