The Writers’ Deaths by Starvation?

“Does It Pay to Be a Writer?” From the New York Times

“Crashing author earnings ‘threaten future of American literature'” From The Guardian

I saw the New York Times article yesterday and a similar one in anxiety writer today, both decrying the loss of author income and blaming Amazon. I have heard for years how Amazon is geared to choke out publishers and by extension writers.  The article confirms that. These facts are depressing and, in many ways, mirrored my own situation as I strive to create or find a new job that also allows me enough time to write on the side.

Online magazine opportunities

I think part of what depressed me was that this lack of support for writers is not just in the book market. Many media sources, such as newspapers and magazines, are shutting down as their readership numbers decline. Of course, articles and short stories are still being written and published. Many magazines have some online presence, either solely or in conjunction with a print version. Unfortunately, often the fees paid by online zines are much smaller than the print versions. Thus, while article writing was a classic way of earning money, it seems to be morphing into a slower type of starvation.

Short story opportunities

Similarly, anthologies either pay very little for stories or only in contributor copies. Some don’t even provide lower-priced copies of the book back to the author, who could then promote the work as well. In addition, the publishers of anthologies often tie up the rights to stories for a year or more. Some even ask people to pay them for publication. Hopefully those are short lived as writers boycott them.

I understand the financial risk of putting such a book together, but I don’t believe that anthologies deserve quality short stories without the commitment to pay for them. New writers are told that short stories are a great way to break in and some writing for free gets your name out there. Yes, this is true, but it also devalues the writer’s work in particular and the field in general until everyone is expected to offer free or insanely cheap work. Creativity deserves a decent wage.

Working while writing- not a new concept

Remember the famous story of JK Rowling, who conceptualized and wrote parts of her Harry Potter tomes while on welfare? Many, if not all, writers worked at something else while trying to establish their writing career. In addition to paying the bills, it gave them the opportunity to learn about the law, politics, medicine or whatever they were doing. This knowledge in turn provided the detailed descriptions for their novels. Think about any of the areas I listed above and you can come up with some writer: John Grisham, Steve Berry, Michael Crichton, and so on who have succeeded because they wrote about their expertise. Writing while working another job is an old idea. Nothing has changed on that. The unfortunate aspect that these articles point out is that most of us will not become Steven Kings or Tom Clancys, living solely on our royalties.

However, I want to offer a beacon of hope. The articles above only included book sales. An evolutionary process of success exists in the publishing world where the writer creates multiple books. A few of these go on  to bring in income in other ways through other rights. Remember that most writers often are considered successful because their books turned into a movie or a TV show. We would not have Rambo, True Blood, or Jack Reacher without the writers creating the book first.

In addition, although I have no direct experience with publishing in other countries, I’ve heard other authors discuss publication in other countries as a source of income too. Many books don’t go through this process but it is part of an author’s definition of ultimate success.

Why do you write?

Ask yourself why do you write. If it’s to become rich, then you’re in the wrong field. The Hollywood dream is a lie. If it’s to be read and loved by millions, you’re in the wrong field. Adoration is more for rock stars and actors. If it is because the story begs to come out, then you may be on to something.

A novelist should never write for money alone. That’s a flawed idea from the start. Many creative people are not driven by “will this sell?” ideology. When we write, we ask the question of “what if” and crave to see the answer. The characters are our best friends or our greatest fears. The settings appear as real to us as our living rooms. The stories itch and claw at our brains, wanting to see daylight. We want to see the final result as much as our readers. Plus, writing takes tremendous time between researching, crafting, editing and submitting work. It’s also expensive as we are encouraged to network, have websites, seek out help in the form of editors and attend conferences. None of these items are cheap.

Ultimately, however, if the world wants to continue receiving great fiction, then we writers must receive decent royalties for our work.


Mortal Engines Drives into Plot Hole Confusion

Mortal Engines is the newest post-apocalyptic film offering, and like so many others, it fails to hold together. The movie looks engaging with its steampunk-ish giant rolling cities and fantastic airships, and the artistry is something to behold. However, the plot sinks with holes and confusing logic leaps. The one entertaining aspect of this movie is counting the number ideas it stole from other films, including the Matrix and Star Wars.Mortal Engines

Based on an idea of “municipal Darwinism”, a great phrase that could  be applied today as larger cities incorporate the smaller ones around them.  In Mortal Engines, the great city machines chase down and engulf smaller ones for food and fuel, the London machine has grown to be the greatest city roaming the land. The model used for it is impressive with a locomotive front, and rising levels of towers that ends in a cathedral top and necessitates the need for an internal subway system to get to the engine levels.

The enemies are the people who live beyond the “great wall,” which looks like a giant dam guarded by an array of flying craft. The anti-tractionists chose to settle in one place, build homes, farm and, by the Mayor of London’s thinking, hoard all their supplies. These Luddite-style people are a peace-loving mixed culture that includes Asians and Indians, making this a type of racist war as well. The plot centers around the idea that as long as the wall is standing, the great machines and scavenger societies can destroy their side of the world while leaving the rest alone.

But of course, tell a power-crazed man he can’t go to some place and he will steal, murder, and sacrifice all to go there.

That is exactly what Hugo Weaving’s character, Thaddeus Valentine, does. Weaving plays the villain in the wonderfully menacing way he perfected. He murders a woman to get an ancient WMD to blow down the damn Wall. In killing people, he sets up a practically Shakespearean plot twist where the daughter (Hester Shaw) of the slain woman grows up seeking revenge. The movie starts at Shaw’s attempt at revenge, and much of the story is told in backflashes.

The story problems begin with the initial world. London, which boasts a large population, is in constant need of food, supplies, and energy. Except the audience sees multiple views of lovingly tended flower gardens. A ridiculous idea for a community on the edge of starvation. Food, if it could be called that, is shown multiple times, but only in the sense of sludge and algae. Edible animals must have disappeared completely. Yet this world isn’t the barren wasteland of Mad Max fame. The great engines roll through some wasteland, but the film shows great forests as well so the Earth is obviously capable of sustaining farms.

In addition, when London “eats” a town, the people are subsumed into the population, but the material goods are not stripped out, the food is not confiscated, valuables like cloth and furniture are not recovered. The town is put through a gigantic grinder to reduce it to burnable fuel. In short, the premise of this world doesn’t hold up.

Finally, the most glaring plot hole is the fact that as London approaches the great Wall, the anti-tractionists on the other side know Valentine has the WMD. This miracle knowledge appears out of thin air since the weapon is a secret to most Londoners, including Valentine’s own daughter. How would the Wall dwellers have known about it? In addition, as the only other witness to the finding of the WMD (and the murder of Shaw’s mother), Hester doesn’t even know or understand the importance of the weapon until near the end of the movie. Nor does she know about Valentine’s plan for it. She has the only key to stop it and, at the climax of the movie, seems to know exactly where to place the key in order to shut the whole thing down.

In short, the movie offers beautiful CGI and steampunk atmosphere but dies on plot, making this movie not worth seeing. It’s a shame really because such graphic art deserves a wonderful story to cement its fame. Peter Jackson has certainly done better. Yet Mortal Engine’s future lays in being shown in some Mystery Science Theater 3000 venue where shouts of disbelief and popcorn throwing are allowed.