For the Love Doesn’t Buy the Groceries

12 10 2012

Never mind the candy. How about rent money? Car payment? A can of blessed tuna fish and a box of crackers? [click on image]

So, Amazon has a new author ranking system. We get to stress over that after we are done agonizing over our Klout number (or has that died a well-deserved death? Haven’t heard much about it lately.) I read John Scalzi’s article about it and then sat staring at the wall for a few moments. I have a book coming out next year — my first with a traditional (albeit small) publisher. I’m going to have to pay attention to all this shit and do the promotional dance. Jesus wept.

Isn’t it enough to labor for months, often years, to create a story with depth, realism, passion, vivid characters and a message (in other words, a damn good book)? What is that labor worth?

Peanuts. Excuse me, peanuts are likely worth more.

What is happening here is the unashamed exploitation of the fact that writers love their work, and do it even without compensation. Thousands of authors produce tens of thousands of books without getting a dime for their efforts, then are willing to give the work away or sell it for pocket change just on the hope that it will be read. Maybe, just maybe, it will become a best-seller. The author will invest uncountable hours of time to promote their work, all just on the chance that they might earn something back. Most of them don’t and never will.

Publishers and distributors happily make use of all this free labor to fuel their furnaces. They get a great product for nothing. All they need to do is polish it up and put it out there, and they can make money off of it. A little of it trickles back to the author, but not much. Readers expect a bargain and are rewarded with lots of cheap or free content. Everybody benefits. Except the author.

Just doesn’t seem right somehow, but reality has a way of confounding our expectations about the way things ought to be. I see myself as primarily a writer, not a marketer, not a promoter. I readily confess that I don’t have a lot of business savvy and lack the will to play the game. It seems like such a waste of precious time to invest hours in updating all my social media, pursuing leads, chasing after all the important numbers and strategies, especially when I see others doing it, and reaping little or no reward for their trouble. I make perfunctory efforts when I get inspired (here you go). But not nearly as much as I’m supposed to in order to be successful. I’d rather go work on a manuscript, and that’s the choice I generally make.

It’s simple: I just want to write good books and share them. (Note: please do not advise me to self-publish. I’ve already explored and rejected that option, and if you’re curious, here’s why.) Writing is the most profound, key aspect of who I am. It’s how my brain works, what I love, what I must do. I do it even though it has earned me a mere pittance over the years, and if publishers, distributors and readers get their way, it always will.

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