A Midlist Career or Immortality?

My wife, Tina has just started a portrait photography business and while she was working to get it all set up I posed her a question – would you rather: take pictures that live on forever, but never make a living as a photographer; or, leave nothing artistic behind you, but live a good life, working daily as a photographer? At the time I couched it in these terms – who would you rather be; Vivian Maier or Jasmine Star?

If you’re not a photography fan-boy or –girl, then Vivian Maier is the American nanny whose street photography was only discovered by accident years after her death, and then published to great critical acclaim. Jasmine Star is the marketing wunderkind who single-handedly made wedding photography fashionable (along with a great deal of money) by a spectacularly effective talent for social media. I don’t think anyone expects her wedding pictures to be in the NY Met in fifty years time. 

Tina – who is very practical – answered Jasmine Star without missing a beat. And then told me that the question would make a good topic for a blog... so here I am. In fact, I was reminded of the conversation and the prospects for a blog earlier this month when I read a post from one of my favourite writers on the business of writing – Kathryn Rusch. She was concerned with the distinction between the one-book-writer and the career-writer. The one-book-writer doesn’t care if they never make any money, or never get to leave the day job. They simply want the satisfaction of seeing their words in print, their name on the bookshelves, and preferably lauded in the review columns of the national press. The career-writer cares little for good reviews except where they help bring in the readers (1,500 5* reviews on Amazon for instance) and pay the bills. The career-writer is just that – in it for the career, making it work as a day job.

In her article, Rusch wanted to make the distinction between the career-writer and the one-book writer because the choice leads to fundamentally different decisions about the many opportunities and challenges that now confront the writer. She points out many of the ways in some detail, but essentially the career-writer will likely embrace the entrepreneurial possibilities of the eBook revolution and self-publishing. The one-book-writer will turn up their nose and keep submitting to agents and publishers. It’s all about validation for the one-book-writer, it’s all about being able to keeping the cheques coming in for the career-writer.

If you’ve read many of my posts here on Author’s Electric you won’t be long in realising that my wife and I are temperamentally suited as life-partners – I’m very much a career-writer. I’m all about novel-writing as a business, about paying the bills, about giving up the day job (which happens to be journalism and non-fiction writing). I’d pick Jasmine Star every time and I’ve fully embraced the entrepreneurial spirit of the eBook revolution. I’d always pick the freedom to do what I love every day for the rest of my life over success beyond the grave... but that’s me, what about you? Think carefully, because it’s an important choice to make before you go any further with your writing....