“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the [Cheshire] Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
— Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol
You have to be a little mad to write. Most authors earn poverty rates from their writing.
This isn’t from a lack of effort on their part. There has been a significant shift in the last 50 years away from paying creators for their work. Some of that is tied up in corporate copyright law, and the ownership of Intellectual Property (IP) by larger and larger business entities. Some of it has to do with the “free” model of the internet, where businesses traded advertising dollars for banner ad pennies. With word processors and spell check software, the ability to write a presentable submission (not necessarily a good one), online submissions, and true self-publishing services (not the vanity presses of yore, though, those still exist) make being a writer even more within the reach of the average person. You no longer need to be able to write “cleanly” on the first draft. You don’t need to know how to spell “Anarcho-syndicalism,” you just have to get close enough to recognize which corrected word is the right choice (still not easy for a dyslexic). You don’t even need a stamp for most markets these days (though you do need access to the Internet). What markets that have survived people wanting everything free and the shrinking of profits, are flooded with stories. The incentives are against them paying more regardless of the rising cost of living. SFWA helps counterbalance that, by setting minimum pay rates, but even there the pressures squeezing the publishing markets are inescapable.
You need to be a little mad, like the Mad Hatter to want to write for publication. The pay rate, per hour of work, is poor, especially in the short story space. Forget poetry. No poet makes a living on their writing. Most authors have “day jobs.”So do, by the way, a good number of agents and editors. We are all mad here.
We are also lost in a wood, much like the Tugley Woods of Alice in Wonderland. There are signs pointing us in every direction. Write every day! Outline. Use Scrivener! Get an Masters of Fine Arts degree! Don’t get an MFA! Get an agent! Self-publish! Write in the morning! Write late at night! Write in blocks of 15 minutes. 20 minutes. 2 hour blocks like a desk job!
And then there is the advice that isn’t posted because its specific to what you are writing. The submission process for journalism is wildly different from speculative short fiction, is different from contemporary fiction, from novels. Each publisher, on top of that, has their own submission process, preferred format, and font. Fortunately those instructions are marked clearly on each bottle and cake, just be sure you read carefully before you partake or you might embarrass yourself.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
— Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol
How do you even know how to get to where you want to go? Experience, talking to other authors, and professional workshops. Can you tell what I’m going to plug here? Clarion. Clarion West. Odyssey. A good professional workshop, targeted to your genre and designed to give you a boost in the business is a shortcut through finding everything out the hard way. But, an in-person workshop of this type (some as long as 6 weeks of residential work), costs money. Remember that earlier discussion of pay rates for the written word? You could set up a system that says only the rich get to take the shortcut to professional writing. Clarion (and most others) have decided that isn’t how you get the very best writers. Clarion has a grant fund that awards scholarships. And, I’m fundraising for that fund.
In honor of the seemingly nonsense world of publishing, I’m giving a handmade string art of the Cheshire cat to one lucky person who sponsors me. We are running out of time for entry, too, as the Clarion-write-a-thon ends August 1st. I know it’s a weird year, but please consider donating. We are all mad here. Help support the madness.