Writers in a Gilded Cage–Only Art Can Set Us Free
There are a lot of blogs out there that I love and respect for the best information. Any of you who have been following this blog for any amount of time know I am a huge fan of NYTBSA Bob Mayer. He really does go out of his way to help writers, and I can say that I have learned a ton from his books and workshops. Frankly, I would never have made it as a writer without his teachings about conquering fear (another blog for another day).
Last week, Bob had a post, The Secret Handshake of Success that, in part, sparked my last Wednesday blog The Modern Author–A New Breed of Writer for the Digital Age of Publishing. I believe that, in the Digital Age, we have to up our game, and knowledge is power. But the most powerful knowledge of all in this new paradigm?
Knowing our craft.
We are in the Age of the Artist, and we have a choice what type of writer we want to be. Do we desire to be an assembly-line writer cranking out cheap 99 cent commodities? Or do we desire to be artists? There are only two choices for writers of the Digital Age–win by being more ordinary, standard and cheaper, or win by being more creative and more remarkable.
There is a race to the bottom going on over at Amazon. We writers traded our day jobs that made us feel like cheap, interchangeable cogs in a faceless machine for a new promise that if we worked hard enough we would be rewarded. Many are grasping the promise of being able to make a living doing what they love, being artists…and Amazon is feeding that dream.
But here is what I see.
Amazon will be more than happy to make us cheap, interchangeable cogs in a faceless machine. They make money off quantity. If millions of first-time writers are willing to slave for hundreds of hours just to sell their art for 99 cents to all their friends and family, Amazon is still happy, because if a million writers sell their books to a hundred people, that is still a really healthy chunk of change. Thus, in effect, we traded one cage for another.
And Amazon will even come up with programs like KDP select to help artists give their wares away for FREE! in return for the ever-elusive “exposure” as if this alone is the magical element that will free us from our gilded cage.
A better cover, or a Goodreads campaign or more tweeting and we will be able to quit the day job…or not.
And this is how Amazon will keep authors on the treadmill, the carrot always just out of reach. Eventually most will wear out and give up, but no worries. There will be new hopefuls there to take their place. Amazon doesn’t care about us as artists. They care about getting a commodity (books) to consumers as cheaply as possible. Does this make Amazon evil? No. It is business.
Ah, but here is where writers have a choice. Do we desire to be part of the Chinese cheap plastic toy business, where we rely on mass quantities to make our profit? Or are we in the business of Faberge eggs? Or are we somewhere in between?
What will make Amazon respect us and readers more willing to part with more money to read our books is simple…execution. The better we are at our art, the more our words change people and transform them, the more power we hold.
The difference is in the art, and art is refined by practice and….training.
Writers line up for the latest social media class that is guaranteed to get them “exposure,” yet the craft classes languish. I have seen this at conferences. My blogging class has a line out the door (and I am grateful), and the agent panels are standing room only. But what about the class designed to hone dialogue or develop multi-dimensional characters?
*insert crickets chirping*
This past weekend, I dissolved my writing workshop. Every Saturday I would drive an hour and a half and give up 2-4 hours to train and develop writers from idea to completion–so roughly 5.5 hours of my time. I have not had my Saturdays free in four years. Yet why did I have to shut down my workshop?
Lack of interest.
Members of the group were busy with their lives, and the workshop just never seemed to be a priority that could outpace helping friends move or showing a house or cleaning out the garage or attending a nephew’s birthday party…and I grew weary of showing week after week for a nearly empty room. It was a tremendously sad day for me. I’d worked very hard to put together a system to train authors who could take an idea, make it original, then plot and write an excellent manuscript in less than six months. In three years of running the workshop, TWO members have listened and done all the steps in my process…and one has one of the top agents in the world, and the other is being considered by the Maass agency.
Craft matters. Yes, I am a social media expert, and I believe that we need a platform, but we must remember we are artists first. Artists can learn in all kinds of ways. We can learn by doing it wrong… a lot and then one day we “get it.” Something clicks and we stop writing dreadful books and go to merely writing crappy books, but one day actually land on writing a good book OR we can go to those who are willing to share their knowledge and train us in our art. Both methods work.
Being an artist is what will make publishing respect us. It is what will make Amazon value our contribution. Trust me, the authors that sign with Amazon as Publisher get treated very differently. If we are selling thousands of books a week, Amazon will play nicer, because, when we take our business elsewhere, it will hurt. But if we are only selling 500 books? A thousand? What bargaining power is that? It isn’t, and the gilded cage will grow smaller as Amazon helps itself to a higher and higher percentage of the royalties because they can.
It is our choice how we unlock the gilded cage, but only art will set us free.
Below is another vlog–WRITING 101. Yes, BONUS! Here are more of my thoughts and what craft means to the Digital Age Author…
So what are your thoughts on craft? Do you feel that I am out of line? By the way, I am NOT bashing Amazon. It is a business and it is up to us to do our part to make sure they don’t take advantage, because ANYONE is capable of taking advantage of us if we don’t put down boundaries and make them appreciate our value…which is why I closed my workshop. But how do you feel as artists? What resources would you recommend?
I LOVE hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of March I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
Last Week’s Winner of 5 Page Critique is Victoria Lindstrom. Please send your 1250 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.