The Kindle Revolution is taking hold of our society; I’m trying very hard to look at this as a good thing. I’ve got a few unfinished novels that I’m thinking very strongly about polishing off and throwing onto the slush pile. I’ve even talked to the guy who designed the artwork I use for this blog about my commissioning cover art for the books.
I think I’m a good writer, but I’m terrified that I’m really not. So I resist mightily the idea of putting my fiction into readers’ hands. It’s the weird thing I’m working through these days.
Unfortunately, though, not many other people seem to have enough of that fear. I’ve read so many self-published novels in the last two years that I think I’m going cross-eyed. Self-published novels are often like reading bad letters teenagers are forced to write to their grandmothers as thank-yous for ugly sweaters. They are full of bad grammar, bad spelling, bad story. Yet now thanks to Amazon and whatever their program is called….these things are now Novels.
There is a graphic making the rounds of Facebook (what are the odds?!?) which shows a cup of Starbucks Coffee in the first panel, and a Kindle with the author’s self-published YA paranormal romance trilogy (what are the odds?!?) in panel number two. Above the Starbucks coffee it says Time Invested: 60 seconds; Price $3.50. Above the woman’s self-published novel it says Time Invested: [some huge amount of hours]; Price $2.99. The friend who posted it said “a good story is always worth more than a cup of coffee. This is what’s wrong with society.”
No. THIS is what’s wrong with society.
First, and briefly, it’s incredibly arrogant to assume that a cup of coffee only represents sixty seconds of effort. In actuality it is the end product of several months of effort on the part of at least 50 people. The coffee grower, the coffee picker, the market inspector, the packager, the shipping agents and the people who work there, the people in customs, the distribution center staff in the US where the coffee beans are imported and then distributed to the roaster, the staff at the roaster….on and on. And don’t forget the whole process which goes into the manufacture of the cups, the little sleeve around the cups, and the lids. Then there’s the marketing team that puts the word out about the company, the graphic designer who makes the cups look appealing, right on down to the barista whose 60 seconds were the only thing that counts to the author in question.
(Okay, so that wasn’t so brief after all.)
But more importantly is the second point. Telling a good story is a valuable thing, but your act of so doing isn’t heroic or grandiose. It’s simply a craft. Most artisan work doesn’t return upon its hourly investment; the artisan is rewarded for her time by the creation of a worthy piece of art which expresses her skill and emotion in a tangible form. If people were to pay me for my handknit things according to the time I put into them a scarf would cost $900, a washcloth $50 and a pair of socks would be $375. Alas, the economy of artistry is a different scale, and the remuneration is going to be different as well. If your story saved lives you could command a physician’s salary. If it saved homes and businesses you could command that of an attorney. Art, however, meets intangible needs more often than it meets tangible ones, so you must learn to be content with intangible rewards. Personally I’d love to make a bit of scratch for my writing, but I’m nearly as rewarded by knowing others give of their most limited resources…their time and their headspace. That’s actually quite a compliment.