Friday, 18 October 2013

Why Not Be a Writer?

You can’t have missed the sudden boom in writing tuition over the last year or so. It seems that barely a week goes by without someone announcing a new course or programme to help writers build their skills and get published. Agents, publishers and even newspapers are diversifying into this growing market. Some would rationalise this as evidence of a newly democratic focus in fiction publishing, where editors can no longer rely on the slushpile and must go out to the public to find the next big thing. But it's also about being entrepreneurial and going where the money is.

It may be lucrative in the short term, but is this model sustainable? After all, there is increasingly less money in the actual publishing of books, which is what is forcing writers and editors to go freelance, and look to teaching as a means of supplementing their income. This means that you have a tuition industry that is top heavy, reliant on new writers (with day jobs) to keep pumping money in as they follow their dreams of being published. Yet who is going to read all these books (even if they do get published) when everyone else is so busy writing?

The rise of social media has lead to an explosion of self-expression, and with it a new cultural paradigm based on speaking, rather than listening. This is by no means all bad, but it’s easy to see why the maxim that “everyone has a novel in them” seems to be reaching epidemic proportions. People are beginning to see it as their right to express themselves, no matter how banal and ill-considered that expression might be. And unfortunately some of them get very angry when others refuse to acknowledge their genius!

I’m aware that this post could come off as sour grapes, especially after my tongue-in-cheek call last week for you all to abandon your manuscripts. There’s no doubt that democratising and demystifying the process of writing a book will encourage some shy but very talented people to produce great work. But it will also increase the sheer amount of chaff that clogs slushpiles and slows down the process for everyone else.

That said, many of these courses are excellent, so by all means go on them, learn your craft and meet some cool new people. Just please don’t get sucked into the fantasies and half-truths about publishing such as the ones being peddled here. I know lots of full-time authors, and they all work very, very hard just to keep their heads above water (Midnight Storyteller’s post Can’t Pay or Won’t Pay? chimed with a lot of people this week). This is not a career for someone who just woke up one day and thought “wouldn’t it be nice if...” This is a career for the committed, and sometimes those who should be committed!

Nick.

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