It’s a subject that’s been weighing on my mind lately. And I’m not going to pretend like I’ve arrived at any kind of solution or have any kind of authority here.
Still, I believe it’s worth mentioning out loud, because the one thing I do know is that this actually affects real authors everywhere. And though I might regret it, I have to ask:
What role should money play in starting a career as an author.
Because there is this image of the rags-to-riches writer. Someone who was living absence-of-paycheck to absence-of-paycheck, only to suddenly write a bestselling book. And BAM!
Suddenly, they’re packing up the family in their double-clutch 1921 Oldsmobile 43-A touring car, with Grandma’s rocking chair strapped on top, right next to the bloodhound. They’re moving to a better life, with swimming pools and movie stars.
And it’s such a lovely image, and so noteworthy when it actually happens, that it’s kind of easy to ignore the glaring problem with this fantasy.
Namely, that it isn’t how things have actually worked, historically.
Publication as a Playground for the Wealthy
When examining the long pedigree of publication, it’s easy to observe that, for every famous writer who started from nothing, there are at least ten famous writers who already were wealthy. These are often the scions of some distinguished family, living off their inheritance and, in a startling number of cases, given to bouts of wild hedonism.
And it makes sense. For most of history, the only people who had the necessary idle time to sit down and write a book were the extraordinarily endowed (I mean in the literal sense, not in the way you were thinking of). The literary landscape of history is ruled over by the educated, the landed, the trust fund babies who grew up to become great thinkers and philosophers, simply because they weren’t constantly worrying about how to stay out of debtors’ prison.
And I’m not convinced that the trend has been bucked, now or ever. In the publishing world, as in the rest of the world, money still talks. And the question I’ve been wrestling with is “should it”?
Because the ones that start with nothing should certainly not be barred from entering the space. The last thing we need is a kind of aristocracy enforcing a dress code to the world of publication.
Yet I’m not convinced that the educated and landed have nothing to offer. Some of our greatest literary works have come from pampered socialites and tenured professors. Who are we to bar the next Fitzgerald, the next Shelley, or the next Tolkien from shaking the foundations of the art form?
The Question Hits Home
And these ruminations are particularly poignant to me, since I am myself a man of means. I am college educated with a money-making degree, have steady employment, and resources enough to perhaps tip the scale in my favor.
For example, I’m not interested in self-publication, but if I was, then I could give myself a budget that most self-published authors would covet—even one that they might despair of ever achieving.
I may not be a millionaire, but I am comfortable. And I constantly wonder what more I could do to get my book out there, since I know it deserves to see the light of day. If I knew a way to leverage my resources to achieve publication, would it be right to seize that opportunity?
That’s what I’ve been asking myself. And it’s still something I can’t answer.