The Guardian has three good front-page articles worth your time today. Phillip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass series of fantasy novels, laments the current poverty of most writers and argues that they should receive a more equitable share of the money their work generates. Andrew Crofts suggests that if we really want to make a living at writing, we learn to write what other people want. And Michelle Dean gives us some well-known examples to support my claim from the other day that George RR Martin is by no means the first writer to miss a deadline.
Dean’s article is slightly misleading. Her examples are of authors who did not finish their work. It cannot be said yet that Martin did not finish. He missed a deadline, that is all. He will finish, probably some time this year.
Harlan Ellison once called writers “the whores of the profession,” a slap at what he does so well, but also an implicit nod to the collaborative nature of publishing. Writers and editors need each other, but both Pullman and Ellison have long championed fairer wages for the work writers do. Fifty percent of royalties seems to me fair compensation for a text. A good many writers, however, are so excited to see their work in print (or they have such poor agents) that they will settle for 25% or less, a decision which, though it is an individual one, hurts the entire profession.
Most writers are hard-working, very pleasant people, but in the matter of wages, they should be sons and daughters of bitches. The entire industry of Hollywood owes the billions of dollars of its wealth to the hundreds of writers whose prior novels and stories the industry has been adapting since 1894. In terms of developing its own original material, Hollywood is unquestionably the least creative place on the planet–and this criticism is coming from a man who likes movies. Hollywood would be nothing without the writers who turn out the scripts every week for TV shows and films. Yes, the actors make those words come alive (especially if the words are dead on arrival, as many of them are), but there has to be somebody creating those words in the first place. And they should be paid fairly.
Publishing would fall to its knees tomorrow without the texts of writers to edit or see through the press. I’ve done editing, and I’ll tell you, I don’t want to do it again. It’s a thankless, low-paying, but necessary job. Again, however, there wouldn’t be a need for editors without writers. The good editor is worth her weight in gold; the bad ones manifest their badness in many ways. Nearly all of them are struggling writers on the sly. One good editor finally got his first novel published last year at the age of 65. Good for him.
Crofts reflects on the value of ghostwriting. I’ve not ghostwritten a novel, but I’ve ghostwritten many a letter and many an e-mail for my coworkers at work. It’s a useful skill to have, and it’s valuable to gain some insight into what other people want. The most successful writers–a group that includes those who are well-paid and those who write well–are those who understand that successful writing involves providing readers with material they actually want to read.