Pursuit of a career in writing has hazards and holds no guarantee of monetary reward, but the supporting professions and organizations make for not only an alternative career path but an industry chockfull of employment for many.
This sums up the other side of creative writing touched on by two-time Frank Collymore Literary Awards first prize winner Karen Lord, as she addressed other writers, writing enthusiasts and readers over the weekend.
“Our literature can only survive and thrive if we develop our own industry – an industry of authors, publishers, booksellers, but also lawyers, accountants, agents, publicists, innovators and entrepreneurs,” said the author who took her 2008 winning Frank Collymore Literary Endowment (FCLE) entry, Redemption in Indigo, to publication in 2010 to a rave review from the New York Times, and later won the Carl Brandon Society
“Do not expect writers to manage every aspect of producing and promoting their books. Do not imagine that only writers are essential to the industry,” she told the audience gathered for the 2016 FCLE Awards announcement in the Grand Salle of the Central Bank on Saturday.
She added: “Entrepreneurship, sales and promotion require time and talent, and writing requires time and talent. Everybody wants to be the next Stephen King, but does anybody want to be the next Stephen King accountant, or the accountant for a group of writers who, considered together, have an output and income equivalent to a Stephen King?”
Lord, whose other publications include, The Best of all Possible Worlds (2013), and The Galaxy Game (2015), pointed out that publishing is a process.
“Writers need lawyers to help with contracts, taxes; brand managers to advise on promotion; agents
to seek out opportunity.”
In that regard, she noted the usefulness of the support of governmental agencies, NGOs, and community organizations in assisting writers, since most cannot afford the professional help individually.
Lord contended that spawning a creative writing supportive industry produces a happy confluence of employment, while giving an essential prop to this important element of the national psyche.
But she advised that even when Barbados develops a comprehensive supporting industry for writers, there is no assured pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Lord advised writers to put pen to paper for love of the art form and keep their day jobs, “because health insurance, pension plans and regular pay cheques do not come packaged with a writing career”.
She described big names in best sellers as persons on the outer border of the writing milieu, pointing out that the famous names comprise “not even the one per cent but the one-thousandth of one per cent” of writers.
“Many authors around the world never get the chance to quit their day jobs. For the vast majority of us, income from books is both unpredictable and small,” Lord said.
She insisted that these persons with creative imaginations must be paid whenever someone finds their coinage of terms useful in some other endeavour.
“If you need a writer’s words for an event or a project, even a small symbolic compensation matters. This is work, pay us. Stop expecting writers to do things for free. This is our time, our skill, our blood, sweat and tears. The more you support a writer the more resources they will have to build a career in which they can grow and improve and create better work,” the author said.
Lord also spoke of the need to encourage readers, in the same way there is a need to build support organizations for writers. She pointed to a supporting cast of public libraries, school libraries, local bookstores, literary festivals, book clubs, literature classes, writing workshops – another sub-industry.
“We want people to fall in love with language, get wrapped up in storytelling, and absorb a shared set of cultural references that connects our local communities to our nation, to our region, our world,” she said.
“The early stages of forming a hobby and habit of literature are extremely important, because the environment that creates and nurtures fledgling writers is the same environment that creates and nurtures dedicated readers. And without dedicated readers, who are we writing for?”