To survive as a writer, I’ve had to develop entrepreneurial skills. I feel like that’s a bit of a dirty secret. It shouldn’t be, but I get it. We love to imagine creative folk to be free spirits, spending their days reading, writing and thinking sensitive thoughts, perhaps also attending the occasional literary salon. To picture us wading through spreadsheets breaks the illusion.
I labour under that illusion too; I’m certain that previous generations of writers lived the true literary life, while I can only attain its sullied cousin. The problem is that, in this romanticised vision of the past, we forget the structures that held past writers: the smaller publishing rosters leading to a greater chance of success; the larger advances; the domination of independently wealthy people in publishing; the overt discrimination against all other groups; the silent, backstage labour of women propping up the public personas of male authors (who do you think answered all that fan mail?). This lack of access acted as a funnel, which meant that a small class of people could dominate the creative world, and make good money from doing it.
Publishing still looks far too much like a monoculture, but it’s got a lot better, and I’m glad it’s changed. I certainly wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t. That change comes with consequences, though: writing offers a precarious and mostly paltry living for most writers. Even if you score a hit, it would be a folly to imagine that you’re made for life. To survive in the long term, you have to take matters into your own hands.
For that reason, I felt a kind of relief when I talked toof Bad At Keeping Secrets and People I Loved. Both of us are more at home talking about feelings than commerce, and neither of us are particularly enamoured of capitalism, but both of us have to acknowledge that - whisper it - we run businesses. What’s more, we both learned to do it by trial and error. It felt good to let that particular skeleton out of the closet.
I sometimes wish there was a specific kind of business school for creative people, who mainly want to sit and dream, but accept they need to make a living within the current system so that they can carry on throwing stones at it.
You can watch a clip of our conversation below - click ‘CC’ to watch with subtitles.
Scroll down for a full video, an audio version for those who prefer to listen (me, always), and a full transcript.
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