By the way, if you wonder why I liberally pepper my blogs with links instead of pictures, there are two reasons for this: 1) I don’t know who owns the copyright and don’t want to accidentally violate that and 2) I am perhaps slightly long-winded on occasion and if I were to post all the pictures in my blog it would take forever and day to load up, and no one likes slow-loading websites. I hope you lovely readers are alright with this arrangement.
“Hanging out a shingle” is an expression that means “to start one’s own business” (usually law or medicine) but it can also generally mean going into business for yourself. The expression also seems to imply a certain lack of skill, i.e., if you’ve got the skills, why can’t you get a job at an already existing firm? For artists, that means, “why can’t you find a publisher or agent?” So as every artist is usually in business for themselves, that’s a lot of shingles being hung out.
Writers in particular find it easy to hang a shingle out because unlike many arts (and despite my country’s abysmal literacy rate), pretty much everyone is taught the basic skills of reading and writing. Aside from some finger-painting in kindergarten, I never got a formal art class. I could join orchestra or band, so that was something. Still, in general, most arts have a technical aspect to them that most people simply do not learn without actually seeking out a way to learn those skills.
Writing seems like a pretty simple art, technically speaking, compared to most of the other arts. Again, part of this is because everyone has the basics. But it’s hard to quantify the technical aspects of writing beyond correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. What is the art of crafting dialogue? Of successful but not intrusive exposition? Of proper description and context? It’s a lot easier, I think, to discuss such aspects about other arts. I have some idea of what sloppy brushstrokes in painting would look like, or uneven glazing on a ceramic pot, or the wrong tempo in a sonata, or when an actor flubs his lines. I know poor dialogue and characterization when I read it, but it’s hard to explain exactly where the technical flaws are. This doesn’t stop me from trying, of course.
So this means there are a lot of people who want to be writers, and the publishing industry is hard to break into at the best of times, and this is not the best of times. As I have said before, lack of skill is not the reason it’s hard for artists to get into the industry either. Writers have almost no choice but to hang a shingle out, as it were. That used to mean self-publishing (also called vanity press). Now it can mean going through online publishers which don’t quite have the stigma associated with self-publishing (that is, it’s not seen as vanity press). I like the online publishing, but it sure means there are a lot of shingles getting hung out, which makes it even harder for mine to get noticed. Hanging a shingle out is no more a guarantee of quality than getting published.
I’m trying to do the writer equivalent of pounding the pavement to try to find clients by having this blog and a Facebook page. I also regularly contribute to an online magazine, which at least is more of my work getting out into the internets. Also, I have a day job so my very existence doesn’t depend on my success at writing. I don’t know if that makes it easier or harder to hang the shingle out. I don’t really lose anything if no one downloads (and maybe one day exchanges money for) my writing, so maybe I don’t push myself as hard as I could to really try to make a go of this.
Well, I’ll figure that out. In the meantime, thank you dear readers for taking a chance and reading my stuff. The internet can be such a scary place, and I personally have known writers who have hung out shingles and I can only cringe when I think of the people who decided to take a look at their work. I know criticism is inevitable, but criticism also means interest, and in that case I’m okey-dokey fine with criticism (as long as it’s constructive). I will continue to work on making my little place of business more attractive to future readers too.