The Woman in White

the writings and ramblings of a writer and rambler

  • from The Woman in White, Martin Justice

why write…here?

Posted by Westenra on October 7, 2008

At one point, through one of my other blogs, someone sent me an article about why it is a bad idea for writers (young writers?) to publish their fiction in a free, online format. I unfortunately cannot remember who it was, what blog I was attached to at the time, and which of my dozen email addresses this article went to. Which annoys me, because it was a good article.

However, it wasn’t making any arguments I haven’t heard before, or since. Basically the “don’t publish your work online” argument can be boiled down to the same three points:

1. Money

Basically, so theory goes, nobody will pay for what they can get for free. (I learned this in the Economics class I almost failed.) This applies to food, sex, anything really. So publishing my work for free on a blog means that I am not going to get paid for it. Well yes. But, two things. 1) It might help me gain a fanbase, who WILL pay for longer works. (novels, when I finish them.) 2) I’m not doing it for the money. I’m doing it to write. I may have to do an entire blog post on that topic, because I think it confuses people.

But, say the critics, you’re weakening the market. Why would someone pay to read something of yours, when they can read your writing here for free? And of course, not only am I not making money for myself, but I am somehow leeching money away from other writers. By offering the product (fiction) for free, it is unnecessary for readers to purchase fiction from someone who IS charging money for it. Bad Westenra. Bringing the brotherhood down.

However.

I would argue that fiction works in a specific kind of market. (which probably has a name, but I did almost fail that Econ class.) My product doesn’t replace anyone else’s. It’s not like, say, a refrigerator. When you sell a fridge, you’re preventing anyone else from selling a fridge to that consumer because, well, they’ve bought yours. They only need the one. But when someone reads my short story, there is nothing preventing them from going to read your short story as well. Also, quality counts for a lot in fiction. There’s a lot of free writing, and a lot of it stinks. There’s a lot of published writing, and a lot of it stinks. Readers are always looking for what’s good, and while they may go for the free stuff first (but then again, maybe not, there is this stigma that free writing = bad writing) if they want to read more fiction they’re going to read more fiction. You can never have too many short stories. You can have too many refrigerators.

I mean, the market can get saturated with, say, vampire stories or teenage-wizard-adventure stories, but that’s a different phenomenon.

2. Agents and Publishers will look down on you / will not accept your work.

Obviously, once something is published online, nobody is going to want to publish it in “pay-me” format because, well, it’s free. Somehow this fact is often grouped with “agents will not accept your work.” I don’t really understand why. And I don’t really think it applies me at all. I mean, I am writing here anonymously, so no agent, upon receiving the novel I sub them, is going to google me and be like, “ew, she throws all her fiction out for people to see? has she no respect for herself?”

Mostly this is not going to happen because I doubt the agent would google me. If they like the novel, they’ll rep it, if they don’t, they’ll send me a form letter. Good system, really.

But even if I were blogging under my real name (or subbing under Westenra?), I just really really doubt that having my fiction online is going to hurt anything. I mean, I am obviously not planning to earn money from the writings I publish here. I am not subbing this work. I just don’t understand why it would be an issue. If someone wants to explain it to me, I’m all ears, but I just don’t…get…it.

3. You’re not a real writer unless someone is paying you to do it. Until then, it’s just a hobby.

Bullshit.

Emily Dickinson, anyone? Not that I want to be discovered after my death. Right now would be great. But still. Just because I’m not on anyone’s radar, doesn’t mean I don’t have talent, and it doesn’t mean I’m not a writer.

Writing is not a hobby for me. It is what I am. It is what I do. Everything else, just extra. While it would be nice to earn enough money writing that I could not do anything else, that is so unlikely in today’s world. I need a job. A real job with health benefits and a salary. I like to eat. I like to not get rained on while I sleep. Money is good. And even before the internet arrived, making money as a writer required a Herculean effort. Dickens didn’t write books the size of Great Expectations because he had time to kill; he had mouths to feed. (18, I think. Some ungodly number. Poor Mrs. Dickens.) Anthony Trollope ran the British Post Office, writing in the morning before going to work.

Things haven’t changed. People read less, so actually things have gotten worse. To make money, you have to be JK Rowling or Stephen King. Basically writers make Not Enough to Live On or Millions. Two extremes. I don’t actually think I could handle being a Stephen King or a James Patterson–the pressure, whoa.

So call it a hobby if you like. I guess I really don’t care what anyone thinks. But I’m doing what I want to do.

I’m a starving artist, baby. Living the dream.

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