The Job That Doesn’t Exist

I know I’ve written on this subject a lot, and I’m sure it sounds like whining, and it probably is, but I’m honestly trying to come to terms with what I have experienced and what those experiences imply for my future writing.

Basically, I see myself as wanting to make a living at a job that doesn’t exist.  I want to write books for a living, but you can’t make a living by writing books, you can only make a living by selling books.

Promotion isn’t part of the job, promotion is the job.  Having a fairly legible book to promote is a requirement, granted, and having a well-written book gives a promoter a slight edge over one who has a poorly-written book, but the essential job is sales, not writing.

I don’t want a sales job.  I have tried that in the past and I am terrible at sales.  I don’t like people, and it shows.  I don’t engage with people, I don’t network, I don’t shmooze.

I’ve written and published a good book.  I am writing another one, and I intend to publish that one as well.  A few people who already know me will read it, and they will probably enjoy it, and that will make me happy.

However, I need to kill the dream of ever being able to quit my day job, and I need to kill it now, and I need to make sure it stays dead.  Because it ain’t going to happen, any more than I’ll be able to go work for a Ford dealership and make Salesman of The Year.

Maybe if I had actually finished one of the novels I started twenty years ago and gotten an agent then and a publisher who would do all the promotion I would have an established following now, but that doesn’t happen any more.

Brick and mortar publishers are struggling to stay afloat these days.  They don’t promote authors and books the way they used to–they expect authors to do it themselves.  Would I have more sales if I had been accepted by one of them?  Probably, a few more, but nothing close to what I could live on.

In closing, I want to share a song that Pandora, with its usual brilliant timing, just started playing:



About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
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19 Responses to The Job That Doesn’t Exist

  1. David Emeron says:

    Courage man! Just keep writing. Read what Anais Nin said about the subject. I think her words are far more elegant than my memory will paraphrase, however. In essence both these methods will “work.” The first, you write for others. Keep writing for them, and you will eventually find a market. The second, which dear Anais, thought better to follow herself, just write. Write for yourself. Keep writing. Publish yourself. Eventually people will come to you. But you must love two write more than anything else. By the time they come to you, you may not need them anymore, but still they will be welcome. The sound of opening doors is deafening. Anais write for decades. before any but a few knew of her work. Decades. Not years.

    The first in your series is worthy of reading. You already have more readers than Anais had in so short a time. We are so impatient in this time and age.

    I’ve often wondered why I have become so patient the older I have grown–the longer I have lived It seems counterintuitive, does it not? I have less time to live, but I feel like I have more than I have ever had. When I was 20 I wrote some beautiful things. Music as well as poetry. But I could never have kept a pledge to write a least a sonnet each day. It seems like nothing to me. I don’t deceive myself that this is any great event. However, I daresay, that when I have written thousands (God, or the fates, willing) I will have become a curiosity to some. If I were to quit now, I might never be noticed much–and rightly so, because there would be, in essence nothing to notice.

    I think, perhaps, you are yet too young to understand what I’m telling you, but whether you do or not, I know that if you keep writing, they will come. Writers are an emotional lot. one of the tactics that brick and mortar publishers use to sort them out is rejection. They want to know that if they sign someone he will actually keep writing, and go on signings, and whatever else is required. Steven King wrote (and self published) in grade school. He couldn’t stop writing. He did nothing but write and submit. He put his rejection letters on a spike and it grew to a great hight–several feet of onionskin thin rejection slips–before he earned a dime other than what he had earned in grade school selling scary stories for lunch money. He as never counted them, but he did measure them in feet. But regardless of how he felt, he never stopped writing.

    Now he is a millionaire. You have the ability, certainly, but you must ultimately decide if you have the do what SK did, if you do, particular with that degree of will, I have no doubt you will succeed. If you do not–then, as they say: Luck, be a lady. I hear she is very unreliable…

    No one quits his dayjob though. A clever writier finds one wherein he can write. I have written for hours working in a toll booth in an all night parking lot, years ago. I was not trying to be a professional writer, true, but if I had been, it would have been the right job for that ambition. But that’s not why I took the job. I took it because I just can’t stop writing. So I found a job that let me do it. Someone was willing to pay me to sit there and write. And take a few coins. And hand out tickets every half hour or so.

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  3. David Emeron says:

    You do have a good sense of humor to tap into I think!!

    (I just wrote a large pile of words for you and didn’t earn a dime!)

  4. Hey Misha–I hope you don’t think it’s odd that I followed you. I actually found you by accident, while commenting on another person’s journal! Such a small world.

    What you say is sadly true. The publishing industry has changed dramatically in the past thirty years. To get into big houses, you must have an agent. To get into smaller, more selective houses during open reading periods, you have to be absolutely remarkable, and there are so few people who are absolutely remarkables among the remarkables. If you self-publish, without a stroke of luck, you are doomed–promotion is a serious burden that writers themselves can’t carry. Furthermore, you must consider if your work is literary fiction or genre fiction–this will greatly change the scope of possible publishers and thus possible chances of being published.

    So yes, for most of us, writing for a living remains a dream. I don’t have any delusions about it. Sure, one day in twenty years I’ll maybe manage to publish a novel with a real publishing house, but that won’t put food on the table. It’s a source of anxiety: with my degree I’m looking at more academia, government work, teaching high school, or editing, and the one I’m enthusiastic about (academia) is really crumbs under the table, because pay is so bad.

    As you demonstrate by blogging and being involved in the literary community, involvement in the literary sphere is of utmost importance to writers. That is why people set aside hours of their days for writing groups, or stay in academia, or do silly programs. Knowing the buzz in the literary world, keeping track of its ever-changing landscape, associating with people who hold dear to them what you hold dear to you: it’s a great mental exercise.

    Don’t let the status of this industry get you down. Write to write, not to be read, as strange as that sounds, because of you write for the latter reason you will go mad! And if you really must be read, go the chap book route poets often take: write short stories, bind them at home (it’s easy, DIY), distribute them to friends, family, strangers, at coffee shops, on buses.

    Otherwise, yeah. A treat to find your blog!

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Thank you. I’m following you now, too.

      • No problem.

        OK, side note: I cyberstalked your novel and read the first chapter on amazon.

        It’s not bad at all–it’s actually incredibly polished. Jumping off of you original post, have you considered an MFA in fiction? A top program is literally at your backdoor. It’s obviously not a long term solution to the job problem, but WashU offers tuition remission and 22K/year stipend for two years, which, at least for me, is way more than I could make with a scorable job.

        It’s studio based, so you no one is obligated to take “academic,” classes if they don’t want. Theoretically the two years (they’re thinking about adding a third, too) could be time to write, write, write.

        Just a thought.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Eeech, I work at a University (not Washington, the little one next door) and I have an instructor there who is already pressuring me to get an MFA. The problem is that there really isn’t anything you can do with an MFA except teach, and there is no way I could make it in teaching. The other problem is that I never finished high school, so I’d have to do a lot of academic work before I could even be considered for an MFA program. And, of course, the other other problem is that I don’t want one.

      • Ah, those are all very valid reasons!

        I’m still not sure I understand what the point of my MFA is, really, either. I think I’m generally thinking it is part networking, part fellowship, part time for personal growth. You can’t really even teach creative writing without some major publications.

  5. Job = structure and source of money to pay bills. Keep the stories coming x

  6. It’s a very frustrating place we now find ourselves in as writers. Most of us who write do so because our personalities as ‘hermits’ and analysts, lead us to create alternate worlds or ideas for others to read about and that often means we aren’t the greatest at operating in this one. No luck on the Agent front? There are also companies you can hire to promote your writing but the catch 22 is paying in advance and it’s hard to know if they are worth the $ or not. If it’s any consolation: sharing your pain! Time spent on promotion is time spent not writing and often feels like a waste of said time. One good thing, I have found some great writers via blogging and twitter, so it’s not a total loss. I’ll check out your book! Hang in there.

  7. David Emeron says:

    I want to say, at the outset here, I mean no disrespect to the young lady above; however one thing, I believe I didn’t make clear in the above post is that the business of writing, at its core hasn’t changed all that much. People who claim it has, have, most likely not made a study of writing as a profession throughout history.

    Without belaboring the point, please allow me to state that endeavors, such as writing professionally, are not “jobs” at all. They more closely resemble, and in fact, actually are, businesses. As such, they are prone to the same parameters of small–or in some cases, even medium sized–businesses. When one views them as such, it puts into perspective what is necessary to make them successful. It brings, if you will, into view the great sacrifices necessary to bring your art to the public. Such sacrifices are much more on a par with entrepreneurial pursuits than, for example, the act of finding a job–at any level. The story of a writer becoming a success, is much more comparable to, to give a familiar example, what the original Col. Sanders went though to establish his business. (he presented his recipe licensing plan–which he later modified–hearing the word “no” over a thousand times before receiving a single “yes.”

    Regarding the famed MFA, and also meaning no disrespect, and though I do mean it when I suggest that such things are not bad per sempre; I also believe your instincts are good in not pursuing one. Your style is enjoyable and distinctive, and as such, especially regarding your talent and life experience (which is invaluable) would be unnecessary–at least, in my humble opinion.

    “The other problem is that I never finished high school, so I’d have to do a lot of academic work before I could even be considered for an MFA program. And, of course, the other other problem is that I don’t want one.

    The list of great writers without formal education is not a humble one!

    In addition, I have an acquaintance who is able, with a few semiotic jots and tittles, to positively identify MFA writing, with almost 100% accuracy. Such programs tend to produce writing of a homogenized tone, and it often takes an MFA candidate/graduate a goodly number of years to find an individual voice once again. Academia is–as a general rule–very good at offering degrees in fields in which there is no need for degrees; which people may easily learn; or which people generally already know–as in the case of writing–how to do. Need I make reference to the famous quote from “Good Will Hunting” regarding autodidactism vs. academia?

    In as much as MFA programs force one to write, and read, which all writers must do, such programs are not without merit; however, such programs tend to produce writers which sound alike, and, even worse, think alike,

    It might not be advisable, on the other hand, to take advice from any aspiring writer, however, particularly a self-proclaimed amateur such as myself. I mean that very seriously. Your best advice and feedback comes from people who read, and do not write. There are your most plentiful customers and as such, when one of them says that they like something and/or that there is something they didn’t understand or find to be unclear. That really IS information that one can “take to the bank,” as it were. People who write have skewed perspectives when reading–for any number of reasons.

    I shall leave it there, young man! (without even looking this behemoth over for errors!! I reserve the right to correct them if and when I repost this in one of my blogs 🙂

  8. I’m reading this in January, after seeing the link on your year-end stats post, and I wanted to thank you for the point you made about how the job of writer isn’t as much about writing as it is about sales. I, too, would not be good at sales (I haven’t worked in the private sector for 16 years now, luckily for me). Even though I’m not paying to read the ideas you post here in your blog, I do appreciate that you do write here! Appreciation doesn’t pay the bills, of course, but I’m glad that we writers can communicate with each other through this low-cost blogging. Perhaps the publishing industry is entering an uncertain future, but since I’ve been blogging and reading others’ great work and having my own work read, I’ve been a little more positive about the writing world. Perhaps the big publishers’ losses will be our gains?

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Changes in technology have always led to changes in business models. Most writers were self-published up until the advent of motorized presses that were out of the reach of most private individuals. During the last century the publishing houses grew up as gatekeepers of the marketplace through a monopoly on the means of production. Now technology has changed again, and the pendulum swings back towards writers as publishers.

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