By Ilana Wilson
All art has one thing in common: it’s hard. Art comes from a place of inspiration, from an unexplained impulse to create, from a feeling that this is important. As a writer, my stories are
woven from threads of myself. Often they are beautiful, messy, and heartbreaking. And yet, despite all the emotional vulnerability and knowledge of craft that goes into creating my art, that is still not the hardest part.
When a friend recently congratulated me on the publication of my short story in a literary magazine Geek Force 5, I laughed and said, “It’s no big deal. I’ve made about three dollars.” Her response was, “Yeah. Get used to that.”
Most artists are poor, or struggling. Some may live out of shopping carts or sleep in subway
stations. Others may have a roof over their head, but still live in tears. The weeping and penniless artist is a stereotype, I know, but sometimes it feels all too real. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt the need to explain to strangers why I am getting a creative writing degree, why I may be working in restaurants until I am 50 years old to pay off these student loans. “Don’t worry,” I say to people. “I know I won’t make money writing novels. Maybe I’ll go into editing.”
I figured out something crucial to my life in the past few months. Editing is hard. I am a co-fiction
editor for Duende, and it is up to me to give the art I am reading proper consideration, to find jewels among mountains of rock. But was my published story really a jewel? I know what it’s like
to be on the other side of this screen, uploading onto submittable.com, stomach twisting with
anxiety at the thought of yet another rejection. As an editor, I am always thinking about the fact
that no matter what I think of a story, to the person who wrote it, it is important. It is art. And I
have been given a huge responsibility.
Of course there are some editors out there who are not artists, or who are in it for the paycheck,
who edit purely scientific jargon or business postings, who simply have a love of diction and
punctuation. I think many, however, are like me. They love the art of words, and that means that in addition to working with someone else’s work, helping get it out there in the world, they create material of their own. The people who work on literary magazines are almost always writers themselves, and so are the people who read them. This is what we do. We read, we write, and we do our best to get our work and others’ out into the world.
Money and art don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. The odd part about this is just how expensive art can be. Getting a degree takes quite a lot of money, creating the art itself takes big bites out of paychecks, and publishing and promotion takes everything from volunteer labor, to fundraising, to grants, to straight up begging. And yet, aside from those few celebrity cases, it does not make money. In fact, it might not even get readers.
If something is a work of art, even if it is still the rock and not the polished jewel, how much money it makes does not equal its real value. I will repeat that in case you didn’t get it; I find
myself forgetting all the time. Profit does not equal value! My first royalties check was $1.56, and I framed it. Value is also not determined by Amazon ratings, Goodreads reviews, or the number of book clubs reading your work. No amount of anything determines the value of art. And that is why it is so hard. How do you sell something that doesn’t and can’t have a real numeric value, but costs so much to make?
Since the first American magazine containing literature was published in 1741, lit mags have
steadily grown in popularity. During this blossoming internet-age, journals are springing to life
constantly, and all fighting to survive. There is a reason most of these magazines are solely digital. Because of the strains in financial resources, it is most difficult to maintain print magazines, and print books.
Duende has embraced the noisy world of the internet. Every issue is free to view on our beautiful website. We are all about giving. Look, we have this new, brilliant piece of work for you! Read it right here. We make nothing off of you clicking that link or reading those words. But, we are not the only ones giving. The writers gave us their art to publish. Giving away art is something anyone who creates it wants to do, even though it doesn’t pay the bills.
The hardest part of being an artist is finding the courage and means to share that art with the world, with the hopes that others will appreciate it, and that one day, through your art you’ll find stability. The hardest part about being being an editor is being responsible for what happens to other people’s art once it is in your hands, and being the person to send those rejection letters we all detest receiving. And guys, this is important. Duende is a magnificent compilation of stories, poems, and visual pieces that when put together is itself a work of art, and that means it is hard. It takes a chunk of all of our souls to complete each issue, and it is well worth it.