I read a monograph recently that said that this was a terrible time to be a writer.
This is a great time to be a writer... either fiction or non. There are more publishers than ever. There is more media access than ever. There are emerging nations of new readers looking for material. There are more places to market intellectual property. Indeed, there is more opportunity than ever before for a writer or an artist, musician.... even poets... if they know a little about lyrics.
Why do you think there are so many people wanting to write... or "trying" to write? My take is because they see an opportunity to "make it."
How else does an unknown woman writer, on welfare (the dole) in the UK end up with more money than the royal family?
What I have said for years and years and years is that one problem we have in our society is that we don't have many GOOD writers or GOOD artists. You can debate the hell out of this, but bottom line, so much of the stuff that we are presented with is plain old unadulterated crap.
Write something really good. I mean really, really, really good (a Death of a Salesman, a Caine Mutiny, a Lord of the Rings, a Kill a Mockingbird, a What Color is your Parachute, a Grapes of Wrath, a Zen and Motorcycle Maint., or any of your favorite books) and if you work hard at it and do all you can to get it noticed, you will have A GOOD CHANCE for a huge success. I truly believe that. Hey. It works for 'pulp.' So why won't it work for 'quality.' John Grishem sold books out of the trunk of his car. He WORKED FOR IT. Most of his stuff is 'pulp.' How many authors (or publishers) are will willing to really WORK for it like John did?
I believe that our society DOES recognize quality. The problem is that we see so little of it from our "creative" intellectuals. It's a hell of a lot easier to write "another" murder mystery than something that takes some real "creativity".... like what a Hemingway or a Wouk might produce.
These are great times to be a writer or an artist or a musician. And because of it, everyone and their dog thinks they can be one... and the majority of them are just plain terrible. Thus, we are deluged with crap.
I don't for a minute buy the argument that it is TOTALLY our 'society to blame.' We're all here and when quality is presented to us (The Beatles, Rowling, Woodward, Miller, Williams, Vorst, etc.) we buy it.
Why aren't most "literary" writers rich and famous... or well-read? Maybe because they all sit on thier butt and do little to get their work noticed? You think?
We not only have to "sell" people on reading (as opposed to TV, GameBoy, X-Box etc.) but we also NEED quality content... and if the content is out there, I sure as hell don't know where it is coming from. All I see is crap.
Moan and groan all you want about how "good works" don't get sold. Then show me the "effort" made on the part of those creators to get them sold and I'll tell you again that the only place where success comes before work... is in the dictionary.Writers tell me "Quality won't sell." I ask them "How much work have you put in to selling it?" They tell me "That's the publisher's job." I don't disagree at all... except that it just does not happen.
First of all publishers don't care about quality. They care about profits. They have to. THEY take the risk! It's their jobs, homes, savings accounts on the line. Yes, it IS about the money!
And because it takes a fair amount of money to get into print, publishers in the USA have grown scared. It's all a "numbers game." They have followed the lead from the movie industry where you put out ten films knowing that six will fail, three will either break-even or make a tiny profit, and one will be successful enough to pay for all the others and still return a nice profit.
I've always wondered what would happen if publishers tried to 'push' GOOD books instead what I call 'crap.' I've always wondered how this business would work if there were either fewer publishers or just fewer books published... but those that had trees killed for them were quality works.
Well, I won't live to see that, especially in a society that rewards rap and hip-hop crap and an entire generation who has never seen much in the way of quality (beyond Harry Potter).
And why have they not seen it? Because no one 'pushes' it.
(Look how required-reading lists in high-school and college have been either watered down or eliminated. Why aren't students required to take 4 years of literature instead of PE in post-secondary education?)
It's not just the fault of publishers. I think those who want to write 'quality' are afraid of the work it will take to sell it. And THIS is WHY I say it's a great time to be a writer of "quality". It's much easier to learn how to do "quality" media and publicity than to write quality fiction or biography or history, etc.
Show me a writer who says "Screw the publisher, I'm going to make this happen on my own" and I'll show you a writer who will succeed.
Unfortunately the writers in that category.... are all writing crap (diet books, bogus self-help garbage, revisionist junk-history, shock-politics, etc.) They are the ones willing to WORK for it.
I'd love to see a bunch of writers (a collective maybe) who write 'good stuff' (as agreed upon by all) join forces, all contribute to a fund for media and publicity... not for their particular books, but to promote quality. In due time I'm sure their own books would do well (colleteral damage :-)) and we'd all be better off for it.
It's a great time to be a writer. It's too bad there are so few of them who know how to sell.
There is a whole world of people sick and tired of crap. Go find them. It's a lot of work... but what isn't?
Copyright 2006 by A. Canton and Adams-Blake Company, Inc. This piece may be freely copied and published in any media with proper attribution to the author and including his company and URLs.