My agent wishes I would be monogamous, asks me to choose the one writing bed I will sleep in. She doesn’t care what languages fill my dreams, just wants the pages that flow shaped in one direction able to be directed and sold in a clear, direct, effective way. Poetry or fiction, choose a mate. Science Fiction or Literary Fiction, Magic Realism or Speculative Fiction, make a choice. I am too hard to market sprawled all over the writing landscape. I write to her of writers we might share in common, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Margaret Atwater, Walter Mosley, Ursula LeGuinn- writers who cross genres, find voice in alternate universes of the word. She agrees but gives me a reality check. First they were established in one market and then they expanded into others. The mystery writer Mosley now is also known to science fiction and essays; the novelist Margaret Atwater is now also respected as a poet and essayist. It is to hard to market a writer who writes in an every changing landscape. Publishers want a genre commitment. Agents need a single genre to be able to market a writer well. If I want to be successful in science fiction I have to focus on that and produce a book every eighteen months. After I am a household name in that category I can return to poetry, pick up on my love of magic realism, investigate the opportunities in creative nonfiction.
She is right, of course. That is the best way. All eggs in one basket, and if the eggs break, just refill the basket, maybe with different colored eggs, or double yolk eggs, but still one basket. But the fact is it is difficult to make a living as a fiction, poetry, writer, as a playwright. In 2004 Erica Jong write an article for the New York Times where she noted that Poets and Writers found that, “On average, 14 percent of the authors' annual income came from writing; only 11 percent said they earned half of their income from writing, while 54 percent said they earned nothing at all.” In a fascinating 1995 study titled “The Composite Writer’s Lot (http://members.aol.com/nancyds/wlot2.html) Nancy DuVergne Smith noted that “Writers' incomes fall well below those of comparably-educated Americans. The average income for individuals who hold bachelor's degrees is $29,868. Yet while 91 of surveyed writers hold B.A.s and 50 percent, graduate degrees, their income is significantly lower. Looking at writing income during 1991-1993, a typical writer with 15 years experience earned a median annual income of $4,000 from freelancing.”
With a large economic downturn since that time the writer’s lot has only gotten rockier. Thus there is a huge writer’s market in writing articles and books about how a writer can make a living as a freelance writer. (An interesting article, “The Business End of Writing” can be found at http://www.writers-editors.com/Writers/Free_Tips/Business_End/business_e...)
Multi-genre writing is seen as the major strategy. This is fine for the journalist and short story writer. But problematical for the novelist. Even more troubling for writers like me who shift from genre to genre out of the love of the word, and because sometimes a story is told best in a future time construct, and sometimes a moment is more fluid in a poetry rhythm, and sometimes a movement is best recorded as clearly as it can be seen by the writer as a reflection of un censored history. The truth is that the dance across genres is not just a dance of choice. Sometimes the creative spirit drives the choice. And there is also the fact that writing across genres helps to produce an income where more and more of one’s roof and one’s larder are held up by the harvest of the season’s diverse crops.
But I understand the reasons why there is a pressure to package not only the book, the product, but the writer, to brand the name. Years ago I when editor of a community arts magazine, Konceptulizations, I was given a fellowship to a publishing seminar. Although officially in the magazine track, I took the opportunity to slip into a couple of book track workshops. One was “The Death of the Mid-list Writer.” (Yes, I was shocked. I knew myself to be a mid-list author, but had no idea that I was dead or dying.) One of the things that troubled me was the fact that I so rarely heard the word author or writer, and even less the word book. A book was a product, soon to be come units sold, warehoused, remaindered, or otherwise disposed. And with product came brand, niche, right word, correct color. The issue was marketing, the issue was sales levels, the issue was commerce.
Enter the writer. We too are considered product. We too are expected to find a niche and fill it. We too are more valued with a recognized brand, and no, the idea of quality writing, an interesting approach to the subject, and always intriguing ideas are not considered as any more than extras in the business. Now I am not lambasting all publishers. I am thrilled that Night Shade has taken my first science fiction novel under their imprint. But they are a house that has decided to go another way. They welcome mid-list authors and put the integrity of the work as their first priority. But this translates into small royalty advances. Meaning not enough to put time aside to concentrate only on writing the next novel. So I am again crafting a novel in the cracks in between the other writing projects. Just yesterday Jax, a new character appeared wanting a place in Ectopia, my sequel to Ice Journeys. A teenager with sharp edges and a wild spirit I will enjoy living with him for the next couple of years. At the same time Celia is growing a face in my commissioned historical fiction book on the heroic story of Peter Smith. So I continue making substantially more than the freelance $4000.00 a year average for a freelance writer, but only by spreading my love of writing broadly and jumping from bed to bed to bed.