Self-Employed Writers Can Save the World

Well, the literary world, at least. Think about it: what can we do that writers tied up with big-name publishers can’t? 

We can write what we want. 

I’ll give you an example I’m very familiar with. What happened to (arguably) some of the best sci-fi shows ever? They were cancelled. 

Seriously. They cancelled the original Star Trek. They cancelled Stargate Universe. They cancelled Firefly. And only a few years ago, they cancelled Almost Human. And I’m probably missing a bunch of other shows lost to the executive maw. 

Why? One word: money. Money makes the world go ’round. See Doctor Who for an example. It has a very large, very dedicated fanbase. I’m not sure if the same can be said for the others I’ve mentioned.

I know that doesn’t make it right, or fair to the people who did love those shows. I only got into Almost Human a few months ago, when I remembered seeing the commercials when it first came out. Then I look it up, and… “What? It’s been cancelled? It had one season! And it had Karl Urban! What more do you people want?”

So, personal aside finished. What does this have to do with us self-employed writers saving the world?

We don’t answer to execs who only care about money. Yes, we need money, but the money will come because we aren’t paying for expensive actors/special effects/time on a certain big-name TV channel. We can write what we want to write, improve what we want to improve, and thus avoid most of the pitfalls of “TV-by-committee” that happens to a lot of long-running TV shows. They start out strong, and the few good TV shows that aren’t cancelled eventually drift into mediocre, if not outright bad, as time goes on and the network keeps trying to reduce, reuse, and recycle the same tired plot andcharacters, when the story really should have ended a few seasons ago. The eco-conscious would be proud. The fans, not so much. 

We can write the tough stuff, the messy stuff. Things other people may not want to see, but should see. We can take chances. We can revolutionize writing in ways a publisher would not allow, at least not without a big fight. Harry Potter was rejected before it got accepted. And can you imagine how stupid you would feel now if you were one of the publishers who rejected Harry effin’ Potter

Sure, working alone and without backup or support from famous professionals is scary. But isn’t it exciting, too? We’re trailblazers. Rather than writing another clone of such-and-such vampire book, I can write my own vampires. And so what if the post-Twilight market is bloated with cheap, copycat vampires? They’re not my vampires. My scary, intimidating, mysterious vampires who don’t sparkle in the sun. And that’s ok. No one here to tell me “too many vampires in the market. Take them out.”

And another thing: writers not tied down into a contract with a publisher have a unique opportunity to do the right thing with their stories: end them. End them when the time is right. Maybe offer a few spin-offs, maybe not. I was perfectly happy with the Harry Potter series we got. I quite enjoyed Fantastic Beasts (Cursed Child, not so much), but I do think it was unnecessary. The thing is, JK Rowling didn’t resurrect Voldemort and send him into the past for Newt Scamander to battle. She (I think; I’m not sure who wrote the movie) came up with a completely new story which, in my opinion, makes it a spin-off. And that’s perfectly acceptable.

And a damn good movie. 

Free writers (as in, writers who are free from obligations, not writers who write for free, which is called “slavery” where I come from.) have opportunities that I don’t think writers of the past had. If you were chained to so-and-so publisher, and you had a wildly popular series, the publisher would vastly prefer yet another bland, cookie-cutter entry into said series, as opposed to this wildly unique new story that may or may not sell. Publishers don’t like the unknown. They don’t like new. They like what they’re comfortable with, and what the market is comfortable with. And that may not  be what’s best for the story. 

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