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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Writing and the Credit Crunch

So today I was reading one new author's account of how she struggled as a starving artist in New York, even after receiving her first advance. Then I heard one of the magazines a colleague regularly contributed to was no longer able to pay him. The London Magazine, too, which was initially set up by T. S. Eliot, is unable to pay any more, since the Arts Council ceased their funding. Whilst this last is directly attributable to the London Olympics swallowing much of the funding, I've had to ask myself, with Lloyds TSB and Halifax Bank of Scotland today announcing a drastic merger to avoid another Northern Rock scenario--with writing being merely 'entertainment', will writers continue to suffer in today's economic climate?

I remember someone telling me that rates of pay for spec fic writers have remained the same since the 1920s. Non-fiction rates aren't always what they should be if you're freelance, either. Usually, unless you get a cushy job behind a desk in a glossy mag, you can never expect much anyway. Or you can become Anne Rice, but it's very difficult to predict which authors will become big. So we're already at the mercy of whim and circumstance. But aren't we just fluff anyway? How necessary is the job of the writer--particularly the fiction writer--in a world of increasing literacy but without the disposable income to afford aspirational magazines and glossy new hardback books?

Journalists will always be needed, but there are many different types and a true journalist is different to a writer. They get out there, find stories, please their editors and only write incidentally. The news is more important than the writing, and the journalism more important than the writer.

I haven't bought a non-literary magazine in a long time. They never appeal to me any more when much of the stuff I used to read in them can be found online for free. I buy lots of literary magazines, but often grimace at the contents or commend their effort and tuck it away only partially read. I buy them more for display, these days, because there are so many writers and too few great stories.

So will we begin to struggle even harder to find the few meagre jobs we need to pay the rent? If banks are folding, it's only a matter of time before frivolities like books begin to decline in sales.

Or is literature immortal? Will we need it whatever time period we're in?

You're thoughts are welcome.

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1 comment:

  1. My secret hope is that the economy gets down enough to where people realize they can get more enjoyment from spending a couple days reading a book than going to movies, and for a cheaper price. But I'm also crazy.

    I think the biggest problem with publishing today is that there is too much competition. Back in the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s there weren't "THAT" many legit magazines publishing new short fiction. Within sf/f itself there were only a handful of big ones. And likely if those had been the only magazines around, the authors would earning more today. But technology has changed and now a lot more people with less money can produce magazines for literature. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I like the diversity, but the problem is that more stuff does get published, some of which likely wouldn't have been published (because it is part of an unrepresented niche or something) and there is just too much for people to read, let alone buy. If there were only three big magazines publishing all high quality material, they would have much higher numbers and authors might get paid more. That's my thoughts, though.

    Please don't misinterpret what I say as my dislike of the publishing world or a wide, diverse market for short fiction. I love it, but it does have drawbacks. I don't know if short fiction will ever become viable as a way to make a living like it used to be. Not to mention that there aren't a lot of new readers, even though actual readership hasn't declined much in the last 20 years--percentage wise it has declined, but by the actual numbers, no.