Yesterday I received an email from a fellow writer announcing his resignation from the writing business. By the way, he's not making a living from his writing. Not even close. Oh, he's a terrific writer with a history of publishing short stories in very reputable literary magazines and he's even had a literary agent for a while. He's also never been seriously close to getting one of his novels published and that's where the frustrated email was born. (He's since backed off his threat to quit writing, but that doesn't diminish his intrinsically exacerbating situation.)
It's easy to see why he'd gotten here. After all the publishing industry is about making money, not discovering new literary talent. So if a publisher has a choice between a new author with some serious writing chops and the twentieth unauthorized Frank Sinatra biography, well, you see what I mean. When an illiterate like Snooki gets a books deal, I think it's obvious traditional publishing has become a place for no-talent big names to get their book deals. Think Kardashians and Paris Hilton.
So why do I bring this up when I've been doing quite well with my own little career writing thrillers? Because many writers have been stuck in the old model of query an agent, get a publisher, then wait two years to see your book in print. It's an antiquated system which rewards very few authors who wiggle their way through the hoops to get to their goal. It also doesn't allow for writers to try new things. If a new writer attempts to write a story in first person from several different people, it's considered edgy and too much of a risk. Meanwhile Pulitzer Prize winner Cormac McCarthy can write an entire book without using quotation marks for dialogue and that's just fine. Don't get me wrong, McCarthy is obviously an unbelievable writer, it's just that he makes money for the publisher, which means break any rules you'd like.
So if you're a new writer, stay within the lines and don't stray too far from the norm. In other words, don't get too creative, please. And what about self-publishing? Well, that's even more frustrating for newer writers because the pool has begun to fill up and now they're supposed to suddenly go from concentrating on writing to becoming an expert on formatting and marketing on the fly. Or pay a large fee for someone else to do that for you. Is this how the system should have gone? No. There was a time when publishers actively searched for new voices, then when they found him/her, they would throw some marketing money behind the book and get it off the ground. But somewhere along the line they decided to go for the quick buck. People like Kato Kaelin, (remember OJ's poolboy) who struck a $500,000 deal with St. Martin's Press were lurking in the alleys whispering to the industry with soft, alluring words of guaranteed profit.
Am I indicting the entire industry? Of course not. Am I suggesting publishers could have prevented a lot of this mass exodus toward independence by creative writers? Sure. I feel for my friends who have struggled to reach the masses and I will always champion their work. Writing is the one profession where fellow competitors for the same readers would help each other whenever possible. I've seen too many of my talented friends get lost in the shuffle and I hope the day will come where they can find their audience so I'll never get an email like the one I received yesterday.