Over the past five years, every writer I know has been told by their agent to ‘monetise the activity around their writing’. Give talks. Go to conventions. Judge prizes. Write reviews. Write articles. Go on telly. Go on radio. Go on Twitter. Build your brand.
The problem with all these activities is that nobody actually wants to pay you to do them. Instead, you are given vague assertions that it will be good for sales, good for your profile, and if you do all these things, then my son, there will be jam for tea.
Well, I’m now 41, have written 10 books over 12 years, and for me it’s tea time. The kettle has come to the boil, the Crown Derby is laid out, the bread is sliced and I need the jam right now. In short, I want to be paid for what I do.
Yeah well, good luck with that. Alone of all the respectable professions on the planet, authors are expected to do what they do for free . . . or, at best, for good will.
In any other profession or trade, asking for money is not such a strange thing, is it? Next time you get a lawyer to drive 250 miles and then speak to you for an hour, try paying him with a few bottles of Spanish dry white and see what he says.
Welcome to the reality of working in an industry that’s being disrupted by digital technologies and online commerce. By the way, writers, you’re not the first to run into this. Welcome to the club.
Five years ago we heard this exact speech from stock photographers when microstock ate their livelihood. Ten years ago, it was musicians as iTunes turned music into digital packages sold online instead of plastic discs sold in stores.
We all want to get paid for what we do. The reality is, when the market disrupts and turns upside down, either you adapt to it and take advantage of the new opportunities, or you end up sitting in the pub with a beer whining about how your life got messed up when everything changed. What you want doesn’t matter if the market doesn’t agree with you.
We’re seeing the same disruption in other segments, too. Talk to your friendly neighborhood beat writer at the newspaper recently? Or even more painfully, the photographer that used to go out on stories with them?
This disruption wave is hitting paper magazines, and book publishers, too. It’s not going to stop, you can’t ignore it, and if you try, it’ll bury you. So you need to either commit to find and take the advantages being created, or sit back and complain and hope that your livelihood doesn’t get killed before you retire.