Writing to be “Rich”… As Opposed to?
(Alternatively: Of Mice Among Men)
Stephen has a house, two dogs and a lovely wife. He does not work a regular job. He sells things on e-bay in his leisure time and buys more than he should in turn. After all, he can afford it. Stephen likes to enjoy his in-house pool and the stables where his favourite horse, Jumper, is and most of all he loves his back-woods cabin where his buddies like to go hunting and he will often go to fish. Most of all Steven is proud of his library. It took him a long time to assemble the collection of books he has and his favourite book is the one on the third shelf from the top. It is green, leather-bound and the lettering, in shiny black in-laid words, reveals the author to be a Richard Bachman. A no-body like he was. Rich was a man with a dream back in Maine and here he is now with hundreds of books and an ever-growing estate.
Back in Maine, where he keeps his cottage, Stephen can be Stephen, but here in his library with his pen, and the type-writer and all the fun new electronic toys he has, he can’t help but once more feel the influence of Rich. He too has had this dream and Rich proved for him that it was possible. It seems that in each other’s foot steps these two men followed.
A writer’s job is one of immense struggle; a writer’s story is one worth telling. In the quiet dim mornings, the dank and subtle afternoons, into each night, writers are awake tapping, scratching and forming out their stories. Every day hoping this time will be different, thousands of manuscripts pour through the mail. Publishers everywhere hire thousands of workers just to sort the relevant mail from the spittle. Every writer hopes that this time they will be given a chance to make it to the top. No one gets there unless they’ve done the foot-work first. It’s not in who you know, it’s who knows you and if those publishers have no clue who you are; there is no chance for you to survive the paper mill and make it to the big leagues.
Stephen went on a publicity-stunt spree. Finally, after having held several journalism jobs, someone gave him a chance. He’s rich today and day after day all he does, all he has to do; is write. Every year he cranks out multitudes of books. Eventually a few fall through the cracks and don’t get published. Like his earlier work, it never got published. Stephen thought of his idols looking out the window like he was doing, trying to figure out what would prevent their work from getting lost. He wanted to publish his older works. But now that he was a big fish in this ever smaller pond, he figured it wouldn’t go over too well. Maybe they would think his writing was slipping, maybe those books would end up being career-killers. Stephen loved to write, writing was his life. He stared out the window and thought.
The window is closed but the birds are outside dive-bombing each other. His mind wanders to the first time he wrote about the birds. The first time he really noticed them. He liked their blues and their grey-browns and watched as the Blue-birds and the Robins were fending off the Hawks. “In the face of dismemberment and death, those who fight are ultimately the ones who survive...” he thought and it became his motto for life. He wrote it in a poem on a tissue. Heavy black ink on fragile whitish yellow. After years the paper was old, and the words were blurred. That poem used to sit framed on the desk, until it was broken it in a fit of rage. He liked what the birds had taught him that day and he liked the fact that the little guy could always win if they fought hard-enough.
As a writer Stephen fought hard, Rich had taught him that, and so did the birds. But Rich was a bit violent from time to time. Violent but passionate and Stephen admired that passion, it inspired him. Both Rich and the birds taught Stephen to be a survivor and Stephen eventually survived Rich’s death, but it was the birds that gave him the solution to this, his problem.
Another publicity stunt and this one was the perfect solution to all his problems, no longer as himself Stephen barreled head-long into a progression of events that could have killed him, as a writer that is. It had the potential however to make a lot of people very wealthy and very happy… So with his idea in mind he drove straight into his publisher’s office and proposed his great idea…
Clive Barker, another no name writer was turned away from his meeting. He is scheduled to have an appointment with the publisher but since Stephen showed up unannounced, Clive was told to go home and that they would call him… His phone had been shut off, this was his last chance with the publisher and now he couldn’t afford his rent. Clive began to get desperate.
Stephen was ecstatic, he knew all along the publisher would agree, after all he is their best-seller but it was great to know they were so willing to succumb to all his demands, they even shoved out other writers to make room for Stephen. He really felt like he was in the big leagues now. Besides the fewer other writers there were, the better his chances were with the public. Stephen felt no remorse for the small writer outside, it was the small writer inside himself he wanted to clear the way for.
Back in Connecticut, or was it Illinois, Stephen was Rich and Rich was a part of Stephen. And the whole messed up story left Stephen, under Rich’s name, rich and famous as Stephen. Confused yet? Sounds like a third rate thriller novel right? No? Well it would be completely understandable if it did sound like that. So let me illuminate the scenario for you. Firstly it is exceedingly important to know that Stephen isn’t just wrapped up with some guy named Richard. Stephen is Richard. Secondly, it needs to be understood that both Stephen and Richard are writers, famous writers.
As an author, Stephen made it big, but he didn’t want all that fame affecting some of his earlier unpublished work. Stephen instead changed his name, at least in literary terms, to Richard so that he could publish his earlier works without feeling like he was riding those earlier stories on the fame of his now well-known name. But when the public found out that Richard in fact was Stephen, Stephen decided to get rid of Richard. He threw a funeral for his pen-name and when the next book came out, a perverse joke ensued.
Remember that third rate thriller novel I mentioned? Well Stephen thought it was a great idea too and after Richard’s funeral, Stephen decided to write down the battle between his self and the alter-ego pen name Richard. This book was an instant hit because of publicity alone. Stephen built quite a name for himself not only because he is an inspired writer but also due to his flair for the abnormal and twisted and his talent to draw the attention of the reader in publicity stunt after publicity stunt after publicity stunt… Stephen often wrote about himself, subjecting his mind and life to the scrutiny of the page. One of Stephen’s seemingly favourite moves is letting the story take over and literally reshape his life. Where the book started out with a struggling writer using a pen name, in a nasty and jaunting abnormal twist of events the author, our beloved Dr. Jekyll type has found himself the morbid play thing of his own Mr. Hyde.
The reason our Stephen was trying to get rid of his pen name, was due to what he called in his book “cancer of the pseudonym.” The pen name however, is more than just shiny black lettering on a dark shade of green binding. The events unfolded for our Rich, our Clive, our many other writers like some story from the pages of a book. Stephen, in his utter success pushed away so many others. Squashed them under the sheer magnitude of his own big name.
1980 passed slowly for Raymond Edward Miner, who like our Clive was a budding writer rejected. He was alone in his apartment, he had to get his mother to care for his kids and his sister to care for his cat. He found a janitorial job in addition to his McDonalds job and was making rent again. He thought he’d never save the money he needed to publish by vanity press, but he vowed to begin scraping together the cash. If a publisher wouldn’t buy his book he would put up the cash himself to get his career started.
When Rich was no longer useful to him, Rich too had to go. And like some villain in the book, Stephen began to effectively kill off every small writer that didn’t help him or conform to his own plan. Stephen managed to take over the literary scene as our beloved little-guy writers began to die off faster. In the years that followed Stephen’s rise to the top, writers found it exceedingly harder to get signed and published because it was hard to measure up. Stephen was on the top of the heap, like some strong man in a Nazi gas chamber. And he wrote about it. Over and over again, writers found rejection in the wake of Stephen, they had to turn elsewhere to pay the rent, and there was a budding job-market sucking up creative minds. Technology. In 1983 as Stephen was publishing his twenty-fifth major work the internet was being formed into a species of what we know it as today.
In 1988, “advancement” to this solution occurred affecting the struggle between big name publishing and the little-guys. The Internet had arrived head-on not as the solution to the problem necessarily, but as at least a back door into becoming a big name. This new concept, the “world-wide-web” refused to stand down and left people able to access a far wider reaching type of publicity.
As the years passed, creative thinkers no longer capable of finding their fortunes in writing turned to journalism and technology. As Stephen was writing his sixtieth book, creative problem solvers and quick studies found themselves moving technological advancement at mach speed. In 1993 Gates slowly began to become the World’s wealthiest man as he published his first Biography. He indeed became the world’s wealthiest man, tenfold. And while Gates continually gave it away, Stephen continually dished out more suppression to struggling writers. He dished out book after book to his fans and failure after failure to young writers trying to measure up. Stephen kept getting better and better. In technology however, the more savvy writers were on the brink of finally bringing Stephen to his knees.
1996 was a big year, for the first time, an online library which offered entire books in digital format became available to the public. These electronic books (e-books) were an instant hit for all those technologically savvy persons on the go. As reading in the plane is a favourite pass-time among many businessmen on the go, clunky books were a problem. It was found that these e-books were a great and relatively cheap solution to their space issues. Lap-tops and PDAs in tow, these e-books left the traveler with less to carry and more to do. They could take their computer and their handheld to what ever meeting they were going to and read their book on their PDA like their child played with the Game-Boy they got for Christmas. Not having to worry about those clunky books was a two-fold advantage as well. The readers didn’t have to worry about space issues and the authors didn’t have to rely on publishing and distributing paper-bound copies. Effectively this freed the writer of the once-necessary publishing company. The cost and struggle of publishing had been nearly eliminated and like the levies breaking in New Orleans, the writers should have flooded this new market.
They couldn’t. There was nothing to protect their writing from plagiarism and many lost their work to prolific distributors and dishonest readers who did not pay for copies of the books they had access to. In literally no time there was another big problem, if no one was paying for what was being written and distributed, this new “solution” became essentially useless as writing became essentially a non-profit job even if the writer were someone as good as Stephen. Only those writers looking to distribute their names without gaining profit could find this new solution useful. The rest of us had to wait. Eventually a number of electronic publishing companies, companies like LaTeX and Adobe and DjVu, found ways of encrypting and protecting and essentially putting “locks” on all that they published. This introduced a new kind of publisher, a new kind of rights of distribution problem and a whole new legal playing field. The “solution” had opened the proverbial can of worms.
While Stephen was writing and publishing “Bag of Bones” in 1998 the internet was offering writers a new outlet. As a reporter, a budding writer could now offer their opinions online through online newspapers, and through web logs (or blogs). A short story writer could find a whole new pool of readers quickly and easily through a variety of great search engines. Building a name and reputation now was as easy for a novice writer as it could possibly be for a big name writer.
What made the whole internet outlet deal sweeter was a law was passed in 1998 called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA in a nut shell served, to wall up and protect copyright and to punish “those who seek to breach that protection.” So says Scarlet Pruitt, digital correspondent for CNN. And this was what budding writers needed, to get their work publicized safely and at minimal cost.
Using this law and the opportunities provided by the web, finally little writers could get their books some circulation without having to worry about big name writers like Stephen pushing them out. But as e-books became the next big thing in literature, Stephen began to hatch yet another publicity stunt. Stephen was up to no good again looking for even more publicity and profit and four books after his 1998 best seller, Stephen again decided to bum-rush novice writers in the e-books realm too. With newly designed digital encryption and a variety of other anti-theft protections including the DMCA Stephen published his next big book in the series he was working on.
Stephen published “Riding the Bullet” only in e-book form. Within hours, distribution of novice writers felt the impact and within those same hours Stephen’s new book had already been hacked and distributed illegally. Over the course of two weeks though, selling his digital book online for only two dollars and fifty cents, Stephen had made upwards of two-hundred-thousand dollars. This was far more than he had ever made selling to his publishers and in this way his book also ended up cheaper to the public by about six dollars. With his book “Riding the Bullet” Stephen took a chance on something new and gained the world of e-book publication infamous notoriety.
Despite this lucrative ordeal, Stephen never published electronically again. He had learned a valuable lesson about the dishonesty of the public and he had exposed a very important flaw in the world of digital ownership. File copy, file transfer and general file sharing is almost entirely untraceable and it can be profitable for any dishonest Joe and their site to have the public’s desired files including e-books offered for next to nothing and less. Posting advertisements on a frequently visited web-site can rake in the cash, and if you have Stephen’s new and exclusive book, the kind of traffic your site will see is bound to leave you far better off. Consider what would happen if you had an un-locked copy of Stephen’s new book, you offered it on your site for free provided those coming to your site tolerated a barrage of advertisements. You would end up filthy rich or at least close enough to it off the illegal copy of the book and provided you took down the book after a while, you would have gotten those profits in a virtually untraceable, therefore impossible to prove way. In this manner, the thieves are getting away with murder, and all that a writer can do, good bad or in between, is write about it.
So our Mr. Stephen is back to the publishers. He’s talked with them again but this time not about another book. This time he is talking about this new and truly scary problem that he faces along with thousands of other writers. The publishers, paper-bound and electronic alike, are currently pouring an estimated twenty-billion dollars a year into figuring out how to truly and more securely lock up the e-books and other files so that the dishonest vultures hacking and offering copy written works for “free” cannot take profits away from the already monopolized strong-hold the publishers have on the realm of publication.
What’s a writer to do? “Lock” their work to see it hacked in a few hours? Rely on the old-fashioned way of getting recognition but risk getting virtually no circulation? An estimated two-thirds of everything people read at the present time is read on-line. Should a writer still risk this plagiarism and lost work essentially sacrificing their creative self for what amounts to increased distribution and some circulation without profit? Only big names like Stephen can really afford to lose all their work like that, he could essentially write and post a new book that will be lost to the “free” vultures in two hours and live off the profits for the rest of his life. Is this what a writer must do to get that kind of recognition? There is no doubt it is still by far better in most ways, including legal avenues, to publish in paper. However, in order to be recognized by a publisher and actually get published, a writer must have that name, that distribution, and these days due to how large the field is, they must command a relatively large internet audience. It all hinges on having the name.
So the problem isn’t really with writers, publishers or even with the insecure methods with which we today protect our digital material. The problem, the real problem lies with the consumer. The student behind the computer screen trying to get as much as they can for free, the businessman looking for his next plain-book for free, the man or woman turning a profit on the talents and skills of others, the “free” vultures and their public. These men and women the world over who don’t want to pay for their music, books or media are the driving force. The Problem lies with those who cater to this public and with this, the problem lies with the public themselves.
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