I confess that, not having come up through fandom in the US, I was a many-years published writer when I first got called a “dirty old pro.” Interestingly it was the same year that it seemed to be fashionable to accuse me of selling out and of writing for money… even by other people who wrote for money.
I haven’t thought about it in a long, long time. But lately there have been a series of events that contributed to rub me the wrong way like a stone in my shoe. Nothing that would get me to the “argh” level, but a bunch of little things that just annoyed me. People calling other people “hacks” because they write for a living, say. Or people claiming that those who write this or that “aren’t real writers.” And then yesterday, in the Passive Guy’s excellent blog, as they were discussing a writer’s disgust with the current traditional field and prospects of making it (in other words someone who is where I was) some young lady (Oh, I hope to heaven she’s young) opined that we writers would write anyway and that in any case “no one can hope to make a living from writing.” And I blew up, which is something I REALLY don’t like to do in other people’s blogs.
Kris Rusch has talked about writers “liking” to work for free. I don’t completely agree with her post, simply because well… yeah, I give things away free here and on Amazon. I do it for a reason. Kris is better known than I am. I figure the short story a week (tab at the top) and Witchfinder might bring in people to read my other books and stories, particularly the indie published ones (Goldport Press) which pay me a lot more than the traditional stuff right now. And some of you have been kind enough to donate for Witchfinder, which, of course, keeps it going. Also, I’ve discovered that giving away some things on Amazon increases sales not only of that item but of all others vaguely related.
But these are not so much “giveaways” as loss leaders. And mark my words, should I find that Witchfinder, when it goes up (probably end of April at the rate the writing is going) sells no better than my other “indie” properties, I won’t give away another novel. And same for short stories, should they not promote my other short work. (Which means shouldn’t the sales on that increase.) (OTOH if Witchfinder sells massively better than the other stuff, I will do a novel chapter a week as long as it works.)
I hear you saying “But don’t you like to write this stuff and see our reaction?”
Well, yes and no. Yes, I love writing and having instant feedback. That is why I did the Austen fanfic during one of the darkest times in my career, when I thought I’d NEVER ever ever get published. But note – I did Austen fanfic, not original stuff. I did it when I felt like – and wrote maybe 1k words a week, if I was in the mood – I barely proofread (my early stories have so many contradictions, they’re pretzels) and I didn’t ANGST over them. I posted, I got comments, I painted walls and fixed the house (we were living in a house that we’d bought in need of a lot of fixing) I walked with the kids, I took weekends off. It was a hobby. Some people do crochet or embroider (okay, I do both of those too), some people take up ceramic painting. I satisfied my need to write with minimum effort. And for no money.
But that lasted maybe six months. Mind you, I needed those six months (for one I was also recovering from severe illness.) After that, I decided not to give up and started trying to write for publication again. That’s a completely different endeavor: I started studying books, again, not just reading them for fun – figuring out techniques and how people did what. I started working nine to five again… and occasionally till five in the morning, while my family sleeps. I started having writers/critique meetings again. I held myself to a production schedule. And I worked towards being paid, which meant proofreading, consistency reading, professional presentation, etc.
In a year after that, I sold my first short story to see print (I’d sold one before. Eight times. Long story.) And in another year after that I sold my first novel.
Since then, writing has been my job. And like anyone with a job, I expect to be paid.
Mind you, my expectation is based on the idea that I’m better than the average Joe-schmo, off the street; that the work, study and application I put into this make a difference.
This is not to say, btw, that some of the fan writers, notably on the Austen board aren’t very good. Sofie Skapski who wrote A Touch Of Night with me, is one such. BUT the essence of fan writing is that stories will stay unfinished if life intervenes, that you write only when you feel like, and that ultimately you need another job to survive. (Sofie is a very talented artist. Any of you who decide to friend her on FB, she often posts pictures of her art. And I’m very lucky, because she sends me lovely little paintings for xmas.)
Also, as a note, it took me thirteen years of steady application to break into the field. I will grant you a lot of this was less studying the craft – or at least the reason it took me so long was not so much that I didn’t know the craft (How do I know that? Because I’ve now sold two of the novels that I wrote in that time, and countless of the shorts, to pro markets, and some are considered my finest work.) but because the field as it was required networking and some effort at proving to the editors that you were a real human being and at worst only mildly eccentric. But that, like going to a college you have to take courses that have no bearing on your future career, was part of the coming up process, and often much harder on me than (just) writing.
Am I complaining about this? Complaining about working regular (actually very irregular. I think if you assemble all my days off, I take maybe ten a year, including holidays. I’ve been trying to take more recently, simply because it seems to keep me healthy longer.) hours? Complaining about having to network? Complaining about studying my craft?
No. I really am not. I’m just saying that if I’m not going to get paid for it, I’m going to treat writing as a hobby.
Think about it, your average multipublished author is a highly skilled craftsman/woman. There are several of these around in other fields too. I used to live in a mountain town that had tons of potters. Were they all better than the non-pro potters?
Probably not. There is such a thing as inspired genius. In my lifetime I’ve known three or four unpublished people who wrote at pro level. (One of those my older son at twelve. He later went on to be a pro. ) But – and I presume the same happens with amateur potters – their production was irregular, and, to be blunt, they wrote what they wanted to and didn’t overthink it. That meant one book might be brilliant and the next “OMG, what were you thinking?” weird.
Meanwhile the professional potters were constant. They worked at their craft, they improved, they made enough for the local stores to carry. After a while, living in town, if you wanted a particularly nice platter to give as a gift, you knew whom to talk to or what store to go to.
And I never, in my whole time in Manitou, heard someone say “Hey, you just got to make pottery. You don’t expect to make a living at it.” Or “I’m sorry I charge $120 for a saucer. I would have made it anyway, even without pay. You want to give me $5 for it? Cool!”
Now, like most writers, most of these potters probably made a precarious living. That still didn’t make them apologize or think their work should be free.
Besides, let’s take that reasoning to other professions where people just feel like they have to do it. Let’s say, programmers. Most of the ones I know fool around with computers in their off time. A lot of them, particularly young ones, are lousily paid. Do people ever say “Hey, programming is just something you have to do. You don’t expect to make a living”? Teaching – I KNOW, I love teaching, which is why I fall into doing it on this blog. Once upon a time I tried to make teaching my profession and writing my hobby, instead of the way it worked out – do you ever hear anyone say “I just got to teach. I don’t expect to make a living at it.” Doctoring… don’t let’s go there, because some people THINK that would be lovely.
This ties in with another discussion going around, which is about copyright. I’ve stated here that I’m perfectly fine with copyright being, say, life plus 25 years. I know I have friends – some puzzlingly childless – who want it to be forever and ever. And then last night in a blog I came across the other side of this, the people who think that it should be granted at most for 15 years, and then the work should be free. (And it should only be granted if the work “benefits mankind” – which is one of those shave the barber questions. Who decides? In one of the worst days of my life, reading Good Omens kept me sane and possibly alive. Does that mean it benefitted mankind?)
One of the commenters on that blog didn’t get pulverized because I was out of laser-vision-powers. He said something like “Why do I have to work everyday and a guy writes a song and expects to be paid the rest of his life?”
Do I have to explain that to you people? Why I expect to be paid for a story ‘for the rest of my life’? Well, it’s a lot like pharmaceutical companies.
Look, you get paid everyday because someone else is buying your time. NO ONE BUYS MY TIME. What that means is that I don’t get rewarded for sitting at the computer and writing. Instead, I have to sell what I write. The ratio of sales/non sales has increased. Well, obviously. Say, 1998. I labored all year, and I sold a short story for $60. Now my income is about 10k per novel (sometimes 12, but the mysteries pay worse.) What it will be for the indie stuff I don’t know. With somewhere between 20 and 30 short stories/collections out with Goldport Press (the number varies per outlet) I’m making about $100 or $150 a month. This is not bad, for drawer-stories and stories I was already paid for, but it’s not, of course, a living. I’m told novels pay much better than shorts, though, so… as soon as I have time I’m gonna try. At any rate, the point is that I don’t get paid for everything I write. At this point in time, I get paid what could be considered sort of “professionalish” rates for 50% of it. And I don’t know if I’ll ever see another dime from the things that went traditional after the advance (experience suggests no) and who knows how long it will take for the indie stuff to pay off?
Complaining again? Oh, heck no. Just explaining it’s not a straightforward exchange of time for money. Like something that takes a lot of time and money and might or might not pay off – medicine or for that matter pharmaceutical research – writing professional novels could suddenly pay off spectacularly. I could write a novel that sells so massively that I never need to work again. (Yes, of course, I still would.) And of course then my entire backlist, including potboilers would sell and pay off. And the chances of that happening increase the longer things are in copyright and the more I write. And the chance of that happening keeps me writing, and kept me writing even when the compensation sucked and the psychological atmosphere in the field was somewhere between a bridge clustered with suicides and a madhouse.
To the extent that my fans appreciate my work (I hope they do) they should be grateful that copyright gives me hope of hitting the big time, sometime.
Why the twenty five years after death then? Surely by that time I’m no longer producing?
Well, no. But that doesn’t mean no one is alive who deserves compensation for what I produced. First, though I’ve said more than once that my kids can make their own money, I don’t know if I’ll predecease my husband. We’re of an age, and I suppose I could drop dead tomorrow, just short of fifty, and he could live as his family tends to, into his nineties. He can easily outlive me by 25 years or more.
Look, let’s not get sappy here, but I wouldn’t be writing at all if he hadn’t encouraged me. I wouldn’t ever have got published if he hadn’t pushed. When I lost heart, he was my mobile, portable self-confidence unit. Three years ago he told me “Keep trying. Give it at least another five years” when I wanted to walk away from it all. And yeah, he endured years with a wife who didn’t “work”, or at least not get paid for work, while at the same time having to pitch in with house and kids because his wife worked constant “overtime”; years of a lifestyle below what our peers had, because I was pursuing this thing. We’ve never taken European vacations. Heck, we’ve never really taken vacations. Our idea of a rip-roaring good time is two nights at embassy suites in Denver with the boys on the pull-out-sofa and hitting museums and eating one meal a day at a diner. Real luxury there. (We go to Embassy Suites because if we get up late, we can make do without lunch.) Give us three nights, and we think we’re in heaven. (That’s happened twice in the last twenty years.) For the last twenty years, we’ve bought our clothes in thrift stores, eat 99% of our meals at home, and I cook from scratch because it’s cheaper. We’ve bought our furniture used and refinished/repurposed it. With the exception of my kindle, we buy our tech downmarket and used. We buy used cars and drive them until they stop. All so I could pursue the possibility that my writing would pay off big sometime. I’m not complaining. It was my choice. And Dan’s choice. BUT we did make sacrifices in pursuit of this chance. And he made as many as I did.
Should writing pay off the year after I’m dead, he deserves the pay off. Should it pay off to any extent, even if not big, if it can help his retirement, he earned it.
Life plus twenty five years gives me the chance to do what everyone wants to do, I think – work and provide for my family. After that, the kids and grandkids can get off their duffs and make their own money.
Now, the other side of this is stuff like when Kevin Anderson put a donate button on his blog, and people told him “I’m not donating because you have more money than I do.”
Do I have more money than you do? Well, I suppose, than a lot of you. Not that we’re even close to rolling (or to what people consider a prudent rate of savings) but given the economy I think a lot of you are into negative numbers. Mind you, part of this is that we scrimp and save madly. And twice in the last twenty years, the cupboard has been bare (and once Jim Baen came through with a check one month before we would be out of a house. Which I hope has been taken in account if there’s some sort of judgement in the ever-after).
But while Dan has a job, he will make more than at least some of you. That’s not the point. The point is that my work, too, deserves pay. Yes, a few of you get my stuff for free when I finish it, but that’s because we’re friends and I know you can’t afford it.
The thing is, when I ask for donations, I’m not asking because I’m poorer than you. It is not a charity thing (even if a lot goes to the perpetually hard-case cats.) I’m not asking for money because I make less than you (though in aggregate, if you count the years of flat nothing and the five or so years of less than 1k a year, I probably do make/have made less than a lot of you. Certainly less than minimum wage.) I want to get paid because I work for it, and I provide value-added.
Does this mean you should pay me whether you like my stuff or not? Whether you read it or not? Oh, please. No. I don’t believe things are worth the work you put into them. That’s Marxist nonsense, not applicable to the real world.
I believe things are worth what an informed purchaser is willing to pay. So, you should pay me if you read my stuff regularly and derive value/pleasure/instruction from it. And because writing is my job. And if I do it well, you’ll want to pay me. And if I don’t do it well enough to be paid, I’ll have to find another job and give this up.
And why should you pay me? Because then I keep doing it. And because you like what I do. It’s kind of like buying a chicken at the supermarket. Do you do it because the farmer is poor and needs support? Or do you fail to do it because the farmer would raise chickens, anyway?
No, you buy the chicken because you need it – or want to have nice lemon chicken for dinner (okay, I make lemon chicken a lot.) – and the farmer produces it because he gets paid. This works wonderfully because then the farmer will produce more chickens. And you’ll have a chicken right there when you need it.
Is this a threat to stop blogging if you don’t hit that donate button (on the right side, to the bottom of the blog [grin])? No. Well, not while I have time and disposition to blog. So far I enjoy blogging, and I’m going on the assumption it’s a loss leader, getting my name out there.
Does it mean I’ll do it forever if I never get donations and my book sales bear no relation to blog hits? Um… Bluntly, no. Like creatures who don’t spend their days in front of the keyboard, I need to live. And if this will not pay, I’ll write another story a week which might pay when it goes up on Amazon or I might even (shudder) get honest work. Because I have two kids in college and, well, you know what the economy is…
For now, I can afford to blog for free, for your amusement (and hopefully my increased name recognition.) BUT don’t say “she’d write anyway. She shouldn’t expect to be paid.”
I’m a writer. Writing is my job. I get paid for it. I work to support my family and provide for my kids’ future and my and my spouse’s old age. If I also enjoy what I’m doing, that’s a plus, but it’s not a reason to stop paying me. Or to stop expecting to be paid.
The laborer is worthy of his pay. Even if all he makes are stories, and even if all he does is lighten your spirits for an hour or so.