Dedicated to Commissar Fredski, our beloved Leader (and Larder)

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Writing as profession…

I was amused to read a would-be-author in New Zealand bemoaning just how HARD it was in his local paper. I’ll spare you his missive (and him the embarrassment) but he was moaning how unfair it was that living away from the big city/University scene he was unable to afford to attend the courses and meet the right people to get him ‘in’. And getting bought on merit was just too hard, because the public had such appalling taste, and the market for books written by native New Zealanders was too small.

His answer, was, like Norway (which has a fair amount of spare cash) the Government should intervene, and buy copies of books by citizens to give as gifts to the ambassadorial staff of all foreign embassies and visiting dignitaries.

I did stop laughing before I actually died of anoxia, but it was close.

His ideas on the volume of that market was hilarious. That wasn’t half as funny as the idea that any semi-sane country would want to promote the denigrating perception of their history and people which is just about universal in Modern Western Traditional publishing: ‘We’re horrible people, inferior in every respect and at least half our population are scum. And our history deserves nothing but pillory and loathing, and reparations’.

Great promotion. Foreign Dignitary: “After reading this delightful work about the revolting debauchery and brutal cruelty to innocents in your history, and the charming insults to your president and 2/3 of your population, yes we would just love to be your chums.”

It seems that when their books are not making them much of a living, many authors feel it’s not them, but the appalling taste of the readers, and the GOVERNMENT OUGHT TO INTERVENE.

It worked SO well in the USSR and East Germany. The books reflected the doctrine, praise-sung the leadership, and were jobs-for-incompetent-but-well-connected communists. They were as frequently read as instruction manuals, and produced the delights of the like of Frau Butthurt…

Not good for reading (which I happen to love and want to foster) and really, not good for writers unless you were a Commissar’s precious and spoiled but dim-witted only daughter. This wasn’t a path open to most people who wished to write as a profession.

So how do you make a profession of it?

Well, I have heard of the diet of Worms (see how they wriggle and squirm) but a diet of words can be… slimming. Look there are various studies on the average income of authors, which are pretty low, but the medium income is three parts of nothing at all.

Most authors cannot live on their earnings. Just hold that thought, because I manage (not very well, but we don’t need to bleg on patreon, (like a few Hugo winning authors) or rely on a well-paying second job or a well-off or working partner). The working partner certainly helps, but we did live without that second income for about 12 years. It’s, in my blunt opinion, what is best for the future of both reading and writing. It’s a goal I hope most of our readers here share. Actually I hope most of you not just to earn a living but become filthy stinking rich… because not only would you get a reward, but as someone who loves reading, so would I.

If the industry was driven to make good money off books which were popular, and for which they had to pay those popular authors through the nose, the selective pressures would see books that weren’t popular vanish without a trace.

Which might mean you and me. But as I’ve managed to get here, via the slush pile, as an unknown, with zero local contacts, no internet connection, and the social skills of a monkey. So: despite the table being tilted hard against me, it’s anything but impossible to succeed. (And I am not alone in this, many authors who are not of the modern American Left who are still successful must, de facto, be better than the author at the same level who had the process favor them (because the establishment is hard left and mostly female, and plays favorites in identity politics and intersecionalism and all the other buzzwords). It’s hard to guess where a level playing would have taken them. At a guess the top I’d say those out of favor with the literary establishment possible have a 20%-50% disadvantage, which grows to several hundred percent lower down.).

Now, of course, the answer might be to please these powers. That’s the game on easiest setting after all. Do your very best to worm your way into the literary establishment, parrot the right doctrine, kiss up hard and join all the right pogroms and attend the right cons, and get taught by the right well-connected at various writing courses (taught by the grandees of those circles – for money (think about that)) and then use that leverage to get in with a publisher like Tor that leans hard that way, and has power and influence to promote your book in reviews and Awards and brick-and-mortar stores. This may be your natural chosen environment, and reflect your beliefs and convictions. Or not. If not, I suggest calling for pogroms and leading a few witch-burnings. It’s a bit like being a sheep among wolves. If you don’t lead the pack to lots of sheep-killing, you’re next. (the most rabid ANC members calling for murder of whites… were always… white).

But the downside of this: if you actually dream of financial success or even just making a living… is that, despite this, most of them don’t. You see, being an author, or working at a prestigious NY Trad publishing house… has social status (at least in certain circles) and a sea of delusions too. ‘It’ll get better. It’s a toe in the door etc.’ Which is why young authors accept advances – which never earn out – which, hour-for-hour of work (or the years they spent on that novel in coffee-shops because that’s where the ‘cool’ writers write.) pay pennies per hour. They have (they HAVE to have) other sources of income – be a spouse or a trust fund or mummy and daddy, or a lucrative and not too arduous a day-job (so they still have the time and energy to write). There are exceptions, the single mum who works as a farm laborer days and raises her kids and writes from 4 AM to 6 AM every morning, but they are rare.

This means because being an author has status, (and being a bloke in big rubber boots that goes down sewers to unblock them does not) publishers get, de facto, a subsidy from the author’s support system, making the author’s work cheap. (Yes, they DO buy occasional books for large advances. Take a deep and careful at who gets those.) Sewer servicing companies have no such subsidy, and actually have to pay for the rubber boots too. Those guys get a very good wage as a result – they do not subsidize their companies to do their job.

The Publishing Companies themselves enjoy a similar level of perceived social status – which is why they are full of mostly young women, being paid peanuts (look at the adverts, one day. The pay scales for NYC, in publishing are dismal. But they must get employees, or they’d have to pay more.).

So you have vanity books being bought by vanity employees.
And mystery of mystery not selling a hell of a lot to those outside their social milieu – which exists, but is not huge.

On the opposite extreme you have some people making a very good living out of writing – mostly KU – and producing 12-18 books A YEAR. Yes –as Amanda wrote, plagiarism – and a host of other problems. But they can’t be accused of playing the game on easy setting.

I know that my best year I wrote 500K – so at the length of those books, 10 or so. You may be able to do better. I could not. I couldn’t do that two years in a row, either, and not for want of trying.

If you can: great. If you can’t…

It is still possible to succeed. I seriously believe we’re going to have a quality shake out in the next few years, AND, well, the old model of Trad is failing. It will take a while, but we simply have to come back to popularity as the driving force – and that’s popularity with a large number of readers, not just one very over-served sector.

Nil desperandum

It can and must be done.

Otherwise you could try writing the sort of book that someone might think was a great idea to give visiting dignitaries. Perhaps something that said: “We are best and greatest, and if you give us any shit, we will trample you like ants, and we’re going take all best things from your culture and make them to our taste.”

26 thoughts on “Dedicated to Commissar Fredski, our beloved Leader (and Larder)

  1. I didn’t start seriously to write until I was partially supported by a military pension and a series of not-very-demanding part time jobs.
    As far as connections to the Establishment Publishing World … well, I did have a NY agent look at my first MS, and have very nice things to say about it, but he just didn’t think there was much of a market for historical fiction, and he didn’t believe he could market it successfully to the Trads.
    I went indy and never looked back.

    1. I’m only able to write as I am retired, and have a base income. I supplement that with subbing and other things.
      Hard to get started with no other income.

  2. I enjoy writing. If I had to crank out ten books a year it wouldn’t be fun and I’d get all cranky – well, crankier – and it would show and spoil the writing. My wife still works and I have a life that includes shopping and laundry – just like some authors have a cat to serve daily. Fortunately I do have other income in retirement and writing two or three books a year just doubles my income so I can enjoy a few perks like being able to go buy a new vehicle when we need on rather than sweat the depreciation and do the difficult hunt for a decent used one.
    My books are not predictive, and yet it seems like every time I try to write about future tech some damn fool patents what I wrote or is selling it on Amazon before I can publish. I even had one fellow inform me he was listing me as co-author on his patent application because I described the basic tech he was developing.
    Describing plausible future history is not that great a challenge. All you have to do is look at the past and extrapolate. Unfortunately that is not very complimentary to the politics the publishing world seem to favor. It’s hard to write in glowing terms about mass murder and theft, so I’d rather write something with happy endings. That’s an anomaly in history but it does happen occasionally.

  3. Out here, the guy who empties septic tanks is probably the highest-paid per-hour contractor. He and the plumbers are two of the most needed. Which it would behoove a lot of publishing gurus to recall when their toilets clog and overflow, or the water main breaks (as happened several times here last week. Ah, the joys of hard cold and old city plumbing.)

    I’m very grateful for Day Job, even when it “steals” time from writing. Plus it keeps me with one foot in the real world, “‘DRAMA” [back of hand to forehead] and all.

    1. they just think of them as ‘little people working menial jobs’

      they cannot even conceive that the odds are, that plumber is better off then they are…

    2. Working, either as a self-employed person, an independent contractor, or for someone else really does keep one’s footing in the real world, as *sigh* annoying as that is. I wonder if working for oneself to provide for one’s own things would do the same.

      Somewhat tangential honest question here, because y’know, I don’t live there in the US: I know that the US still has a thriving textile manufacturing industry. Is it impossible to get the cloth as a normal every day civvie to make clothes with? Do any of the local chain stores source local textiles? It seems to be a common thing to claim that ‘all clothes are made in horrible sweatshops in (insert country here) and that’s evil and bad.’

      1. Tell you one thing, it is virtually impossible to get made in Canada fabrics or clothing. I think even Tilly went to Indonesia. Manufacturing is essentially impossible here. Too expensive, too many hoops to jump through.

      2. There’s cloth stores, but most of them are failing. Wal-Mart has a thin and weaselly selection of cloth, Hobby Lobby a slightly more robust one, JoAnn’s Fabrics is *good*, and then you get specialty non-chain stores with better quality. (I can’t machine sew, but I used to make mermaid dolls from reconditioned thrift-store Barbies for my kid.)

  4. Dave, you forgot to mention another joy of publishing under Communism. Publishers routinely printed significantly fewer books than they thought they could sell, because you didn’t get in trouble if everything on your list sold out, whereas you did if you had to report unsold books at the end of the year.

    (I was book shopping in Hungary, and a friend who grew up there explained the system to me. There actually were interesting books getting published — Hungarians never really bought the Communist view — but to get one, you had to be in the bookstore on the day they received the books.)

      1. Fortunately, Commissar Fredski couldn’t understand what the poets were saying.

        1. “Don’t turn around, oh oh oh
          Der Kommissar’s in town, whoa oh oh”

          Or so After the Fire warned, a few decades back.

  5. Full lyrics to the kid song you referenced:

    Nobody likes me, everybody hates me
    I think I’ll go eat worms!
    Big fat juicy ones
    Eensie weensy squeensy ones
    See how they wiggle and squirm!

    Down goes the first one, down goes the second one
    Oh how they wiggle and squirm!
    Up comes the first one, up comes the second one
    Oh how they wiggle and squirm!

    I bite off the heads, and suck out the juice
    And throw the skins away!
    Nobody knows how fat I grow
    On worms three times a day!

    Nobody likes me, everybody hates me
    I think I’ll go eat worms!
    Big fat juicy ones
    Eensie weensy squeensy ones
    See how they wiggle and squirm!

  6. I now know what my first novel is going to be: Justin Trudeau Is The Greatest: A Fantasy.

    1. More of a horror novel.

      Little Justin lost another female cabinet member this afternoon, did you hear? Looks like there’s a bull market coming for little rat-sized life preservers,

      1. What flavor of popcorn would you like? We’ve got white cheddar, cheddar, caramel, kettle-corn, hot cinnamon, pizza, plain, plain with real butter, plain with real butter and salt, caramel with pecans…

        1. Ooo, pecans! Nice! So crunchy.

          Just like Justin is going to be when the Liberals are done baking him over a slow fire.

  7. “Otherwise you could try writing the sort of book that someone might think was a great idea to give visiting dignitaries. Perhaps something that said: “We are best and greatest, and if you give us any shit, we will trample you like ants, and we’re going take all best things from your culture and make them to our taste.””


    The Man Kzin Wars.

  8. “Perhaps something that said: “We are best and greatest, and if you give us any shit, we will trample you like ants, and we’re going take all best things from your culture and make them to our taste.””

    You mean like this?

    “The sound of crushed paving and breaking glass announced the arrival of George’s dragon body. He rammed his car-sized head into the now-empty café through the front window, his horns tore down the tin ceiling and sent it rattling to the floor. His neck easily reached the 30 feet to the back of the shop, and he pushed up right next to Guruh. “Greetings, asshole,” he snarled, his voice much lower and far louder than the wolf’s had been. “Take a look in my eye for just a second, before my friend eats your head. Yeah, that’s right, look right here.”

    Guruh’s muscles bunched as she forced the man’s head around to look. He was far stronger than a human being, but nothing compared to her.

    George stared hard for five seconds, then looked at Guruh in triumph. “I got him. You can do whatever you want now.”

    “Excellent,” growled the wolf, saliva dripping from her lower jaw.

    The man began to shiver in fear, looking from one monster to the other. “You, you can’t be here! You can’t!”

    “Oops,” smirked George evilly. “Looks like somebody screwed up. I’m here, and I am going to do some really unpleasant things to you for a really long time. Right after the wolf eats your face.”

    The wolf glared and snapped her teeth shut a fraction of an inch away from his nose. Saliva sprayed his face, he felt her hot breath on his skin. “He has a weapon in his spittle. It burned when he spit on me. Briefly. He knows not who we are.”

    “He’s not a human, he’s another flavor of alien. Like the Empire, but a different bunch. He didn’t get the memo not to screw with the monkeys.” His basketball-sized eye bored in on the man. “Tell her what she asked or she’ll do something painful.”

    “I am loyal!” said the man and spit on the ground. “I will tell you nothing!”

    George spit a glob of purple goo on top of the man’s spittle. The floor started smoking a bit as a reaction ensued. “Nano disassembler, a nasty one. Lots of energy there. He was trying to burn away the floor and fall into the basement to get away.”

    “A vain hope,” said the wolf. “Once I have hold of a demon’s spirit, it has no escape.”

    Ginny arrived, gun pointed at the man’s head. “Can I shoot this one? Tell me I can shoot him, George!”

    “Back up some, Gin. He spits disassembler. Shoot him from across the room.” George examined him critically. “You nailed him already. Nice grouping, girl! Three in the boiler. If he were human, he’d be deader than shit.”

    “Figures he wouldn’t be a human,” said Ginny, taking up a position behind the coffee counter. “I need a bigger gun.”

  9. I’ve suddenly got this image of some poor sap visiting a nation that engages in such nonsense getting literally buried under a ton of poorly written, government subsidized tomes.
    Or government offices so filled with this sort of drek that they have to use it for furniture.
    Or E**** T**** getting this treatment, and inadvertently kicking off WWIII.

    1. Considering the typical literary qualities of this stuff, it would be a World Bore instead.

  10. You don’t get it. It’s CENSORSHIP not to subsidize them. (How they get chosen will never, of course, be revealed to the riffraff.)

    1. (Nods) Like how, apparently, not having somebody else pay for your birth control is the same thing as being denied birth control.

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