Most writing is unsolicited. Although a fair proportion of my writing nowadays has been commissioned in one way or another, most of the stuff I’ve done has been on spec. The short story market certainly works that way, and only a minority of authors sell a novel through an outline.
Face it, nobody asked us to write, and the fact that we’ve written a story unasked doesn’t mean that someone has to buy it any more than the fact that your local McDonalds has made too many Big Macs means that you have to eat them to stop them being wasted.
Okay, if the story that you’ve spent months writing doesn’t sell then it’s very cathartic to sound off about idiot editors. It’s also perfectly normal to complain about the way that the publishing industry is going, but complaining doesn’t solve anything. Far better to take an honest look at what you’ve written, ask what’s wrong with it and then try again. The best writers get rejections, and as I’ve written elsewhere, you can tell a professional writer by the number of rejections they received as they learned their craft.
There’s something very middle class about the way that some writers complain about lack of sales. There are sections of our society who kick up much more of a fuss over unemployed writers than they do over unemployed bricklayers or plumbers. That’s just oversupply: too many writers chasing too few jobs. I grew up in the North East, and I remember the way the country was divided in the 1980s over whether or not the pits should be kept open to keep miners in work. Many of the newspapers editorialising today about defending local book shops were the same ones who said that we had to move with the times and close the mines.
There’s no point speaking about art, don’t bother exclaiming the need to hold a mirror to the human condition, these words will not butter an accountant’s parsnips. And don’t say that you’re not bothered about the state of an accountants vegetables, because ultimately these are the people who decide if there’s enough money to buy your work.
Faced with the above, its enough to make you wonder if writers should be paid at all. If people are going to write stuff anyway, then where’s the incentive to pay them?
Well, I think there is an incentive. Because if the reader likes something, if they want to see more of it, then they have to ask themselves the question, what will keep the writer writing that sort of stuff? If someone is paying for SF stories say, but not for Fantasy, then what are writers more likely to write, all other things being equal?
Personally, I think good writing is worth paying for. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of excellent writing produced for free that I enjoy reading. It’s just that when I find a writer that I like, I’m willing to pay for their stuff. That’s my way of telling them I want them to write more.
It’s the sincerest form of praise that I know.
Tony Ballantyne’s latest novel is Dream Paris, which is published by Solaris in the UK and US. It is the sequel to Dream London. He is also the author of the Penrose and Recursion sci-fi series, both published in the UK by Tor Books. For more, be sure to check out the author’s website, and follow him on Twitter and Goodreads.