Coincidentally after writing yesterday’s post about the median professional writer’s income being a paltry eleven grand, I saw this on a friend’s FaceBook status:
Never do it for the money, but never do it for free.
I think that’s a pretty good philosophy for any artist to live by. I think it’s also a good route to success. If an artist is true to himself and he’s good at what he does then there’s a chance he’ll be successful at it. Any artist who tries to follow a trend, jump on a bandwagon or anticipate what will be popular with the consumer is, in my opinion, asking for trouble.
Yesterday, I said that art is a consumable. The contradiction is that it’s a consumable to the consumer. To the artist, his art is his life’s blood.
I also suggested, yesterday, that if a writer is good he ought to succeed, and there’s a contradiction there, too.
I once gave one of my novels to a publisher to read. He told me that he couldn’t publish it. He told me that although it would probably win a fistful of awards, it would only sell six hundred copies. It was good, but it wasn’t commercial.
Some of our best writers, some of our award winners, and, let’s put them all in one bracket and generalise horribly, and say that all of our poets have to work full time, and you all know that I’m not talking about writing full time.
Good is not always popular. Good is sometimes too esoteric, too clever, too demanding, and in the case of writing, too literary to be commercial, to make the author or the publisher or anyone else a crap-ton of cash.
I’ve got a book in the drawer that I bang on about on this blog all the time. It might be the best thing I’ve done, certainly it is one of the things I’m most proud of. It’s a little novel called Naming Names. It was runner up to Rosie Garland’s The Palace of Curiosities for the inaugural Mslexia novel prize. Rosie Garland landed a six figure book deal, her novel was well-reviewed, hit the charts and was longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize. My novel is yet to be published.
|Rosie Garland's latest novel|
Bloody well done Rosie Garland. I hope her second novel Vixen, out today, is equally successful.
My novel has not been published because the subject matter is considered too difficult. It is about maternal sexual abuse. The comments I got from the editors who saw it at the publishing houses were extraordinary. I have kept them to remind me of the value of this book. I doubt it will ever be published. It was worth writing it.
I stand by my statement.
The point of the writer is the reader.
A great many people, the majority, will never read Chaucer or Shakespeare. They will never read Virginia Wolf or Keats. That’s no reason those works should not be in the canon.
Personally, I am a big fan of some current writers who work full time jobs. I am very happy that they continue to write.
They are happy to continue to write, and, while they struggle, many of them take rejection on the chin and move on, because they are writers. They can’t help themselves. They don’t do it for the money. Neither do they give their work away. When they sell a story, they celebrate, and so do their fans. If they are anything like me, their fans also spread the word, and urge readers to pick up their work, because it’s good.
I don’t know how many of these people thrash about calling themselves professional writers, and I don’t know how many of them moan to the press about how little they earn. I suspect they are too busy feeding their families and paying their mortgages, and writing their wonderful stories in the few hours that remain to them in between.
I read somewhere that the smallest minds have the biggest mouths. I don’t know how true that is.
Being pushy, whining and arrogant simply produces so much hot air. Mediocre writers, however good their personal publicity machines are still going to produce mediocre work.
Sometimes the best writers won’t make the most money. That won’t always matter to them as much as being published, being paid and having an appreciative audience matters. Perhaps they have something else on their side. Perhaps they have longevity. Perhaps there’s a legacy in it for them.
I’m reminded of Alice Munro, the Canadian short story writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013. She ran a book shop with her husband, and was a writer in residence at the University of Western Ontario. She produced a volume of stories every four years or so.
To be good and commercial... I guess that’s another story entirely.