I went last night to the launch of Kapow! the latest anthology produced by students at Nottingham Trent University. It was in the usual venue, Sillitoe Room at Waterstone's on Bridlesmiths Gate. I've heard so much over the years about Waterstone's not supporting local writers but that is miles from the experience I've had with them in Nottingham. I've always found them very accomodating and extremely helpful. I think last night was particularly hard for them; apparently nine of their staff had been made redundant that day, but they were as welcoming and helpful as ever.
It was a very pleasant evening with some posh horse dewberries, free wine and short, well presented readings. All the things a book launch should be and a good time all round.
My only real disappointment was when I spoke to one of the new writers about his experience of being in print for the first time, and how cool that must be. I mentioned I remembered being there myself, in a similar anthology, not that long ago. I was shocked by the bitter and cynical response I got, a short diatribe on the evils of the publishing industry and how it's hardly worth being a writer at all, the money you can't make from it. I countered this, talking about my experiences working with my publisher and agent, and in the end I stood there sounding like the naive first timer still with stars in her eyes.
This is a line of argument I'm used to hearing, of course, from writers further down the line. It's a really common theme, so common I'm almost bored of it. It came up on a forum I'm a member of recently and I ended up writing such a long post on it that I decided I really ought to blog about it.
I'm going to make a statement. It's controversial and may upset a lot of people, but I also think it's true. There is nothing less attractive than a bitter midlist author.
I know this because on my MA course I had pretty much two years of visits from this kind of writer. Nearly every speaker who came could be fitted into this category, with one or two notable and brilliant exceptions. In a way, it was a good thing. It certainly gave us a realistic view of what 'being a writer' really meant. At the same time, it was about as inspiring as a brick in the face, and six months after the course finished there was only one person left writing.
Maybe because of this education, or perhaps just because I'm generally quite a positive 'can do' kind of person (possibly a little bit sickeningly so) I've always managed to stay feeling pretty good and positive about my writing career. Don't get me wrong; I've had my moments of feeling down, frustrated or confused, but I've made an effort not to let these feelings get to me and I can genuinely say my attitude to being a professional writer has stayed positive.
This is the way I put it on my forum post.
"Although when you look at what Melissa Nathan was earning in the early days it's hardly a good salary or hourly rate. But it really depends on how you look at your writing career as to how you see that. Personally, I don't think you can or should expect a good salary from writing at the beginning. It's not a 'job' per se with an employer and that kind of security. In fact, it's a self-employed business.
If you set up in business selling widgets of some kind, or as a driving instructor (which my sister did and I can tell you is *much* worse) or with a new restaurant and so on, you wouldn't expect to make much money the first few years and you'd probably find yourself doing all the hours god sent to push your business forward. You'd see those years as 'investment' periods. You probably wouldn't take a salary at all from your business for a good while. You certainly wouldn't have a team arranging your product, PR and publicity. Sure, ultimately, you could see it as that these people take a big cut of your profit from the final product too but, then again, without them it would be hard to produce a viable product or get taken seriously at all, because they have the reputation to add legitimacy to what you're doing."
That's the way I see it anyway and it's helped me ward off the bitterness thus far.