First, a bit of self-promotion. Please download my novel and/or short story and if you like them, follow the Paypal link or at least Like me on Facebook. Also, I am working on a new novel, a lighthearted urban fantasy (which I know I said I wouldn’t write) with a lot of humor and pop-culture references that probably no one will get. But it should be a fun read! Ok, moving on now.
This random musing was spawned by a blog reader sending me an article concerning an undoubtedly influential but technically poor comic book artist (see “A Comic Book Entry: Reader Response 1”). And this sent me into a spiral of introspection and rage as I realized how much money this person is making and he can’t even draw! Then I realized how many authors are making a lot of money and they can’t write! Then I banged my head against my desk until I forgot why I was upset.
Success is hard, and success in any art is a pipe dream. Everyone knows that. I try not to get jealous when an artist is successful if I think they deserve that success. That is, their work is good, they’ve worked hard, and they got lucky. I really try not to begrudge even being lucky. A big break is really the key. And when we artists work hard, and see people who do not work hard, or whose work is of a poorer quality than ours, we get upset when they are rewarded with success and we are not. We aspiring writers, singers, painters, artists of all types pursue that success with enthusiasm but generally have a day job so we can pay bills. Enthusiasm, by necessity, is tempered with the realism that what is objectively/critically good may not be marketable. That’s the worst part – you can be a good artist, and still never get any acknowledgment or compensation for your work. This makes me cynical, which manifests in snarkage, which results in this blog.
Enthusiasm vs Skill:
Enthusiasm is a great quality. Enthusiasm without skill is still a good quality, unless one is enthusiastic about something they are completely terrible at. To steal a quote from the awesome Despair Inc., demovitator – “When you earnestly believe you can compensate for your lack of skill by doubling your efforts, there’s no end to what you can’t do.” I think there are a lot of artists with a great deal of enthusiasm, and often that enthusiasm leads to lofty ambitions, and often that ambition exceeds the artists’ skill. But, to my mind, trying and failing is better than not trying. Not trying at best results in something mediocre. Who has time to bother with mediocre? I know more than a few people besides myself trying to make it as an artist. Of those people, there is one aspiring writer who has a great deal of enthusiasm but almost no technical skill at the craft of writing. This writer has been writing for many years. Normally I try to encourage my fellow artists, but honestly, I really can’t encourage this one. Despite feedback and criticism, said writer refuses to change or improve. Does this writer work hard? Sure. But there comes a point where enthusiasm simply cannot compensate for a lack of skill. Unfortunately, this does not mean the above-mentioned writer may not be successful.
Skill vs Marketability:
Some days I wonder if Shakespeare could get published in this market. The publishing market has always been tough, but since the decline of paper it’s only become tougher. Publishers are of course out to make money, which means the better their authors sell, the higher their profit margin. So publishers are always looking for something that will sell. Unfortunately, what will sell and what is actually good are often two different qualities. Take the phenomenon that is the Twilight books. Meyer is a terrible writer. Her books sold so well that E. L. James’ even worse-written erotic fan-fiction novel based on the series, Fifty Shades of Gray, sold even better. This, as you may imagine, depresses me. I’m not saying there isn’t room in the world for fiction that is complete junk. Junk media has its place, and I think most of my movie collection and a lot of my music collection would probably qualify. Junk is usually entertaining, if not meaningful. Not everyone can write the Great American Novel, but damn it, even junk should be well-written. Even a purveyor of junk should at least demonstrate some skill at the their craft. However, it makes me sad that such poorly-written junk gets published and so many other talented writers don’t get a second look because the publishing house doesn’t see a movie tie-in. A frustrated writer friend of mine (not the one mentioned above who is incompetent at the craft) is in a writers’ group that has some Big Names. The Big Names get published frequently while my friend’s perfectly fine works are passed by over and over again. My friend said to the group in frustration, “Teach me how to get published.” One of these Big Names replied, “How can I teach you how to get published? You can’t teach luck.” There’s a dose of realism. Yet my writer friend persists, and so do I.
So where does this leave a struggling writer? I have turned to the World Wide Web and digital publishing (I’m not being subtle; this blog is my Hail Mary’s Pass). I love Smashwords, I really do. My initial attempts to get published were met with a pile of rejection letters. Smashwords just wanted my novel to convert properly to e-reader formats and have a properly sized cover. But as much as I love digital publishing, and as much as I criticize traditional publishing, success at digital publishing is as hit and miss as sending in a manuscript to a traditional publisher. And if a traditional publisher picks up a work, they do all the marketing. A digital publisher sometimes does, but usually at a fee. Otherwise the writer is alone on the interwebs attempting to reach an audience as best they can (hello, audience!). Digital publishing is an anything-goes type world. No one has vetted the book you download. At least in traditional publishing, someone has read and edited that book (and I hope in the case of some of the bad writers, some editor has banged their head onto their desk bemoaning their lot in life for having to pass such drivel onto an unsuspecting public). I suppose digital publishing really just a microcosm for the Internet itself – anything is out there to find, but you never know what you’ll get.
By the way, this conveniently brings me back to shameless self-promotion. If you like my writing here, you’ll probably like my writing elsewhere. Or at least try a free download. I’ll admit, neither A Song of Snow and Ashes or “Squandered Blessings” are much like my blog, but I think they’re still well-written and enjoyable. And I’m working on a new novel that contains a lot more snarkage. Please be reading, and catch the pass.