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The Writers Collective Life

If you’re just starting out as a writer, you could do worse than strip your television’s electric plug-wire, wrap a spike around it, and then stick it back into the wall. See what blows, and how far. Just an idea.

            — Stephen King

Writing is not always that dangerous, though for journalists in various parts of the world it is, but it is a lonely business. Writing is counter-intuitive to the idea of the cooperative process. Even if you were copywriter in a busy office, envisioning yourself as a modern day Don Draper, mesmerizing the potential client with your ability at word pictures, selling them on how you’ll sell their doo-dad over martinis at lunch. But eventually you have to bang out the copy, then pass it around to others to get their notes, their edits, their rewrites, picked over, beat up, then handed back to you.

But we all still write alone. We are still the first and final judge on what we compose.

In the old days you stole time from your job and family to write at night or on the weekends to produce the Great American Novel or at least your version of that ideal. If you were a genre writer, maybe you were influenced by the likes of Mr. King who was once so broke that he was living in his car; yet still churning out his stories. Maybe devoted family man, Orrie Hitt, struck a chord as he cranked out his sleaze paperback titles like Naked Flesh and Man-Hungry Female sitting at his kitchen table 12-14 hours a day. Or you might have been inspired by the likes of Ray Bradbury, who wrote Fahrenheit 451 ––his classic sci-fi novel about censorship –– while renting the use of a typewriter in the basement of UCLA’s Powell Library for a dime each half hour. Total reported expense: $9.80.

All this before the internet, before Amazon, before the marriage between digital printing and a bindery machine. Before it all changed.

Writers who couldn’t crack the monolith of the Big Five New York publishing houses (and their hundreds of imprints) now have access to the means of production. Print on Demand (or POD as it’s known) uses toner instead of printer’s black ink and is essentially fancy photocopying. Unlike offset printing, which generally requires a run of a couple thousand books to justify rolling the presses, POD can just as easily produce one or 100 copies of a book.

Yet because of the internet and new technologies, writers today can pay a professional editor to edit their book (plenty of editors who worked for one of the Big Five of NYC publishers have been downsized), pay for or themselves design a cover, offer their book in e form, to be read on the likes of a Kindle of Nook (some argue this helped spur sales of 50 Shades of Grey as reading it this way, no one knew you were reading mommy porn), and can make available the book in physical form via POD. Not for nothing did Amazon buy one of the first such services, BookSurge, for big bucks and eventually renamed it CreateSpace.

As has been noted on countless blogs and articles in the mainstream press, Amazon wields a big stick in the publishing world. Directly or indirectly they’ve affected what a writer or publisher – the all-selling giant had a protracted public fight recently with one of the Big Five, Hachette – sells their work for, mostly driving the retail price down. I know writers who’ve given an older book away for free in e form for a limited time with the idea that they’ll get x amount of new readers who will then later on buy the writer’s newer book. The evidence indicates this summation is accurate.

Blogs and sites on the internet demand constant content and this too has had a de-valuing effect on the writer’s product. That writing is filler; it’s not about the content so much as being able to offer “click bait,” say something provocative to create a twitter backlash and drive eyes to your site   Or like the mother of all sites, the Huffington Post which uses some sort of alchemy to pay some of its contributors, mostly those with a “name,” but then consumes a whole lot of content they don’t pay for — aggregate is the phraseology for using somebody’s else’s word labor with the idea you’re getting exposure.

I don’t know if due to these conditions organizations like the National Writers Union (affiliated with the United Auto Workers) or the National Freelancers Union, organizations that work for the collective good of the writer, say helping collecting from a deadbeat publisher, have seen a bump in their membership.

I do know this new world of publishing spurred me to join with a few fellow writers in the Thalia Press Writers Co-Op. We do a regular blog, have put out an anthology called the dead of Winter and now have written a round robin novel, a ribald send up of Eat, Pray, Love called Beat, Slay, Love. We’ve invented our pseudonym, Thalia Filbert, and intend to divvy up the work of flogging the book through garnering reviews, putting excerpt up on well-trafficked site and what have you.

Still working on making the writing life work…

 

 

 

 

 

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