Living Arts: So, I Have This Idea for a Book

Tuesday, 28 October 2014
I'm lucky enough to be taking part in a new project created by the Hamilton Arts Council called LivingArts Hamilton. In short, "LivingArts Hamilton aims to improve the capacity of professional artists in the Hamilton region to develop and sustain their careers by creating resources that will address knowledge gaps in the creative sector and increase awareness among audiences. Community focus groups in six discipline-specific arts areas – literary arts, music, theatre arts, visual arts, arts education and public art – will play a central role in identifying the challenges and needs of their respective sectors. The following article originally appeared on the Hamilton Arts Council website. 

“So, I have this idea for a book.” If you’re a writer, an editor, or a publisher, you’ve heard this one before. I’ve heard it dozens — maybe one hundred — times. It’s the common follow-up to my answer to the question “What do you do?” It doesn’t matter that I usually reply with “I work in educational publishing” or “I edit kids’ books.” Any mention of the word “publishing” and suddenly somebody is telling me his or her brilliant idea for a post-Apocalyptic zombie novel or the next (but so much better) Fifty Shades of Grey.

I’m not complaining. I like these exchanges. I love hearing about people’s artistic aspirations and learning about the ideas that percolate in their heads. As Neil Gaiman once wrote, “You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.” I love hearing stories about how people transmit these ideas to a page.

It’s the question that inevitably follows that I don’t look forward to. “Do you mind taking a quick look?” As an editor, I’m trained to be critical. I’m trained to dissect words and their meanings, and this is rarely a quick task. But here’s the thing. A lot of times I do the thing I know I shouldn’t do. I say yes.

I’m the first to chime in against unpaid internships. When WestJet solicited local musicians to play free concerts, billing it as a “performance opportunity,” I was livid. Yet, I’ve written blog posts, classified ads, copyedited menus, and taken a “quick look” at proposals, grant applications, and essays all in the name of friendship.

This article is starting to feel like a confessional.

As writers, editors, and publishers, for the most part, we do what we do because we love doing it. But writing and editing aren’t our hobbies. They’re our careers. And in order for them to be valued that way, we (I!) need to say no.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me to read a short story she had written, and I found myself apologizing for accepting her cheque. Her response was perfect.

“I truly believe people should be paid for their work.”

And she was right. Words have power, and being paid for writing or editing words is essential.

Speaking of words with power, Tom Kreider perfectly summed up why we need to say no to working for free in his 2013 editorial “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!”

“Do it for your colleagues, your fellow artists, because if we all consistently say no they might, eventually, take the hint. It shouldn’t be professionally or socially acceptable — it isn’t right — for people to tell us, over and over, that our vocation is worthless.”

1 comment:

 
Designed with ♥ by Nudge Media Design