Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On Writing in Our Age

I spent some time in a used bookstore last week. The Dusty Bookshelf, with stores in Lawrence and Manhattan (Kansas...not that Manhattan), is a wonderful maze of old paper, words, and dreams. The photo on their website doesn't do the store justice. I've never been in the place without books stacked ten to twenty high around the desk.

It's where books go to die (if they are good and lucky). A sort of book Valhalla.

I perused the Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy sections, flipped through the yellowed pages of books by past lumanries, and remembered. Some books screamed their age with woefully dated cover art. Others looked like they might crumble in my hands. Words filled each one, someone's thoughts and ideas, sweat and hard work...and I was left to feel a bit like Hamlet as he stares into Yorick's empty gaze.

All that struggle, for this...

My sister used to be a journalist. She wrote for a few newspapers before returning to school to become a teacher. Even then, she wrote feature articles and made pretty good money. She still writes and has one book out through a small press. We spoke recently, bantering about the current state of publishing.

She started in the industry before the past decade or so of consolidation, before small houses became imprints for bigger publishers, before editors by the score were fired in the name of profit margins. She had a few houses look at her work unagented--can you even imagine such a thing today? Today: no agent...no way. Most of all, my sister loathes the idea of working for free. She can't believe I blog regularly or write short stories for pocket change...sometimes even less.

But now, you're expected to work for free as an author. You're expected to build a platform...find a following. You're expected to spend your own advance on promotion...if not (snap), your book runs the risk of landing in the other book graveyard, the one in which no one pulls it off a shelf and pays pennies on the dollar to take it home and cherish. Your book lands on a remainder table to be passed over by fickle consumers. You're done.

Pardon the forthcoming extended metaphor (my wife abhors any reference to war). I can't fight a battle that way. I don't have the resources, the troop strength, or experience to win. But, as guerilla fighters through the ages have shown, a good insurgency is a mighty weapon against superior forces. They don't fight with the intention of winning one battle, but winning the war.

What I can do, all I can really do, is keep writing. If I do...if I do...I've already won.

21 comments:

Michael Stone said...

Excellent post, Aaron. You've expressed something I've been feeling for a long while -- and you expressed it far better than I could, I have to say.

Aaron Polson said...

Michael - Sometimes the "blog" demons capture my voluntary muscle control center and start typing. I'm glad it made sense.

Jamie Eyberg said...

I think this battlefield is still forming, moving, plotting. I don't know what the war will look like but I like your strategy so far.

Aaron Polson said...

Jamie - all we can really do, in the end, is write. Right?

Akasha Savage said...

Excellent post. You've voiced my sentiments exactly. And I love blogging; it gives instant feed back on my writing, and it is a platform from which I can do what I love doing best: write. :)

onipar... said...

Good stuff, and I totally agree.

I do love those types of bookstores though. I have one in my area, and I always go there when I need to find discarded diamonds.

The best part about those types of bookstores are the owners/employees. You can ask them *anything* and they've probably read it, or at least know of it.

Aaron Polson said...

Akasha - Blogging is a great outlet.

Anthony - clerks at used places are definately readers...no, Readers.

Natalie L. Sin said...

We're like Baskin Robbins. Give some away for free, then get people to buy a double dip cone : )

Cate Gardner said...

Fantastic post, Aaron.

Every single word we put onto the page is part of the battle and you sir, are most definitely winning. The flag is just at the top of the hill and if you stretch your arm just a little bit, your fingers should touch it.

I can't imagine giving up blogging now. I'd be lost without my blog pals.

Aaron Polson said...

Natalie - ice cream = drugs?

Cate - It's definately one of those internal battles. (you can't imagine how many old war movie scenes flashed through my head when I read your comment)

Sophie Playle said...

Here here!

katey said...

Yes. Like Mike said, it's something I've been thinking about, but articulated much better here than I ever would've managed. I can't add a thing, but to say that I appreciate you taking the time to put it into words, and capture the wild intention behind the whole endeavor.

abrokenlaptop said...

I just now read Josh Olson's rant (was I the only one who had never heard of it??) and I loved where he said something like, "Real writers cannot be discouraged. If I talked you out of writing, then count yourself lucky and go find what you're good at."

I am constantly amazed at how difficult the whole publishing thing is. It is, to use your war movie metaphor,a minefield! I love to write. That's where the joy is. But I'm slowly learning how to love the editing, queries, (can't love the rejections, sorry) marketing, blogging...one day we'll look back and say, "Wow, we made it." There will be pride because everybody else will have given up. They won't make it through the hoops. It's hard, but we're dedicated, and I anticipate success for our little group o' bloggers.

Also, as a teacher, you get to show your students that if you work hard, you can achieve. Even if you're an adult. That's something that I didn't learn until recently, because I didn't have successful adult examples. I very much admire you.

Great post. This really resonated.

Brendan P. Myers said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this post. Thanks.

Alan W. Davidson said...

I agree with Cate and so many of the others. You have again expressed the thought of many of us with such clarity and class.

The each small battle you win puts you a few yards further forward towards winning this war. It's not a case of 'if', Aaron, it's a case of 'when'. Great post.

Horror Girl said...

very nice. i ran into this the other day when in a convo about reviewing for TMND. There was an assumption that i was making the dollars, and then there was much explaining to be done when i broke it to them that it wasn't so.

Aaron Polson said...

Cheers, Sophie.

Katey - Loved "wild intention". You have a way with the wordage yourself.

Mercedes - We're a stubborn lot (and that is a very good thing).

Brendan - Anytime.

Thanks, Alan. "When" is a hard concept to master when you're starting out.

Samantha - Yeah, but you're broke in good company. ;)

Danielle Ferries said...

Great post and I wholeheartedly agree. I can't imagine giving up blogging now either. And even if nothing ever came of my writing, I'd keep doing it for the love of it.

L.R. Bonehill said...

Aaron, you’ve hit the nail bang on the head with this. All we can do is keep going and let each small victory lead to a bigger battle and one day we’ll win.

Aaron Polson said...

Danielle - then you win too!

L.R. - Onward, then. Let's get 'em.

K.C. Shaw said...

Oh, absolutely! I wholeheartedly agree (and I also have the sudden urge to play Capture the Flag). I can't imagine giving up blogging, but that's because really it's a support network for me as a writer. As for short story sales, they may not pay well, but they remind me that there are people out there who will pay for my writing.

I used to work at a used book store. If it wasn't for the work part, it would have been sheer bliss all the time. :)