This is a topic I have been thinking about for a while.

I have been building my collection of Hard Case Crime novels and reading about some of these pulp and post pulp era authors and the struggles they faced in their careers. Some produced significant numbers of books under various pen names and often for small returns on each book.

But they were writers and writing was how they made a living. We all know names like Laurence Block and Ed McBain but few of us couldn’t even imagine trying to locate every books they ever produced, let alone read all of them.

It seems to me that a significant number of authors these days have a different attitude. It seems they feel they are artists. They produce a book and it is a great and wondrous thing, like a work of art. It must be appreciated and they expend a great deal of effort promoting and discussing it.

I recall an author I spoke to some time ago when they were promoting their book. I asked the standard questions: Tell me about the current book in the series, what are the plans for the next and what projects do you have in the works. They had a short story I found interesting and I asked them if they ever considered turning it into a novel. They told me their publisher wasn’t interested so there was no point. So I suggested they see if they could get another publisher and get it published. It would expose them to a different audience and might even be fun. Well, they looked at me like I just said their mother was a hooker. They told me they had a publisher and they were required to produce one book a year. That was all the writing they needed to do.

I have also heard of authors who said that if they didn’t have a publishing deal, they wouldn’t write anymore.

When I see that, it makes me wonder if they even like writing.

There is that old saying: “A writer writes.” It seems in the age of self-promotion and self-marketing, we have lost sight of that simple axiom. Often I hear people say “if I don’t focus on marketing instead of writing, I’ll lose my deal.” Well, I say back that no one buys books because they think the author is a great promoter but because they think the author is a good writer.

If you can write well, you can find another publisher. Maybe it won't be the biggest and best in New York but the book is out there.

I am reminded of “American Skin” by the multi-talented Ken Bruen. This book was published by a small press to rave reviews. But he was not contracted to write it and yet he did. Why? Because Ken is a writer. He is writes everyday because it’s his job and he takes it seriously.

I also think of James Sallis. I am willing to bet a number of people will say who? James is a prolific talented writer who has a wide portfolio. He is another example of that drive that a serious writer has.

I think it is sad that so many authors just want the big deal so they can slap together a book in a few months and they kick back the rest of the time pretending they’re minor celebrities.

When an author treats writing like a something you do so you don’t need a job, how much real success can you have? I have heard of a few six-figure advance guys who, a few years later, have dropped off the face of the earth. Successful writers who have longevity in the business work hard writing.

It is never about holding up your book in one hand and patting yourself on the back with the other.

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I teach at a community college so it's all college composition and intro to lit. I think, however, that once a writer is confronted with an audience, whether the audience is just me or the writer is seeking publication, then my statement stands. Writing is about communicating. If you're not communicating to others, then what are you doing? What many students get told in high school is that they need to express themselves. That's a start, but that can include a lot of things like diary writing and non-sequitors that no one else will be able to understand with profit.
Erm...both, actually. Most of my artwork is in pastels, because I'm chemically sensitive to oil paints.

As a writer, I tend to bring the artist in me into play with the visual details I put in a story. But I have no pretense that I'm 'artistic in the literary sense'. I write because I enjoy it. My current wip isn't being done on contract. I hope I'll be able to sell it once it's done. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the process of putting it together, as the artist in me plays with words instead of paints.

I wish the marketing aspect would go away. It takes so much energy to deal with that, energy I'd rather spend on writing. Unfortunately, it seems to be the expectation that the author will promote the book, in most cases. There are so many books coming out that new ones are on shelves and off again in a terribly short time. They aren't allowed to sit there and find an audience on their own anymore.
May I join in and say I see your points? By the way, I write crime mysteries. ;) I write because I love every aspect of it--from outline to reseach to writing and back to the drawing board. It's my passion and I know I will continue to write whether another contract comes along or not. But if I'm going to be honest, there's always the hope of another contract. The real gems, however and what keeps me writing, are the reader comments. When someone tells me they can't put my book down, it's music to my ear, but I have to ask, what's wrong with doing what you love and making a buck or two?
I wonder if there is another approach to the question Evil Kev proposes - does it matter whether a writer writes for the money or the glory or for the love? I mean, if the book is good, do we really need to go into what ultimately motivated the writer. It will invariably be a multitude of motives. And I don't think even the writer himself can get to the bottom of it. I think many of the most successful writers (the millionaires among us for instance) write because they're competitive by nature. Hardly enough to top the bestseller's list once, they have to do it every time out. Is that their only motive? No.

Other writers write to pay the rent. They're gifted, they don't mind writing, but they could be doing other things. Farmers may go into farming because they love it, but that's not enough to keep them at it when there are bills to pay.

Others truly love it, but I've encountered truly committed writers - people I know are working hard at the craft - who are just terrible.

Others like to see their names in print. Others want to impress their mothers. Others have a very particular story they want to tell and would be happy to be one hit wonders. I spoke to a man yesterday who wanted help writing his life story. He told me he had been involved in some mob type activities and investigated by the FBI and three of the people he testified against had been murdered. Of course, I thought he was pulling my leg, but I looked him up on the internet and sure enough every word was true. This is the only story he wants to tell. Sounds like it could be a good book. If it turns out like I think it might, would his motives matter?
I leave for six hours and look at all the discussion. I will try to clarify the two areas of confusion. (This is what happens when you don’t get enough sleep.)

Artist Comments

When I refer to artists, I think of those people who need make writing a noble, almost enlightened, pursuit as if writing a book made you better, more talented or more special than others. The creative muse only visits a few and they are one of the lucky ones.

Writing is no different than so many other pursuits out there. It is a combination of hard work, dedication and talent that will help you succeed.

Here is an example of what I am referring to:

An author I heard about took a long time to produce a book. This was, by their own admission, partly because they almost never worked on it. When it finally came out, they claimed the delay was because ‘art can not be rushed’.

At the volunteer fire department I work at, we have people only show up when it is fun. They put no work into it, but you better believe they talk about how noble they are because they are a firefighter. I see the same things with a few authors. They lack focus and dedication to do it but they sure love the label.

As a volunteer fire fighter, I receive very minimal compensation but I take it very seriously. When someone’s house is burning down, you don’t tell the owner “Sorry but since I don’t get paid to do it, I never learned how to use a hose. But riding on the truck is sure fun.”

Job Comments

Kevin W., your points are very valid. Part of my goal here was to encourage dialog and nothing does that better than taking a rather extreme view on something.

I hear about writers who get a publishing deal and figure that they’ve arrived. Success is now contingent on the publisher, the bookseller, etc. I ask them what they did between the deal signing and the release. I’d get answers like “Did my edits and waited for the book to come out.”
So I would ask “Did you write anything else?” and I would hear back “The publisher didn’t ask me to” or “I should wait to see what the sales are on this book”.

So I say, where’s the love of writing? Where is the desire to tell stories?

My comment is that writers should try to focus on taking this seriously like it COULD pay your bills. Unless, as Steven points out, is purely for vanity, a writer should be willing to invest in doing the job well.

For some people, that means you write everyday. For others, that means writing the book they really want to write between two contracted books. It’s finding that balance between doing what you want and what you have to do and coming out with something you love to do.

I just see so many writers who treat writing as a secondary aspect to being a writer. They only do what is required and nothing else.

To clarify the Bruen comment, Ken had a story he wanted to tell, so he told it. He still fulfilled his contractual obligations (Treating it like a job) and found someone to publish his story. (Doing what he loves). That is it right there.

There is an expression: Find a job you love and you’ll never work another day of your life.
Evil Kev, I think the "artist" you're thinking of is probably the unpublished writer/artist. I spent years in Austin, TX, as an unpublished "artist" who went home every night and wrote. My friends were "artists" without galleries who smoked dope and passed out but did no work. But they were artists by their own definition, which means that by now (years later) they're probably working in restaurants still. That is, by "artist" you really mean "poser".

I suggest not drawing the line too heavily though. I do think writing is an art, and that it should strive to be transformative in the best artistic sense, like a Rembrandt. It must also have the commercial power to reach the masses, because art without an audience is only half-perfected. Being a novelist, or artist, doesn't make one better than others; it just means s/he's a little more patient than most people, because most people believe they have a novel in them but never actually sit down to write it. And in truth some novels do take a long time to write. I'm frustrated that, contractually, I only have a year to write each of my books. Ideally, I'd take three--Le Carre takes 3 years, in general, for his books; why can't I?

But your essential point--"writers write"--is absolutely spot-on. Those who treat the writing as a secondary pastime won't stay in the business long. Ken is a great writer, and though he keeps to a publishing schedule (though, admittedly, his books average around 40,000 words and he writes them within a half year), he fits the "artist" character because, as he admits, he writes to stay alive, to push off the bad shit life has thrown at him. He writes out of emotional necessity.

It's a business, sure, but those who marry the artist and writer labels are those who believe writing is serious fucking business. I know I do. Write untruthfully, or without your wits about you, and a serious miscarriage of justice has been committed. I'll happily go past deadline if my book is wrong and I can see the right way to edit it. And even though they're businesspeople, good editors actually feel the same way. They'd rather the job be done right than done quickly, because when it's done wrong it loses them money every time.
i write to eat, but i mark the artist box when filling out personal info. the business has changed so much since those early pulp days when i'm guessing the work was really more truly freelance. it would depend on the writer/house relationship, but i think a lot of houses would frown upon their writers going somewhere else. the original house might give your next book less backing, and they might not pick up your option material. this goes back to something i posted a couple of weeks ago where i wondered if houses now see a contract as an agreement to your time, 24/7, rather than just an agreement to buy a book.
I completely understand where you are coming from Anne.

But let me give you an example that illustrates my point. Let's say a writer has a three book deal. (1 signed book and two options) These books are about a PI who is also a mystery writer. It would be logical to assume that they would want two more of the same. But what about if you also wanted to write a series about a crime solving muskrat.

If you worked on that book concurrently with the rest of your books, when the contract is up you start shopping that one around. If the first publisher wants to continue the first series, you get the contract amended to include only book with the characters from the first.

There are writers out there doing that right now.

As a writer, you own your career. Publishers come and go but if you tell great stories some one will publish it.

I am not suggesting that a writer mass produce product. I am suggesting that too many authors don’t seem to enjoy writing but write as an end to a means (perhaps quitting their hated job)

From your comment, I see you are working on two projects currently. I hope these are both something you are enjoying.

If an author hates writing, then it can be a most loathsome job. No vacations, long lunches, coffee breaks or co-workers to share the load. Being self-motivated is a discipline few have.

But I have an example I hope will explain my point better.

I am a computer programmer and I started doing it back when it was a poorly respected profession. Then the dot-com bubble appeared and people who had no interest in the job flooded in based on reports of high salaries, massive signing bonuses and easy work.

Were they any good at it? Very seldom and they quickly became disillusioned. It was a job and a not rewarding one at that. The satisfaction had to be self-created.

For me, I enjoyed the work and creating software was being a magician. There was nothing and then there was something, a program that made someone’s job easier.

Being a writer is very similar. If you don’t enjoy it and get self-satisfaction, it is just another terrible job.

My point about the pulp era authors was that they combined the love of the work with determination. So they wrote. If an author writes one book in their entire career and it brings them great satisfaction, then that’s great.

If they write a book because they expect to be on Oprah the following week with dump truck of money coming, well, there is a rude surprise coming.
"If you write well, you can find another publisher." Kev, I'm sorry to be the one to tell you, but this is not necessarily so. It's a naive statement, at best.

Anything else I might say is likely to come off sounding defensive, and frankly I think I've already sounded defensive often enough here at Crimespace. Nonetheless:

Writing is both an art and a craft. "Art" in American culture is, unforunately, something that is seldom if ever income-producing enough for one to live on it. This means that people with real talent and ability have to do their thing for the love of it, while also doing a "real job" in order to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. The kind of exhaustion that comes from living that way is something that, perhaps, a person needs to experience in order to fully appreciate it.

I could probably write a whole book about this subject, but that's all I'm going to say for now. Except that I've read a lot of James Sallis's work and knew his Walker editor, Michael Seidman,, who has sadly disappeared. Seidman belongs on a space like this one.
I have the utmost respect from your opinion Dianne, because it is found on experience that few on the forum can match.

But by the same token, I must reiterate that my belief that good work will always find a publisher.

The number of publishers in the US alone is quite large. I had an estimate some time ago, but I can’t find it.

If you are willing to forego an advance, accept reduced distribution of the book or accept no promotion at all, there are many small respectable publishers who are hungry for good work.

But most writers would be shocked to even hear a suggestion like that. After all if you aren’t with a large New York publisher and got a high five or six figure advance, how good can you really be?

That is a big part of the problem in itself. I recall a writer I spoke with who told me they couldn’t get published. I asked where they tried. They had a list of the biggest publishers in New York. I asked if they considered a number of good publishers in the rest of the US and in the UK. Their answer was no. They wanted New York or nothing. So they got nothing.

For the pulp writers, this was a moot discussion. There were very few opportunities to make huge money writing. They accepted this and wrote stories they enjoyed.

Here are a few examples NY Times ‘Writers on Writing’ series:

She Was Blond. She Was in Trouble. And She Paid 3 Cents a Word.

A Pseudonym Returns From an Alter-Ego Trip, With New Tales to Tell

The theme here is they enjoy what they do. It was not about six figure advances, or important publisher parties. It was about getting the story in print.

It is sad but the vast majority of people will never make much money writing.

But Dianne, please don’t assume I can’t understand the frustration of rejection letters, minimal returns on the effort put into a creating a book and the exhaustion of working hard and wondering if it is all worth while.

My point is about what drives an author? Is it money or the love of the work? I personally have written a dozen short stories, two plays and am a third done a manuscript. Most of this has not been published or were published for no payment.

I get up and write between three to fifteen hundred words a day on my manuscript. When it is done, I will send it to a number of publishers for consideration. But I will write another while that one is under consideration.

I understand the challenges that will be faced and the sacrifices that will need to be made. My wife is a highly dedicated and talented writer and I have seen first hand what she has to face.

I will do it because I enjoy it. And that’s why I will write tomorrow and the day after. And that does not make me an artist. It only means I’m willing to work for what I want.
I don't know maybe i'm going off the beaten track here. I know people who do just write for the sake of writing. Hey some people keep diaries, some write poetry and some write stories.
I agree with the whole patting on the back thing. It's tiring.
I'm a reader not a writer so my views may be different but in general it's nice to read and admire a writer who has a passion for his work and not himself.
I love talking to writers about their work (whatever genre) but i don't like to be talked at!


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