What known historically famous writers, like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, have taught me is that writing (far as fiction, / non-fiction, poetry, novelist type writing), is not about making money. Before you throw your stones at the computer screens listen carefully: You can surely make money, but writing is not about making money, if you can understand that. Though I write for a “living” I can honestly say, with my integrity intact, that I have written not one book and not one poem with the intent to make money. I don’t think any writer sits back and says, “Self, lets’ get this best seller on out the way shall we?” Personally, I write because I love doing it and I publish because I love sharing it. But, how did Langston Hughes help me to understand this?
For those of you who are not already familiar, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston are two of the biggest names in literary history. Just mention The Harlem Renaissance and their names are the first to come to mind. When you look into the lives that they lived however, you see two interesting facts: a). Both were very famous b). Both were very broke.
You wouldn’t know it from the looks of it. Not the way their names are plastered into history books. Not their quotes and faces and the people they’ve known. In fact, to the untrained eye one may come to think these people were rich. Yes, just like any “successful” Traditional or Self-Publisher always before the face of the people. The truth is that Langston Hughes had many side jobs throughout his career that made him money. This included many speaking engagements, teaching, traveling the world, and even working as a bus boy at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington. Hughes attended Lincoln University but that was because he couldn’t raise the scholarship money to attend Howard. In addition, both Hughes and Zora worked closely under Charlotte Manson, their rich white patron (she was also a big racist but that’s another story) who paid them for the work they published (she also dictated the works they could / could not publish). They also worked closely, most especially Hughes, with Carl Van Vechten (infamous for his book “Nigger Heaven”) who got him lots of work.
I do not say this to discourage anyone from being an author. I say this to say that there is a passion and a drive to writing a book that has nothing to do with royalties and books sales. This is what the promotion and hard work is all about, or at least mine is. Writing and promoting books that people want to read. There were times where Langston Hughes could barely pay his rent and yet he still managed to know pretty much everyone there was to know during the Harlem Renaissance and the era to which he lived in general. This is a man who was surrounded by millionaires and billionaires on a regular, not because he necessarily made the same kind of money but because of the way that his work changed people who were drawn to his message. This is what it’s all about: Changing lives. This is also why the Traditional-Indie argument is so stupid right now. It doesn’t matter how you publish the book and whether or not you’re “making it rain”. What matters is whether or not your book has a voice. If it does, then the people will gather to hear you sing.