Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mopey Midlist Authors, Buddhism and the Cessation of Suffering

Okay, I'm not often one for picking on other people's blogs. I mean, blogging ain't easy sometimes, even if it is cheap (and remind me to speak to The Network about doubling my salary again soon). Nonetheless I have a bone to pick with Jane Austen Doe, whoever she is, who wrote this article (way back in 2004, but it's circulating again on Twitter as a warning to aspiring authors everywhere) about the woes of not being one of the Stephen Kings of the publishing world. Go read it, or the first and last couple of paragraphs, anyway.

A lot's happened since 2004, but one thing hasn't changed. That thing is this: There are lots of writers, very few of them are published, and even fewer of those make kajillions of dollars doing what they do. (Okay, that's three things. It's Sunday and I don't have to count if I don't want to.) I read the article, and I didn't feel at all warned. What I felt instead was pissed off -- not at publishers, which is evidently at whom I was supposed to feel pissed off -- but at Jane Austen Doe. Honey, I hate to tell you this, but whining doesn't benefit your career any more than repeatedly telling your agent, "My career as a writer is over." Oh, wait, that's kind of the same thing, isn't it?

I'm sorry, but I just can't get past this fact. People out there have paid for what this woman writes, and she's complaining. So she has a day job. Don't we all? I do, and I love it, and even if I were one of those writers making the kajillions of dollars, I can't imagine quitting it. For one thing, my manager would probably kill me. For another thing, I need the health insurance. For a third thing, I'm not stupid. There are no certainties in life. Buddha even said so. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. I'm on my third job in five years, and luckily this one's a really good one even if they're not paying me as much as I wanted. I'm not published, still hope to be, and I would be perfectly fine with midlist authordom. Yes, you can write that down and refer back to it in case anything major happens. Meantime I've been pondering slightly more practical things, like how I can get enough time off to go on a book tour on the off chance I ever have to.

Granted, there's a whole lot wrong with the publishing business model. It's undergoing major changes and I imagine in five or ten years it's going to look very different. Still, we're never going back to the days of the family-owned, literature-loving publishing houses that nurtured writers along from the cradle to the grave. Publishing houses aren't like that anymore, and what's more, people don't read like that anymore. Like lots of other businesses, publishing houses are churning out a product that sells as much as possible at the lowest cost possible. That's how corporations work. They exist to make money. If you're going to deal with them, you might just want to accept that fact, because it's not like they're gonna turn around and change just because you don't like it.

Look, writing commercial fiction is a job. It doesn't pay very well. (In my case, it doesn't pay at all, but hopefully that will change; hey, stranger things have happened.) The risks are high and the odds against ever making any money at it are pretty staggering. I can't imagine doing it for any other reason than love. I guess that is my beef with Ms. Doe. She's getting paid for it, if not making a living at it. She has a day job, she still writes, and while she doesn't mention it except in passing, she has kids and a significant sweetie who loves her. Yet what she's focused on here are all the things she doesn't have. The hundred thousand dollar advances. The big publicity tours. The lifetime book deals. People like that drive me crazy, which doesn't stop me from feeling sorry for them. They make themselves and everyone around them miserable.

Remember, kids, there's a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is the negative stuff that inevitably happens as a consequence of that whole being alive thing. Suffering is what happens when you dwell on that pain and nurse it to the exclusion of everything else. Buddhism is into the cessation of the suffering of all beings. If there's a core statement of Buddhist faith, it would probably be this: LIGHTEN UP, ALREADY.

Okay, I've spewed enough. I'm going to shut down my three-year-old laptop and take my significant sweetie out of my 58-year-old postwar box house to meet some friends at a cheap restaurant and dish about our jobs. (Yay, we're all still employed!) And then, tomorrow morning, I'll start doing something else about my hopeful future potential midlist authordom. It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it.


Cele said...

Excellent post. I have worked with several writers in various capacities. One is making a living at it, the sad part is all of them are good (well okay there are a few unpublished ones... for a reason) but not making a living at it. And saidly there are some unpublished ones that are really good. Jane Austen Doe (what sacrilege) needs to empower herself and quit feeling owed.

Jen said...

Hi, Cele!

Somehow I think the days of the Big Steve advances are behind us. (Well, except for Big Steve, of course. But then he's Big Steve.) I'd like to count myself among those who are unpublished but really good. Certainly I think I'm pretty good. So if I make a living at it, grand. If not, that's fine too. By the way, I can't stand Jane Austen.