Monday, January 12, 2015

The Business of Writing, the Art of Civility

Many of you are most likely already aware of the current kerfuffle on the internets about YA author Stacey Jay and her decision to pad her now-cancelled kickstarter with funds for living expenses while she completes her next YA novel. Because of the ensuing controversy, Jay ended up pulling the kickstarter, cancelling the novel, and announcing her retirement from YA , but not just because of the controversy. On her blog, she cites an “increasing vitriol in the Young Adult community” that used to be a “warm, welcoming place.”

In my mind, this latest controversy inspires two important points of discussion: first, the idea of fair compensation for the artistic process; second, what on earth is happening to our community?

Unlike most professions, we get paid for the product, not the process, and we don't earn anywhere near fair compensation for the time we spend creating that product. When we do publish—well, unless you are J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, writing doesn’t pay. Even some of the better selling authors don’t make enough to put food on the table without a second job (or two). In his annual writing income post, Jim C. Hines reveals what look to most of us like fantastic numbers. He earned a writing income of $50,900 last year before expenses and taxes. He’s rolling in the dough, right? Well, he’s doing better than many of us, but here in California that won’t support a family, and it doesn’t pay benefits. Take the number of hours Jim most likely spent writing, revising, editing and marketing his books into account and he’s probably making less than minimum wage.

Mainly, we all write for the love (and to get the voices in our heads to stop). But love isn’t very filling, so we either work other jobs or, as many authors, editors, and even publishers have done, take to Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and now Patreon to help us not only publish our art, but close the gap a little financially. Jay's request to be paid for the process rather than the product to help her create said product would not be considered unreasonable in any other profession. And I do not believe for a moment that Stacey Jay is the only author out there who padded her Kickstarter numbers to help account for living expenses. She was just more open and honest about it, for which the community blasted her. 

Which leads me to my second point: the lack of civility in the writing community. Not even a decade ago, writers, particularly in the SFF and YA communities, were a friendly, supportive bunch. I remember meeting many new friends and fellow authors on livejournal and feeling like I had finally found my tribe—people with whom I could relate, who were encouraging, helpful and friendly to each other, whether they were seasoned authors or newbies looking to connect.

Perhaps the insidious nature of social media is partly to blame for a significant sea change in our community. From #racefail to the various SFWA controversies to the Jay Kickstarter drama, we authors seem more quick to judge others for their comments or foibles and less open to reasoned discussion. The Livejournal community has dissipated. Now, when someone makes even the slightest misstep in another’s view, twitter lights up with nasty zingers—all 140 characters or less, none of which offer insight or well-reasoned viewpoints. This most often leads to perpetuation of rumor and opinions based on emotion rather than facts. Some people even chime in only because they like the #drama. Facebook is no better; in many cases, only one viewpoint—and often that of the majority—is accepted. Judgment is passed before the offending person (or persons) can even offer their explanation or point of view. Those voicing the minority position are ridiculed or shunned, both online and in pe. 

At the end of the day, all of these incidents involve people. Our people. And all people make mistakes. Thanks to the internet, those mistakes are public, permanent, and apparently, unforgiveable once made.

Folks, most of us aren’t business people. We are artists. We create, and we do it not because it pays well, but because we love it. Artists need one another to survive, almost as much as we need food, water and air. Discussion in our community is healthy and helps us grow, but let's express our opinions with civility and compassion, and with the attention they deserve. If we lose our community, we have truly lost the best part of ourselves.

~Kim Vandervort


Anonymous said...

Hi Kim! I didn't get a chance to read this until today. Thank you for another awesome post. I have nothing to add to your very wise post. Thanks for saying it like it is.

Terri-Lynne said...

And I would not have even seen this today had it not been for Karin's comment! Oy, life! And it actually goes with what you're saying here--not only do we do this for love, but we squeeze it into life in whatever way we can. Part of my writing life involves interacting with my peers, and most of them are online. Like you.

It always amazes me when people assume I make a lot of money on my books, and think nothing of asking for a copy. Not BUY a copy, but assume I have tons laying around for the giving, and don't need the royalties I'd get if they actually bought a copy. The attitude seems to be, "Well, if you want me to read it, give it to me." Not across the board, of course, but with more than I can write off as a fluke.

The scififan community is a strange one. Like you, Kim, I started out on LJ because it was a family of writers, brothers and sisters of the tribe. As LJ went the way of the dodo, so too did that family feel in the community at large. In scififan, it feels like a club most of us aren't qualified to join, and if we were, the hoops would be high, spaced far apart, and flaming. It's what I've always loved about HRB--we ARE a family. We do our thing despite it not being THE thing, and--while we might only be able to go our for a nice dinner on our royalties for the most part--our work is out there, being read.

Heroines of Fantasy said...

Mark here:

As the model changes, so do the behaviors attendant. The simple fact is publishing has morphed into something "different" and the business end of it has reacted faster than the creative side of it. And in our rush to catch up and "make it work for us"--our finer sensibilities take a hit, bad stuff happens, gets said and spread--and another little bit of the "other" passes away. I'm reminded of the final moments of The Neverending Story. We need to revise our collective behavior or risk falling into the Nothing.

I will tell my stories to the void if necessary. Light does return eventually...