The Pressure to Produce – some thoughts on capitalism and creativity

Most creatives will tell you that the pressure to produce, to create, has both benefits and drawbacks.

A little bit of creative pressure can squeeze out the best of your creative juices like a well rolled toothpaste tube. For me, a deadline or a competition is something that can drive me towards a finish line when I’ve been dawdling on finishing something or have lost my self-confidence. A deadline can be my very best friend.

But too much pressure, and particularly the pressure to produce for financial benefit, can squeeze the joy out of your creative life. For those who don’t know, authors and writers generally rely on royalties for books. That means that when you buy a book in a store, the writer isn’t getting the full amount you pay for it. Instead, they’re getting a percentage, probably somewhere between 10% and 15%. Yes, that’s right. If you buy my book for ZAR300, I’m likely getting about R45 of that for all the work that I’ve put in. Most books in South Africa sell between 800 and 1500 copies (unless they’re super star best sellers) which is why most writers you know will have another day job (mine is as a gender analyst, researcher, and writer) in order to pay our living expenses.

This low percentage payment isn’t (usually) because the publishing industry is trying to crook us writers out of money. It’s because they have to pay the other people who work on getting books published every day – the typesetters and proofreaders and cover designers and editors and the publishers and publicists – and the overheads that they must pay up front on the hopes that your book sells.

Obviously it would be radical if the whole sale amount went to me, but I’m also hellishly grateful for all those people who work on making the book world a reality.

Since these thoughts are often circling in my mind as I write, I was very grateful to be included in a panel at the Open Book Festival this year called The Pressure to Produce which looked at the impact of the capitalist impact on creativity. If you weren’t able to make it to the festival, you can now watch the entire thing, via Youtube.

I hope you enjoy it!

Let me know how the pressure to produce affects you in the comments below!