It has recently been brought to my attention that there is a special class of writer out there. Those precious souls who have a message, which they ache to get out there. It doesn’t matter how they do it, it doesn’t matter which publisher they go with – any is better than none, right? – and as for getting paid, well…financial rewards aren’t important, are they?
I’d say different, but that probably makes me a sell-out.
Let me tell you first of all why I got into this writing business. I just bloody loved it. That’s all. Simple answer. When I was a kid and realised all those books in libraries and bookshops had been written by real people who were really paid for doing so, hell, my brain just about exploded with excitement. You mean, I could make shit up for a living? Tell lies and get paid for it? Buy stuff with my ill-gotten gains? Sign me up, yo!
Because no, wanting to be paid for your writing is not at odds with artistic integrity. It doesn’t make you a sell-out. You can be all precious about having a message to get out there if you like, but I’d rather be paid for mine. “Messages” (I think that’s agonised-writer speak for good old-fashioned story) and money are not mutually exclusive and I’d venture so far as to say they should go together, not be put on opposite ends of the artistic integrity scale.
In fact, have a look at this link from Chuck Wendig: his blog post Lies Writers Tell.
“I Don’t Care About Money.”
Oh, aren’t you fucking special. You’re above money, are you? You have transcended the need to exist in this material world? “I write my inky words on paper and then I eat that paper and live within the ether of mine own storytelling!” Hey, good for you, you crazy little Bodhisattva, you. I tried not paying my mortgage and when you do that, the bank sends ninjas.
I do not have the luxury of caring naught about currency.
This lie is the sneaky mule-kicked cousin to, “I Write Only For Myself.” It is once more a deception sold by those who want to excuse their work not selling, who want to make themselves feel unique or somehow above other writers (“those greedy hacks!”) because they don’t care one whit about getting paid — it’s all about the art, you see. Mind you, this is a lie of artistes, not artists. Artists need to eat. Starving is neither glorious nor honorable — in fact, it’s not even that interesting, trust me.
Remember: Shakespeare got to get paid, son.
You don’t have to care about being rich. But you damn sure better care about money. As said in the past: your writing has value, so claim value for your writing.
Similar to this argument, related to it and often and appearing in the same conversation is the whining about gratitude. “I’m just grateful that a publisher gave me a chance – I don’t care about making money!”
Now you know me, I don’t like to court controversy (*cough* *splutter* *ahem*) but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say I’m not grateful to any publisher for “giving me a chance”. One would hope the publishers I’m with offered contracts or courted my mad storytelling skillz because I’m good at what I do, not because they feel pity for me.
“Giving a writer a chance,” suggests they’re not very good but the publisher is nevertheless willing to risk financial loss in taking them on because rainbows and kittens or some bullshit like that. It’s not the best business model, whichever way you phrase it. Writing may be an art, but publishing is a business and any publisher who’s a bit “Meh,” about making money strikes me as naive, to say the least. Why did they set up in the first place? Out of the goodness of their hearts, to give neophyte authors chances?
I want to work for publishers who want to – who expect to – make money out of me. Why? Because I want to make money too! And no, dear; wanting to pay the bills does not make me a sell-out. It means people like my writing and are willing to pay for it. As Chuck Wendig said in that link and paragraph above, your writing has value, so claim value for your writing.
Do I have a message? It’s not something I’ve ever thought about in any great detail. Probably because I’m too busy putting food on the table and making the rent each month. Does that mean I’m a bad writer? I don’t think so. Does that mean I don’t care about my writing, nor about improving it? Certainly not. There is always room for improvement. I’m ever aware of that, just as I’m aware of the need to pay for fripperies like food, utilities and clothes.
Bottom line is, I simply can’t afford to curl up into a little ball of wangst in the corner, rocking back and forward, wondering why the world doesn’t understand my message.
Look at it this way – we wouldn’t expect hairdressers to do our cut and colour for free, would we? “What? You want me to pay you? Well you obviously don’t care about hair, do you?”
“Wait, Mr Builder – you want me to pay you for this house? Jeez; you sure disrespected those bricks and that mortar, didn’t you?”
“Listen, chef – you can bet I’ll never be back to this restaurant. Expecting to be paid for your time and effort and the food supplied means you’re nothing more than a sell-out.”
The above arguments are ridiculous. So why this snobby looking down on people who want to be paid for what they do when they’re writers?
I look at it as a huge compliment when a publisher says “We enjoy your writing so much, we’d like you to come write for us and we’ll both make money out of it.” Okay, maybe they don’t phrase it quite like that but you get my drift. But if any interested editors read this, if you email me with “I’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks; let’s make lots of money,” you can sign me up in a New York minute.
If you don’t care about money and you just want to get your (*puts on whiny voice*) message out there, just post your books online for free. Your entire back catalogue, gratis, in perpetuity.
I dare you.
Me? I’m off out to pay the rent. I may be a sell-out but at least I have a roof over my head.