Posts Tagged ‘selling out’

New Jobs for People Who Say (With a Straight Face), “I’m a Writer”

What we think we do.

Today at the dog park this happened among a group of hipster-types and I overheard it (because I don’t have friends at the dog park, I am just creepy):

Girl: What do you do again?

Boy: I’m a writer.

Girl: Oh? What do you write?

Boy: I write for a blog, you probably haven’t heard of it…mumble mumble.

Other Girl: What do you do?

Girl: I’m a writer. You?

Other Girl: Yeah. A writer.

If we had been in like Wapakoneta or Poughkeepsie, this would have been a huge coincidence (spelling challenges aside). I mean, what are the chances? Not only are the three people actually having the conversation writers, but the weird stalking chick overhearing the conversation is as well!

But this is Brooklyn. You seriously can’t throw a stone at 9AM on a Monday at the dog park without thwacking someone who just spent an hour begging someone at Gawker to take a piece on How The Kardashians is the The Truman Show – and poor little Kardashian offspring because they are owned by corporations…etc.

And that’s what’s weirder, who the hell is paying/not-paying all of us? Because not a day goes by when I’m not asking another of my “I’m a writer” friends how the hell you monetize this shit. So if we’re all doing it, how is that possible? And if we’re not really doing it, how is that possible?

Because, let’s face it, what writers do, EVERYONE can do. And the truth is (brace yourself) it doesn’t even really matter if we do it. No one’s going, “Seriously Jos, if you don’t finish your Love-Story-In-the-Style-of-Bridget-Jones, what will we EAT??” And as far as reporting the news or commenting on our culture – well, here I am. Reporting. Commenting. How’s everyone feeling? Can I get a Whoot Whoot from the bleacher seats?

What we actually do.

I don’t want to say it isn’t possible. That there isn’t room anymore for the lowly writer. In fact – if only writers had a little gumption, they could build a whole new enterprise out of their dog park networking.

A career in writing ain’t what it used to be – says the toothless person whisking the cake batter with a fork. The age of the writer is no longer red lipsticked and stepping off a two engine plane in the middle of a war zone. It isn’t selling out to Hollywood or writing features for Vogue. So what is it? What is the new writer Right Now? I don’t think it’s anything. But WHAT COULD IT BE?

Well, let me tell you – other person besides me reading this one-of-a-bazillion-Brooklyn blogs. Let me tell you:

1. Media Troll*

Media is moving in this direction: Websites like Huff Po vet a whole bunch of writers and “experts” and allow them to post (for no pay) under their umbrella – whenever they want. These blog-like journals share insights into whatever that writer/expert is equipped to discuss. They are only minimally edited and never fact checked.

So how can a writer make a buck? 

Troll that content – especially the items that gain a lot of solid traction and build a bigger article! If a post is lacking a particular POV or worse, is blatantly incorrect, YOU write it, you fix it. Make that your thing. Do it every day until you have a sale-able body of work. Then pitch yourself as the Media Troll for a larger media outlet. Or see if they’ll hire you as a freelance Media Troll. Maybe wear a costume.

2. A Brave New Reporter

Back in the day, a reporter covered a “beat” – in fact the whole world was separated into beats – from the Middle East to the Lower East Side. A beat was your area of interest – a neighborhood, a branch of government, a facet of society – and as a reporter, you looked into or attracted stories about that specific area. Today, the people who best cover beats are the people who are actually in the beat – in other words, teachers cover education, people in Harlem cover Harlem, staffers cover government. The reason is simple – Technology. A reporter used to have to show up with a camera and a notebook and prove a thing was happening. Today, everyone just pretty much stands around tweeting it.

So, what’s the new job of a reporter?

The fruit of our labor.

Get a beat. Okay – it’s actually the old fashioned thing. But seriously, since no one really does it, make yourself an expert. Every day write up something about a specific place, thing or ideology and eventually you will be the expert on that place, thing or ideology. Your blog will be called “This Specific Place, Thing or Ideology” and it will be a resource people will pay to have access to. You can allocate literally one hour a day to this thing – especially if you live close to it or have dealings with it on a regular basis. As long as you are looking outside your living room and outside the interweb, people will respect you for getting the f#$% up off the couch. Seriously.

3. Series Writer– or Serious Writer (because they sound alike)

In the olden days someone would hire you, a magazine or a movie studio or a TV show and you would write shit for them in a serial fashion. Like, every week or day or month you would give them more info about a group of characters (Friends) or the public at large (Dear Abby). Today, there is a dearth of loyalty in the biz and basically everyone is looking for the next new thing (Thank you, Lena Dunham).

So how can you monetize your ability to keep writing about the same bunch of people over and over?

Write it. Even if you were once the writer on a TV show, unless you come up with another TV show, you are probably worried about moving back in with your mother. So write the new TV show right now, after you get home from the dog park. And if that one doesn’t take, write another one. If you are more of an Ask E. Jean sort of girl, start up an advice column on Facebook or Twitter or on a blog and then try to sell that to someone with money. (Seriously, try to sell a column about alumni to your alumni magazine! These outlets are paying large sums of money for content. This is not a joke.)

4. The Next Fiction Writer No One Cares About Specifically, But Generally, They Care

Back in the day, you sold a book to a publisher who then really worked to sell, not just the book, but the writer. Once you had a following, your second book came out, and so on. Today, you do all your own promotion and then keep hustling for your next deal which is completely unrelated to your first deal – even if you made the publisher some money. They are always looking for the next new thing (Thank you, Lena Dunham).

So what can you do to make money?

Self publish. Are you still hesitating because McGraw-Hill has a big building across from Rockefeller Center with its name on it? Or because you think you will be like the Yanni of literature if you do it yourself? The truth is, you will be the only writer making money if you publish on Amazon or any of the other sites I can’t name off the top of my head because I keep letting publishers publish me for no money because I think this gives me street cred. (It doesn’t. And I need a new jacket.)

Writing is hard.

5. The Sell Out Who is Also Fashionable

Everybody who is eating and also has a summer home has done this. You want to do it. You just don’t know how. So here’s the tip, ask someone you know with a job if they want to hire a writer to do all of their company’s on-brand blogging, social networking and even website branding articles. Then you tell them that you will do it for them for free for one month if – afterwards, they will pay you $5,000 per month.

Then after your ONE HOUR A DAY JOB, write On the Road and shut the fuck up. 

The biggest problem with writers is that we are terrible self-promoters, and lazy. But there is hope. Because unless those three people in the dog park are trust fund babies or married to bankers, there just has to be hope!

But yeah, they are totally trust fund babies and married to bankers…I know…


*I have written up a few job ideas for writers and cleverly named them.


Burning Bridges or Bad Manuscripts

The kid in the middle dies for no reason in this movie which feels wrong.

Last night Aaron and I watched one of those movies where every few scenes someone in the audience (us, because it was a DVD) looks at the other person and goes, “They have got to be kidding.” And by “They” we mean the literally hundreds of people who take part in the making and approval of the making of a movie. Like seriously, someone had to have an idea, then that person had to spend hours and hours writing down that idea (in the case of this movie, I’m going with minutes and minutes). Then someone has to read or hear about that idea and go, “That’s a really great idea! Let me tell my dad who has a lot of money!” Then that dad has to be all, “I’ll front three million but you’ll have to find investors for the rest of the fifteen million your great idea requires.” Then another fifteen rich guys have to get suckered out of a million dollars a piece. Then you have to cast the thing…

So you see where I’m going with this. It takes a village. And sometimes, because that village maybe got too big – or maybe the idea was sort of craparific from the start because it was about a group of teenage boys getting a super power (flying) and then not really having anything happen – but anyhow, that movie just got away from you.

Working in a creative field I am often shocked by the mediocrity so many people let slip past. In a world where time is money, most people don’t have time to care (I hope you read that in the voice of Don Lefontaine). I have been hired for several projects with such impossible deadlines as “in three days.” Not for articles but for complete manuscripts. The reasoning I am usually given is that we need to strike while the iron is hot.

I have written the majority of my books in a matter of weeks. It’s my fault. I agreed to the projects under the guise that I wanted to write, that I would write anything so that I could get my name out there, so that I could say “I wrote that!” no matter how steaming the pile of crap…

Someone who wouldn’t sell out and someone who looks like him.

Then last month I was hired to write “50 Shades of Sex.” I was given approximately 35 seconds to write it. The reasoning, it was explained, was that we had to strike while the iron was hot (and pressed in an erotic way against the pretty-young skin of a 22 year-old, if we want to stay within the theme of that 50 Shades of Gray book- we don’t.) The book was to be some kind of sex guide for Midwestern housewives who wanted to experiment with a little light sadomasochism in the bedroom. My qualifications were this: I could write fast and I would do so for very little money.

You might read into that last sentence that I went into the whole project already bitter. I figured that in all the times I had speed written and then put my name on projects I wasn’t entirely sure reflected my real ability (imagined or not) to craft a masterwork – or even, as was more often the case, sucked – at least I was writing. However, this publisher had already landed me in a position where I was being asked to take my name off of projects because a few of their earlier projects to which I had (willingly, I know) attached myself, had done so poorly.

So I went in feeling a little bit owed, like if I pulled off this book in 30 seconds someone needed to say a really big thank you and throw me a parade.

Instead I got into a really big fight with the editor on day two. (I was exaggerating when I said 30 seconds. I meant 5 days, but who’s counting?)

I believe that both of us were fighting a lot of other people during that fight. I imagine as a woman working for a publisher that demands projects with deadlines that include 5 day deadlines must run into a lot of pissed off writers. As writer who has agreed to work on a series of projects with said 5 day deadlines, I don’t think I’m being coy about coming into this thing pissed off.

This funny-looking fish could probably write some of my books better if given more than a week.

So we fight and I say a lot of things including, “Seriously? You think it’s okay to kill trees for this?” And she says, “We really need to strike while the iron’s hot.” And I say, “Won’t the iron still at least be lukewarm if we give it say, a week?” And she says, “Maybe you’re not the writer for this job.” (See qualifications for “writer for the job” at the end of paragraph 5, above.)

After I quit/got fired (tough to say which since I started the fight with the line, “I’m not sure I’m the writer for this job” and she ended the fight with the very same line…) I sat for a minute, sort of flushed, a little bit surprised. Not that I should have been. The job wasn’t about me. I wasn’t hired because I have any skills beyond a willingness to lower (bottom out) my expectations. And yet, I was already three chapters in. I’d gone from getting a few dollars for them to no dollars.

That’s what made me the angriest, at least initially. Then I was mostly mad at myself. I was frustrated that I had burned the bridge. I was mad that I had done all these jobs so that I would have this contact, get hired every now and then to write a book, crappy or not, and be that girl who could write fast, no matter how poorly…

Then it hit me…I don’t actually want to write poorly. I don’t want to write the movie about the kids with the cool super power who don’t do anything with it. I want to write the movie about the kids with the cool super power who do something amazing and memorable and totally worth the time of the hundreds of people who helped you make the movie. (That’s a metaphor. I don’t -necessarily- want to write a movie.)

So maybe I had to burn that bridge with that publisher so that I wouldn’t be distracted. Maybe this was the start of something more important. Or maybe I just totally destroyed my career. Whatever. At least I got a blog out of it. That’s something, right?