Words Mean Things: Generation Entitled

Words Mean Things: Generation Entitled

A bit of a tangent today. Someone decided to call Millennials “generation entitled.” I’m not really sure that moniker fits. Millennials maybe have a different attitude, but I’m not sure it’s entitlement, to be perfectly honest.

Someone brought a Guardian article to my attention: “Do Two Unpublished Books Make You a Failed Author? No, You’re a Quitter.” The person who posted this decided to wax a bit poetic about “the entitled generation,” who clearly give up so easily. Feeling entitled to have our works published, we’d simply give up when a publisher rejected us. We would lose hope and despair. We wouldn’t keep doggedly on, because we want instant gratification.

Now, clearly, this person was part of a different demographic. I do believe she’s some sort of author/writer—whether she is self-published or traditionally published, I don’t know. From her comments, you’d think the latter, but one never knows. I also don’t know how many books she has published or in what genre. So I must leave aside any commentary about her own career.

Disdain for Millennials Strikes Again

My concern really centers on the misconception of Millennials. We see this idea espoused everywhere: Millennials are bad. Millennials are lazy. They don’t want to work hard. Millennials want everything handed to them. They think it should be easy, and when it’s not, they go crying to Mommy and Daddy and expect them to fix everything.

I’m a Millennial myself. I know lots of Millennials. Maybe we come off as being entitled; I don’t really know. I do know I see a lot of my friends and age-group cohort struggling to get by in the age of precarious work and soaring housing prices. A lot of us are delaying marriage and kids, because we can’t afford a house, haven’t tacked down a steady job, are working stupid hours at multiple jobs, and are still shouldering stifling school debt. And this is not just “arts majors.” Every industry is incredibly competitive. I know people in marketing and business who are now working at hardware stores or grocery stores.

If You Wanted It, You’d Get It

Is it because Millennials just don’t want to work for a job? I don’t know. Myself, I applied to more than 100 positions. I have been working non-stop in my field for almost 10 years. I have a lot of experience in many capacities. Internships were how I “paid my dues.” I worked part-time to put myself through school, and then to supplement my income while I did those non-paid jobs. Afterwards, I was contract/freelance for four years. And then I finally had a full-time job. I finally went freelance because the job I had was taking a toll on my health, but I couldn’t find another, despite trying for a solid eight months. I had a handful of interviews—maybe five in total—over those months.

Was I doing something wrong? I have no idea. What I do know is that no one seemed interested—and those that were didn’t want to hire me because my experience warranted too much pay.

Welcome to the Gig Economy

Now, let’s turn this over to publishing specifically. When I couldn’t get another full-time job, I doubled-down on the bullshit neoliberal economy and went freelance. I am now my own employer. Lots of businesses encourage this; they prefer to hire a contractor per project, because it helps them keep their overhead down.

Copy editing departments have all but disappeared from publishing houses; it’s all farmed out to keep costs down. This isn’t the only industry that does this, either. Doing what I did isn’t considered a bad thing; in fact, it’s almost celebrated. Look at you, being all entrepreneurial. You’re a self-made woman! You’re in business for yourself. Nobody can tell you what to do.

We don’t hang out at Starbucks for the lattes; we’re there for the free WiFi because we can’t afford our own to do our work-from-home jobs …

That all sounds very positive, right? So we’re being fed this kind of rhetoric about how striking out on your own gets you away from the land of shitty managers and corporate bureaucracy. And it’s true, to an extent. There are plenty of bad things in corporations. But it’s sold to us as being a good thing—primarily because it encourages people to embrace the “gig economy,” wherein we’re left hopping from project to project, gig to gig, working ourselves to exhaustion in order to make ends meet.

Yet that’s sold as a good thing.

Are We Entitled?

So here we have a bunch of people who have been told that we should be in control of our own destinies. Who needs stuffy old companies anyway? They don’t understand us! They don’t understand the new way of doing things in the world.

Now look at traditional publishers and the rise of self-publishing. It’s the same logic. Why would I apply my novel to some stuffy old traditional publishers several times over, instead of just taking the opportunity to publish my own book? Then I have complete creative control—no editors telling me to change this or that, no publisher making my cover look like this, no marketing department trying to spin my work as the next Twilight or Harry Potter or Fifty Shades of Grey.

The Harry Potter series.

Although, if it makes as much money as Harry Potter …

Is that entitlement? I don’t really think so. Perhaps it’s impatience. But it’s also all these other things we’re told are so good, so great about the “gig economy”: I can exercise complete control, I make all the decisions, I make all the money. I am doing what’s good for me, not lining some stuffy publisher’s pockets. And those publishers clearly don’t understand the “new way” of doing things in the world.

Aren’t Some People Entitled?

Sure. But you know what’s interesting? I find that’s mostly older people. They don’t want to pay their royalties to a publisher, or they don’t think the publisher knows “art.” They think their work is great and that it deserves to be published.

I don’t see that mentality among Millennials quite as much. We’re simply more willing to look at different options. There’s not really a rhetoric about, “Well, my work is great and deserves to be published and Penguin just doesn’t know what they’re missing!” There’s a lot more “well, my work is very non-traditional, so I’m doubtful that a traditional publisher would pick it up.” There’s a lot more discussion about bringing our works to market faster.

And here’s a further question: Who’s fault is this? The technology wasn’t invented by Millennials, although we’re taking advantage of it. The people who brought about these changes are mostly older demographics who wanted to make more money. They’re the very people telling us we’re so goddamn entitled for “skipping” the line to publish a book.

Will Traditional Publishing Be Killed by Millennials?

Do Millennials still respect traditional publishing? Not necessarily—and that might be one reason we’re more willing to “skip” the line; we don’t see the value in being traditionally published versus self-published. We often point to both pros and cons for both.

If you had the technology, why not take advantage of it? The opportunity is there. Older people take advantage of POD technology and self-publishing as much as younger people. When they do “wait” for a traditional publisher, it’s because they believe that they will be able to produce a higher quality product (and at a lower cost), or because they still “respect” traditional publishing.

The reason the people of the past waited in line? Because it was the only option. If they really, really, really wanted to be published, you had to keep at it. These days, you can take your book over to Amazon or Bookbaby or Smashwords and be done with it.

That’s not entitlement. It’s taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves.

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