Saturday, July 26, 2014

Jules Older is not feeling especially optimistic about making a living as a writer.............

That Best-Time Gospel Hour

I'm just back from a writers meeting where the speaker, a literary PR-maven, was overflowing with enthusiasm: “This is the best time for writers!” she said again and again and again.

I thought she’d inadvertently left out the comma: “This is the best time for writers, unless you intend to make a living from it.” But if she had a subordinate clause in mind, she never voiced it.

Question time was short, so I never got to ask this:

My wife says I'm not only an optimist; I'm an insane optimist. Yet, when I listen to you — and so many other speakers like you — I feel like the biggest pessimist in California. Are you not aware that in this “best time for writers,” writers are unable to make a living through their work, unable to feed their families? Can you be unaware of the recent British study (“Authors’ incomes collapse to ‘abject’ levels”) that showed English working writers are making a poverty-level 11,000 pounds a year? In case you somehow missed it, here's a quote:

"… the number of authors able to make a living from their writing has plummeted dramatically over the last eight years, and that the average professional author is now making well below the salary required to achieve the minimum acceptable living standard in the UK.

I never got to warm to my subject and add this:

We've recently been traveling with European travel journalists, and those from every country tell the same story — more work expected for even less money. Much less money. I'm in touch with many North American writers (that's most of you, Lifeguards), and they say the same.

Last week I spoke with a highly successful freelance journalist who’d lost her job as a magazine editor. “How's it going?” I asked. Her reply said it all — “Lot of work, shit pay.” A highly successful American book author told me, “My last contract was for one third of my previous ones.” A highly successful ski writer left a presentation by another best-times-through-social-media speaker shaking his head in disgust. “You noticed,” he said, “that she never once explained how we could make money from all this.” So when you say we’re living in the “best time for writers,” why don't you tell the rest of the story?

Here's why I think she and all her clones preaching this Best-Time Gospel don't.

Though they'd call themselves service providers, they're really enablers. They're there to convince authors and would-be authors that if they'll just hitch their miserably paid, broken-down wagons to the enabler’s star, they'll be rich and famous and wildly successful. As this one also kept saying, “It’s simple. Not easy but simple. Simple!”

I don't think so. Those stats don't lie. And if you're thinking they apply to those who write for “heritage” publishers but not e-publishers or “pay-your-way hybrids,” in Great Britain, these Digital Age writers are making even less than those sorry fools who stuck with tired old Guttenberg. I'm confident that it’s the same throughout North America, as well.

The ones who are bringing home the piñon-smoked, private-reserved, artisan bacon are the enablers. Like vanity publishers of yore — and, oh yes, of today — they feed off false hope, make empty promises, take on writer clients who will never in their lives make back with their self-published book or ebook half of what they handed over to the enablers… who never revealed that waiting for the writers at the end of the stairway to stardom was not feast but famine.

How do you spot Digital Age enablers? Here's a start:
They'll be speaking at your next writer’s meeting or conference.
They'll lace their talk with the same key phrases: brand, platform, presence, and social media brand/platform/presence.
They'll never, except by implication, tell you how you're going to actually make money in all the wondrous worlds they weave.
They’ll preach from the Best-Time Gospel Hymnal.
And you'll leave either writing them a check or silently seething.

I'm silently seething, a.k.a.

— jules

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