Authors’ (Financial) Self-Pity

The Authors Guild has released its report, The Profession of Author in the 21st Century, and therein they play their role as advocates quite well. And though they are arguably on my side, working for my potential, hypothetical benefit, I cannot help but ponder if a similar report was penned by some scriveners’ guild at the advent of the printing press.

We are greeted firstly with the figure that

half (54%) of full-time authors surveyed earned less than the federal
poverty threshold of $12,488 from their writing.

$12,488 divided by 2,080 (full-time hours per year) equals almost exactly $6.00 per hour. So, right off the bat, we’re expected to believe that anyone is writing full-time for less than a fast-food restaurant’s entry wage. Perhaps it is judgemental of me, but it sure seems like these “full-time authors” are either

  • of independent means, in which case the profitability of their writing does not effect their ability to continue writing
  • playing fast and loose with “full-time.”

Quickly on this figure’s heels comes the claim that

An alarming 23% of full-time authors reported earning zero income from books in 2017.

The definition of spending 40 hours a week on a pursuit that doesn’t generate income is a “hobby,” not a “full-time” job. I say this as one hobbyist among many who would love to transition to full-time some day.

Later, we get a little less fast-and-loose with the definition when we are told that

For “full-time authors” who earned any income (excluding those who earned zero
income), the median writing-related income was $20,300, of which book-related income was $11,900. These full-time authors contributed 48% of their household’s total income in 2017.

The U.S.’s median household income in 2017 was $61,372. Multiplied for the other half, this means households with a full-time writer in them achieve a median of $40,600, or 2/3rds that of their non-writer peers. I am not economically-fluent enough to hazard a guess, but I would still pose the question: is 2/3rds really that shocking, when one considers that this is an artistic profession competing against trades and sciences?

Perhaps more interesting is the insight that

The number of self-published books increased 40% between 2017 and 2018 alone, to 1.6 million titles, according to Bowker, the agency that issues ISBN numbers.

Here we have a concrete factor that may harm serious authors (be they hobbyists or working professionals). They are being drowned out and diluted down by everyone-and-their-monkey’s-uncle “publishing.” One suspects that this began with social media itself rather than the availability of self-publishing services; for good or ill we have made everyone with an opinion “a writer,” however informed, original, or vice versa they may be. Who dares try to put the lid back on Pandora’s box?

After a few mandatory lashes of leftwing self-flagellation about inequalities in publishing (including the ‘no duh’ instances of Stephen Kings and JK Rowlings financially kicking our collective behinds), we finally get to the heart of the matter.

In 2017, only about 53% of Americans read a book that wasn’t for work or school, down from about 57% in 2002; only about 42% of Americans read a novel, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.

In a country where only half of people read by choice at all, and where most of them–like any other human–are only going to take a purchasing chance on a name they’ve heard before, shame on us if we’re surprised that writing isn’t a viable profession any more. Jeff Bezos may be the antichrist of the publishing world, but he isn’t the one who made Americans decide to stop reading.

The final and perhaps most cringe-worthy instance within this study is its unironic citation of the essay How to Lose a Third of a Million Dollars Without Really Trying. To summarize, this is the sadly-true tale of an author who made the transition from hobbyist to professional, only to find that making the financial decisions of a stereotypical 1980’s rockstar was probably a bad move. Numerous repetitions and variations upon, “why didn’t someone tell me?!” ensue. I have a couple thoughts on this.

  • If you have the discipline to read books in order to research your own, you can take an afternoon to read Dave Ramsey.
  • Anyone who could go through the current smarmy hazing ritual of seeking a literary agent, only to then expect that they are going to offer you sage advice at the pyramid’s peak, probably needs to live a little bit longer before they try to impart information to others in book-form.

To summarize: Bukowski was right, and now we know how painters feel.

Artist-Over-Art and Becoming What One Despises

Carlos Greaves’ recent McSweeney’s piece (which satirizes authors writing novels about contemporary communities they do not belong to) is one for the history books. Within it he manages to straddle the very delicate balance of espousing an opinion the political left-wing, particularly the Twitter left-wing, would wholeheartedly agree with, without coming off as a triggered snowflake exposed to right-wing lampooning. He does this with blatant, self-aware strawman-ing (watching Desperate Housewives as sufficient research) and by sharing the satirical ire among the intended authors and their effete publishers and reviewers (Ricky Martin and Antonio Banderas as the sycophantic critics of the dubious novel). While I doubt Mark Twain would endorse Greaves’ message, I suspect he would acknowledge its fine craftsmanship.

Without intending to kill the enjoyable catharsis of comedy by over-analysis, one can’t help but take the piece a bit literally since it comes so close on the heels of the American Dirt debacle, wherein authors have arguably called for the censorship of another author on identity-politic grounds. The offender is a “white Latina” who apparently isn’t Latina enough to write a novel about Mexico. Whether there are actual, factual inaccuracies in the book that add to the validity of these criticisms, I do not know. But I do know that I utterly detest what this phenomenon represents on a grander scale: Artist-Over-Art.

“Blind” submission processes exist for a reason–good art is good art regardless of who made it. If Hitler painted a decent architectural scene, that painting remains decent no matter how indecent the man. This is one of the many ‘unwritten rules’ of Western civilization that postmodernists (or Marxists-about-Starbucks, as I call them) would like to do away with, for it is impossible to enforce equality within any unconstrained–and thus Darwinian–space. Their argument, of course, is that inequality has been enforced by historic socio-cultural racio-religious norms, and thus that they are merely attempting to restore an equitable balance by subverting oppressive tradition. My casual reply to this is basically that I do not consider a Harrison Bergereon reality to be more desirable than a Hunger Games reality–and indeed, it seems to me that a Hunger Games has greater potential to cause unintentionally noble outcomes. And with ever-increasing numbers of presses and literary agents feeling the need to stipulate who they want to publish more-so than what they want to publish, it appears that they are well on the way to dethroning the identity-impartiality of artistic creation. Social justice, it seems, is not blind.

I suspect this outcome will be most pleasing until an ethno-state decides to appropriate it–then will there be much weeping and gnashing of teeth as the ‘antifascists’ realize that they were the ones to renew a core tenant of fascistic speech restriction. In the developed world’s smug self-satisfaction, we have utterly forgotten a crucial realization born of World War 2: whether the man with the gun is wearing the Deathshead and calls you a filthy Jew, or is wearing the Hammer-and-Sickle and calls you a filthy capitalist, he is still going to shoot you. Or, perhaps we have not forgotten it; perhaps we only care which side of the gun we are on.

I also find it odd that many of the masons who are busy paving this road to hell continue to delight in calling others Uncle Tom’s. I am afraid that the historical social-cultural racio-religious origins of that expression are from Harriet Beecher Stowe–a white woman writing about African Americans. So, per your own insistence that persons who are not from a particular community may not write about a particular community, kindly invent your own invective. Mrs Stowe isn’t the only casualty to the feminist authorship cause either: Pearl S Buck’s wonderful The Good Earth has got to go, seeing as she wasn’t Chinese. And we can’t just pick on the ladies, either. Where did that Frenchman get off critiquing Americans, anyway? There goes Democracy in America. In fact, the entire genre of travel literature can be done away with. Cya, Marco Polo. Julius Caesar contribute to our understanding of Gaul? Please! Come to think of it, we better just start burning books to be safe.

Despite these and many more unintended consequences, I don’t think I would be nearly so irked by these social justice fixations if their proselytizers seemed just a tad more genuine. Surely that’s the key to being a successful extremist or fundamentalist; you at least have to come across as consistent and committed. Think Che Guevera. While Fidel hammed it up in the 5-star hotels, he was off to the next jungle. But these callousless hands clutched about Apple products, likely shaking from their ever-burgeoning collection of antidepressants? Why, I wouldn’t follow them into a Chuck E Cheese, much less a battlefield. Unfortunately, it is those very hands that are going to start determining elections in the near future. Voyeurs who breath the air of the real world without ever having dipped a pinky within it are soon to control it. The meek shall inherit the Earth indeed; but unfortunately it seems they are not meek about letting institutions do their dirty work for them.