There’s a myth, that publishers and the literary circles and the general public likes to push. It’s the myth that artists have to suffer, that they should starve and suffer or else, obviously, their work isn’t ‘good’. That any attempt at learning the busines side of thing is wrong and disgusting and beneath them. And most of all, that the work by itself should be enough, that artist are ‘artists’ and shouldn’t be expected to be paid for their work.

It’s utter bullshit.

But it’s also a prevalent myth because it feeds a lot of people.


One of the things I see above in that note, is not just how Cormac McCarthy refused to take money to feed his family; but he had not enough money coming in from his publishers to actually earn a decent living.

He’s famous enough at this time for a university to offer him ~$11,000 (after inflation is taken into account) to come speak.

Why is he not making enough money on royalties or off his next advance or via foreign right sales or whatever to eat more than beans? Now, there might be something to be said about mismangement of funds (I don’t know); but…

It’s indicative of an endemic issue where publishers take advantage of writers. And yes, ‘take advantage’ is the correct term. I know writers who get horrendous offers for their books and who take them, because they are so excited to get a deal, they don’t read the fine print. Or don’t understand what they’re signing.

I regularly help other writers read over contracts and recommend negotiating points before I send them to a proper IP lawyer for the final pass and negotiation.

Publishers don’t want writers to get good at business, to negotiate and understand their value, to talk to lawyers or other authors.

They should be in it for the art, not the money!

Because all that money should be with them.


Literary agents can be useful, don’t get me wrong. They often have contacts and knowledge that an individual author does not, and when it comes to things like foreign right sales, it is hard to do it yourself (especially considering how little one would get paid in general) and thus, having a ‘central’ individual who does it for multiple authors makes sense.

However, agents also exist because many authors just refuse to do the work to learn the business side of things. ‘This contract is too hard to understand’. ‘I can’t negotiate with them!’. ‘I just like getting my royalty checks, my agent verifies (hopefully) the royalty statements’.

Because authors allow agents to do everything for them, they are open to being scammed, embezzled from, or conned into using services they don’t need.

Heck, why are publishers paying the agency first and then you? Why not the author and then the agent (or worst case, both at once?).

Touching the money, asking about the money, verifying money… all distasteful for the ‘artist’.

The Public

If all artists (writers, craftsmen, painters, musicians, etc.) are doing this work for the joy of the work, we don’t have to pay them, right? Exposure is good enough. Admiring their work is good enough.

I read your work, isn’t that what you wanted?

So the justifications for low ball offers, for piracy and theft and for how expensive a $5 ebook is, continues.

We’re helping… because pain and starving and not paying your bills is how you make great art! See!

The Artist

Oh, but the artists themselves, the authors, the painters, the craftsmen, they all feed into this too.

Don’t touch the business side, don’t try to read contracts or study or practice this stuff, don’t do the things we hate or dislike because it’s wrong. I need to be pure. Not because it’s hard and just something I don’t want to do.

But also… if I don’t make a lot of money on my first book, or eight, or tenth – that’s not my fault, that’s just the state of the industry, the state of the world. It’s not just me, look at all these other authors like me. It’s not my fault.

Learned helplessness.

Never mind there are better options, because those are just luck. Or they’re not ‘real’ writers.


Yeah, I have feelings about that quote and the people who push that myth, that hold it up as the way to be. Also, the artists who choose their arrogance, their ‘principles’ over those who rely on them.

But hey, what do I know? I’m just a money grubbing sell-out.

Like the business blog post? Want to support me writing more of them? Want to read ahead (2 weeks) of others? Become a Patron and choose the $2-tier to be able to read the business posts only and ask questions about the business side of writing.