Time again for a “stupid question”


Why am I not making money with my writing – and with that I mean my personal literary projects? And why do I hardly ever think about it? (And why is it that it can almost be considered a “stupid question”?)

One of the main lessons I have learned about marketing and entrepreneurial ventures is the following: to be successful, the entrepreneur identifies a group of people who are either keen to move away from something (like being overweight) or eager to move to a certain point (for example, to improve a golf handicap). A further requirement is that this group of people should be willing to pay to either move away from the bad place, or to move closer to their ideal spot. The idea is that the entrepreneur (or marketer) must think of a way to enable these people to quickly get away from the bad, or to achieve their ideal; or perhaps to identify a product that will make it possible, and to then for a commission market this product to the right group of people.

How do my literary projects fit into this understanding? Who would be my market? What demographic target group will I set my sights on? How aggressive should I market my “product” as the “solution” to their problems or aspirations?

The fact of the matter is I’m uncomfortable with the idea of branding my essays and notes on identity, the struggle to find sense and possibly meaning in life, and on finding my place in the world, as a product. I am okay with ultimately publishing excerpts in print or electronic form and slapping a price on it. I am not okay with thinking of it as a product, similar to a guide that teaches you how to improve your tennis serve, or how to lose weight (important as these things may be).

But I still need to answer the question, even if I have to broaden the definition of what I see as my writing. Is there any way I can produce material that has commercial value – not as an anonymous author of so-called “private label content”, but as who and what I am, under my own name?

Are there topics on which I can write that will draw the attention of a larger market? Is it possible that I can write for a market willing to pay for what I produce?

At one point I did consider doing something that has nothing to do with literature that will give me rent and food money, and to spend the rest of my time on the free expression of my experience of reality, of my particular values and worldview, free of the contamination that comes with concern on whether the agents of commercial value will find it acceptable or not.

To some extent this is what I do. And to some extent I achieve a little success, every now and then.

I do nevertheless think the time is ripe to at least ask the question again: Can I make a living as a writer? Can I keep myself alive if my earthly existence depends on my own, distinctive literature?