Several years ago, I was faced with a difficult decision of whether or not to accept a new job that didn’t exactly line up with some of my beliefs and ethics. We were struggling for money and the pay offered by the new employer was great. Beyond great, actually. Sort of an answer to our prayers.
But something about it didn’t feel right.
I asked my then-husband what he thought. “They aren’t breaking any laws,” I told him. “Technically, they aren’t really doing anything wrong. Would it be wrong to work for them?”
“If you have to ask that question, then you already know the answer,” he said.
We may be divorced now, but I’ll always be the first to admit that he can be a very wise man. I turned down the job offer and we went back to struggling financially and cursing my minimum-wage job. But I’ve never regretted that decision.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about his words of wisdom because of something going on in the writing community. Specifically, within the self-publishing area of the writing community.
Before I dive into that, I want to explain to some of my non-writer friends out there that most writers engage in a never-ending debate about “writing for love” versus “writing for money.” Those in the “love” camp are the kind of artistes who can be heard saying things like, “I write what I love, what’s in my heart, and if no one ever reads it … well, at least I’ll die knowing I was true to myself.”
Those in the “money” camp are quick to counter with, “I want to earn a living with this, no matter what it takes.”
For the record, I’ve always considered myself pretty firmly lodged halfway between the two camps, where I want to write what I love, but I also really want to make a living with it. I’ve never believed the two are mutually exclusive, and so I’ve been bumping along with a sale here and an award there, just hoping to earn a little more than I spend each month on marketing. Hoping that soon, I’m finally going to write that book that pushes me up to the next level.
In the meantime, I fritter away far too much time at a place called KBoards Writers’ Cafe. It’s a forum where my fellow writers gather to share ideas about writing and publishing. Most of the authors there are way out of my league; they are the type of professionals who have reached a level I don’t even dare dream of. And yet the majority of them are the type of professionals who are also willing to share a little of what they’ve learned, constantly reaching out to offer advice and guidance to piddly little nobodies like me.
In recent days, there have been some really eye-opening conversations at the ol’ Writers’ Cafe. And I’ve come away feeling depressed, overwhelmed, and … well, doomed to obscurity.
A man came into the forum and freely admitted that he publishes under a number of pen names and uses ghostwriters to churn out multiple books each month. Okay, nothing too bad so far. I find it a bit distasteful, but not horrible.
But the kicker is that he uses female pen-names and then pretends to be a woman in order to connect with his female readers. On a personal level. As in, discussing things like sex, orgasms, virginity, etc. with his fans, encouraging them to open up because he is, after all, one of them. Just one of the girls.
Under another pen name, he pretends to be a gay man so fans of his homosexual romances will trust him and chat with him.
Under yet another, he is a black woman gleaning information from trusting readers who enjoy his multicultural novels.
The list goes on and on. And although the majority of KBoards authors were quick to denounce him, a significant number stepped up to say that they see nothing wrong with what he is doing. After all, they argued, he’s not breaking any laws. He’s not hurting anyone. Besides, his readers and fans should know better than to share personal information with someone on the internet, right?
He’s successful, and isn’t that all that matters?
Well, yeah, but …
It’s paying off for him, and for others like him, to the tune of thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands, if he is to be believed. He and his group of friends have books that dominate the bestseller lists, so obviously it’s working.
I’ve learned a lot since I started self-publishing four years ago, but I think these past few days have been the most educational of all. His posts have inspired some intense discussions that have left my mind reeling. In addition to his creepy deception (yup, I’m gonna go there and call it creepy), he’s also shared information about buying circles and mega-marketing groups that work together to push each other’s books up the charts by throwing huge sums of money around in order make even more money.
In the debate between writing for love or writing for money, these people are leaving the “love” writers in the dust.
It’s becoming clear to me that one little ol’ writer, sitting at my computer in a tiny town in Michigan, is never going to be able to compete with that.
I’ve got to admit, I haven’t done much writing over the past few days. I’ve been terribly discouraged, and I’ve wondered if maybe I’ve just been fooling myself this whole time. Yeah, I thought about giving up.
And then I thought about that age-old debate between writing for love versus writing for money, and I realized that I’m no longer lodged halfway between the two camps. I finally know what kind of writer I am: I write for love. Plain and simple.
I write because I want to tell stories and entertain people. I write because I’ve always written; I write because I’m a writer. It’s not who I am. It’s what I am.
I write because I’m not happy if I don’t write.
I’m not giving up; I’m just shifting my goals a little bit. Changing my focus. I’ll keep on writing my books — and enjoying myself — and I’ll keep publishing them because it’s fun. It makes me happy, and it makes a little bit of money. And I accept that it’s probably never going to earn me a fortune.
I’m okay with that now.
Because, basically, it all comes down to this: If I think about being the other kind of writer, a writer like the man who challenged my viewpoint this week, I’d have to ask myself, “Is it really wrong?”
And if I have to ask that question, I already know the answer.