Manjula Martin, author of the anthology Scratch: Writers, Money, and Art of Making a Living, argued that understanding the business of publishing is a crucial part of being a writer in a lecture Monday.
“Many young writers hold the conviction that a day will come where they don’t have to do anything but write,” Martin said. “We treat this work with reverence and hold it up as the work that makes us who we are but beneath the surface of our art is a life largely spent doing other work.”
However, Martin added that every writer is producing art for public consumption, and they need to balance ambition and pragmatism.
“The writing life is one such fantasy, another is quitting your day job,” Martin said. “Both scenarios imply that there’s something else, something more for artists around the bend — freedom, unfettered expression, becoming a legend.”
Prof. John Lennon, English, who contributed to Martin’s anthology, added that art and commerce actually need to go hand in hand, arguing that the commerce of art is about more than money.
“Our commerce with the world is not corollary to our art; it is rather a vital component of our art, perhaps our arts’ reason for being,” Lennon said. “If we regard writing as an act of empathy that presupposes and celebrates the existence of other people then its commerce with humanity must represent its consummation. The money is just so that we can eat.”
Part of this commerce, besides money, is marketing, Martin added. This is a struggle that writers face when confronted with the fact that their art isn’t enough to sell itself.
“Publishers do want you to show more numbers with your followers and stuff,” Martin said. “I think you can’t join Twitter just to be like ‘I’m going to get more Twitter followers to promote my book’, but you can join Twitter to try and have conversations with people, meet other people who are doing similar things as you are and then create an online community. I think it can be particularly useful.”
Therefore, young writers must also learn how the money flows in the business, Martin argued.
“The fantasy of regular checks coming in is indeed a fantasy, which can be scary, but is also really important to understand, and part of what this project is all about is just laying it all out there so that we actually understand how these things work,” Martin said.