Money for nothing and rejections for free

So, this article has been doing the rounds on social media, and debate has been… animated, to say the least. It happened to get my back up in a week where I’m neatly dividing my time between refreshing my inbox and limping with difficulty through some short stories. So permit me my tuppence-worth. *braces self*

The whole general funding discussion has been going on for yonks, especially around Kickstarter/Patreon. Chuck Wendig and Natalie Luhrs both made very thorough and excellent analyses of an author who was basically bullied into pulling her crowdfunding for the audacity to ask for a salary for her work. The whole dreadful debate has slithered, class-conscious tentacles and all, into music recently- James Blunt wrote a Strongly Worded Letter to his MP, starting a whole bunch of mudslinging about privilege and opportunity that I’m not sure really helped anyone.

Back to the Salon piece. On the surface, the author is seeking more transparency for the ‘sponsors’ of writers, in this case her husband working full-time to support her. But look carefully at the provocative clickbaity wording of the title and sub: ‘“Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from. The truth is, my husband’s hefty salary makes my life as a writer easy. Pretending otherwise doesn’t help anyone‘. So, I’ve taken from this that, despite my parents telling me money conversations are crass and inappropriate almost everywhere, I should be giving a full background report. Also, if I do have a massive wad of cash stored somewhere I’ve, what, betrayed my potential readership?

My, she’s got it all worked out too. These authors talking about hard work, when we know full well they’re diving onto pools of money like literary Scrooge McDucks! Scandalous! It’s the god-awful passive-aggressive privilege narrative wheeled out in a particularly spiteful way. But it’s a catch-22. Seen to have too much money? You’re not a starving writer; you’re probably only doing this as a hobby. Actually a starving writer? Well, why aren’t you getting a real job instead of wasting time writing? See the problem? And it really shouldn’t fall to the partners and children of writers to come to their defence. They do enough bloody hard work helping in the first place, and if it was a problem that their support was costing them money I think I’d have been booted out our house by now.

Ugh, a creative in my house! How do I kill it?

Ugh, a creative in my house! How do I kill it?

There’s a lot of dross out there, but on the whole I’m glad crowdfunding like Kickstarter exists as another option. And for the lucky few, it’s meant some pretty major success. Would I consider using one if I wasn’t in the happy situation of freelancing that keeps me ticking over and a husband in full-time work? Perhaps. It’s a perfectly valid way of doing things. There are many valid ways to survive as a writer. But I want to pay my own way as much as is humanly possible, because I’m stubborn and proud like that. I don’t have a salary for writing. I get to invoice my ‘proper’ job so I can pay for food and bills and other such frills.

Here’s the thing. Writers and other creatives are under a constant barrage of despair these days. Our spirits are tiny shrivelled husks, more miniscule than a Lib Dem promise. You get all sorts of nonsense, berating us for not writing the ‘right’ thing, for not having a ‘real job’, for not really having any purpose. The last thing we need is demanding a full balance sheet before you buy a book- which, I’m sorry to say, I saw a lot in responses to the Salon piece from friends I used to hold in high regard. Yes, they cry, we must absolutely hold writers to account! We need transparency! Well, alright. Just for you, here’s what I’ve spent my wages on in the past few months when my husband doesn’t bring in shipments of cheap wine:

– Home maintenance. I paid for nice men to come and prod electrical and gas appliances. Incidentally, they were a lot less harsh about my career choice.

– Christmas. Some of it came from *gasp* a charity shop. WHOLE POUNDS WERE SPENT.

– Buses in and out of networking events. Internet is nice; meeting people who don’t screech at you like the internet does is better.

– Salsa evening classes for a mere £30, to get me out the house, turn into Jake from Strictly, dance with attractive men and generally not think about the crushing amount of expectation others seem to have about my sponging off my husband when I’m spending my own money to shimmy around in a primary school gym.

There we go. Maybe the next step is paying less for a book whose author is a bit more well-off than you’d like? Perhaps next time I’m in the shop you own, I’ll take a few extra groceries for free because you obviously look like you don’t need the money. Logic, innit? Here, have a pitchfork while you’re at it.

'I LIKE your book, but I can't get over the fact you live in a house and not a soggy cardboard box.'

‘I LIKE your book, but I can’t get over the fact you live in a house and not a soggy cardboard box.’

Tatum Flynn made a good point the other day. We’ve gone from the ‘starving writer in a garret’ to ‘you’ve written a book? Wow, you must have loads of money!’ with absolutely no shades in between. I don’t think the Salon writer got the memo that there are few Rowlings around, and you don’t get sacks of cash for books. It’s nice she worked up through hardship, but I didn’t get that memo about producing my ‘I too was working-class and all we ate was cold gravel’ card. Because that doesn’t matter in this logic. Because I’m lucky enough to be in a better position, two university degrees on. Really, is it anyone’s business at all? I’d argue it isn’t, and if you need a background check on your favourite up-and-coming writer… well, you could always ask Kathleen Hale for tips?


5 thoughts on “Money for nothing and rejections for free

  1. I must admit, I don’t get that at all from the article. The points I took from it were:

    * It’s disingenuous to say you got where you are solely through hard work if you also had significant privileges (inheritance, connections) that helped you along the way (especially if an aspiring writer’s specifically asked you that question).
    * Writers coming into the business don’t realise that some of these successful authors had a lot of helping hands to go with their talent, and get the impression that they should be able to churn out books at the same rate/success without those support structures or advantages. Of course, some authors got there without those support structures, but I imagine it’s a great deal harder to do so.

    I never got the impression that she was asking for an itemised budget for your existence. More that there should be no shame associated with saying that writing isn’t your sole income. As in, she tried to write whilst also holding down several jobs / looking after children, and she couldn’t write much until she was in an environment where she didn’t have to worry about money (e.g. supported by parents or husband) or have distractions from writing. And that’s ok. It’s also ok if you are supporting yourself fully, but being “sponsored” doesn’t automatically remove your artistic integrity.


    • I don’t know. I can’t see what the ultimate goal of calling out authors on their background is. What do people want? A disclaimer on the books?

      I’d be careful about using the tern ‘churn out books’. I’m with Anthony Horowitz on this one (someone with an awful lot of money in early life, but no success for many, many years). Regardless of your income, the actual business of sitting down and writing is *hard*. Nobody ‘churns’ anything out, and if they do it’s unlikely to be any good without months and months of horrible editing. Trust me on this one.

      Yes, it’s ok to be supported, but the wording of this piece really seems set up to shame others. ‘Without all those advantages, I might be on page 52. OK, there’s mine. Now show me yours.’ How about I don’t? How about we lend equal support to authors regardless of situation, and especially female authors who really don’t need other women like this bampot pushing their noses in the dirt?

      I suppose the other thing is I have an inherent problem with the can of internet debate worms that is ‘privilege’. While there could be a useful and productive discussion with it, too often I’ve seen it used as a blunt weapon to dismiss valid arguments, and ‘check your privilege’ has become associated with a rather snide and moral high horse-based school of debate. But eh, that’s just my thoughts on it. Internet debates rarely end well at the best of times 😉


      • I personally don’t see it as “calling out” authors, but I’m a wage slave, not a writer/author/artist and so the article isn’t aimed at me, and I’ll notice different things about it. I do see it as a reaction against the “starving artist” stereotype, which I’ve seen a lot of railing against recently (and ties into the woman who got grief over her Kickstarter for the temerity of wanting some money to live off rather than existing purely for “art”). There’s been a lot of talk on my FB feed about how art is often expected to be given for free, or very little, and the notion that people should suffer for their art. Related to the expectation that you can’t produce decent art if you’re not suffering in some way for it (usually within a narrow definition of “suffering” as defined by the person levelling the accusation). Whereas the author of the article found it incredibly difficult to write during hard times. So yeah, I see it as calling out authors who perpetuate this stereotype to aspiring artists/authors when in reality they weren’t starving in their garret at all, or living solely off the receipts from their magazine articles. It’s not saying put a disclaimer on a book saying that “this author didn’t live off beans on toast”, but promoting being more honest/open within the writing community.

        As for privilege, if you have it and don’t acknowledge that it helped you get where you are (especially, as noted in the article, when specifically asked about what helped you achieve success/feed you family/whatever), that can come across pretty poorly to those people with the same goals that have to get by without it. It’s like someone asking me how I got into Cambridge, to which I might say hard work, but I also had parents able and willing to spend money on a private school and extra-curricular activities that padded out my personal statement and made it stand out, and who supported me with my homework (and knew how to help me with my homework). I agree it’s used as a blunt instrument on the internet, but it is often a hard thing to acknowledge that life dealt you a better hand.

        You should never have to tell people about your situation (unless of course you’re legally obliged to). But if someone asks you advice about what helps you with your writing, it might be good to also tell them about your supportive husband that helps you get the time and space to get on with writing. Just like the author referenced in the article who got success from her novel might have said, “Well, it helps that I have connections in the industry so my book was reviewed by all these well known critics. Networking is really important in getting good publicity.”. Rather than, “Don’t have children.”

        But as stated above, I’m not a writer/artist and as such the article isn’t describing my life nor do I feel it’s ascribing any values to it. I have no clue about the reality of trying to earn a living through words, so can only go off what other people share from their experiences. Which is kinda the point of this article – unless people talk about this stuff, I could go around believing authors get millions of pounds in advance and roll around in their money every night, and so how dare they ask me to pay £10 for a book! Or go on believing that authors like and deserve to live off nothing, it makes their books better, so giving them money is in fact making their books worse.

        (PS: Honestly not trying to be snarky or whatever, sorry the use of the word “churn” offended you, it was not my intention)


  2. Pingback: Money’s still too tight to mention | Writings from Otherworld

  3. Pingback: The Bi-Ble | Writings from Otherworld

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