Mystery Writer's Market Over the Last 30 Years Essay
"The More Things Change..." Being a Mystery Writer by George C. Chesbro
Writers are a surly lot and it's inevitably grump city whenever two or
more of the wretched creatures gather together in anyone's name. This
chronic dyspepsia is not without cause and it must be borne in mind that
paranoids do occasionally have real enemies.
As in other creative endeavors success in writing requires not only
talent but also monastic discipline perverse perseverance and a rather
precise alignment of one's neuroses. It's the proboematic talent thing
that makes the successful writing of publishable fiction the darkest and
most difficult of the arts. Aptitude in the others almost always
manifests itself in the early grades and certainly by high school. By
then everybody knows who's got rhythm and who's a klutz who can or can't
carry a tune dance play a musical instrument draw act or juggle. But
there are no writing prodigies and the best and brightest performers in
anything in school are not necessarily the people who will evolve and
often must follow some kind of prescribed study in the other arts and
maybe even pick up something useful from a teacher or two but a degree
in the Fine Arts and a dollar and change will get an aspiring fiction
writer only a ride on the subway. There is nothing or precious little
about the practice of writing fiction that can be taught only learned;
to instruct how to construct a plot is not at all the same thing as
passing on the ability to actually build one of the critters and
populate it with real people. Igor built no monsters although he studied
at the side of the master.
If the untalented in the other arts persist in trying to practice
whatever it is they want to do they get instant feedback at a young
age--from gallery owners casting directors band or orchestra leaders.
years after the untalented in our sibling arts have been mercifully
shorn of their unrealistic dreams and when the talented and lucky ar
launched on careers or even considered past their prime many future
writers are still accruing the experiences and emotional scars out of
which one day imaginary worlds will be formed.
And then it may be years of struggling with jumbled thoughts and Gordian
knots of words before the writer talent unaffirmed but trusting in
desire ever sees anything he or she has written in print. And it's
strictly a solo act. Writing is not a lonely profession but it is an
alone profession. It is truly amazing how many people commit their lives
to a career where the writing income of the average author qualifies her
or him for food stamps.
I wish I could say I believe that the writer's lot has improved over the
thirty-plus years I've been committing fiction but to be completely
surly with you I do not see that as the case. Au contraire.
The nature of the business was radically changed when scores of
independent publishers of books and magazines were bought up by large
corporations many of which then proceeded to merge into even larger
mega-corporations controlling dozens of book and magazine imprints. The
result has been a severe diminution in the number of markets to which a
writer or her agent can submit her work.
There must be considerable profits to be made in publishing or the
mega-corporations wouldn't have been vacuuming up those companies. Still
while the price of books along with everything else has gone up the
average advances paid to authors with the obvious exception of ur
superstars have stayed about the same.
A few publishers but a host of others seem to have become downright
hostile toward writers treating them like fungible and expendable assets
manipulated and squeezed like pork belly futures to generate maximum
income for the corporate bottom line now and forever. Book and even
short story contracts have become mine fields especially on the great
legal battlefield where the war over "electronic rights" is being waged.
Now publishers want the "rights in the galaxy for all means of
transmission now known or to be invented." Many publishers are already
cashing in on these "electronic rights " selling volumes of work
produced over decades to various service stations set up along the great
rolling information highway. The do this without permission and the only
people not making money from this bonanza are the authors of the works
Then of course there is the added angst of living in a society that may
be becoming increasingly illiterate where fewer numbers of young people
frequent bookstore and where the simple yet profound pleasure of reading
a book is being supplanted by the quick fix of video games and other
flashing images that may thrill the sense but also erode the
Oh pestilence and woe! So why are we still at it? We do it because of
the nature of that talent thing. Writing isn't a career choice it's a
way of life self-therapy a means of centering ourselves in a world in
which we feel out of focus without the lens of the words that seep from
us. It takes earlobes of steel to be a writer but author is a hard-won
and healing mantle we wear with ferocious pride. Some things never
George C. Chesbro is the author of 23 novels and upwards of 100 short stories and articles. He is the creator of the Mongo
Chant and Veil mystery series. He served for four years on the board of directors of MWA
three as Executive Vice President. Apache Beach Publications will soon reissue the first ten Mongo novels
with more from the Chesbro opus to follow in the coming months. He is currently at work on a contemporary novel.