I have been reading an amazing book by Stephen King called On Writing. I have talked about this book repeatedly because I think it has done more for my writing and outlook as a writer than any other book I have read on the art and experience of writing. Near the end of the book, King answers a question that he had been asked either directly or suggestively over the years. That question is “Do you write for the money”? He answers emphatically NO and then talks about why he writes and what he hopes to achieve with his writing. Some people may believe him or think he is a lying asshole. After reading the book, I thought about what he said for a few days. I thought about my own writing, I thought about the writing business as it is now. Then I thought about the writing business in the days of old by which I mean pre internet, pre amazon.com, pre-twitter, pre-eBook and pre-internet marketing.
After reading On Writing, I really don’t get the impression that King writes for the money. I think he writes for the love of writing and after reading about the struggles he went through as an author and person I think he appreciates the money yes…but would still write if it wasn’t there. He was after all a writer even when he was poor and his family was struggling. Yes, any honest writer and author likes to get paid for something we write. When I got my first royalty check from Amazon for Running Northwest it was an amazing feeling even though it was not very much. It was like the first dollar I made in coffee shops. If you look at someone like Ernest Hemingway, he liked money…yes. However, he liked money because of the experiences in life he could live because of the money; the money opened a whole world to him that inspired him and his writing. Without money, even a little, he would have never went to Paris, wrote Up in Michigan, and lived the Paris years of his life, which inspired A Moveable Feast or A Farewell to Arms. Nevertheless, after reading biographies about him I never got the impression he was doing it FOR the money though, writing just for the big payday. He wanted to be recognized for his abilities, his talents and his stories whether by readers, publishers or his peers…he wanted people to like what he wrote. That was in the early to mid-1900’s in a different world the heyday of great authors perhaps.
In today’s world though, whether with Indie writing and publishing or big time publishers like Random House and HarperCollins it seems like writers, whether they be poets or novelists no matter whether its fiction or Non are urged and pushed to writing something…anything else at a frenzied pace. I have read that Indie authors especially should put out as much as they can quickly because no one cares about a man or a woman who has only wrote one book or wrote them far apart. That sense that you are nothing more than your last published novel, book of poetry or short stories is a scary thought. We all have read some crappy ass books that seemed like they were thrown together quickly. I have seen this with Indie books as well as ones published by big houses…more with indie though. Hell some might even think my novel Running Northwest is in that category. Indie authors do not have the backing of a publisher. Moreover, some do not have the support of a generous benefactor, trust fund or an understanding spouse who pays the bills while the writer writes and works on their craft. Let alone an assistant to do all the small crap. Some are like me and are trying to balance college, a job and writing all while trying to hold on to our sanity and be happy.
However, in the book market today, EBooks specifically you need to constantly be thinking about promoting, marketing, distribution and yes money. You need to do it before your book comes out, while you are still writing the book; after it comes out….long after it comes out. You feel like you are constantly readjusting your selling strategy, building your almighty platform while trying to decide to go with KDP Select on Amazon and when to use your FREE days or whether to put it on B&N, Smashwords, Kobo or other sites…bla bla bla. And it’s not just Indie either. I have read many places where the Publishing houses want new authors they might sign to have an established selling and marketing platform BEFORE they will sign you let alone publish your book…so even then you are advertising and promoting. Most Indies cannot afford to pay someone to do this for them or us. So when do we write, when do we live our lives from where our ideas for writing come from when we have to keep worrying about keeping up with trends and money. When are we allowed to be JUST a writer? Or as Stephen King would say, when are we allowed now to write “with the door closed.”
Thinking back to what Stephen King said and the thought, he gave me. Do we as authors and writers even write anymore because we just like to write, because we have something to say and a story to share? The real question is, are we even allowed to do that anymore? Because it does not feel like we are sometimes. IS that just a quaint old-fashioned notion now? Has writing become such a business that the purity of it is gone after you publish your first novel?
I have a few projects in the works even after I put out the 3rd edition of Running Northwest next month (yay more marketing). One I am working on as much as possible and I hope to finish it by the end of this summer if not sooner. I am not going to hurry and rush it out though. In class the other day, my professor asked me to put down my phone. I said, “I’m 34 and can hear you just fine and I’m keeping notes on what you’re saying but I’m working on my marketing for my book, sorry it can’t be helped”. I was fucking Tweeting about book stuff…..Thankfully I am doing pretty well in this class.
Are we even allowed to just sit and enjoy the afterglow of writing and publishing a book anymore? If so when? I did not have the time to sit and be like “look what the hell I just did” for more than a few days and then had to worry about marketing and social media even though I had no idea what I was doing. Even after I published the 2nd edition of Running Northwest last August I felt like I was rushed to write something else, to put something new out as quick as I could because that is what the Indie marketing “experts” and publishing blogs said I should do.
You know what I did?
I wrote in an idiotic frenzy on a project of short stories that I believed in and still do but the writing was just pure crap in some cases. Some of the stories were rushed and forced with no feeling in them far more often than I am happy with. I found myself writing these short stories because I felt like I HAD TO…not because I wanted to, I felt like I was writing them just for the sake of fucking marketing. I was writing yes…but when I was done and read some over I could not hit the delete key quick enough. That book will come out eventually but not until the stories are ready and they are something I am happy with writing and reading myself let alone putting them out there for everyone else to read and maybe buy. This was my “Dog Stories” book.
“If you don’t like it, no one else will” –Stephen King
I took me 4 years to write and publish Running Northwest as the 1st edition and I’m still fighting that battle and now 5 years in. Yes…getting a royalty check is nice, 4 or 5 star reviews that don’t make me give the middle finger to my laptop screen are wonderfully validating. However, I write because I love writing, because I think I have an interesting story or stories to tell in way that is not the usual. I never woke up and said, “I’m going to be a writer so I can make lots of money”. I knew going in that it was going to be a slow, lonely and frustrating ride up the ladder while never knowing how high I would make it. I know how to make money in life, I did that already could again, now I just want to be happy doing something I love.
The Greats of Literature
Now look at Ernest Hemingway author of A Farewell to Arms and Up in Michigan. He “only” wrote 7 novels, 6 short story collections and 2 non-fiction books in 30 or so years. Many of which all came out in a short period of his life and some not very good according critics and stuffy literary professors (who never wrote a book themselves). BUT he won the Pulitzer Prize now didn’t he!! This breaks down to something like half a book a year give or take. More novels and short stores were published after he died.
“After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love.”
― Ernest Hemingway
Then you have F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of the Great Gatsby who only wrote 4 books and died half way through writing his 5th book. Tender is the Night came out in 1934…9 damn years after The Great Gatsby and critics hated it. I am neither one of these “great” writers. I say “great” like that, because I think The Great Gatsby is boring as hell and very over rated, I prefer Tender is the Night. If you look at more modern and popular authors, but better ones like King, Grisham or even….ugh Dan Brown who has only written 6 books in 15 years of his writing career but is thought of as being a great modern storyteller and insanely popular ( I prefer Steven Berry in that genre personally). There are many other great authors, I know this so don’t nail me to the cross for not mentioning every single one. I mentioned Hemingway and Fitzgerald because they were part of a movement that changed american literature in the early 1900’s.
The point I am trying to make with that little history lesson is this: why should myself or any other writer and author, Indie or not be forced, convinced or pressured into putting out 2, 3, 4 or more books a year? Why should it be assumed that to make it as an author today, to be relevant as an author or to be considered a good writer we need to put out that much that fast. Especially since great American authors like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, King, Michener or even someone English like Tolkien were never expected to deliver in such a frenzied manner and rushed schedule even before they were popular and well known let alone after.
These are the authors any author should look up to I think. Are not these are some of the literary greats who have stood the test of time? And shouldn’t we as authors, unknown or popular at least try and write something that stands the test of time, to write something people talk about for years and decades? In order to write something like that it takes time sometimes years…not months, not weeks…years dammit!!. I have seen and heard of some authors do this fast writing and rushed publishing and their books are crap occasionally They are 250 pages or so of silly bullshit all to keep their name out there and royalty checks coming. They are like poorly ground espresso beans…no heart, no soul….no feeling and no taste. I am not trying to be the bastion of Literary quality here. Every writer puts out something that either they think is pure shit later on or other people think is pure shit….shit happens. But why keep putting out shit for the sake doing so. Take some pride in this thing that we do or at least try and do your best.
My Question to You
So now, I ask this: Is it just the nature of the book business now? Is it just the way the world is now especially here in America where we need things fast and quick with no attention paid to quality, as we demand things faster, cheaper and not wanting things that last or caring if they even do. Is it Barnes and Nobles fault or is it Amazons fault? Should we blame Steve Jobs and Bill Gates for making computers as we now know them to exist and iPhones, iPods, smart phones and tablets along with them? Does having a Kindle Fire or Nook make a book and its quality matter less to a reader and an author? Are they then that easily disposable because they can be gone with a press of the mouse or delete button? Is it because people feel like Nazis when they burn or throw away an actual print and bound book? Are the better…the best days of writing and the book industry long in the past?
And maybe I am full of shit because this blog is probably a form of advertising and marketing for me for my own books and writing career.
Why should marketing and money take the place of writing a good book, novel or poem worthy of showing the world, something that an author’s whole heart was poured into? Why does money take away the joy of writing? For authors today it appears we do not have the luxury of one or the other. In addition, because of that it only makes sense that the quality of one or the other or even both will suffer. In many cases, it seems it has…and I do not think that will change. However, for me, this year I will write another novel and next year I may write another one….or maybe I will not.
(The Next book on my list to read about the art of writing is Zen In the Art of Creativity by Ray Bradbury)