Sunday, November 30, 2008

Writing Is My Labor of Love

On this, my 50th article posted since my entrance into the blogosphere, now is a good time to reflect on it all including the attitude that many professional writers have for those writers like me who are not paid to write. This includes not only bloggers who publish online but also authors who have self-published books in print media.

Thanks to fellow blogger John McIntire, a.k.a. MacYapper, I have another example of how some professional writers like Mike Seate of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review feel about amateur writers in his article
Mourn not for the end of pointless blogging which includes the following:

As a paid, professional journalist, I find it troubling to have chosen a profession that's attracting more imitators than the new Beyonce video. Writing is a tough gig, and the fact that millions of people choose to do it for free is a mystery to us paid writers.

You can read McIntire’s complete response to Seate’s article in
his blog posting, which argues that bloggers are more interested in just being themselves rather than imitating Seate. In addition he says that just because a writer is paid does not necessarily make him good.

But I would like to add an important point to the discussion:

Just because a writer is not paid, it does not necessarily make him bad.

All of those who are now professional writers were at one time unpaid writers whose talents were noticed and valued enough by someone to get an opportunity to write professionally.

Most amateur writers frankly need not give up their day job. But in addition to those who write simply for the enjoyment of it are undoubtedly others with talent who are waiting and hoping for their opportunity to write professionally. So to dismiss all unpaid writers as being unworthy of being read smacks of ignorance and prejudice.

In addition to being a blogger, I have also made a writing contribution as a self-published cookbook author. Unfortunately, the same attitude of ignorance and prejudice is more than apparent there too. Virtually all mainstream media outlets have made a decision that all self-published books are unworthy of attention and are best ignored.

This attitude is conveyed loud and clear by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Book Editor Bob Hoover in an article written back in 2000
Caught in a tangled Web of self-publishing.

Because vanity (self-published) books are not edited, checked for accuracy -- and perhaps even libel -- or polished by rewriting, this and most major newspapers do not review them. More often than I care to remember, I've listened to and been insulted by self-published authors who have dropped a few bucks on their book to discover that the paper won't touch it.

It's not pleasant to confront a prickly author with this policy, and while one or two of these books mistakenly slipped past me in eight years, I've stuck to it -- out of sheer necessity. The policy is a sensible way to limit the field considered for mention.

I am not totally unsympathetic to this viewpoint. After all, in this digital age the number of self-published books has become overwhelming. Trying to find the gems among the ever increasing pile of self-published books is no small amount of work. But in simply choosing to ignore all self-published books, the mainstream media is simply taking the lazy way out while doing a disservice to deserving writers along with their readers. As even Hoover laments:

Despite the steady outpouring of mediocre unoriginal books, it's never been harder to find a publisher who'll pay you to write.
More than ever, traditional publishing houses (ones that pay its authors instead of the other way around) along with literary agents are for the most part unwilling to spend any time or take any chances on previously unpublished authors. They know that the path of least resistance is to go with authors who are already well known by the book reading public rather than take a chance on a promising newcomer. So for even the most talented new authors who wish to write professionally, sometimes their only chance is to self-publish a book to show the world their stuff and hope to someday be ‘discovered’. Others resort to blogs to try and accomplish the same result.

So how do we sort out the promising writers without making it an overwhelming task? To begin with, the plain truth is that the great majority of blogs and self-published books are written for little more than the enjoyment they bring to their writers along with family and friends.

But for those few who may have the talent and ambition to write for a wider audience, companies who offer self-publishing services need to establish some
recognition programs like iUniverse (who I used to self-publish my cookbook). This would help to establish some standards for content and editing which separate books that have a realistic chance for commercial success from the rest of the pack.

While we see an unending parade of authors from the mega publishers hawking their books on the talk show circuit and elsewhere, it is often overlooked that local authors with talent can be at least as compelling for their audiences. Talent shows for aspiring entertainers have been around forever and are still going strong as today’s reality shows like for example, American Idol. Why not also give aspiring writers a chance to show their stuff?

Instead of asking media outlets to read through a pile of unsolicited books, they can instead invite interested local authors to submit an electronic sample of a dozen or so pages of their book along with perhaps a marketing plan to show that the authors are really serious about marketing their work. From that, the most promising submissions can then result in an invitation to send the complete work for review and possible featuring in an article or interview. This would all take a bit more work than simply ignoring all unpublished authors, but the payoff would be thrill of seeing the launch of new local stars into the writing field. Blogs are even easier to evaluate since their format already presents a tidy list of writing samples for the interested reader to check out.

As for me, my blog has been a labor of love that has already created a great deal of satisfaction for me in getting to share my thoughts with readers. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it would be even more satisfying to have a wider audience and perhaps even get paid to do something I love. All people like me are asking for is a chance to have our work read and judged on its own merits instead of just being brushed aside as unworthy without even being read. To those who have had the opportunity to make a living as a professional writer, we just want the same chance to attain success that somebody once gave you when you were starting out. Isn’t that only fair?

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