Monday, June 13, 2016

Things to Consider Before Saying You Don’t Write for the Money

Emphasis on saying.

Yesterday a blog post by an indie author popped up. It was a rant about the horrors of the self-publishing process, and in it the man said:

This is the same guy who said:


All within a span of a few days. So of course it's on his mind.

What's wrong with any of this? Nothing, actually. I am not criticizing these feelings.

I am not saying that “writing for the money” and wanting to make money off of your writing are the same things. I can see that, with the complexity of these issues, he isn’t really contradicting himself, and that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

The fixation on whether or not you “write for the money” is counterproductive.

Mainly, I keep seeing this exact series of thoughts in the feeds of new authors. I’ll witness someone complain constantly about how poor their sales are doing, then make some sort of inane announcement about it’s not about the money. They do it for the love of fiction. Then perhaps they proceed to insult other authors directly, complaining, “Well, I’m a good writer, but just because I don’t sell out and do romance…”

It shows an inexperienced and judgmental attitude towards other authors.

The insult in the initial statement is implied, and that’s problematic in itself. The idea that it’s unusual for an author to not write for money, that somehow this new writer is unique, therefore, worthy. Typically, the staunch insistence, “I don’t write for the money, I write for the love of fiction,” without any provocation can only be motivated by bragging (or self-soothing). It’s akin to a doctor fresh out of med school walking into his residency the first day and spontaneously announcing to the whole class, “I do this to help people! Not for the money!”

What does he expect the response to be?

People aren’t really interested in why you write until you write something they love, unless it’s to judge you for it.

If I were to be perfectly honest, the main reason this bothers me is the incongruity with how they expect me to feel and how I actually feel.

Okay, so I consider this usually to come from a place of catharsis, someone attempting to make their self-perceived failure more tolerable. It can be written off like any brag; they’re saying it to feel good about themselves, and in most cases I’d say to support that.

Except the aforementioned insult.

The basis on the brag is the assumed rarity of it, when it is actually something that the majority of authors believe true for themselves. Everyone says they write for the love of the story. Now a new writer approaches them exclaiming proudly that they write for the same reason like it’s a huge accomplishment people should acknowledge.

A Facebook friend posted, “If I ever make a profit off my books, I’m going to donate all of it. I don’t write for the money.”

Call me Scrooge, but I don’t particularly care—in the same way that I don’t care that you’ve eaten a healthy breakfast or helped an old lady across the street. I mean, it’s a good thing to do, and if I happened to see you doing it I might think highly of you, but for you to announce it to me—and only hypothetically no less—I genuinely can’t imagine what the expected outcome was.

My reaction? You’re hurting. You see yourself as a failure. And I’m sorry about that, I really am, but he lost some sympathy when he turned to a rhetoric commonly used in arguments against fellow writers.

There’s a negative association with it.

“You’re writing for the wrong reasons,” we tell each other.

Now the specific writer in question wasn’t insulting, I’d say. The only person he criticized was himself, and his question of “Who really writes for the money?” was admittedly projecting. Full disclosure, I like the guy.

But when he said, “I wrote for the wrong reasons,” it struck a nerve for me.

You will see this comment in almost every writing forum on the internet. People love to misdirect a question to a more simplistic moral high-ground. Instead of answering, “How do I get an agent?” they’ll say, “Just self-publish.” If you ask, “What self-publishing platform should I use?” they’ll say, “NEVER self-publish!”

“How long can my prologue be?”

“Don’t write a prologue!”

“Do you think I should do A or B?”

“Rewrite the entire thing.”

Writing for the “right” reasons is an incredibly common tactic in controlling our peers, dismissing their concerns, and bringing a debate to a screeching halt. Few people are likely to respond to, “Well you’re doing it for the wrong reasons,” with “The fuck I am. Just answer the question.” As I’ve stated, pulling the Artistic Card is a cheap but guaranteed way to win the discussion.

For example, a woman posted a blog against National Novel Writing Month, dismissing the activity as the “wrong” way to go about writing a novel. The program, a fun, nonthreatening deadline to get most of a book done in the month of November, is controversial in that in encourages writers to work fast and tends to have an “after school elective” feel to it. She received a great deal of venom for her hatred, and several years after posted a new piece apologizing and saying how she needed to stop worrying about what how others write.

The first comment was, (sic)
“I think that NaNoWriMo in some ways still produces people that are using it for reasons other than love of Fiction. It produces a lot of really bad literature and encourages bad writing. I do NaNoWriMo and for my own personal reasons I like it. However, sometimes when I read some of the writing that exists it makes me want to give up my passion for writing just because I get so frustrated.

Don’t use National Novel Writing Month because it encourages you doing it for the wrong reasons. But it’s okay that I do because I have the right reasons. The problem with stating you write with the appropriate purposes is that too many times do writers see that stated in a poor context. Even if you genuinely don’t mean anything by it, it still has the negative association with controlling and judgmental people.

There’s often some hypocrisy.

In the case of the first commenter, I believe his obsession with whether writing for the money versus the love of the story comes from his original desire to be famous. When he realized that priority might not become a possibility, he turned his attention to other goals. Which is all great.  But his fixation is still on judging his past self and how “wrong” he was to do so.

The donation guy constantly complained about lack of sales, and later offered up his services as a ghost writer, with a fee, of course.

The Writing Month woman took a method she herself uses and criticized it.

This is all pretty typical.

Full truth, I have seen plenty of people state that they don’t write for the money and mean it. Most people mean it in part—through their very specific definition of “writing for the money.” Some are talking out of their ass.

People who have a black and white idea of what selling out is—a thick, neon line between it and the “love of the story”—are more prone to making statements that at least seem hypocritical. It appears, from an anecdotal standpoint, common for them to talk more about sales and money than the average writer.

We tend to harshly judge others for our own mistakes, and so this claim of altruism and pure artistry usually comes hand in hand with a closed-minded naysaying on other people’s methods.

Lying to ourselves doesn’t work.

I’d say that the actual consequence of this mentality, outside of just being annoying, is when it discourages pushing your story to its fullest potential.

Both first commenter and donation guy had typos in their summaries. Many times people will blame their genre and people’s poor taste for their lack of success when it can be attributed to quality, or even just easy, superficial fixes. People will disparage the advice of traditional publishers under the guise of remaining true to themselves and produce a half-baked book.

I’ve had people tell me that spelling and punctuation errors were “true to their voice.”

How does “Dont” with a capital ‘d’ differ in sound from “don’t?”

I’ve had people rant about how size shouldn’t matter, that novellas can be just as good as novels.

And I agree. But not when your novella has terrible pacing, lacks an ending, and is a series of summation instead of illustration.

I’ve had people claim that they don’t care about sales, reject all conventional advice as being a sellout, and then mope around on social media about why no one is giving their book a chance.

And their logic isn’t wrong. Not completely. It’s important to be true to yourself. It’s incredibly difficult to tell the difference between keeping your voice genuine, not being swayed by peer pressure or judgement or trends, versus refusing to acknowledge pertinent criticism, difference of perception and tastes, and when “being true to yourself” crosses over into “being too lazy to work on yourself.”

When it comes to writing, I care about two things: if the book is good, and if the author is satisfied. If you’re not satisfied, you need to be honest with why. If your book isn’t selling, then look to conventional advice as to why. You can pick and choose based on integrity, but there is nothing wrong with doing something eye catching if it doesn’t detract from the meaning.

It’s not black and white.

Having a good cover does not take away from the writing. Is it unfair that a poor cover can hurt a wonderful story? Well, it certainly isn’t desirable. But “fighting” it by intentionally cutting corners with it, knowing how important it is to readers is self-sabotaging. Are typos indicative of a poor storyteller? Technically, no, but what’s the benefit outside of less work?

The “love of fiction” and “writing for the money” are fairly simplistic ideas that could mean many different things. Is wanting to get as many readers as possible “writing for the money?” Is wanting to be paid for the work you do “writing for the money?” Is putting out work in its “purest” form the love of fiction? How much should you care about “what other people think?” Where is the line between caring about their experience versus caring about their judgement?

Critically analyzing our choices without prematurely writing them off helps us be happier, write better, and make more effective decisions. If you want to be famous, if you want to make money, that doesn’t necessarily contradict your desire to touch people emotionally, to tell a good story. There will be times you have to prioritize one over the other, and it’s your decision which one gets chosen. We don’t want everyone to promote artistic decisions over appealing to the people every single time. We want diversity. We want sincerity.

If you want to be true to yourself, you have to admit that sometimes yourself wants money. Or at least enough to be able to do your art. And sometimes you have to admit you don't give a shit about the money, but you may rethink if you really need to tell everyone about it.

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