Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Stumpers vs. Commencement Speakers

I've been catching up on Kristine Katherin Rusch's Business Rusch blog, all in an effort to up my own publishing game. In there, on one of the posts, she talks about One Book Authors vs. Career Authors, and although she tries hard to get the distinction between the two, and does mostly succeed, I think there's something missing in her comparisons.

Why does she miss this? Mostly because she's been a professional writer so long that she can't imagine herself into a state of ignorance. I see this with people in all careers. What is so painfully obvious to the expert is that you don't get what they know, even the simple stuff. Why don't you get it? Because simple to the expert isn't simple to the non-expert. I run into this all the time as I explain computers to folks. They don't know computer technology like I do, and long ago, I stopped expecting them to. I've done computers 24/7 for decades. Nobody is going to touch that.

I would place the difference between authors that KKR mentions as Stumpers vs. Commencement speakers. I choose that because you, the listener, and immediately lead to the difference between these two types of speaker and get the difference without any prompting. What's the difference? Your expectations. The audience expects something different from a stump speaker vs. a commencement speaker.

A one book author, or fine author, or slow author, or careful author, they are the commencement speakers of the writing world. They are the one, talking inspiring to the many, bringing sense and occasion and civilization to the moment. They stand before you as examples of success, and they speak to you with those examples. Quite literally, you look up to the commencement speaker. Not surprisingly, such authors go on to be speakers after they stop publishing.

Stump speakers are the guys who come into town, gather a crowd, give their speech, then head onto the next town where they give another speech. Their job isn't to gather your approval or your attention, their job is talk at you and make sure that you understand what they have to say. Nobody is expecting the world's most important occasion. Stumpers are the career writers. Their job is to pump out words, go to the next book, then pump out more works. There's no ceremony here. There's no band, no reverence, and no hero worship.

Now, there's no reason that a stump speaker can't be a commencement speaker and vice-versa, but a commencement speaker is an occasional position, while a stump speaker actually takes a great deal more training and fortitude. That seems counter-intuitive, but if you count up the hours, those stump speakers put in far more time talking than any commencement speaker ever will.

Once you know that, the difference become very clear. A commencement speaker must spend a great deal of time writing a unique speech for every occasion, hopefully thoughtful and beautiful. Because these speeches are so far between, each is an occasion. Each requires attention and diligence. This speech won't be heard by some people, this person will be heard by many people. The importance of giving a good speech is vital. The stumper, meanwhile is only talking to smaller crowds and can afford a flop or two as long as, on balance, they get people listening to them. They can't afford to spend time labouring over a speech.

In short, the difference isn't the writer, it's their place in the ecosystem. When you put a stumper at a commencement speech, that seems wrong at that person seems wrong. If you take a commencement speaker and make them stump, that somehow seems degrading and mean. You see the same exact phenomena with fine writers vs. pulp writers, or one book authors vs. careerist.

Many writers aim for the commencement speech podium, and nothing that you say will dissuade them because their place is up there at the podium. That's their win. This is a deep cultural aim. Not only is it their aim, but it is the game that most writer wanna-be's know, just like most people know about commencement speeches. However, most people don't know how to be stumpers, and most writers don't know how to be careerist because we just don't know how to play those games. We need educating to understand those games. That's why all new careerist go through the same learning curve. What is obvious to the experienced careerist is non-obvious to the new careerist. As the new careerist builds experience and learns the context, the system becomes obvious to them as well, and simple, forgetting there was a time when they didn't understand the system before them.

So here I am, learning how to play this careerist game. I still have lots to learn. I won't ever be done, but soon I will no longer be able to imagine myself as ignorant any more. "Just write," I'll say, when really what I mean is, "This game plays differently than you think. You can learn to play the career writer game, it's not hard, but you do need to pay attention, learn the good moves from the bad, and pay attention to those details that matter in the game. And like all games, you will lose and you will win, but there's always another hand and new tactics, so you can't just rest on your laurels and assume that your winning strategy will always remain winning."