It Isn't the Money

By Eric

Sometimes I wonder what's kept me writing for most of my nearly fifty years, especially since it's taken that long to get a co-authored novel into print. Mary Reed, my wife and writing partner, regularly scans the Internet and passes on the bad news: more authors cut by publishers, bigger advances for celebrities and smaller ones for writers, while independent bookstores struggle to survive.

If it weren't for Poisoned Pen Press ONE FOR SORROW would be nothing but a homeless collection of wrinkled and rejected manuscript pages.

When we were trying to sell One For Sorrow the major complaint from agents had little to do with writing quality but rather that they couldn't sell a historical mystery set in Byzantine times in today's marketplace. The more involved we writers become with publishing the more we're told it is just a business, and not a very profitable one at that.

So we have to remind ourselves that although the big-time publishing industry might be a business, writing isn't. The bottom line on writing is this -- it's child's play and still believing in magic.

Plenty of people in the book industry, including a few professional authors, will probably bristle at that statement. After all, when one grows up one puts away childish things. But to me the business cultists are rather like the ancient Roman followers of Cybele, strangely eager to be separated from basic parts of their humanity.

When writers write they deal with our humanity, not with numbers. They tell stories, allow readers to walk in the shoes of strangers, taste the air of other times, see imaginary worlds through exotic eyes. Writing isn't drawing up a budget or beating a contract into shape. It's remembering what we knew as children and have all but forgotten -- that there's enchantment in the world.

If the conglomerates look at a book and see only a product to be sold, another way to make a buck, it's nothing to do with the writing. It makes it harder for writers to eat, which we have to do, and harder for readers to find something worth reading, but it's nothing to do with the writing. Or at least it shouldn't be.

Before I could read for myself my grandmother read me The Wind in the Willows. It was my first experience with the magic of the written word. Sitting beside her rocking chair in the orange lamplight, I was transported from her quiet living room with its lace curtains and Victorian furnishings to the wondrous and tumultuous land of sensible Mole, Ratty, wild Mr. Toad, the nefarious weasels and all the rest. Certainly Kenneth Grahame created something of greater value to the world than the next big corporate buyout.

Over the years I've continued to derive joy and solace and wonder from books. And I've kept practicing myself, hoping to be able to bring something worthwhile in its own small way into the world. It would be nice to make a fortune, because then Mary and I would be free to do nothing but write, but the money, contrary to what the big publishers might think, isn't the point.

I know it might sound silly and na´ve to say this in today's gray bottom-line society, but writing isn't about the money, it's about the magic.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This essay originally appeared in the Remember the Alibi Newsletter. Remember the Alibi is one of those independent bookstores that is trying to keep diversity alive. Our novel ONE FOR SORROW as, of course, published by Poisoned Pen Press, one of those small independent publishers willing to look beyond the bottom line.

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