Can't I Be Like This Guy?

This is Keith. He makes wood-fired ceramics via his business, Mudstuffing. They’re beautiful; look at the website if you don’t believe me. He makes these nifty little ceramic thingies that hold your damp sponge near your kitchen sink so the sponge doesn’t get so gross. He’s holding one in the photo, with sponge. Here’s a close-up, which links to his etsy site, by the way.

I saw Keith a while back at one of the craft festivals in town (there are a lot of them here, trust me). I bought one of his sponge-things.

A little while later I was asked to be on a panel at a bookstore to talk about children’s books. The panel consisted of a couple of trad-pubbed authors, some aspiring authors, and an editor lady who made her living as a packager. A packager is someone who dreams up a line of books and then tries to sell the whole…package to a publisher.

The weird thing is that everyone on this panel except me was obsessed with upholding or getting a foot in the door of the traditional publishing model. You’d think that the aspiring writers would have dipped their feet in self-pub just to see what it was like, but they had not. They were strongly, painfully, excruciatingly determined to break in traditionally. Anything else just wouldn’t be worth it. To hear how they were going about it, you’d think there was no fun in writing.

They talked about workshopping. About finding writing groups that were still open to new writers. They talked about queries and agents and landing multi-book contracts like one of their number had done. I don’t think any of them smiled all night. 

The editor lady disingenuously discussed the pros and cons on the indie/trad “decision” every writer “must” make these days. She warned writers away from the self-pubbed model, saying, “If you don’t mind having 10,000 copies of your book sitting in your garage…”

She was either lying or uninformed. So I stopped listening.

When I had a chance to speak, I told the crowd that I’d gone to one of these craft fairs the other day. I saw all these local artists selling stuff they had made. A small percentage of it was crap; a lot of it was just so freaking good.

Potters make pots, then they sell them. Why can’t I do the same thing as a writer?

Why must I worry endlessly about whether my stuff is good enough?

Why must I ceaselessly seek out feedback from editors in the business?

Why must I revise my book three times at an agent’s behest, only to have that agent drop me with little explanation?

Why must I cajole editors, their publishers, the marketing staff, and six accountants to carry my book and then feel like crap when I didn’t market the book enough to justify the pitiful advance their corporation gave me? 

Why, ultimately, must all my validation as an artist come from a business entity larger than myself?

Why can’t I just make my book, story, or novel the way Keith makes his pots, and then just sell it?

Oh, I can.

Yes, Keith worries if his work is good enough. All good artists do. And I’m sure he polices himself with some kind of quality control standards to make sure his work is up to snuff. Beyond that, he makes good stuff and sells it. And the imperfections in his work actually add to its character. I think of that every time I reread one of the cheesy stories Hammett or Cain wrote for the pulps. They’re imperfect as hell, but I love them to death.

Please understand: There’s nothing wrong with a lot of what the writers I met were doing to get their work out. It’s all good. I do some of that stuff myself. Most of my income still comes from the trad-pub model. But sometimes I just wish we’d have fun and make our pots and sell them. Now I can, and I love that.

[Thanks, Keith, for providing the springboard to a rant.]