Writers on Writing

If I’m So Damned Smart, Then Why Am I Broke?

By Joe Schwartz

I sometimes feel sorry for the likes of Stephenie Myers and J.K. Rowling. After the smash success of what are basically their first novels, where do they have to go from here? Even if their next book sells a million copies, they will be dubbed failures by comparison. Although most authors dream big, such ostentatious success is a bitter pill to swallow.

Then again they have done something for writing that has been out of fashion far too long. They made it cool to be a writer again. The last guy to know their kind of infamy was the great Hemingway. A larger-than-life icon, he set many an adventurous young man off to run with the bulls, get drunk in Paris, and learn about the consequences of war first hand.

Before Harry Potter and Twilight, paranormal stories and romance were politely accepted genres, but on the fringe of what could be considered good reading. Almost overnight they have given rise to millions of hungry readers, ready for more.

Enter paranormal romance author Amanda Hocking. In between her daily grind working 40 hours-a-week this 26 year old has written and self-published (at last count on Amazon) 11 novels. Without a publicist, a publisher, or likely even professional editing, she has astounded everyone by becoming a best-selling e-book author without once having to take an advance against future earnings from some corporate publisher.  On a given month she is reported to have her books downloaded on Kindle a whopping 100,000 times. Although she recently signed an old-fashioned book deal with St. Martin’s Press, it wasn’t necessary. Already making a six-figure income monthly she most certainly has money. So why would she do it? Why would a person who can live the fantasy life most writers would kill to gain sign a book contract?

This modern Internet Age reminds me of when I was a kid. Ridiculous as it sounds, not everybody had a phone. I can remember using a neighbor’s phone if we had to make an “emergency” call or simply going over to Grandma’s house on Saturday so that Mom could use the phone and catch up with friends. Ironically, Grandma would complain that the telephone would be the death of letter writing.

As of right now, I do not have Internet access in my home. If I need it I usually use it at work or go over to my brother-in-law’s house. When either of those aren’t an option, I can usually get a quick connection through my local library. Worse case scenario, I lug my less-than-modern laptop down to McDonalds, order something especially cheap like kid-size soda, and voila, I’m Internet bound.

Electronically, Amanda Hocking can only reach a portion of the book-loving world. Even with her astounding success, she has not yet known the satisfaction of having her book for sale in brick-and-mortar book stores or seeing it shelved among honest-to-God literature at a library, or personally signing her name inside the cover for a starry eyed book geek in love with her work.

Of course she could always go through the trouble of turning her work into physical books herself. She could commission the artwork, hire editors, labor over the layout, the style of font, distribution, spend endless hours on the phone and return countless numbers of e-mails to every Tom, Dick, and Harry professing to be in the ‘publishing biz,’ and at best, only hope to break even on her expenses.  Then she must figure in the cost for hotels and travel, a professional publicist to get interviews on major media outlets, buying print ads in national magazines, and hiring a personal assistant to help her keep it all organized.  Or she could simply sell her next book for a ridiculous sum of money based on the reputation she has earned by going viral.

And thus, we are at a modern crossroads for all writers today. Do you want to be rich or well read? Would you rather people were reading you, enjoying your work possibly for generations, effecting a change socially enough to become a part of the American lexicon (Catch 22, Uncle Tom, Lolita)? Or would you prefer to make lots of cash sans the validity of the literary marketplace?

Each writer is different and has different goals. Despite those reasons, good writing will always win. Long after this trend for reading zombies and vampires has expired, books will still be written. Westerns are due for a comeback.  So is horror. Then again, it will probably be somebody new, a virtual unknown, who writes something that touches a raw nerve that practically anybody who’s over 30 can relate. Not only relevant to the present, but also to the eventual past we call history, coloring in the places and dates with caricatures of people as they really lived, spoke, loved, and eventually died never certain that they had made the right choices.

Naturally the book will be available for download to your favorite variety of e-reader, but you should probably buy a book if you want your copy signed.

Joe Schwartz is a writer following in the footsteps of Dashiell Hammett, Donald Goines, and Chuck Palahniuk. In his latest book, The Games Men Play, he combined 21 short stories that take the reader on a haunting journey through the darkest St. Louis streets to its most rural counties. Schwartz writes exclusively about the Gateway City, and his first book, Joe’s Black TShirt: Stories About St. Louis, has been read more than 8,000 on Scribd.com.

He was born and has lived most of his life in St. Louis, with a short stint during his teenage years
in Colorado where Schwartz first began to explore the arts. Later living in Ft. Polk, Louisiana,
Schwartz ate and breathed rock music, taught bass guitar and played to some of the biggest
audiences in his life. His path to becoming a famous rock star came to a halt at 18 years old,
when Schwartz found himself responsible for the care and security of his younger brothers. He
took any job he could find to support his family, mostly working offshore as a galley hand and

Schwartz lives in St. Louis again today with his two children and beautiful wife of 17 years.
Employed by the local public library, he is proud to see copies of his books regularly checked
out and impressed when readers personally find him among the stacks to discuss his work.

For reviews and more information on Joe’s newest book: