Writing – The Forgotten Art

Or are we a craft now? Seriously, it’s hard to figure out where we fit in to the creative world. Are we a fine art, a performing art, a craft? Are we artists, artisans, or crafters? Wordsmith is a great word, but where does it fit in to the bigger picture?

Lately I have been wondering this a lot. You see, these designations determine where each artist, artisan, performer, and crafter, fits into the “art scene” and the marketing scheme.

Art goes in art galleries and souvenir shops. Crafts sell at flea markets and street fairs and souvenir shops. Performing arts get theatres or all shapes and sizes, stages and arenas, you name it. They also get the TV. Books get book stores and libraries. I get that. It all fits.

But what about when you get this whole “buy local, support local” movement? Everyone wants locally knit hats, locally baked birthday cakes, locally sewn baby bibs, locally painted art …… but never locally authored books. And why? Because we don’t have a market for it. Or rather, we don’t have an appropriate market stall for it.

Indie book stores are shutting down across numerous countries. We have 1 in my city and it also sells incense and purses and scarves and specializes in a certain type of new-age Eastern philosophy type book and while they’ll take some stuff by local authors it doesn’t sell if it doesn’t fit their image. Oh, we have one independent toy store as well with a book shelf but they only take for kids.

So I’m sitting here posting my books on Handmade Local pages and sites like crazy and no bites. Local salons step up and ask for local crafters who make anything that might sell at a salon – jewelry, maybe even some hats, small accessories, cosmetics and creams. And I celebrate. I love when local businesses step up and stock locally crafted items.

But not books.

See people only want to buy a book if they recognize the name of the author. So yeah, they’d love to support the local author, but only after you’ve gotten the 6-figure book deal and the movie deal. Then you’re important. Then they’ll buy the local author and celebrate their localness. Then saying “I went to school with this person” or “I attend that church” or “Yeah, they’re from my city” is cool.

Sorry if I sound bitter but sometimes I wonder why I wasn’t gifted with a talent for playing guitar. Or painting. Or decorating awesome cookies. Some art or craft or talent that other people actually wanted to support.

The numbers are against me. Over 3000 individual titles are released in the English speaking world on a daily basis, including translations into English, reprints of classics, second runs, traditional press, small press, digital only, indie, etc. All formats, all styles, all genres. 3000+ “new” titles per day. That’s a lot of noise to cut through.

People are willing to spend 2-3 minutes listening to a new song by a band they never heard heard before. It costs them a red light. Or waiting for their coffee to perk. They’ll take the chance and they’ll buy that 9-15$ CD (what does an album go for on iTunes anyway? I still buy CDs) based on one or two songs they’ve heard.

People don’t have to take a chance on art. They can look at it, determine if it will suit the room, or the person they’re buying a gift for, and buy it or not.

Movies? Maybe you’ll take the chance based on a few trailers and spend the money for a ticket. Maybe you’ll wait for it to hit Netflix. But you get that preview.

But the free sample on Amazon? The back of book blurb? The book trailers on YouTube? None of that seems to be enough to get people to invest the $2-4 dollars more than the cost of printing the damn thing that I’ll actually make in profit into taking a chance on a book by an author they’ve never heard of.Seriously, $10 for 250 pages and I’ll sign it for you and you can’t take the chance? Forget the “I don’t read” crowd and the “It’s not my genre of choice” people because I totally respect that. Not every hobby is for everyone. Not every book is for every reader. Hence the 3000+ books published daily. I’m writing in popular genres and can’t get the local “buy local support local buy indie shun the big companies” crowd to take a chance on anything I write?

I know, it takes longer to read a book than it does to listen to a CD. There is an investment of time as well as money in a book. But part of the problem is the way we’re shunted off into a dark corner at every gathering of the creative.

Take Simbi for example. A great site for exchanging services and product based on an internal meta-currency. I fully support going back to a trade culture. But writing is listed under business. Business. As in “I will help you with your resume”. And “I will edit for you”. “I will write a business proposition letter.” Are you snoring yet? I’m snoring. Where’s the creative writing? Why is “I’ll write a short story about your kid to make them smile” under business and “I’ll draw a caricature of your child” under art?

What about RAW artists? Performing artists? Check. Jewelry? Check. Crafts and designs and fine art of every style? Check. Books? Nope. Books aren’t edgy enough. You can’t perform them. You can’t hang them up so they sparkle in the light. You can’t work on creating a book while sitting at the booth to entertain people because watching someone write shit down is boring but watching someone beading or doing metal work is awesome (actually, I love watching jewelry makers in action).

Or is it the lack of word-of-mouth advertising? When was the last time you shared a song with someone? Raved about a movie? Shared a recipe? Handed out the business card of the lady who made your kids’ Halloween costume? Said, “I read this awesome book and you should check it out?” Guess which one is missing from most people’s list of “how I support local/indie/the arts”?

So is it the risk? The time and money investment? The lack of support from the rest of the local/indie/art scenes? The flooding of the market? The dying of reading as a hobby? The fact that we don’t actually bind our own books, we just create the ideas in them?

I’m at a loss. For myself and for the other people in my writing groups. Do I want to be famous, sure. But this isn’t even about that. Really it’s about connecting with a few more people, extending my reach to another network, finding a few more readers that would like my book, even just within my own city.



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