Dani Shapiro's A Writing Career Becomes Harder to Scale is an honest look at how difficult it is being a published author for newcomers and previous authors alike in today's social media marketing world. Shapiro points out that "...[writers] tweet and blog and make Facebook friends in the time they used to spend writing...How, under these conditions, can a writer take the risks required to create something original and resonant and true?"
That is a good question. I believe it takes as much art to finding ways to write as it does to write itself in today's media world. If you are hoping for a continual writing life, I would suggest an occupation that will help pay the bills during your writing days. If you have some sort of trust fund, or available funds to let you write daily, or you don't mind living in squalor in a community with a lower standard of living, you'll be able to write without too many constraints. Of course, as Shapiro points out:
The publishing industry -- always the nerdy distant cousin of the rest of media -- has the same blockbuster-or-bust mentality of television networks and movie studios. There now exist only two possibilities: immediate and large-scale success, or none at all.
In some respects, I agree with Shapiro. It's true that an author must sell more than modestly in order to have a publisher for a second book in the mega-publishing companies. At the same time, independent presses are not included in this calculation. I would say that an author who is looking to put out a first novel or collection of stories would do well to seek out an independent press with promise, or to simply start a press independently.
I also believe writing has a bigger opportunity for originality and innovation than Shapiro realizes. The statistics that a writer may not be able to publish in a major press should not deter today's writers from bringing work into the world. The advent of Internet publication, vooks, and other forms of written distribution guarantee that no matter what you write an audience can be found for your work. The only difference is that you won't have instant success, be on Oprah, or necessarily be a recognized name in letters with three books on an independent press.
Is this a bad thing though? I don't know. I feel that in the place where a writer may not be able to get certain books out to major publishers, they will still have an opportunity for publishing on the Internet or with a smaller press. After increasing sales or notice in these venues, they can get a bigger deal from a large publisher. There is also the opportunity to sell immediately to a large publisher if you have the connections to get ahead of the slush pile, or an idea that seems to have commercial viability.
I believe Shapiro's article is a healthy dose of reality for writers who want to write a book in order to gain popularity. As Shapire more or less hints, that type of outcome would be better served by going on Facebook or joining a reality program. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perspective, that happens to be the growing trend among Americans in all aspects of creation - sell or die! If a writer believed in this story, it wouldn't take long to realize that happiness will be dictated by a book's latest sales numbers, and that an author would have extreme difficulty writing at all.
For those of you who are interested in a creative life that does not need to include major publication or fame, I commend you. You have just opened yourself up to a writing life without limitation. You may be on Oprah, sell a million books, or none at all. No one said that it has to be one way or not at all. Anyone who tries to sell you a "Hollywood or Bust" ideal has forgotten why they started writing in the first place.
Please do yourself a favor and toss Shapiro's "dose of reality" away if you enjoy writing. That kind of thing matters very little in the scheme of a happy writing life.
If I were to offer real advice to young writers, I would say that an artist's life is a balance between healthy and unhealthy obsession. A writer stirs creative possibilities, finds a world, and begins adding to that reality until a complete work of art is created. The same goes for other art forms. Social media tools shouldn't deter an artist from creating. If an artist has half the mind, he or she might realize that opportunities are more abundant because such tools exist.
In short, a story about how the publishing world operates does not dictate the creative world. As the Rock put so eloquently in "The Tooth Fairy," "If you don't shoot, you can't score." I like that. I would even take it a step further:
Take a shot. If you miss, take another. The sky hasn't changed color.