On sales versus publications

I was updating my website today, and it finally occurred to me that the casual site visitor might be put off by the fact that I refer to poetry and fiction sales rather than poetry and fiction publications.

“Whoa,” he or she might think. “This Lucy person is all money-focused. She’s all commercial. Ew. Doesn’t she care about art?”

Because I have a mortgage and other bills due every month and Bad Things Will Happen if those don’t get paid, and because I am not a trust-fund baby, yes, money is on my mind pretty regularly. But I expect I’m not any more money-focused than most of you reading this.

If I really cared about money above all else, I’d have gone into real estate or stock trading. I surely wouldn’t be spending time writing poetry.

Like it or not, those of us who work in the arts in the U.S. have to deal with a capitalist system that doesn’t cut us any slack if we’ve worked very, very hard on our craft all month and yet don’t have any money. And the no-money situation is a pretty common one for fiction writers who don’t have family supporting them.

It’s hard for a beginning writer to sell a story or poem. If you haven’t tried it before, you may have no clue exactly how hard it can be. It can even be pretty hard to give your stuff away to a nonpaying lit magazine.

Making a sale is essentially hearing an editor say, “I like this so much I’m picking it as better than 100 other things I got this month, and I’m going to make space for it in the publication I’ve staked my reputation to, and I’m going to give you money out of my own pocket.”

In other words, a sale means a whole lot of editorial approval.

Furthermore, writers’ organizations like SFWA and HWA define a writer’s professional status by the quantity and quality of sales he or she makes. And the IRS surely demands that I keep track of individual sales; those sales define me as a “real” writer in the government’s eyes rather than a hobbyist.

So if those groups are gonna define my status as a writer by my sales, I might as well too, right?

“But what about Art?” I hear some of you cry. “Where’s the art in all this pursuit of filthy lucre?”

I care deeply about art. But I don’t get to decide if any of my writing is artistic. Art is what happens in the reader’s mind, if it happens at all. It’s subjective, and I don’t get to control it.

What I do get to control is craft. Good craft often translates into good art. And I work as hard as I can to produce well-crafted writing.

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