May 29, 2012

Can You Buy Your Way In?


Last week, I took part in a comment discussion on the Dystel and Goderich blog, and I ended up apologizing for my comment, but I’m not so sure that I was wrong.

The post by Jim McCarthy was about writing webinars and how much money you’ve spent on your writing career.  It ended with this:

So my questions for all of you: how much have you spent trying to make it as a writer? What was worth it? What wasn’t?

Here was my response:

To answer your questions: 1) A LOT and 2) definitely worth it.
But I wanted to mention something else. I know some writers who want to succeed but who do not invest money in what they’re trying to do. It’s a symptom of something larger ~ them selling themselves short and not taking themselves seriously as a writer. It’s easy when you have a family to say, “No. These needs are selfish.” I respect that, but if putting yourself out there is your goal, not just writing for yourself, you are going to have to sometimes be a little selfish, and that includes spending some money on it. It’s a delicate balancing act.
And I would say that writers who don’t have the money to spend don’t usually get as far, whether their time is taken by work and family or they just don’t take the workshops or attend conferences or build that good solid website. Or it takes them longer. A harsh reality.

Someone was offended by my comment because they said that it implied that not shelling out money meant that they were less serious about their writing.  That was not precisely what I meant.

To preface this, let me just say, you have to have put in your 10,000 hours and be very very good at your art. That’s a given.

I meant two things:

1) That people often do not give themselves permission.  They are timid and are their own worst enemies.  They sell themselves short ~ something I did for 30 years.  It’s not only a matter of it being so hard to get the work done and get it out there; it’s also a matter of us not thinking we’re good enough, not dreaming big, not aiming high enough.  Not spending money on it is merely a symptom of a larger thing. 

Many people don’t have the money.  That is absolutely true, and I understand that.  They can be aiming high and working very hard at it and not have the money.  That’s not the same thing as not claiming it.

2) That if you don’t spend money, it is much much harder to “make it.”  My personal experience has shown me that if I had not had and spent the money on conferences and networking and a website and taking a day here and there off of work and so on, I WOULD NOT BE WHERE I AM TODAY.  I was poor growing up, and I’ve been there. 

Bottom line: all the hard work and claiming in the world would not have gotten me where I am because you need networking and a professional web presence and other things that do cost money, IMHO.  It’s a harsh reality, but my experience has borne this out. 

Self-publishing is leveling the playing field, but it will never truly be level, as much as we like to believe in the American Dream.  Social Darwinism ~ money gives you an advantage.

It’s not fair, just like beautiful thin young people are often thought to have more worth in our society, but it’s a painful reality.

What do you think?  Am I way off base?


Pembroke Sinclair said...

I think you bring up some very valied points, and I do believe you have to be willing to be selfish and spend money on yourself. Sadly, the world is not a place of WHAT you know, but WHO you know. How do you get to know those people if you don't get out and meet them? It doesn't have to cost a lot, but it will cost.

Even in you self-publish, you still have to spend money to do that!

Pembroke Sinclair said...

Good lord that comment is riddled with spelling errors! Sorry about that!

Court Merrigan said...

I think it is undoubtably true that throwing some money around will help you. I mean, if I had the funds, you know what I'd do? I'd rent me a publicist and get billboards advertising and internet advertising trumpeting MOONDOG OVER THE MEKONG, and I bet that'd move some copies.

Lots of folks I see getting pubbed in the big SF mags, for instance, seem to be Clarion or similar workshop alums. And pretty much anyone newish published in the New Yorker has some sort of MFA / academic connection.

Me, I've never done any of that. I would, I suppose, were I childless and / or endowed with large funds. So I think my route is going to (continue to be) longer, but that's just how it goes.

Tamara said...

Isn't that the truth, P? Getting the connections is very important, and how do you do that without being there at conferences etc.? Though online stuff really helps. I agree. (No prob. :-) )

C - I know! I've thought about where I'd've been if my family would've had money and I'd been able to dream a lot bigger a lot earlier and get an MFA at first at a big MFA university and so on. I'd be a lot farther. But that way lies madness I suppose and you can only change the future. So, today I do my best to affect the future. Charge!