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March 22, 2004

Authors Whining

Since I seem to be writing about things writeresque the last couple of days, allow me to comment on Salon's lead story today, in which a book writer details how publishing has broken her heart, and has caused her to -- brace yourself -- get a day job:

Dear Author:

Aw, shut up.

Perhaps it's because my first exposure to the fiction market was a genre market (i.e., generally not a whole lot of money to throw around), or that my introduction to the book world was informational non-fiction (see above), or maybe it's because, I don't know, I think I would go insane if I put all my writing income eggs into one basket. But the point of fact is, I never expect to support myself from writing books alone. I just don't.

I love writing books, fiction and non-fiction both, and I want to do it the rest of my life. But given the amount I've made from my books so far -- and I have sold six, so I figure I'm officially not a novice author anymore, even if it is still reasonably early in my career (I hope) -- I'd be a fool to give up my various rather more regular writing gigs (i.e., my day jobs), which allow me a more consistent income. That income pays my mortgage and my bills and allows me not to freak out about what the hell I'm going to do if my next book doesn't sell to a publisher. If my next book doesn't sell to a publisher I still get to eat and have electricity. That's not bad.

The article also reveals the preciousness that some of the author clan seems to have regarding jobs not involving writing books. Clearly this writer sees a day job as the mark of failure, an idea that will come as a mildly offensive surprise to the thousands of authors who see themselves as successful and yet also manage to hold down a day job as well. Yes, maybe authors don't like the idea that they might need to hold down two jobs, but I don't have time for that sort of stupid thinking. My mother consistently held down two really crappy jobs for most of my childhood -- one cleaning the houses of other people and the other varying depending on time and circumstance, but generally shitty regardless -- and all she got out of it was a few bags of groceries at the end of the week and the knowledge she'd fed and clothed her kids once again. How horrible for writers that they might have to consider lowering themselves like that when all they get out of it is a published book.

Articles like this just enrage the hell out of me and make me think that my tribe is populated by jerks with a sense of entitlement the size of a hot air balloon (and as subject to the random winds). Are authors as a class this disconnected to the real world? My personal experience tells me no, but then again most of the writers I know are genre writers, who despite their fanciful subject matter seem to be grounded in the realities of the economics of writing books. I doubt this woman writes science fiction or romance.

Of course the article is also running in Salon, which has a history of chronicling the "misfortunes" of unfathomably privileged people who by all rights should be beaten in a public square for their heedless lack of clue. This article is right up taht particular alley, a far-flung reminder that Salon's staff and contributor list of overfed liberal twits are still living in a 1999 mindset in which clever people are given stupid sums of money for no especially good reason, and are shocked beyond belief at the prospect of a world that is not, in fact, their personal teat, endlessly alternating between skim lattes and Diet Cokes.

I do feel sorry for this author, but not the way I'm supposed to. I'm mostly embarrassed for her that her cri de coeur comes off as the lament of someone who simply does not understand why the world does not love her and give her money and fame. I'm certain that this was not her intent: I do believe she's warning authors coming up not to make the mistakes she has in assuming that writing is still valued, and that the business of writing (that is to say, the publishing world itself) can still support the writer. To that end, I disagree with the first -- people still love to read -- and am neutral on the second. Yes, I would love for my book writing to support me and my family. I invite any of my publishers to make that happen. I assume it never will.

Paradoxically, this does not chain me down; I think it frees me to write what I want and not worry about anything other than the writing itself. To put it another way: Because I am not overly worried about money, I got to write a popular book on astronomy (now in its second printing. Yay!) -- a life goal for me because I love astronomy and want to help other people love it as much as I do. I also got to write two novels pretty much exactly as I wanted to write them. They may be good or they may be bad (we'll see), but I didn't have to worry about anything other than writing books I'd want to read.

This is freedom as a writer. I don't know that I'd trade it.

Posted by john at March 22, 2004 09:58 AM

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