On Paying off Debts

I wrote my last book, I Am the Revolutionary: Young Jack Kerouac, with the hopes of using my earnings to pay off accumulated debts. Alas, thus far, this had yet to be. It brings to mind a quote of Thoreau:

“Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. “Do you wish to buy any baskets?” he asked. “No, we do not want any,” was the reply. “What!” exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, “do you mean to starve us?” Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off—that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and standing followed—he had said to himself: I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man’s to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy.

I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one’s while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?”

My basket, thank the lord, is printed to order, and so I do not suffer the same fate as HDT, who inherited back his surplus copies of his self-published A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, for him to lug each and every one for storage up into his attic where they stayed for many years.

It is not enough, I learned, to earn my keep by the force and effort of my honest labors. Writing a book knowing that it may not sell is mind-piercingly frustrating. It is as frustratingly thwarting as anything else.

Paint a canvas that will be stowed deep and dark in your closet; write a blog post that nobody wants to read; create a short film that nobody wants to watch; write a song nobody wants to listen to; write a book that nobody wants to buy. It is the curse of the digital age that all of these and more are birthed into daunting plenitude. On the other hand, the struggling artist requires a bit of empathy for his audience; they too have lives to live. They have priorities in their spending. Perhaps too, they have their own art to tend to.

Nobody has time to admire your garden when they have their own to grow.

My book has sold less than thirty copies so far. Three more books I gave away for promotional reasons. For each and all I hope that the readers may put in a kind word and leave a thoughtful review. With no major promotional push given to it from a traditional publishing path (and even that is no guarantee), word-of-mouth is the only hope a book has.

There are as many dead books filling up Amazon’s database as there are equally-dead skulls in the catacombs of Rome.

Still the debt I earned diminishes none by the force of my honest convictions. I dream fancies. If only 300 people bought my book, that would dissolve one of my debts. The number seems innocuous. It seems easily achievable, but have I not learned from my past?

Stirring the interest of a prospective reader into inertia is a vast undertaking.

He/she reads of the existence of my book, clicks on the link, peruses its contents, adds it into a digital cart, fumbles out a credit card (or PayPal) and purchases it. These basic steps are determining factors in shaping one’s own financial future. If he/she wove the basket, then he/she is obligated to buy it from the honest weaver. That’s the theory, but it never works like that, does it?

The debt remains, the interest accrues and we set about for a new solution. An honest 40+-hour work week is not enough. Suffering traffic jams and boring office environments and cubicle hell isn’t penalty enough. Society has already taken its share of those slices of our paycheck and the crumbs that remain will be unduly spent acrimoniously.

I write this post because it eats away at me, one day at a time. Every day. I do not have a lavish lifestyle. I like to buy books, that’s it, and even those are used.

So, the easy way out would be to write something pandering to more marketable interests. People seem to love self-help books. Right? But I have no advice to give, no cheer to share.

Perhaps a life of crime is the answer, or to dodge the debt and hide from he world waiting to be caught like a literary outlaw. Move to Canada or Africa.

But no, I want to continue using my talents and hope to achieve the achievable one page at a time.

And breathlessly await another sale.

There is hope yet.

1 Comment

  1. As a painter, I feel this. In 2003 friends with a business and a successful 1070s rock music career, convinced me to make reproductions and sell my art. It was exciting to hear a creatively successful person telling me I had talent! I took the next steps. I spent money getting (and keeping) this going. Now 17 years later, Ive sold maybe 175 items, not great, yet, each sale is humbling. Sales have not paid for what it has cost me, let alone pay off any bills. I proceed with caution, every time I buy a frame for someone I have yet to meet, get a high quality scan, decide what kind of paper to print on, split sales with a gallery, spend the weekend at a craft festival, sell an original without spending for repros, consider a commission… I am forced to remind myself to paint for myself first. This is not advice, just sharing my own journey, which is lined in debt – but more importantly a joyful and exciting one.

    Liked by 1 person

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