Writers Are The 99%

Writers — and, frankly, other creatives — should realize they’re part of the 99%.

And they should act on that realization.

Why?

Because unless you’re Stephen King, a big-time screenwriter, or Snooki, then the one-percent — corporations in particular — doesn’t give trash-truck full of donkey crap about you.

Writers are not considered part of the larger ecosystem. Creativity and art are afforded little value in today’s corporate culture. It’s a lie, of course — writers are everywhere. Our work is ever-present yet our role remains unconsidered. The written word is a powerful support structure, and it’s everywhere you look. Magazines, billboards, instruction manuals, marketing copy, and, oh, I dunno, the entire Internet. Nearly everything begins with the written word, and yet, despite this significant contribution, writers and other creatives exist as a marginalized group. Further, our support system is eroding.

Bookstores aren’t going away because people aren’t buying books. Bookstores went away because mismanagement by large business entities porked the pooch. Some publishers may go that way, too — and other publishers survive by trying to hammer writers into troubling and unreasonable contracts (which many writers sign because they feel they have no other choice, which is of course where the value of self-publishing makes itself a known quantity).

It’s one thing if you’re a writer inside a company — though even there you won’t find nearly as much value placed on the writer as you could and should — but it’s a whole other bucket of ugliness if you’re out there on your own doing the freelance or indie thing.

Ever try to get a mortgage? Or health care? Or, uhh, you know, a little bit of respect for what you do? Despite our omnipresence and the critical support the words of talented writers provide, we’re often relegated to the same bracket of financial and emotional respect as a Medieval rat-catcher. “Yes,” they say, “we know we need you, but couldn’t you go catch rats in the dark when none of us can see you? Bye!”

The question then becomes, how do you act on it? How do you join the occupy protests?

How do you rebel against marginalization?

First, obviously: join the protests if you’re able.

Second, consider looking at and joining with Occupy Writers: OccupyWriters.com.

Third, and here is the real kicker, the corker, the critical 20: you’re a writer and so the way you occupy is you occupy with words. You write support for the movement. You write your own experiences. You tell stories — true and fictional — about it, because stories have power and stories are subversive and a little bit of subversion is what the world needs right now. Your weapon is the pen and the keyboard, so it’s time to join the war. And this calls to mind two more things:

Number one, and I’m probably not the guy to arrange this, but it’d be great if we had a day — one day soon — to write about being a part of the 99%. Or maybe it’d be a Tumblr. I dunno.

Number two, and this is something that came up online between Monica Valentinelli and Chad Underkoffler (two authors and game designers) and I: it’d be interesting to see an anthology based on the 99% notion — not the movement itself, I don’t think that necessarily needs to be fictionalized — but, rather, fiction about the economic circumstances that lead up to and currently inform this movement. Viet Nam had protest songs. Why not protest stories? As I’ve said before, stories are lies that tell the truth, and that’s no small thing. Can’t there be a way to harness that?

As to what you can do as a writer to not be marginalized? That, I don’t know. What you do has value, so claim value for what you do. Make sure you’re not getting screwed on contracts. Make use of self-publishing — not always, but sometimes, as self-publishing can help you assert greater (though imperfect) independence. Be protected. Don’t get borked by clients who don’t pay. Spread the word to other writers if you’ve found an independent health care provider that doesn’t, at the last moment, slide a shiv between your ribs just as you discover you’ve got a medical condition that mysteriously they now don’t cover. Be a part of a community. Keep your eye on the critical resource that is Writer Beware.

In the end: stay frosty, and help others do the same.

34 comments

  • Occupy Publishing!

    Interestingly, the only way to “make it,” like the people you mentioned–Stephen King or Snooki or a big-time screenwriter–is to sign a contract with a big corporation.

    Although Stephen King ultimately became successful enough to rewrite his contract with Scribner. So that’s pretty cool.

    • @Will —

      That’s true maybe to a point, though by now we’ve seen a number of self-publishers do very well (and of course, in a way, some of those self-pubbers have since formed a kind of establishment of their own and have assumed a bullying or trollish rhetoric to enforce their opinions, but that’s a conversation of a different stripe).

      Further, I don’t think the Occupy movement is anti-corporation or anti-Capitalist, but rather seeks to end the abuses by those entities and ensure that regulation closes off access to such abuses. I don’t think traditional publishing is automatically a knife in the gut and I don’t think every publisher is out to screw the writer. I have seen and heard about some contracts that are inexcusably punishing to authors, however, and that’s the kind of thing I think that writers should work against. (And again there is one the great aspects of self-publishing: it presents authors with a greater set of options.)

      — c.

  • This is a great post. I hate that writers are taken for granted.

    This post kind of brings me back to the screenwriters strike a few years ago. Writers really joined together and supported each other.

    I believe it was Harlan Ellison that said “Fuck you, Pay me.” when asked to contribute some free writing for a dvd extras that would make the corporation millions of dollars. Damn straight.

  • “I believe it was Harlan Ellison that said “Fuck you, Pay me.” when asked to contribute some free writing for a dvd…” yes, and then called his agent and harassed the studio because they did not give him a FREE copy of the DVD. Fuck him, he pays too.
    Especially in self publishing, but even in traditional pub houses, authors now have to be marketers. in this economy, publishing houses no long have large publicity staff and marketing budgets. Only the books that are already marketed are set for TV and magazine commercials. Steven King is a Decent writer, not great, but not bad. He is however, a great marketer. Snooki is already known, albeit in a derisive way, thus her marketing is done before she goes to print.
    Bookstores are folding left and right but eBook sales are up more than 200%. unscrupulous publishers are rampant, as are unscrupulous SELF PUBLISHING companies. The bottom line is that it’s no longer enough to create art, it’s time to learn marketing and sales.
    To be a writer is a gift and a love affair with words. to be a successful author means learning a new trade: Marketing.

  • “Writers are not considered part of the larger ecosystem. Creativity and art are afforded little value in today’s corporate culture. It’s a lie, of course — writers are everywhere.”

    WORD.

    And we should develop the anthology idea further. 🙂

  • Great post Chuck!

    I really do feel that there is a real path opening up via the internet by which all these old corporations will be replaced by fully capable and powerful collectives of creators. And thats not some weird socialist propaganda, I think it is an evolving capitalist reality cheered for from the left and the right.

    The power of creatives is that they can give it a voice and a shape and mythology. And that should be an integral part of our practice.

    Build the culture and the infrastructure at the same time we build ourselves, families and communities. The big things (community, organizations, collective efforts) feed the more individualized things (family, friends and relationships) and then vice versa.

    I feel the big thing with Occupy is that it is really magnifying the fact that we have gotten away from the idea that the essential thing is making a better world and better individual lives, not simply amassing points.

    Its just like when I was younger. I never understood folks who played video games just to enter their names in as the Hi-scorer. I wanted to see how the stories worked, play my role and enjoy the journey.

    We have too many of those hi-score kids in control now. Not only are they fucks, but they are incredibly boring too.

    • Amen, @Andrew.

      Actually, that speaks too of another thing creatives can and should do —

      Fight to keep the Internet UN-occupied by corporate interests. The greater corporate control becomes over the ‘Net, the smaller the chance that the community you speak of becomes an easy reality.

      — c.

      • I’m definitely hot on the anthology idea — though I don’t know if I’d have time to manage it in a meaningful way. (New kid + heavy workload.)

        One option would be not to make it a straight anthology but, rather, a free online anthology — whether that means in WordPress, Tumblr, or as a free e-book, I dunno. Of course, free means writers don’t get paid either — and I’m not sure how that sits.

        Thoughts?

        — c.

    • Cyberpunk (and to a lesser degree, steampunk) certainly speaks to the Occupy movement. It’s almost as if the Occupy movement is trying to prevent the majority of corporate cyberpunk futures.

      Or prevent the Hunger Games. So, yeah, dystopian, too.

      — c.

  • “…but it’s a whole other bucket of ugliness if you’re out there on your own doing the freelance or indie thing.”

    Don’t I know it! I feel like you wrote this article just for me — for where I am today (coincidentally my birthday…pokes for good vibes and wishes, yes!) I went “Fearless” as my mother noted in my birthday card and left the corporate world in June. I saw things that made me ashamed to make my living that way and felt I was ignoring my true calling.

    Yesterday I made a commitment to Occupy Veterans of Washington. We’re trying hard to have a presence on Veterans’ Day in Seattle. I’ve been talking to everyone I know about this. Even those whose defense mechanism is to just call the movement stinking hippies, et al.

    I just signed up for Occupy Writers (how fabulous!) I will write about my experiences to go down and be a part of Occupy Seattle via Occupy Veterans of Washington. Veterans, in my opinion, have a particular beef, because we were sent in “defense of our nation” when in actuality we were sent to protect corporate interests. When I think about how many of my fellow comrades were injured (often permanently) or died in this vain, I am enraged. The kind of rage that makes for good literature. I will use it and produce it.

    So, I’ll be writing.

    I’m totally down with an We Are the 99 Percent anthology. I’m going to think on that to come up with some ideas. I want to be a part of that in any way I can. I think it should be titled Occupy Penmonkey.

    Stayin’ Frosty!

  • Yes, I agree. Honestly, it’s a more complicated issue than many acknowledge (and often particularly those most vocal/loudest).

    “Further, I don’t think the Occupy movement is anti-corporation or anti-Capitalist, but rather seeks to end the abuses by those entities and ensure that regulation closes off access to such abuses.”

    To be honest, I’m still not altogether sure what the movement is about. I’ve seen lots of people holding their 99% signs, but . . . I don’t know, it seems like most of what I read of the movement ascribes to it nebulous terms or abstract desires. Do they want greater regulation? Sure, that’s part of it. To end abuses? Part of it, too.

    I think the issue is fighting a philosophical battle, which seems in ways to be the case. It’s a good plan, fighting the disease rather than the symptoms (which is partly how I see it, but just partly), but it’s a tough one.

    I think you’re right that it’s not anti-Capitalist (though I’m not sure about anti-corporation). It seems like many of the ills being protest have come as a result of corporate mindset, but it also seems very much like the 99% is fighting against a marginalization very much like the one you describe here, and that, just as in that context, 1% have assumed vast control over resources to the detriment of culture.

    I also think that moving away from terms like “traditional publishing” and “self-publishing” would be useful in ameliorating marginalization. I’m unsure either is precise or useful.

  • I realize that sipping vodka from the bottle in a dark corner is not a way to deal with what is going on in our country right now. So, maybe I will push the paper and try to form a group of coherent sentences about being the 99%. It will go really well with my posts about weight loss and meeting Biz Markie… Great post Chuck. You always make me think, and that my friend is quite the feat.

  • I regard the OWS folks as something akin to Lenin’s “useful idiots” so I will abstain from spending my energy thus. I do not live in unicorn land amongst the dancing sprites and eternal springs of love and joyness.

    I have my views, but I do not invest myself in something if I do not think I will get a desired result for it. I will spend my time working, because I find honest work to be much more pleasant (and productive) than bitching and whining in an incoherent fashion.

    I will, however, stay frosty. “Asses and elbows, boys, we’re going in!”

  • Great post. Artists of all stripes need to take notice. The Occupy movement has a pretty clear agenda according to their mission statement. There’s some criticism that they do not present any clear solutions. That’s somewhat true, but one doesn’t need to be a plumber to know that the basement is flooded with sewage. In the meantime, as you pick up that pen or sit down at that keyboard, visualize these words emblazoned in luminous ultraviolet script: “This machine kills fascists.”

  • @Samuel: Dude, have you even looked at the “We Are the 99%” Tumblr? For most of us, “unicorn land” is over near Alpha Centauri somewhere.

    I think an anthology would be a neat idea, but I do think the writers should get paid (preferably at least five cents a word). Would this be the sort of thing that would work well as a Kickstarter project, perhaps? Not quite as cool as making it available for free, but that way, the readers are paying whatever they’re willing and able to contribute.

    If this actually gets off the ground, I’m tentatively willing to help with slush-reading and/or general administration. I organized the 2011 charity anthology for the Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers, so I have a small amount of relevant experience.

  • Really great post. What’s sadder, though, is that since the publishing world is dominated by big companies, new authors have it harder than anyone else. You’ve got to break through the thick shell of editors whose lives are so bad that they feel like they have to make your’s too, and then put up with proving yourself all the time. It’s really time to take the writing industry somewhere new.

  • Interesting, I have never thought of writers as the equivalent of Medieval rat catchers. Writers are Gods bathing in the heady excretions of Muses and the adoration of their fans; and humble editors like myself can only dream of climbing to that level of awesomeness. At least writers get their name on the cover.

  • I don’t understand the blog author (Chuck)’s claims. I mean, based on income and economic status, yes, writers are generally among the 99%, but what would they protest? Corporations support writers that look like safe bets. Would writers be protesting the nature of mainstream publishing? Or that they aren’t popular enough? The topics of publisher mismanagement and poor author contracts are contained to the publishing/bookstore system and do not, I think, reflect the larger socioeconomic trends of the 99%. In any case, I’m glad Chuck offers advice to keep writers from getting screwed by the current system. Keep hope alive for a steady paycheck by rejecting unfair deals.

    Writers could fortify their guilds and/or create effective marketing and sales strategies for self-published new talents. If they want to protest as part of the 99% as a larger measure, that could support their “in the system” measures, but acting like writers are inherently cheated out of comfortable wages that they deserve for being creative… that’s a hard sell, and I love writers.

    As far as Chuck’s claims about “the larger ecosystem” and writers’ cultural value, I don’t know what to tell each new graduating class of English majors. There are a lot of waiters in Hollywood, but they’re not protesting for being undervalued actors. Protest Huffington Post for capitalizing on so much free content without spreading more wealth to its writers.

    Also, Chuck brings up a few ideas to rally undervalued writers, but admits he won’t start any of them himself, then concludes, “stay frosty?” And he wants people to protest for change?

    I think an anthology of NON-FICTION or maybe LITERARY NON-FICTION about the members of the Occupy movement would sell. Fiction would shoot the movement in the foot.

  • It’s the same thing for graphic designers. A lot of people, especially when you’re starting out, will try and get free work out of you or won’t pay you the money you deserve. I’ve been having that problem a lot and I’ve been a graphic designer for 4 years now. People still try to take advantage of me. It’s ridiculous.

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds