I mentioned it in passing previously, but I’ve been seeing a lot recently on writers expressing their dismay at not making as much headway as they would have wanted. I joined Authonomy last week and I got a message from someone who told me I was wasting my time there, that it was nothing more than a game people played to try and score from one another only to be rejected by Harper Collins when you climbed to the top of the slippery pole. (I added the Disraeli reference as an embellishment, but the sentiment was there). He’d apparently “wasted five years” of his life on his attempt to get the publisher to back him, and his message (because visible against his profile) was answered by several people telling him they wished he’d told them the same thing when they joined as they too felt like they had wasted their time and energies.
I don’t really have an opinion on their experiences as I’m not privvy to what those experiences have been. I just found it interesting. As I did this blog entry below, written by a guy who has been writing for years:
The first thing that struck me when reading this was, wow, this guy is a good writer. Because the article made me laugh so much, which sounds harsh because it is kind of a tale of woe, but delivered so brutally honestly I couldn’t help but find it amusing. The second thing that struck me is how easy I’ve had it compared to this. I didn’t put down an outlay of £6000, I haven’t got 1000 copies of my book in a box in the garage that I’m trying to shift or give away. I have a file on my laptop that I loaded up to Amazon and I have 5 copies of my book in paperback that I’ve been sending out or giving away to try and generate some reviews. Total outlay for me has been something like $60 to $80. I’ve been lucky in coming to self publication at a time when it’s become much easier. The downside is, of course, lots more people are doing it now which means I have to shout over a clamour of other voices, but in retrospect I’d probably prefer to do that than experience the pain Iain Manson did.
I’m actually quite happy with the start I’ve made, and it is only a start, modest in some respects but intentionally so as I didn’t want to get my hopes up and have them dashed against the rocks of commercial success. As of yesterday, I have sold 100 books in just over 3 months. If I was dependent upon the income of my writing that would be a disaster. But luckily I’m not, I have a day job. I put my writing up with no expectation other than a vague hope someone would want to read it. The more people that wanted to read it, the better. In the back of my mind, sure, I might have had daydreams that it would really take off and in 18 months I’d be short listed for a literary prize, lauded as the new literary messiah. I’m sure everyone does. But I’m not vain or misguided enough to actually invest any belief in that. I’ve worked in IT for about 16 years now. I started out, after university, as an office admin clerk. Learned a few things about databases and became a reporting analyst. Learned a bit about coding and projects and became a business analyst. Did that in a lot of places and became a consultant last year. It was all pretty gradual, but happened because I applied myself and kept pushing on. Why would I think writing would be any different?
If I had the same level of success in my writing over a 16 year period as I’ve managed in my day job, that would be tremendous for me. It wouldn’t make me a bestseller, probably, but it would represent a progression of ability and exposure that I’d be more than happy with. Getting onto the books at Harper Collins is one way to do it, sure, but it’s not the only way. Returning to my IT career as an example, I got a job a few years back with IBM. To a lot of people that seemed pretty impressive, the equivalent of being picked up by a publisher, a launching pad for progression into the upper echelons of IT management/directorship. I did it for a year and quit to go and work for a start up, because I didn’t like the corporate constraints and the hard sell you had to do to succeed there. I enjoyed more the freedom of just doing my job, creatively and well, in a more casual environment. I don’t want to push my book to every man and his dog on Authonomy to try and get it onto an editor’s desk. I want to write, and I want to control what I do in my own way, and if it’s successful great, and if not, well, so be it.
The truth is, most people who try and do something creative fail – if you define failure as not reaching the commercial heights. I have friends who have been in bands for years. They’re talented, they write good songs, they can sing and play instruments well. But they’ve never been on MTV rotation between Girls Aloud and Rihanna. People get hung up on “why, why, why?” when in reality there is no why. Popular culture is a pyramid scheme, there’s only room on the pinnacle for a few, the rest of us have to prop the system up by buying their stuff otherwise the consumer model falls apart. So the ones that get a boost up there are those that will appeal to the widest demographic of people below them. That doesn’t mean everyone else is a talentless consumer and nothing more. It’s just the way it works.
I write because I love to write. I don’t think I’m the best writer in the world, and I know I’ll never appeal to the biggest demographic. But that doesn’t stop me wanting to do it. I would love one day to make my living from doing it, but I know that may never happen, that in all probability it won’t happen. But I’ve gotten over that. I’m not bitter about it, that doesn’t really achieve anything. And going back to the blog I referenced above, I can’t really complain when I’ve had it so much easier than self-publishers used to have it. Ultimately, I think of it this way: I used to play five a side football and for an hour a week I thoroughly enjoyed myself, I forgot about everything else that was happening in my life and ran about like a maniac, laughing myself stupid. I am, by the way, one of the worst footballers in the world, so there was no aim or ambition in it, it was just a lark. So it strikes me that not everything should be about achievement. Some things we should do in life just because we want to.