Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Hybrid Writer by Catherine Czerkawska

A Himalayan, not a hybrid rose: my Paul's Himalayan Musk. 
Hybrid is, apparently, the new buzz term. 'You're going to be hearing about hybrid writers a lot soon,' remarked a colleague gleefully. Actually, the term was first invented (I believe) by the excellent Bob Mayer, some time ago but my colleague was absolutely right, and I already had been reading about it here, there and everywhere. I noticed it because I rather like the idea. It's one I'm comfortable with for various reasons and not just because I love roses, hybrid or not!

Now I know that a percentage of new authors self publish in the hope of being noticed by traditional publishing, big or small. Nothing wrong with that either if that's what you've decided you want. The slush pile has all but disappeared, having an agent no longer guarantees publication - nor has it for some time - and stories of traditional publishers trawling Amazon for successful novels are legion. Although if you do hit pay dirt with a best-selling eBook, the deal on offer would have to be pretty good to compete. I've had some good relationships within traditional publishing and production: excellent and committed small publishers, producers and directors who have taught me plenty over the years. Some of these relationships are still ongoing and I'm very glad of them. But I have also experienced the exact opposite in all its hideous misery.

These days I self publish very happily, love the experience of being a 'writer as publisher' and I'm certainly not publishing my work digitally in the hope of being 'noticed' or only by my readers and potential readers.  I'm also publishing in order to make some money. But I'm not totally independent and I doubt if I ever will be. Only some of us on Authors Electric are. Many of us have a foot in both camps. The truth is that (to mix my metaphors a bit) as a hybrid author, you can now have a finger in just about as many pies as you have fingers, especially when you write an eclectic mix of all kinds of work. With me, it isn't just fiction, long and short, but plays and non fiction too. And even with my fiction, there's no single genre and some of my novels are - I suppose -  more 'literary' than others. That's part of the fun of it. Not being tied down any more. Not having to shoehorn yourself into a tight little category because that's what your single publisher wants. Being able to say, 'let's do the show right here,' with some degree of success, being in control, but also being open to partnerships or the occasional traditional deal, whether it's for a story or an article, a review or a play, where what's on offer seems reasonable and non-exclusive.

The problem in the olden days of publishing and production wasn't just discoverability. It was maintaining professional visibility. Even people with whom you have worked successfully and happily in the past tend to forget about you if they don't see or hear from you. It's one of the reasons why so many playwrights camp out in theatre bars. Show face. Chat. Socialize. Now, I find that social media have been an undoubted factor in my rekindling some old professional relationships and that's an unexpected but welcome by-product.

Perhaps the simple truth is that writers have almost always undertaken a mix of work not just in order to survive, but in order to grow and learn and hone their craft. The number of writers who have moved smoothly from creative writing course to literary acclaim is vanishingly small but they also tend to be the most vociferously indignant and embittered about the new state of publishing. Perhaps they just feel threatened by change.

I think many of us would settle for being happily hybrid, writing, talking, teaching if that's what floats our boat, undertaking the occasional piece of contract work for a variety of outlets, aiming to thrive rather than just survive. Thriving is something that has been on my mind recently. Money doesn't buy happiness but it sure makes living a lot more comfortable in all kinds of ways.

Most of us write for love. Well, there's nothing wrong with that either. Nothing wrong with loving what you do even though it's hard work. Even though there's a certain dour mindset which subscribes to the belief that if you love it, it can't possibly be work. But even when we write for love, we can publish for money, especially now. Anyone seriously contemplating a career as a writer might think about doing some kind of business course if only to avoid exploitation. I remember what an eye opener it was for me, the first time somebody pointed out exactly how I ought to go about costing my time. (If you want to know more, you can download a guide from Glasgow's Cultural Enterprise Office, here) And the shocking perspective it gave me on major commercial organisations which still try to tell us that there's 'no money in the budget' to pay the writer for all kinds of extra work. I once found myself trekking through to Edinburgh from Ayrshire for a radio script meeting on my own time and money because there was 'no money in the budget to pay for travel expenses.' Back then, I put up with it. Many of us did. My favourite story from that time was of a friend who had something published in a magazine devoted to cats for which she was paid £5. Not a lot, even in the 90s. They also sent her a copy of the magazine and subtracted the price of the publication from her fiver!

These days, I'll do the odd gig for good causes, but I tend to subscribe to the Harlan Ellison school of thought where paying the writer is concerned. (But then it's a long time since I fell off the turnip truck!)
Meanwhile, I'd like to know how many college and universities offering Creative Writing or Creative Industries courses also offer detailed modules on the self employed business side of writing.  I'd lay bets not many of them do.



www.wordarts.co.uk 
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10 comments:

Chris Longmuir said...

Super post and I share your views. I've downloaded the costing guide and listened to the rant. Fab.

Jan Needle said...

me too. double fab!

Dan Holloway said...

I love it that you talked about roses rather than Priuses :)

I suppose even a hardened anarcho-syndic-radico-whatever like me is a hybrid in a way. I make the things I am passionate about available for free to anyone who wants them, but I will write columns and articles and do gigs and sell paperbacks for money happily

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Ah, I LOVE roses. I forget that not everyone has seen the Ellison rant. I first saw it a few years ago and it made me laugh and then I thought he was right. The indignant comments underneath are quite an eye-opener too. How dare he ask to be PAID for his work. Somebody passed it on to me just after a certain big media company had asked me to devote a whole day to a project for them. When I asked about fees, they said 'oh, there's no money in the budget for THAT but we'll give you lunch!' I pointed out that I could get my own lunch thank-you and politely declined their kind offer. The sad thing was that I'm sure they would have had people queueing up to do it.

Elizabeth Kay said...

I've had raised eyebrows when I've asked if I'll be paid for giving a talk. Expenses? Nope. Can I sell my books? Oh, all right.(Heavy sighs. We're teachers, and we have to work for a living. Yeah, I'm one of those on other days too, as writing pays less than teaching...) But then nobody tells the kids to bring in any money...

Bill Kirton said...

Great post, Catherine. This business of undervaluing the writer seems endemic. Maybe people think that because everyone can jot down words in sequences on screen or paper, that makes everyone a writer. A director of a communications company for whom I'd written some promotional material once phoned and opened the conversation with 'Hi, Bill. Are you still doing a bit of scribbling?' And even when they commission you, sometimes they still think it's legitimate to try to haggle over fees. The sad truth, though, as you and Ellison say, is that there are always amateurs ready to do the job for nothing - no wonder the process is devalued.

Susan Price said...

Thanks for the pricing guide, Catherine - I shall be studying that with interest.
I often have schools trying to persuade me to spend a couple of days planning talks for them, several hours travelling, and several hours actually in the school - all for nothing.
If the teachers will sign a contract to the effect that they will, in return, travel to my house (even if it's a journey of 2-3 hours) mow my lawn, fix my light-switch, do my washing-up, redecorate, fetch and pay for my groceries, we might have a deal. Otherwise, not.

Reb MacRath said...

Absolutely first-rate, Catherine. Thanks so much.

Lydia Bennet said...

great post Catherine, I see you too suffer from (or perhaps revel in!) 'multiple publishing disorder', the e-world is great for those of us who cross boundaries and refuse to be contained inside them. As for being paid, many festivals now expect poets to perform free and some even expect you to pay for your own rail fares and overnight. So basically you are paying them to work. Despite the fact they are selling tickets. there have been many furious outbursts on facebook about this growing tendency - poets are used to this kind of thing but now quite well-known novelists are being subjected to it. I've found that if you ask nicely for a (well under the used-to-be Arts Council minimum daily rates) fee, they just say no, we'll get someone else who'll do it free. And I'm annoyed that arts council have stopped posting those rates, as they made it much easier to know what to ask for and you could give a good reason for asking for those rates. ACE took them down from their site a while ago.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

I like 'multiple publishing disorder'! I have that for sure. The issue of payments for festivals comes up regularly at Society of Authors committee meetings, although I think Edinburgh isn't guilty on that score or not so far. The minimum rate for a workshop or school session recommended by the Book Trust in Scotland is £150, £300 for two sessions in a day, with payment for travel and a little money for accommodation over and above that.I think it's a bit lower than what was recommended by the Arts Council in England but still makes it worthwhile. I've seen complaints in the SoA mag about book festivals jumping on the 'no fee' bandwagon but you can bet they will be paying the 'celebrities!' I remember a well known writer (a real writer, not a sleb) describing how she had generously waiving her fee only to find that a (young, male) writer on the same platform had had HIS fee doubled, because the organizers had secured funding, and the cash was there anyway! Never again, she said. A few years ago I was asked to attend a book festival as a volunteer steward because it would be 'so nice to have somebody who might be able to identify the writers'. Needless to say, I found I had a subsequent engagement.