Some random thoughts on a Saturday morning, lest you think these blogs are meticulously planned:
We live in Dickensian times: the collapse of economies throughout the world (especially Europe) has brought new suffering to millions of people. Here in the states we still have massive unemployment, to the point where many people have given up looking for work. As sad as the situation is for these people, it’s a boon for writers, for we love to write about conflict and suffering. Run out of story ideas? Just listen to the news. It’s a bad time to be a member of the working class, but it’s a great time to be a writer.
Dickens was so well known for writing about the world in which he lived, his name is now used to conjure those times and places. This is how I know I’ll never become a famous writer—who would want to live in Ponepintian times?
When is a writing contest not a writing contest? When it’s a marketing scam. The Hay House Visions Fiction Writing Contest offers the grand prize winner “a publishing contract with Hay House Visions and a $5,000 advance.” Sounds decent. Scroll down, though, to this: “Thirty Round-Two finalists will receive a 20 percent discount off any Balboa Press publishing package.” A click through to Balboa shows packages run from $999 to $7,999. Or to put it another way, “Thirty Round-Two finalists will have the opportunity to pay us $800 to $6,400.” Whee! Where do I sign up?
The thing about the writing business is that anyone can jump right in. A computer and a copy of Word and lo, you’re a writer. (Or a pencil and a grocery bag if you’re one of the new poor.) Unlike other callings like doctor, lawyer, accountant, you don’t need years of schooling and proof you’ve passed some test to order your business cards. That’s as it should be, since creativity cannot be legislated or quantified, but one of the things they teach you in those other disciplines is the business of the profession—how to make money, not lose money, at what you’re doing.
Seriously, when was the last time you saw a doctorin’ contest—who can carve up the most patients in a two-hour block of time? Or one for lawyers—a $2,000 prize for the most convoluted language in a contract.
Writing, as an industry, is largely unregulated. That means it’s a target for scammers of every persuasion, from sleazeball vanity presses to sophisticated contests/con jobs like Hay House’s. And because so many writers don’t understand the business into which they’ve entered, and are desperate for some kind of writing success, scammers like Hay House make big money off hopeful scribes.
How many of those “Thirty Round-Two finalists” will get not only a 20 percent discount, but also a pushy salesman on the phone assuring them “a step up to the $7,999 package could mean the difference between writing success and failure?”
And how many of those finalists will forego car repairs or school clothes for the kids to take that chance with Balboa?
Conflict. Suffering. Corporate bull versus the hopes and dreams of the naïve. Who says there’s nothing left to write about?
It is the best of times; the worst of times.
(This didn’t turn out to be as random as I planned.)