Too Much Whining?

There’s an interesting discussion going on over a Buzz Balls & Hype, which ran a list last month of author gripes about the publishing biz.  Nothing new there. What’s new is author Melanie Hauser’s  reaction.  Hauser, who’s first novel is coming out in the fall, is tired of  authors whining about the state of the business.

My biggest problem with a lot of blogs out there, a lot of the posts on
various forums, articles that are written – is the unrelenting
negativity about the business, with no discussion about the good part
of being published. It seems to me that people approach publishing with
a stunning sense of naivete. Then they complain about it, big time –
and sometimes anonymously – when it turns out to be just a business.

Her comment reminded me of a recent experience. I was one of many novelists invited to speak at a conference attended mostly by aspiring writers. I watched dumbfounded as a panel of successful novelists did nothing but complain about the business and what a raw deal they were getting. The novelists were so wrapped up in their whining, they didn’t see how badly they were flopping with their  audience, who came for tips, laughs, and encouragement.  Any one of the paying attendees would have gladly traded places with the novelists and assumed their woes (or as my agent calls them, "champagne problems.")  I think, at times, we published authors forget just how lucky we are to be living our dreams, even if those dreams aren’t quite as perfect as we imagined.

4 thoughts on “Too Much Whining?”

  1. What’s so great about publishing?
    It reminds me of the old Denis Leary line: “You know what I like best about England? It’s not France.” You know what I like best about publishing? It’s not the music industry.
    Think about it. I really don’t have to tour for a book. (But it helps.) The only equipment I need is my computer (or a typewriter or a pad and paper). I don’t need roadies, and I don’t have to deal with record company executives, who rank slightly below the lawn grub in intellect and common sense. (I mean come on! Music downloads have been technically and financially feasible since 1994. And it took them until 2003 to figure out iTunes?)
    Writers perform in private. They’re not present when the audience is. (Signings and conventions aside.) And if you’re a midlister, you’re still in better shape than if you’re a musician who’s not Britney Spears or annointed by the Axis of Evil (aka ClearChannel/Infinity/Radio One).
    Yeah. Writing’s a cool gig. Even cooler if you can earn a living at it. Most of the whining stems from writers discovering that they have to work at it to be successful. My response to that is, “Well, duh!”

  2. I think as mystery writers it’s an even better gig. If there is any one genre where writers have a chance to make a living without being superstars it’s in mystery. While there are plenty of stories of midlist mystery authors going out of print etc, there are many, many more midlist mystery authors still working than there are literary authors. And the network of small presses that cater to mystery fiction far out number the small literary presses.

  3. With all due respect, Bryon, I think you’re wrong. If you take a look at just the Goldberg men, you get a pretty good look at what it means not to have bestsellers and still publish, but, save for other ventures, not make a real living at it. Lee’s DM books wouldn’t pay his mortgage alone, and the two novels and one collection of stories I have (or will when the collection comes out) plus whatever I get for my next novel, will certainly not be enough to support me alone. Same goes for writers of literary fiction. Literary midlist authors and mystery writers go out of print at the same pace — about a year after the hardback comes out, usually. The network of small presses for literary fiction, I’d say, is actually far larger than for mystery, especially when you consider the wealth of university presses that also publish fiction, and very rarely is what they publish considered commercial in a general sense. Writers of all stripes make their livings by writing, by diversifying, be it into journalism, screenwriting, gay porn, whatever. Which is why I find the whining distasteful, too. I feel blessed that I am able to write for a living. It is all I’ve ever wanted to do.

  4. Tod’s comment tripped something I said awhile back on John Scalzi’s blog. (Hmmm… Maybe I should blog this instead of taking up space on everyone else’s backblog.) I don’t look at writing as my primary income, esp. since I made a grand total of $42.50 last year on it. I look at the money (substantially more this year than my whopping 2-figure income last year) as investment capital. The money from anthology assignments, paying short fic markets (covers McD’s to and from conventions and in airports), and book royalties from a small press book go into building the brand that is “James R. Winter”* As more lucrative assignments come in, book sales build, and I make the long-dreaded foray into freelance writing**, what I don’t spend on promotion (‘cuz hopefully, I’ll have a publisher who can afford to do that themselves by then), goes into investments.
    I’m not fortunate enough to be a journalist. (Which is to say I was too damn naive to get that journalism degree after high school, so I ended up in insurance despite my best efforts.) So I pay the bills with a day job.
    Is that to say I’m not shooting for Michael Connelly-like sales and movie deals? Like hell, I’m not. I want it. But I’m realistic about it.
    Like Lee said to me in Toronto, “Just take the check and run.”*** First, someone has to offer me a check. Until then, I have the day job, and everything else pads my retirement.
    * A wholly-owned subsidiary of Diane McCarty
    ** Homeland Security plans to bump the terror alert to orange the day my first nonfiction article is published.
    *** Unfortunately, Lee wasn’t offering me a check. But then I didn’t have a property for him to develop, and Lee generally likes developing his own stuff anyway. That said, I plan to tear up any check I get from Pitof or McG. You have to have some standards. Chris Nolan, on the other hand…


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