This may come as a shock to some people, but writing actually is an occupation. It happens to be mine. If you are sitting there with a vision of a starving artist dancing in your head, you are not incorrect in that stereotype. If you are likewise imagining a half-crazed person sitting at a computer keyboard until the wee hours of the morning feverishly typing as if for dear life, you are equally not wrong. These are the things people think of, when they think of writers, just as firetrucks and Dalmatian dogs are some of the images that come to mind when one thinks of a fireman, or perhaps briefcases, calculators, and suits, when one thinks of an accountant. The difference between my job and theirs (apart from the obvious: that I do not routinely run into burning buildings nor am I very good at math) is that people understand those two occupations as occupations. They don’t seem to do the same when it comes to my own profession at all.
I often find myself wondering if their contemporaries, family members, and friends understood what Dickens and Poe did for a living, either. In truth, one finds that while everyone seemed to understand, appreciate, and even applaud Dickens, no one took Poe’s work terribly seriously, except as a literary reviewer and journalist. Interesting that the former wrote about the struggles of the “common man”, while the latter focused on Gothic literature, often with a paranormal bent, precisely as I write in the present day. One wonders if that had anything to do with the overriding acceptance of Dickens versus Poe?
I read somewhere once that if one is entering the field of writing to make money, one had might as well get a job at McDonald’s, as the latter might be slightly more productive in the wallet-filling department. They weren’t wrong. That doesn’t change the fact that this is a profession: I have a degree in it, for crying out loud, there’s your proof! If my degree were in Journalism instead of Creative Writing, no doubt people would beam and pat me on the back and say: “Why, you’re a journalist! A real writer!” But as things presently stand, I get much more of a “how quaint; you write” reaction. It’s regarded as a novelty; a hobby; a lark, rather than a real job. I am equally sorry to say that my wallet likewise reflects that reaction.
As I stated in another entry here, I chose to self-publish so that I could maintain control of my work; so that my books wouldn’t die, being torn apart by the machine of “bigtime publishing”. I also made that decision based on an utter inability to handle rejection very well. Not that I don’t believe my work can withstand criticism; on the contrary, I very much believe in my work. However, I also understand the realities of how the publishing industry works. What I didn’t foresee along this path of self-publishing and, thus, self-promotion, is that the rejection one faces doing things this way is actually on a far larger, deeper, and more hurtful scale: as a self-published author, promoting one’s own work, instead of being rejected by publishers who don’t know you and whom you don’t know either, instead you face the constant and (oft times) consistent rejection of your reader-base, the initial ranks of which consist of family and friends. Believe me, in retrospect, this particular brand of rejection is far more hurtful to one’s psyche, and, inevitably, the damage done to one’s psyche is infinitely worse than any damage done to one’s wallet.
I know others who work in creative fields, based out of their home–my Mother is one of them–and often they find the same thing which I am presently encountering: because you aren’t “out there” in the “workaday world”, your job couldn’t possibly be a real job. Surely, this is something you’re just doing “on the side”, for a little “extra cash”. Um, no, this is my job. I don’t have another one, nor do I want it, nor could I hold one down with the present state of my health even if I did. Just because I work out of my home doesn’t make my job any less “scheduled”; any less harrowing, or any less difficult. In fact, my job is likely more difficult than those who are “out there” in the “workaday world” because at least they are guaranteed a paycheck at the end of their labors, as well as a modicum of respect–neither of which I receive on a regular basis, let me assure you.
I have had two books on the market since July. I have sold a grand total of twelve via my main publishing platform, Smashwords. I am, admittedly, still awaiting the reports from Barnes and Noble and all of the other places, such as Kobo, to which my books have been distributed. Twelve books. Two of those were to my Mother who doesn’t even have an ereader–she printed them out from PDF. Meanwhile, I am attempting to pound away at two other novels–Underhalls and Magnolia–while facing the dreaded fact that in six months, I’ve only sold twelve books total, out of two works offered. That breaks down to one book of each title per month. To say that I’m disheartened and quickly losing my will to work at all is to state things far too mildly.
I’m not trying to gain sympathy here; I’m just trying to plead my case; to prove that this thing I do–this writing–really is a business; really is a job. Just as everyone else’s life depends on their job–whether a fireman or an accountant or a whatever–mine likewise depends on writing.
I get out of bed each day and try to think of new and unusual ways to market myself. At this point, I feel that I’ve tried almost everything short of standing on a street corner somewhere in a Statue of Liberty costume, like those guys you see on the roadside at used car sales lots, with a big sign that says “Will Write For Food”. I’ve listed with StumbleUpon. I’ve set up my Facebook Page. I’ve worked tirelessly on this blog. I’ve even set up a Twitter account. I’ve sold twelve books. I’m writing two more. This does not bode well.
My actual work day doesn’t generally begin until after 10pm, because a) I write better at night, and b) that is when the phone might finally stop ringing. Those of you who are “out there” in the “workaday world” don’t have that added issue of if someone interrupts your train of thought, you literally lose your ability to work. I have to face that constantly. That’s how writing works. If someone calls your office, even with some terrible news or something, such as a death in the family, yes, you might be “broken up” or distracted for a time, but you don’t actually generally lose the ability to work. I do.
This schedule of actually beginning to write post 10pm means that some nights I am literally up until the sun rises, only to have to face the next day’s re-attempt at marketing, while wondering why at times I even do this at all. If no one is reading what I am writing, what’s it all for?
You see, at the end of the day, it’s not about how much money goes in my wallet–although, yes, that would be nice, too. It would be fantastic not to have to ask my husband for literally everything I need and/or want, just once in my life. At the end of the day, this is about having people listen; having people read what I have done, and actually appreciate my work. Apparently, at least six people are doing that as we speak. A very deeply heartfelt thank you to those six people–you know who you are. It’s the rest of the world out there that I’m waiting for, and all of those people who don’t seem to grasp that this is, in fact, my job.
Unless you are a stripper, a model, a thespian, or a musician, it’s not terribly likely that your job deeply affects your self esteem. Trust me: writing is murder on self esteem, just as surely as if I was standing in front of a camera somewhere being photographed, or up on a stage singing a song. If you work at a desk job, say as a secretary for example, and your boss doesn’t “like” your work, then that tends to have very little bearing on the average secretary’s overall self esteem. Generally speaking, the attitude would be “I’ll do better so I can keep my job”, not “if my boss doesn’t like me maybe I should go jump off a bridge.” The same cannot be said of those in creative professions. Your audience is your boss. We creative-types–artists, writers, actors, actresses, musicians, dancers–may imagine ourselves as self-employed, but at the end of the day, the audience is the boss. If they don’t like you, you may as well become a secretary…or a fireman…or an accountant. The work that you do becomes synonymous with who you are, and a lack of acceptance for your work comes to equate somewhere in the mind with something being profoundly wrong, not with the work, but with yourself. Ultimately, this makes the stakes of this job even higher: believe me when I say the effects of this cycle are devastating.
Again, I am not looking for sympathy; I am merely trying to outline what the job of writing actually includes; to plead the case that it is, in fact, a profession. More than that, it is a vocation–a calling, not unlike the priesthood. Stevie Nicks said in a song once: “Poet, priest of nothing”, and she was not wrong. Yet when someone dons a collar and calls themself a priest, one recognizes that as a profession, as a job, as a vocation, while on the other hand, if someone picks up a pen (or, in my case, a computer keyboard) and calls themself a writer people react with “how quaint”. The truth is: in the end, both require a vow of poverty, and both require a commitment to a higher power (call it God; the Muse; whatever), and, ultimately, both are employed on this plane of existence by their audience.
This business of writing is harrowing and not to be entered into lightly. It takes one down shadowed paths where sometimes even angels fear to tread. Yet, we writers don’t get hazard pay–and believe me, we should–nor do we, sometimes, even get paid at all. In the end, it is one of the few jobs in the world where both dollars and sense matter, for both show that someone approves of the hard work which you have done: dollars, to show that people are in possession of your work, that they might read it, and, hopefully, readers with the good sense to tell you the effect your work has had upon them–for good or ill–once they have read it. This is my job. I am proud of it and I am determined not to stop doing it, though some days are harder to face than others. I just wish more people would understand that: My name is Michelle Iacona, and I am a writer.