Disclaimer: I am far from a career author. I’ve made enough money to buy a few fifths of whisky and some diapers for my baby, so needless to say I’ve got a long way to go. The following plan reflects this outsider (re: possibly ignorant) perspective.
The idealized author spends his time alone, churning out typewritten manuscripts to meet constant deadlines. He drinks. Probably smokes. He’s respected. He vacations in tropical seclusion, but still, even with the changed view, he writes. He has no day job. He is an author. Writing puts his kids through college.
There is a reason this image contains a typewriter. Much like the machine itself, the idealized author is all but extinct. I think a lot of writers would like to go back to this model. Is it possible to not just retain the author career, but to make it thrive?
Given the following set of assumptions, I believe it would be possible to bring back the author career:
- Content will continue to outweigh consumption
- The marketplace is spoilt by free content, and much of that content will continue to be free
- eBooks/eReaders will be a primary content medium within the next decade
- The cost to produce and distribute market-quality products will continue to fall
More authors are producing more content than ever, so it’s fair to say the larger onus is on the publishers to bring back the career. The problem is that publishers have no incentive right now to court authors in the way they once did. Publishers have the above items #1 and #2 going for them. A culture of expected free content coupled with an overflow of content, means authors have been trained to work for cheap or free.
But, authors have items #3 and #4 above as important pieces of leverage. If publishers don’t adapt to the changing market, and work with authors to do so, then the publishers will die. Because authors have the ability to create and distribute their own work, and because they have been trained to work for nothing, authors have little to lose by abandoning the publisher. Without authors, publishers die. Without publishers, authors continue.
What can be done?
- Consolidate the agent and publisher roles. Basically, this combined entity should act as a time and beaurocracy manager for authors. Today, authors have the ability to publish and distribute their own content without the help of agents and publishers. If this Pub/Agent composite can give authors time to write, then they will ultimately be given the sort of consistent product that the marketplace loves. Marketing thrives on trends. Giving authors time is the way to nurture trends.
- Increase author royalties. As media becomes electronic, the savings on overhead and distribution must be passed on. Court your talent, publishers. I’ve read the arguments against electronic media being cost-savers for publishers, and I just don’t believe them.
- Embrace the eBook paradigm shift. As a reader, I haven’t yet fallen in love with eBooks. As a writer, I am very excited by the possibilities. Instead of fighting to keep print alive, fight to make eBooks thrive. eBooks have the potential to increase the pool of readers, much as the iPod did for music enthusiasts.
- Brand yourselves as independent records labels do. Make fans out of your press, not just out of your authors. I won’t go into much depth here about this, but we do have an episode forthcoming at the Welcome to The Velvet podcast on this topic.
What can writers do?
- Provide consistent and brandable content. As Dan Holloway says in the comments at Jane Smith’s How Publishing Really Works blog, “If you are writing for the art, by all means try your hand at getting an agent, but don’t be upset if you don’t get one – and if the feedback is that you should be more commercial in order to get one, then make the decision – do you want to write for the pay packet, or do you REALLY want to do it for the art? And if it’s the latter, don’t expect to be picked up, or blame the publishers when you aren’t.”
- Prove that you can provide that content. As Jane Smith says in a response to the above comment, “I think that a big reason that most writers make such a paltry amount is that there are lots of people out there who call themselves writers but who only really dabble with writing: they sell an article every now and then, take several years to write just one book; sure, they’re writers–but not full-time, serious writers.”. A career author must write as though it is a career.
I want to sit alone and write fiction for a living. Help me do that. Make me believe.
As far as meeting this goal, I failed. I did not reach 5,000 print-quality words in one day. However, I did learn something very important. I am simply not meant to write all day. I am glad that I can no longer blame my non-productivity on time constraints. In fact, I actually work better given 2-3 hour windows. As you can see by the time-line below, the day started off quite well.
|10:08a||(1 word)||first word (The), first cup of coffee (Soy Chai Latte with an extra shot – It’s like beer: start the night with something exotic so that when you are drunk later you don’t care what brand you are drinking).|
|11:08a||(570 words)||went to the bathroom, took in a chapter of Saramago’s The Stone Raft, and gave the dog a treat. She’s been really good about not killing me, considering I am not a daily occupier of this house.|
|11:22a||The headphones already hurt. Time to try listening to Bohren und der Club of Gore through speakers. Less ear pain, but too much outside noise mucking up what is supposed to be a way of isolation by sound.|
|12:05p||(958 words)||2nd cup of coffee, this time black. 1,000 words in 2 hours. Things are not looking good. At this rate, 5,000 words will take me 10 hours, which I simply don’t have. Boooooo to goals.|
|1:16p||(1,496 words)||I said I wouldn’t, but I’ve got to get out of the house. I may slowly be realizing that I am just not meant to “go under” when I write. Could I be a normal 2-3 hour max/session writer?|
|2:44p||(1,496 words)||Notice the word count has not moved in 1 ½ hours. I drove to get a sandwich, then decided to drive home to finish the day. My wife has taken our kid to a friend’s farm for naturey stuff. So, I should have a couple more hours to at least round the count to 2,000 words.|
|6:04p||(1,731 words)||I’ll call these last 3 ½ hours a break, even though the duration really constitutes forfeiture. During this time I ate a couple donuts, drank some coffee, bought two Jose Saramago books (and learned that he has two posthumous English language translations forthcoming this year, Little Memories, an autobiography which I assume will be prepared for publication even considering his recent death, and Elephant’s Journey), and also a few Moleskine notebooks (which I learned is pronounced mol-a-skeen’-a, and not mol-skin as I had been doing for years). But I did come back to writing, and I did manage to pound out a few more words.|
|7:19p||(2,041 words)||I’m getting a shower.|
What to make of this? As much as I would like live the romanticized writer’s life, I simply do not have the constitution to do so. My apologies to anyone who gambled incorrectly on this outcome. My advice is that next time you wager money on someone’s likelihood to meet a goal, don’t use me if your choose the affirmative side.
When my lovely wife asked what I wanted for Father’s Day, I replied quite simply: a day to myself. Fearing that the request may imply that my primary desire was to spend the day away from my family, I quickly explained that I wanted the day to write. I’ve been spoiled by the frantic life of parenthood, being able to blame my lack of productivity on the burdens of being a father. “Why haven’t you finished the first draft of your world-changing novel?” my non-existent editor asks. “Well you see, sir, I have this child…” But I know the days of those lies must end. I only hurt myself when I don’t get shit done.
My beautiful wife has allowed me the entire day. I’ll be spending the time at her parent’s house where I can be assured just enough discomfort to keep me isolated to the page (they are out of town; I’m not saying that they make me uncomfortable, just that being in their house alone will be a bit weird and that I won’t be tempted to explore the area for ways to derail any progress).
My goal is to cough up 5,000 words. But not just any words, truly good words. Even 5,000 draft-quality words would be a feat, so planning on just as many print-quality words means I’ll have to cut away many of my bad habits. I check my email too often. I refill my coffee cup too much. Basically, I’ll use any excuse to step away from the page. Not today. How? I’ll be taking on a few tips from my friend Axel Taiari:
Kill your internet connection, only bring Tom Waits albums, rock some caffeine/nicotine, have food/sandwiches/snacks prepared in advance, forget about showering, and for the love of god, if anyone disturbs you and breaks your flow, it should be legal to stab them right between the eyes.
Here’s the survival gear:
- An old-fashioned notebook – This will hopefully keep me from my computer and by that, the internet.
- My computer – yeah, sorta self-defeating considering the above item, but I’ll use it primarily for morale-boosting updates via twitter and similar ego-maniacal social mediums. Maybe I’ll wear the winner shirt I made (above) with my face on it to really tell the virtual world how awesome I am.
- Headphones – I’ll likely replace Axel’s Tom Waits suggestion with Bohren und der Club of Gore, only because vocals can be distracting. Even a casual search on this site will show how much I love Tom Waits, so normally, he’d be my life’s soundtrack.
- Prepared food – I don’t want even the need for nutrition to be an excuse to lift my fat ass off the chair.
- Cigars – I think it will be too hot tomorrow to enjoy any smoke, but just in case, I’d like to have a couple think-sessions away from the paper, fueled by some delicious ACID cigarillos.
- A knife – for stabbing right between the eyes.
Wish me luck. But don’t bother me A-holes!
Jose Saramago, who quickly became one of my favorite authors after I read Blindness just last year, has died. But damn, he had a fine run, producing some of the most amazing novels I’ve ever read. There truly is no writing like Saramago writing.
I am lucky enough, however, to still have a robust back catalog of his work to dive into. In fact, just yesterday, I started The Stone Raft, and already, just 10 pages in, I’m hooked.
Even stranger is that I began work on a novella a few weeks ago, that contains some Saramago-inspired passages. Now, I suppose, I’ll be giving even more time to these sections to ensure they are worthy of their heritage.
(this is more of a rant than a cohesive post. Also not a cohesive post: an ionic neutral road sign…oh, I went there, sirs and mams)
When I say that best-selling doesn’t mean best writing I understand the hipster ditch I dig. It sounds whiny and pretentious, all the more so when one realizes that nothing of mine is even close to best-selling. I’m not sure the word “best” could be put in front of any word and used to describe my work. Best tinder, maybe. Best use of paper bound by a cover bearing the name Caleb J Ross, perhaps. But someone could write my name on a phone book and it would be more “best” than my work. This ditch, though, it’s easy to dig, yet difficult to fill. But I will try.
When I say that best-selling doesn’t mean best writing, I’m really attacking the concept that commercial success defines artistic success. The Hitler example here would be Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code (“Hitler example” is a term I use to connote the extreme example; when someone wants to conceptualize something bad, Hitler is the go-to reference. Instead of explaining all of this, I should have just used a different term, maybe).
Many writers commonly denounce Dan Brown. While this may come off as petty jealously (we all want his money and readership), envy shouldn’t diminish the fact that his books are not well-written. Yes, they are great stories (those that I’ve read, I can vouch for), but they are not great writing. This is the divide between commercial and artistic success. Craig Clevenger, in an article for the Santa Barbara Independent (reproduced here at The Velvet) has much to say on Brown’s quality, even making the point that his prose is nearly indistinguishable from that of erotica, a genre accepted even by many of its authors as one meant for quantity over quality.
My point being, I suppose (see, even I don’t know if this thing has a point. I warned you), that it’s okay to voice your hate for a commercially successful book on terms of art. I think the key is to be able to back that opinion with a wide frame of reference. I would guess that the people who regularly and primarily read blockbuster novels (those by James Patterson, Stephenie Meyer, and Dan Brown for example) don’t often read other types, or many other, books. Therefore, they do not have a large enough frame of reference for measuring the quality of a book. So, those that may cite jealously as the source of any Brown-bashing, may be doing so without ever having experienced a truly well-written book.
Transformers might make tons at the box office, but film geeks know that The Machinist is a much better movie of humans vs. machine.
KC Masterpiece barbeque sauce sells truckloads around the county, but fat guys know that Cowtown is way better.
Or, shit, maybe people don’t care about writing and instead just want a story. That’s cool. As long as people are reading, I guess. Read More
I’ve been asked a few times lately about my infatuation with cigars, specifically regarding my pairing them with reading and writing. Though I will likely be forced to continue defending my obsession, I feel laying it out in a blog post may curb the questions. Or it may rouse a group of like-minded gourmets, in which case, Welcome, Friends!
I have never been a cigarette smoker. In fact, growing up, I routinely took a dramatic exit when my mother lit up in the living room (she doesn’t smoke anymore, hasn’t for years). I fanned barely noticeable smoke from my face when entering bars. I vehemently stomped on butts left to smolder on sidewalks and curbs. In short, I was a snobby little punk.
The impetus of my cigar habit is a mystery; the staying power, however, is quite explainable. I love the smell. I love watching the large plumes of smoke. I love that a cigar, due mostly to its size and smoke duration, forces one to relax. You can’t clean the kitchen when holding a lit cigar. You can’t run a marathon with smoke in your face (being a fat lazy guy surely has nothing to do with my marathon avoidance).
My wife calls me a hippy when I talk about watching the smoke. I admit, there isn’t any tangible, measurable benefit to watching smoke, which could place it into the get-a-goddamn-haircut-you-freak category of leisure. But watching smoke, like the very act of smoking, forces relaxation. This numbed mindset pairs well with reading and writing, both of which require a freedom of distraction.
So, hippy though I may be, a beautiful cigar—the look, the smell, the taste—is a Pavlovian trigger to push me into reading and writing in ways that other writerly clichés (coffee, alcohol, vampires) simply cannot.
Here are a few of my current favs. These, with the exception of the Leon Jimenes Cafe Dom. Corona are way to expensive for ritual savoring, so I reserve them for perfect weather only.
|Drew Estate Natural Ltd. Irish Hops||Drew Estate ACID Kuba Kuba|
|Drew Estate ACID 5||Leon Jimenes Cafe Dom. Corona|
What are your writerly/readerly vices? The more cliché, the better.