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Meanwhile, a FL post by my old friend LD (who is paid to write) got me thinking about genre fiction in general. The industry is not broken. It's just become what every other industry has become in the time of big-money-big-data. Profits have been maximized for fewer and fewer individuals while employment and employment compensation has been severely cut back to the point where it is untenable for the vast majority of participants. It's a hobby. No, worse, it's a lottery.

I didn't realize this when I sat down to write Sisters of the Sundering exactly six years ago today. I had sincerely hoped that I could find a way of making a modest, if sustainable, living on it. Although I realized, of course, that there were people already entrenched in the industry and had been working at it since grade school, Clintonesquely working their way towards fame and fortune. Or at least respect of their peers. But I thought, well, you've always said this is what you wanted to do for a living. Time to put your money where your mouth is.

Now, I'm not a fantastic writer. I thought I could be, and quickly, but after six years, I grudghingly think I may have the potential to be a good writer, if I learn to shed a lot of pretensions and focus on storytelling, and stop, like John Gieilgud used to say "being in love with the sound of my voice." Which for me, as Cara Sposa will attest, is rather difficult. Nevertheless, I've had some stuff published, and Duotrope claims that I've had "more acceptances (sales) than average" in both fiction and poetry, and I never submit to a market that pays nothing.

So what's the result? In six years, I HAVE made money off of this. If I add up all this vile lucre, I have made LESS THAN I WOULD EARN IN A SINGLE HOUR AS A CONSULTANT. And I work for non-profits at about half the rate as is charged by similar consultants working for corporate clients.

This is shockingly poor pay. There are people sifting garbage in Calcutta who are better paid. Writing for a living is just like that viral video that's going around the circuit about pay inequality in the states. But that video is very America-centric. Make the graph work on the global scale and you will see a vast majority of humanity has absolutely no say or investment in the global economy, while a tiny minority have the wealth that make the great Pharoahs of Egypt look decidely middle-class. The publishing industry is more like the global version of the graph presented. Even writers enjoying moderate success make next to nothing, and supplement their income with a side-job, grants and investments.

This is 100% the product of big-money-big-data. The fact that it is totally unsustainable is another topic entirely: The other viral video this week is Amanda Palmer using the give-it-away and ask-for-pay model, which requires the artist to become a performance artist, a Horatio Alger style hero of the social media. Which is actually a really good model that has served artists since the dawn of time, but it means not relying on corporate mechanics to go out and round up money for you.

Back when LD and I were enrolled in the same University, I had a roommate called John. He had this idea that he would become rich first, then spend time on photography. He was into fast bucks and fast chicks, and he figured that if he made a comfortable fortune by 35, he could devote his entire life afterwards to his art and screw all that artsy-fartsy shit in college. If the teachers knew anything about it, why were they teaching instead of selling their work for millions.

Needless to say we didn't get along. At first. But we had so little in common that every conversation we had turned into me slipping into Socratic method mode. Eventually, we got along fine, as he started to open up to education and hallucinogens. When I last saw him, he was writing poetry and hanging out in a community house. I liked to think that I had some influence in corrupting this potential Randian acolyte. But in reality, I've learned that it's impossible to live your life backwards, with a dream at the end of it. But I've also learned that so many people do, and so many storytellers pander to that model.

My parents were old-school wartime generation. They felt that they had a duty to get me clothed, educated, and out the door. Cara Sposa and I came out of college into a huge recession, and my parents grudgingly helped us survive the first two years, but always under the constant nagging that we needed to support ourselves. When we finally got jobs, we worked very very hard and bit the bullet and saved and eventually went into business for ourselves and.... I had, in my small way, become John (though much more modest in my "success"): I was thirty-seven when I started to write, and I love it. But I recognize that it will always be a hobby, returning the odd free lottery ticket once in a while for every twenty or so tickets bought. That is unless I get the one out of twenty million that scores a jackpot.

For LD, writing became a career, and she is paid for it, but the love fell out of it. Kind of the way I used to love the creativity, the sheer poetry of writing code. It became a living. Something that I do for a set amount of money. But if I still loved it, I wouldn't write. And she wouldn't knit.

Which is why I have only these "words of wisdom" about writing: Don't dream big. Don't even dream. Wander into your own creativity and find out what's there. Then follow it where IT wants YOU to go. Not where "the sales are hot", or towards "what's in these days in YA" unless you are writing TO ORDER for PAY. But get the contract signed FIRST. And don't expect to enjoy it.

But always, ALWAYS, make sure that you can feed the cat and keep a roof over your head. Because hobbying sucks when you're starving and can't afford materials to hobby with.

Comments

( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
sartorias
Mar. 7th, 2013 03:27 pm (UTC)
Amen, amen, amen.
wasabi_poptart
Mar. 7th, 2013 04:58 pm (UTC)
Did I ever tell you I ran into your old roommate once, years later, while on a pilgrimage back to the Alma Mater? He had long flowing hair and little gold wire-rimmed glasses and was wearing boots and a brown leather bomber jacket. I would say you indeed had quite a bit of influence there.
barry_king
Mar. 7th, 2013 06:06 pm (UTC)
That's Hilarious. It's like some kind of horrible Angel Heart transposition of personalities.

But I never ascribe to myself that which can be better explained by LSD.
asakiyume
Mar. 7th, 2013 06:50 pm (UTC)
LSD?!
The Jazz Butcher has something to say in this thread (you have to wait to the end...)
barry_king
Mar. 7th, 2013 07:16 pm (UTC)
Re: LSD?!
My desert is waiting. Wow. I was SO into Carlos Castañeda in high school (and, ironically with the song, Camus, Marx, and Yoga). I came across a copy of The Teachings of Don Juan in Brunei (the country where ANY drug offence is a hanging offence) and was totally mesmerized by his narrative. It took me a couple of years to discover he was a fraud, but the damage was done. I've done the dreaming thing with the hands. I've been on the journey to Ixtlan, and the Philippines was a great place for a "head" to grow up in, with these little tiny purple pot plants like christmas trees with lethal amounts of TCP in their buds. I even did some Lysergic acid extraction from Morning Glory seeds with alcohol and ether per the Anarchist's Cookbook recipe, but it never worked as well as raw morning glory seeds and pot in the same bowl.

I finally got a chance to experience the Sonara desert. It was clear. It was not in the least mystical.

I actually didn't do a lot of mind-altering in College. My first roommate was a total loser who smoked a huge amount of that weak, limp-wristed skunkweed you can buy in the States. He spent all his time driving around in his Mustang and mourning his failed (knee injury) football career. I think he ended up working for his dad selling cars, then getting his license suspended on a DUI, which kind of killed everything in life he lived for. It completely put me off the scene. Except for a few small incidents, where I'd don a "Karma Mechanic" hat and keep an eye out for bad trips. But there was something wrong in the head experience in the States. All bitter and weird like Shuggoth-sex, and I quickly learned that smoking ANY amount of marijuana and trying to write computer programs was anathema. Totally different head-spaces.

And now Carlos is dead from liver cancer (big surprise) and the new-age empire his hangers-on wanted to make is a bankrupt venture. Abbot Hoffman died for our sins and Timothy Leary never amounted to 1/100 of Julian Jaynes, who is still considered a weirdo. And all those "turned on, tune in, and drop out" kids created the banking collapse of the 2000s.

But I still feel a great sympathy for Alan Watts and his philosophy of uncertainty. In the end, all heads return to the Buddha. But only to kill him on the road.
asakiyume
Mar. 7th, 2013 07:32 pm (UTC)
Re: LSD?!
I never did any drugs--wasn't in the right places at the right time? Got "high on life" without them? I dunno.

I was terrified of the changes in behavior of people who were drunk--it made me feel like I was in a surreal nightmare, so that put me off even alcohol for the longest time (not now, though; now I like some intoxication from time to time).

Some people say that they have great insights when on drugs, and that seems quite possible and believable to me, but insight is a narcissistic thing if you can't convey it,** and drugs have a way of inhibiting effective communication.

I do still want to try me some hallucinogens one day. Every year I eye the morning glory seeds...

**To me, the greatest thing in Buddhism is the concept of the bodhisattva--the opposite of narcissistic.
barry_king
Mar. 7th, 2013 07:42 pm (UTC)
Re: LSD?!
You've put your finger on it. It was the "munchies" that totally terrified me. The grasping and the narcissism of "munchies" epitomizes the problem I have with my mother country.

In the Philippines, when I was imbibing an ungodly amount of TCP—And, by the way, totally acing my PSATs. I tied with the highest score the school had ever seen COMPLETELY stoned on some excellent weed—I mean SO BAD that when I put down my pencil and looked up, there was this loud popping sound in my ears and the entire universe became silent and tame whilst before it was a mad morass of thoughts and impressions..... My SATs were similarly phenomenally high, and for the same reason.

But that's because I'd reached a weird plateau in the head, which I can't reach anymore. Yes, it's VERY hard to bring those things into conveyance. "Pythia" was an example, but I needed a 20 year run up to get that far, and it was a PALE example, I assure you.

But munchies. Let me 'splain: When I smoked, I had NO appetite whatsoever. I lost forty pounds in my senior year after passing the International Baccalaureate. Down to 165, which seems like a lot, but on my Lithuanian-peasant bone structure looked like a gaunt skeleton with AIDS.

But when I got to the states, all the stoners were fat and stupid, and they were eating armfuls of cheese-curls.

Edited at 2013-03-07 07:57 pm (UTC)
wasabi_poptart
Mar. 7th, 2013 08:15 pm (UTC)
Re: LSD?!
"But when I got to the states, all the stoners were fat and stupid, and they were eating armfuls of cheese-curls."

Nah, not in all 50 states, just in Georgia.

Of course, that more or less describes EVERYONE in Georgia, not just the stoners.
barry_king
Mar. 7th, 2013 08:51 pm (UTC)
Re: LSD?!
I don't know. I didn't see much difference outside of Georgia later. Not that I cared enough to look, fair enough. But still. i've not really ever met a MJ-ascetic outside of the Phils.
wasabi_poptart
Mar. 7th, 2013 08:18 pm (UTC)
Re: LSD?!
Just for the record, my first acid trip remains one of the most magical experiences of my life. Full moons, Bob Dylan, and Roman Polanski were never quite the same.
barry_king
Mar. 7th, 2013 08:53 pm (UTC)
Re: LSD?!
Yes, I'm sorry that it wasn't all beautiful. I still blame myself for the one that went wrong. And I remember it well.
wasabi_poptart
Mar. 7th, 2013 09:00 pm (UTC)
Re: LSD?!
I regret nothing. Except a few fashion choices.
barry_king
Mar. 7th, 2013 09:01 pm (UTC)
Re: LSD?!
You're a better woman than me, then.
asakiyume
Mar. 7th, 2013 06:57 pm (UTC)
Excellent essay. I agree with three things in particular:

(1) don't live your life backward

(2) have a way to keep body and soul together so you can afford the materials for hobbying

(3) Sometimes doing a thing as a job kills the joy in it--it definitely constrains your freedom of choice--so consider that when you consider what you want to do for a job.

... That said, I do know a few people who are able to support themselves through writing and love it, and that's *great*.
barry_king
Mar. 7th, 2013 07:21 pm (UTC)
... That said, I do know a few people who are able to support themselves through writing and love it, and that's *great*.

And I envy them, but for me, it hasn't worked. So I still avoid doing cuisine for a living. It would kill the last joy.
asakiyume
Mar. 7th, 2013 07:25 pm (UTC)
Not for me either, but then, I was never trying. If I can get people to *read* my stuff, I'm happy.
barry_king
Mar. 7th, 2013 07:28 pm (UTC)
I am always happy to read your stuff. You strangely (because knowing you and your background it does not fit at all in the way of the left-brain-intellectual) remind me of that mythical place called "home" that my mother came from. Very much Foxfire books and honest tales of America, and an understanding of the circular strong cord that binds generation to generation and may never be unbroken.
asakiyume
Mar. 7th, 2013 07:41 pm (UTC)
Thanks--if and when I recharge my writing batteries, I will send you stuff.
barry_king
Mar. 7th, 2013 07:43 pm (UTC)
Please!
peadarog
Mar. 7th, 2013 06:57 pm (UTC)
All I can say is "yes".
barry_king
Mar. 7th, 2013 07:18 pm (UTC)
So much has gone, and little is new.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )