Sunday, March 23, 2014

She who expects nothing...

First and foremost, thanks to everybody who came to the Undertow launch party on Facebook yesterday! I had a blast, and I think the folks who came did, too. Best of all, I gave away all the prizes, including the door prizes. Congrats to Greta Burroughs and Illume Eltanin, who won the $5 Amazon gift cards, and to Chris Lewis, who won the $25 Amazon gift card.

It was so much fun, I'm thinking of doing it again when Scorched Earth is ready for release. Good thing I have a few months to rest up first.


I am not sure now where I saw the quote. Probably on a poster when I was in college. I don't think I owned the poster; it must have been a friend's, or maybe I just saw it in a store. But anyway, the quote is this:
It's meant to be funny, of course. I think the accompanying photo illustration was a woeful beagle with his head on his paws. But often, humor works because there's at least a grain of truth in it.

There was an article floating around Facebook a couple of weeks ago (which I can't find now, of course) about traditionally-published authors who are having trouble making a living from writing books. Several authors -- midlisters and literary writers -- were quoted in the article as saying they had gotten used to getting big enough advances from their publishers that they were able to support themselves on them. That allowed them to live and work as writers, without a day job; they could devote themselves to their art without having to worry about working for The Man in order to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Those halcyon days are apparently over. Advances from traditional publishers have been shrinking over the past decade or so, as those publishers pour more and more of their resources into big advances to already-famous people to pen blockbusters (or, more accurately, books the publishers hope will be blockbusters). This means midlist writers who have gotten used to living off the income from their books are being forced to recalibrate. They're either cutting back their expenses or -- the horror! -- having to take a day job.

In short, they had come to expect that they could make a living wage from their work, but their publishers are disappointing them.

The implication of the article was that maybe society has lost something by not paying our creators of literature a living wage for their words -- that what we're seeing is the passing of a golden age for the life of the mind.

The truth is, though, it's not the first time the paradigm has shifted for those who work in the arts. During the Renaissance, artists and composers sought wealthy patrons who would support them. The artists turned out stuff their patrons ordered, and wrote or painted or sculpted their pet projects on the side. That sort of patronage eventually went out of style. In the centuries since, artists, writers and composers have largely lived hand-to-mouth in pursuit of their art. There's a reason, after all, for the term "starving artist."

Then when capitalism became the New Hotness, people began make a habit of quantifying the worth of the worker's produced goods -- an attitude that still exists today, even when we're talking about service workers. "Do novelists contribute as much to the general welfare as doctors or lawyers?" people want to know. "Aren't police more critical to society than people who write books? What about firefighters? What about teachers?"

Yeah, yeah, I get it. All these people deliver work that provides an obvious benefit to society. They may not be making widgets, but they do provide services that we, as a society, have deemed important: healing the sick, helping us get out of trouble, protecting us, teaching us. The impact of writers' work, and its contribution to the greater good, is much less direct.

And too, books require thought in order to reap their benefits -- and that's not something we seem to value these days. I mean, who wants to have to think? We're tired when we get home from work, for goodness' sake. We just want a beer (or two or three) and a diverting TV show (or two or three). We might read for ten minutes before we fall asleep, assuming we can stay awake that long, but that's it.

So what does this mean for indie authors? A lot of us dream about kicking the day job to the curb and making a living from this writing thing someday. We have some things going for us in that regard that trad-pubbed authors don't -- higher royalties per book sold, for one thing. But I do sometimes wonder whether our society isn't sliding back into another "age of the starving artist." And I think it's probably prudent, in any case, to have a Plan B in our pockets, in case this writing-for-a-living thing doesn't pan out.

These moments of introspective blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

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