Making a Living in the Arts Is Fiendishly Hard--By Design

Those who follow me here and on social media might be familiar with this graphic:

Writer Numbers

The takeaway is that of the roughly one million American authors, only 2500 earn a full-time income from their writing.

A lot of aspiring authors were discouraged by that figure, but it's actually an improvement over recent years, thanks to the rise of indie publishing. Authors are lucky to be working in the only art field where making a living is getting easier.

The empowerment and enrichment of authors is happening because the low cost and technical requirements of book publishing have allowed us to circumvent our former gatekeepers. Film makers, musicians, photographers, etc. don't have it so easy. Their gatekeepers are still firmly in control.

Gatekeepers purposefully made it hard for honest craftsmen to earn a living in the arts.
Over the course of the 20th century, every major media and entertainment outlet came to be dominated by radical Leftists. Not that I necessarily blame them. The Communists who infiltrated Hollywood and the socialists who took over NY publishing probably believed in their cause and thought they were doing the right thing by turning their industries into platforms for their ideology.

In most cases, the conservatives who used to run those operations handed them over without a fight. Leftists' idealism naturally disposes them to understanding the power of ideas, whereas conservatives' pragmatism inclines them to downplay the abstract and dismiss art itself as "not real".

The interplay of these opposing attitudes led to a cultural landscape where working artists mainly interested in pleasing audiences in return for just compensation lost out to useful idiots who would reliably parrot the Leftist party line. The gatekeepers to whom conservatives surrendered the field promoted artists who checked the right boxes, no matter how mediocre their actual work. This is because, as Nick Cole learned, the people in charge of NY publishing are zealots; not mercenaries.

To this day, women's studies majors writing dreary poetry are lavished with six-figure advances they'll never pay back. Meanwhile, those sweetheart deals are collectively funded by the ever-shrinking midlist of working writers whose draconian contracts leave them scrambling to earn out their $3,000 advances.

You're probably thinking that this arrangement is both stupid and unsustainable. You're right. But don't expect the gatekeepers to see their folly and mend their ways. These people aren't interested in turning a profit. They're propagandists who see ruining businesses as a twisted sort of ideological martyrdom--what Sarah Hoyt calls the Leftward Death Spiral.

The New York Publishing Death Spiral
Here is the process of degeneration that has killed legacy publishing and untold promising artists' careers:

  1. Leftist entryists invade publishing house. Politically disinterested executives capitulate.
  2. Entryist zealots fill the organization with more of their own. The publisher becomes a cultural Marxist propaganda organ.
  3. Conservative/moderate/apolitical authors must self-censor to get/keep book deals. As the only ones writing books that don't insult 70% of the populace, the burden of propping up the whole pyramid scheme falls on their shoulders.
  4. Publisher gives lion's share of advertising and co-op money to pet Leftist authors. Midlisters squeezed even tighter as lack of publisher support forces them to pull double duty marketing themselves.
  5. Constant stream of dull message fic alienates audience, shrinking the market. Midlisters suffer still more as their advances are cut to support industry-killing albatrosses.
  6. Buyouts and mergers rapidly whittle down the number of publishers. Readers and aspiring authors now faced with buying from/submitting to five ideologically monolithic publishing houses.
  7. Amazon invents the Kindle and launches KDP. Mass exodus of disgruntled midlist and aspiring authors to indie. The paper distribution monopoly that alone keeps the Big 5 afloat mortally threatened by eBooks.
  8. The Big 5 jack up prices on their eBooks in a desperate and foolish attempt to stifle the growing digital market.
  9. The Big 5's sales plummet as readers flock to indie and nontrad publishers. Each indie sale costs legacy publishing 2 sales.
  10. Hemorrhaging readers and new authors, the Big 5 are dead. They're just not broke...yet.
The gatekeepers are aware of the death spiral and don't care.
When Tor Books art director Irene Gallo libeled two of her company's own authors, and countless readers, as Neo-Nazis, she didn't lose her job. Sadly, it's become a cliche to say, "Imagine if she'd said that about [Protected Group X]." But we all know that if she'd been a conservative Christian who'd publicly taken exception to some of author Saladin Ahmed's controversial statements, she'd have been handed her walking papers within the hour.

If you are any combination of Christian, conservative, straight, white, or male, the NY publishing gatekeepers hate you. Unless you keep your head down and your opinions to yourself, they will not tolerate you writing for them. Even if you already have a Big 5 book deal, the act will get harder and harder to keep up unless you're a celebrity or a mega best seller. And due to rising Leftist zealotry, not even authors with huge, highly profitable platforms are safe from SJW outrage mobs.

The reason for this visceral, irrational hatred is simple. Art exists for its own sake. A work of art twisted to serve as a vehicle for ideology ceases to be art and becomes propaganda. Since the cultural Marxists in charge of the dying NY publishing industry are brazen ideologues incapable of producing anything but propaganda, they hate those who bring truth and beauty into their grey concrete world.

The ideologues know that their propaganda campaign is imperiled when true artists are free to create works that people actually like.

That's why I don't do business with the Big 5, and their increasingly frantic flailing is only making me happier about it. Thanks to the kind of Providence that always shatters diabolical schemes like the NY pub pyramid, there's an army of nontraditional authors who don't need the Big 5 to reach and entertain readers. Join the legion of satisfied readers who are helping indie authors escape the death spiral and earn a living writing stories for you.


  1. Brian, the best possible result for 2017 (on this limited subject anyway) would be for a bunch of my favorite mainstream authors to go indy. In the meantime, keep up the good work, just about ready to read Secret Kings on my iPad.

    1. First, thanks for reading!

      Regarding mainstream authors going indy, it's already starting to happen and will pick up speed as tradpub collapses.

  2. I hope for N List under Larry's classification. Best case scenario for me is Sedona. I still need to reach South Korea and San Jose.

    1. Luckily, each new author grows the total market, so just finishing and publishing a book will increase your chances of success.

  3. The great thing about the state of Trad Publishing is that much like the conservatives left the field to the leftists, the SJWs can no more hold onto the business than they can a handful of mercury.

    This trend should accelerate and mercifully kill the Big 5 Zombie Publishers. The needful thing for Indy authors and Small Publishers to do is to remain on guard for SJW entrists, and to mercilessly beat them like rented mules when they attempt takeovers.