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The Cost of Art

This isn’t about the most recent sale of a Van Gogh and the “price” someone was willing to pay to own something Van Gogh created and touched. (It was this, by the way.)

Sotheby's (London)

28 June 2023


£250,000 - 350,000

My thoughts today are on what my work as a writer is worth to other people.

Today I am thinking, not much. I’m in a funk. And I’m writing about it, of course.

I was scheduled to speak somewhere. I drove 1:45 minutes to get there. No one showed up. I am not exaggerating. No one. I sat there for two hours waiting. No one. I’m exhausted now, and the dogs are annoyed with me that I am not walking them. Butter is giving me his Wookie call.

I felt like a fool and a failure. Who do I blame? The people at the venue? Myself? Or the basic view that meeting a writer who is not also a celebrity (influencer, actress, politician, sports star) or notorious in some other way is not worth coming to listen to? Especially on a muggy Saturday afternoon in June in Georgia?

(By the way, notorious and notoriety do not mean “people of note or fame.” They mean the person is well known for a crime or moral failure. Please stop using it incorrectly. Rant not over, sorry.)

I have to conclude I have chosen the wrong art form to try to excel at and be a professional in.

A musician who has spent as much time as I in working on my craft would get paid. A visual artist would for a painting, sculpture, or photograph. A person who paints plaques with SEC team symbols on them and sells them at flea markets and craft fairs would make more.

Of course, I know—the musician has probably paid thousands over the years for lessons and instruments. The visual artist spent a lot of money on materials, and both spent thousands of hours practicing, being frustrated, being critiqued.

Just like I have.

Angela Duckworth and other learning experts say that you are not really skilled, an expert, until you have spent 10,000 hours at something. That translates to about ten hours a week over twenty years. In terms of writing, it includes academic preparation, reading the best and understanding why it is the best, and writing and rewriting all types of materials.

Yeah, since I’ve been at this 40 years, I’ve done the 10,000 hours, and then some.

Then I recently heard the now famous (among writers) advice from David Eddings:

“My advice to the young writer is likely to be unpalatable in an age of instant successes and meteoric falls. I tell the neophyte: Write a million words–the absolute best you can write, then throw it all away and bravely turn your back on what you have written. At that point, you’re ready to begin.”

The article where I found this ties it to growth mindset, always a good idea:

But just because one guy I never heard of before this said I had to write a million words before I was ready, why should I believe it? Anyway, I’ve written far more than that by now, and going into my tenth novel, more than that in fiction.

Back to the point. A good writer’s work should not be tossed off as unimportant. They deserve the pay, which is not very much per book, really; a couple of dollars at most. It is only when a reasonable number of people purchase the book that they start to see any equalization of their work with the money. I am not talking about profit here. I am talking breaking even.

I know: books are expensive; books take up space; and unlike other artistic outputs, books take time to read. Lots of time. You can deal with the first two by using electronic books (not the best way to read, either), but reading is not like viewing a painting. Ten minutes in front of a great painting can give you a pretty good start with understanding it (not fully, mind you, but you can get a sense of its subject, it’s technique, its themes). Music you can listen to in a short period, and most movies are fewer than 120 minutes long.

A book might takes hours or days, and reading is intellectual work of its own kind.

But I’m coming at it from the artist’s point of view. That book that took ten hours to read might have taken ten months to write, or ten years to perfect and to find a publisher.

I ask that if you have a friend who writes, you support them emotionally and financially. They do not perform their work, really. They present it to readers, hoping that the right people will find it and pass it on to others. Sometimes they do (a la JK Rowling). Sometimes they don’t (a la most of us who write).

And write reviews about their book on the behemoth that is Amazon. Please!

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