Gypsies, Tramps and Writers

At some point in my blog yesterday, Cyn Bagley pointed out that in Nevada writers need a license, and for the purposes of the license are lumped in with fortune tellers.

This amused me greatly, first because well…  “I got a license to tell them stories” but also because we’re being lumped in with fortune tellers and other “shady arts” – which of course is totally deserved…

Of course, this didn’t make me any too eager to move to Nevada, but after a while I sort of saw the rationale behind the law.

Say you’re an unlicensed fortune teller, and that while you are doing your thing, someone comes up to you and says “Hey, you didn’t pay the license.”

You can always say, “I’m not really telling fortunes.  I’m just making up stuff.”

Then they can go “Oh, so you’re a story-teller/writer” if you write it down.  “Where’s your license for that?”

However, given the way the stainless steel lint trap of a brain works, this hooked in with something I heard Rebecca Moesta say: “My profession doesn’t appear on any listings.  Every time I do something official, I have to jump through weird hoops to get there.”

This is true.  The closest I can come to listing my profession in a drop down list is “entertainment” and “business owner” – this means I could be a writer, a wedding singer or a pole dancer.

See, most writers grow up with this dual vision of the profession.  Most of us who decide to become writers start out as avid readers.  This means we think writers are demi-gods.  Some of us – me – who couldn’t care less about movies, think they’re WAY cooler than actors.

But then comes the process of breaking in.  I read somewhere it resembles, more than anything, a series of kicks to the teeth.  This was certainly true of the old process and, with a few lucky exceptions I think indie will still be like that.

It used to be that you couldn’t sell anything until you’d collected a massive number of rejections.  Then came the phase where you couldn’t even submit until you were invited, which meant going to conventions and acting as a supplicant, even while indulging people you’d normally cross the street to avoid.

There’s no denying Indie is better.  At least you’re trying to make your writing more commercial for the ultimate buyer.  But this doesn’t mean it will be easy.  My guess is most of the people putting stuff up will still face years of “rejections” – i.e. low selling stuff – until they either “make” it, or give up.

But the thing is there is no ceremony.  There is no time at which you say, I’m a writer now.  You have this dual vision in your mind, these high and unattainable godlike writers, and you, lowly, petitioning and (at least in the old system) always aware that you got there through luck and that colleagues more worthy than you never managed to make it.

This affects even those who have made it spectacularly.  There’s no other way to read Stephen King’s latest move with claiming to eschew ebooks than as his attempt to make himself special.  “I’m a writer, but I’m not like those other writers who just throw stuff up on Amazon.”  Not a classy move, and ultimately a betrayal of fundamental insecurity.

It is the same force that leads people to say things like “I don’t write science fiction, I write literature with science fiction tropes.”  Try to laugh behind your hand or in the privacy of your room.  The poor rats are serious. And they don’t know the “real” literati say things like “So and so writes science fiction.  That is of course not literature,” Because the literati are also trying to convince themselves they’re “real” writers.

I had a friend who was reading stuff at Bowker today, and was amused at their saying that “this is for those who aren’t lucky enough to get a publishing contract.”

And do let’s talk about those who are lucky enough.  Even the best of contracts in publishing remain still mired in the age when publishers were the sole road into the hands (and eyeballs) of readers.  There are enough weasel words there that unless you are very lucky or very obnoxious you’ll probably never get those books back.  (I’m very obnoxious, in case you were wondering, and about to amp it up to 11 where Berkley is concerned. J  — for those of you from the South, yep, there will be a “hey guys, watch this!” moment.)

People are signing unbelievably bad contracts, so bad they’re putting their right to make a living in the hands of strangers and faceless corporations, because they want to be “real writers” and be on shelves like “real writers.”

Two things:

First, if you haven’t go read Kris Rusch on The Shifting Sands of Publishing.  Look, unless you are “most favored author” – and you’ll know if you are, and it has more to do with WHO you are than the content of your book – most traditional publishers won’t now get you on shelves.  Unless you manage to leverage yourself to sell a lot on line.  And if you do that, you can now get there self pubbed or indie too.

Second, I am now telling you that if you’re working on writing and towards making a career from it, you’re now a Real Writer.  If you need a certificate, I can make a file you can download, fill in your name and print.  Suitable-for-framing.

You don’t need to sign stupid contracts.  You don’t need to disavow your fellow writers.  You don’t need to do anything but write and try to be good at it.

Welcome to the caravan.

19 thoughts on “Gypsies, Tramps and Writers

  1. I’ll admit my standard would be a _bit_ higher: you’re a real writer when you have at least one finished work and at least one work in active progress. (A standard by which my wife is a real writer and I’m not…but might be in the future, if I ever take the time to start something that’ll be worth finishing.)

  2. How about; you are a Writer if you write. You are an Author if you threw a book, or at minimum an article, out there which DIDN’T disappear without a trace.

  3. Most of the time my mental certificate of writerdom is valid, but recently I spent a week with a group of women, many of whom were traditionally published, and who told me that self-publishing was certainly a *valid* choice these days …the certificate expired on a silent groan.

    Don’t worry, I shall apply for a new one and post-date it.

  4. “If you need a certificate, I can make a file you can download, fill in your name and print. Suitable-for-framing.”

    Yes, please – and would YOU sign it? Thanks. External validation.

    I’m good at writing, not so good at designing certificates!

    And I am definitely a writer. I checked the file where I keep my progress notes for Chapter 10 (current chapter under revision), and it has almost 17,000 words. In support of a chapter which will end up at around 6000 words.

    Why the verbiage? Because my CFS brain doesn’t work, so I use the file as external storage, and RAM, as my CPU processes ideas. But still, every single one of those words was written. By me.

    Eventually, we’ll get this behemoth published – and on to the next.

  5. Everybody gets a certificate. Maybe to increase confidence said certificate could also have “upgrade” ratings, like pilots do for different aircraft. With a star-shaped thingy to one side, and when you get that “rating” you put a gold star sticker on it. Things like “finished book/story” and “published book/story” and “got perfect stranger to pay money for book/story” and so on, all the way up to “favorite author called to say how much they enjoyed reading $currentwork” 😉

  6. Gypsy, Tramp or Writer . . . What to be, what to be . . . I can tramp pretty good on paper, well, electrons. In person, not so good. All my novels are in the future . . . Ha! I’m going to be all three. So. There. AND NO LICENSE!

  7. Hmmm. I’ve been earning a living as a writer in Nevada for decades. This license thing is news to me … and my peers.

  8. My Calmer Half’s certificate reads “pay to the order of.” Well, not for the fiction as we opted for the electronic deposit instead of losing any bit of precious royalties to check fees, but every now and then I’m tempted to print a sales statement, and frame it together with a check stub from one of the magazine articles.

    The next level certificate I can provide will be in paper, 5×8 inches, with his name on the cover. That one’s still in progress… I have a hearty dislike of kerning.

  9. “It used to be that you couldn’t sell anything until you’d collected a massive number of rejections. Then came the phase where you couldn’t even submit until you were invited, which meant going to conventions and acting as a supplicant, even while indulging people you’d normally cross the street to avoid.”

    Well, I did the tramping back in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s, hit the Cons, got my rejections – even a few personalized ones! – and a short story acceptance (right before the mag went belly up, so it wasn’t published).

    Then we had a major, cross country move, substandard living arrangements (900+ sq feet for 7 people?!?) and then another move to the place we’ve stayed for the last 20 years.

    And in all the process, I got really diverted and side tracked, started writing business & commercial (NOT commercials!) for a decent pay per job, and then got lost in space. And now I’m finding my way home again. Let’s see, the Local Cluster is which direction?

    But I’ll get there in time. And I’m happily learning the changes wrought in the publishing world, especially the Indie press movement.

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