Monday, September 21, 2009

High Barriers

Writing has high barriers to entry.

That sounds a little strange, doesn't it? When we talk about barriers to entry, we're referring to challenges to entering a market and usually thinking about things that are big and expensive. Maybe acquiring the dozens of planes needed to launch a new airline or stringing pipeline across half the country in order to transport natural gas or raising the funds necessary to begin that beachfront development. We don't think of writing. Writing only requires a pad and pen. It's easy and inexpensive -- right?

True, finishing your first novel may not cost a mint in terms of money. But consider this: Do you expect it to pop onto the bestseller charts as soon as you scribble the final word? Do you think an agent or slush reader will even make it past page 18? Unless your last name happens to be Rowling, neither is probable. In fact, successful writers consistently note that large swathes of their output get chalked up to experience rather than royalty accounts. SF author
James Maxey has four novels and approximately fifty short stories sitting on the shelf. Publishing insider Jane Smith posted just today about the difficulties in getting her works in print despite years in the industry. Historical fantasist Lars Walker claims three unpublished novels. And Neil Gaiman has spoken so much about the "box in the attic" filled with unclaimed efforts that it's become almost proverbial to his fans.

Such projects represent huge outlays in time, creativity and emotional energy. However, "unpublished" doesn't mean "unfruitful." Dead-end stories and mawkish narratives teach we neophytes the fundamentals of the craft. They're necessary parts of our solitary apprenticeships, needed steps on the road to excellence. Stories don't spring immaculately from our imaginations. We have to sweat and labor over them, and we shouldn't expect it to be any easier for us than for the professionals. It's simply an obstacle to overcome.

Writing has high barriers to entry. And it takes tenancy to surmount them.

(Picture: CC 2008 by


S.D. Smith said...

Excellent post, Loren. Very well said.

Loren Eaton said...

Thanks, S.D.!