David Kirkpatrick

January 15, 2010

So you think you want to be a writer?

Filed under: Arts, Business, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 3:26 pm

I tend to hope for the best, but plan for the worst in all endeavors, and I never want to be a dark cloud over my, or anyone else’s, dreams, but the reality right now for anyone hoping to earn a living as a writer is the shot is very long and the hope for success is very small.

Newspapers are drying up left and right, online content (an area I have substantial experience in at very high levels) simply does not offer a living wage and the world of fiction is more difficult to break into than ever before (if the prospect of being more difficult is even possible). I’m seeing ads looking for very precise skill sets seeking writing that would easily command $1 per word, or more, just a few years ago offering much less than ten cents per word. Some even dropping below a penny per word. As a freelance writer of many years this is simply staggering.

And if you hope to be discovered as a writer of fiction? Don’t look to major magazines, and certainly not to publishing houses. They aren’t even reading the unsolicited manuscripts that go into the slush pile. I can’t speak for the smaller literary journals and periodicals, but I hope they remain viable outlets for burgeoning fiction writers.

I really don’t have any decent advice for hopeful writers except to keep up your personal writing, do keep a journal, track markets that are open to new writers and above all, don’t stop creating. Our world and culture is more rich because of the multitude of voices out there. It is a shame and a crime that commercial publishing is silencing the majority of those voices.

Self publishing and promotion through blogs, websites and print-on-demand (POD) books is an option, but that option rarely pays the bills. For artists it’s hard to keep a head in the ether of creativity when the nose is pressed firmly against the grindstone.

My website homepage offers this quote from Henry Miller, “A man with talent has to make his living on the side or do his creative work on the side. A difficult choice!” Right now a writer with talent is faced with a market where it’s very hard to reap the benefits and rewards of that talent.

Our culture is more poor because of this fact.

From the link:

In 1991, a book editor at Random House pulled from the heaps of unsolicited manuscripts a novel about a murder that roils a Baltimore suburb. Written by a first-time author and mother-to-be named Mary Cahill, “Carpool” was published to fanfare. Ms. Cahill was interviewed on the “Today” show. “Carpool” was a best seller.

That was the last time Random House, the largest publisher in the U.S., remembers publishing anything found in a slush pile. Today, Random House and most of its major counterparts refuse to accept unsolicited material.

Also from the link:

Now, slush is dead, or close to extinction. Film and television producers won’t read anything not certified by an agent because producers are afraid of being accused of stealing ideas and material. Most book publishers have stopped accepting book proposals that are not submitted by agents. Magazines say they can scarcely afford the manpower to cull through the piles looking for the Next Big Thing.