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Sarah Ruden

"Now Everything Is Easy Cause of You?"

The survival of writers in the digital age.

I have given up mentoring as an "established" writer, with six backlisted books and growing but not exploding sales. I no longer read manuscripts, even of friends and relatives, and I offer no advice—except here, as a goodbye to all that. I don't know which among recent straws was heaviest. Maybe it was the epic poem about transgender cyborgs, sent to me whole (along with a boast about its record-breaking length) by the bard after he saw a review of my Aeneid translation—wouldn't I champion this man's work? Maybe it was the persistent requests for me to edit pro bono a rival Aeneid translation by someone who refused to learn any Latin. More likely, it's a close friend's efforts to sell a first novel; she has no publishing experience but is doing a great deal of work on the premise that a publisher will gamble on the book with a large advance.

I am wrong to be impatient with my friend, a trusting (as well as a talented) person. Flashy agents, and many promoters in the large publishing houses, are competing with digital entrepreneurs in telling Cinderella stories. Both sides claim that only they can fulfill aspiring writers' dreams and deliver their entitlements. And even some successful and prominent writers have, whether lazily or cynically, gone along with the narrative of an all-important tug-of-war, with writers "caught in the middle." To read the writerly threnodies, you would think that all our energies were devoted to strategizing our way out of that position, and none to choosing better projects and executing them better—though in a marketplace in upheaval, it kind of seems as if that would help us.

In our self-pity (which is, alas, no secret—the media we produce set out our concerns in gross disproportion to everybody else's), we are not an internationally dominant industry's main inventors, designers, and producers, who will save or ruin that industry with our shrewdness or fatuity, ...

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