How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #3

Oh, you’re a writer? Do you have a book published? Can I find it at Barnes & Noble?

These questions fall back on a cultural perception: Real Books are found in Book Stores.

Hidden Meaning: If it’s not in a book store, then it’s ________________

Fill in the blank above as you will, but it can generally be summed up as ‘not real’.

But there are two issues that this brings up:
1) There’s a cultural assumption that books are the only valid form of writing. This implies that publication in magazines is invalid. Publication in anthologies–which are books, but not by one author–is questionable. (You write short stories? Who does that?) Publicating in on-line venues is dismissable. And publication in e-books? Well, anyone can do that, right? Aunt Geneva published her cookbook through Smashwords, so…

OK, here’s the deal.
There are a lot of different types of publications which pay varying amounts and require varying levels of professionalism. All of them are valid for different readers. Do you want to publish a novella via Smashwords as an e-book? For the right kind of novella, this can be quite profitable. Do you want to publish a short story via an e-magazine? Provided they accept your work*, it can be a great experience. I’ve actually brought in some good money from e-magazines. No complaint.

Truth is, there’s more to the publishing world than novels…and it’s changing fast.

2) There’s a cultural assumption that a writer isn’t a ‘real’ writer until they’re paid (preferably a lot of money, a lá J. K. Rowling.)

Ok, let me be up front about this. I like getting paid. I do write for money.

But that isn’t true of all writers. A lot of perfectly good writers never even try to make money at it. For various reasons. They may either chose not to dedicate that much time to it or they may chose to write a form for which they can’t get paid (such as fan-fic) or paid much (such as poetry.)

A lot of people write for the love. That doesn’t mean they’re not writers. They’re not -paid- writers. But seriously, do we look askance at the guy who plays his guitar for fun? Ask him where his albums are available? Do we ask quilters where they’ve sold a quilt recently? Ask the model train guy if he’s won any local model train competitions? A lot of people have ‘hobbies’ and no one thinks twice about them. But when someone’s hobby is writing? People seem to find that weird, as if only the sanction of being published is what makes it ‘real’.

(The whole idea of levelling up in the writing world is an interesting construct, one which I find myself buying in to from time to time. The external validation thing can definitely mess with your mind.)

Anyhow, the difficultly with the above questions is that they put the writer on the spot. One of the reasons that I have business cards is so that I can hand one to someone and say, “Links to most of my publications can be found on my webpage or blog.”

It’s rather difficult to explain that you have stories at this on-line site, but they’d need to subscribe to see them. Or that you’re in Anthology X, but it’s out of print now. Or that you’ve put the story up on your own webpage because you have the rights back now.

And when you’re a new writer and don’t even have those publications to share, you hem and haw and explain that you’re not published yet but you’ve got a manuscript at publisher X, which is where the questioner pats you on the head and thinks you’re a little deluded. For the last year I’ve been explaining that I have some books coming out….eventually. But until I can produce said book, I suspect a lot of my listeners don’t believe me.

So if you ask those questions, you might get a blank look.

But we are writers. We are!

*Provided you can endure all the rejections….


7 thoughts on “How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #3

    1. True…I don’t think anyone means ill by asking this kind of question. It’s just a matter of not knowing the industry. ;o)

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