The System Is Dead
by Justin Blaney
News broke recently that The Cuckoo’s Calling,
a novel by unknown author Robert Galbraith, was actually written by JK Rowling, a little known billionaire who wrote a story about some tosser named Harry Potter. The Cuckoo’s Calling had sold a mere 500 copies over 2 1/2 months, but rocketed to #1 in every category on Amazon, including fresh groceries within hours of Rowling’s secret coming out. Oddly enough, the Harry Potter series sells exactly 500 copies every time Emma Watson cuts her hair shorter.
Though it seemed obvious to everyone that The Cuckoo’s Calling was a great story, it was selling about as well as a PHD dissertation on bird watching. Great reviews, which the book had in abundance, were not enough for the book to catch on. One editor, who rejected the manuscript, recalled that the writing was quite good, but the novel didn’t stand out. A reviewer on Amazon opined that the book was so well written, she would not be surprised if we discover some day that it was written by a famous author. Rowling’s secret may have been discovered because the book’s prose was so self-assured that some readers couldn’t believe it was written by a freshman author.
So if the book is great, why wasn’t it selling more?
Because without her name, Ms. Rowling was reduced to mere mortal status, subject to the same broken publishing system that plagues authors, bookstores and readers everywhere. And don’t put all the blame on editors and agents. You try to pick a bestseller from a stack of manuscripts as tall as the B.F.G.
The publishing industry’s problems are just the first page of a very bad novel. Take a look around and you’ll find a lot of systems are broke.
Consider the system we trust to bring us great movies (which cost $17 a ticket and are rarely worth the price of popcorn, which, ironically, also costs $17).
Then there’s the system we trust to bring us great music (1% of which is bioengineered by Carly Rae Jepsen’s agent to become a #1 single, the other 99% is filler, bioengineered by the ghost of Steve Jobs to waste space on your iPod so you have to upgrade to the 32gb version).
Or how about the system we trust to educate our children. We spend $10,000 per raggy-head-of-hair on public education while 25% of students aren’t graduating high school. You can’t even get a job cleaning gum off the handrails at Six Flags without a master’s degree. And 10,000 bucks? You could buy your little rug rat a desk in the world’s best prep schools for that much money and you’d still have enough to get your family’s name imprinted on a brick in the school gymnasium.
Don’t even get me started on the system we trust to govern us. In the United States, our government debt has reached $250,000 for an average family of five. Europe and Asia aren’t doing any better. I could buy a lot of bricks with my name on it for that much money.
It’s like we’re all playing Parcheesi in a burning building, arguing about whose turn is next.
What should we do about all these broken systems?
Same thing you do in a fire. Curl into a ball and stay still—-no, that’s a bear attack. In a fire, you locate the nearest exit and run.
I’m not talking about colonizing Mars–although that would be pretty cool–I’m talking about creating your own system. One where you’re in charge. If the world’s rules aren’t working for you, starting making up your own.
Do you remember in 3rd grade during recess when that obnoxious redhead kid was losing at foursquare and he tried to change the rules so he could win? That’s what I’m talking about. Except in real life, you don’t have to lose for him to win. Everyone can win. Because you’re not playing against other people, you’re playing against yourself.
The system tells you to wait for that publisher to call you back and offer you a contract– that’s what the system told the author of Harry Potter when she didn’t use her real name. But when you’re making your own rules, you build your own audience and you have a lot more fun doing it because no one is giving you impossible deadlines or designing covers with a blonde when your book is about a brunette.
You can’t trust your employer to keep you on staff when it’s downsizing time. You can’t trust your schools to teach your kids everything they need to know. You can’t trust your grocery story to sell you foods that are healthy. You can’t trust your government to do your retirement planning for you. You can’t even trust your dishwasher to clean the dishes! Or, maybe that’s just my dishwasher.
It’s impossible to win a game that doesn’t have all the pieces.
Create your own game where you make the pieces up as you go. Find friends who love and support you instead of tearing you down. Learn what you need to learn. Get out of bed. Turn off the TV. Put your phone on mute and hide it under your pillow for a day. You may not be able to become anything you want, but you can become more than you are. You may not be able to do anything you want, but you can do more than you are. It takes work. And patience. And more work. And more patience. And sometimes a bit of luck. And good friends.
You’re the only person in this world who is going to make it happen. I, for one, find that very reassuring.
So what have you been waiting for? What systems do you trust that continually let you down? What steps are you going to take to stop trusting those systems and start making your own rules? I look forward to hearing from you. Please leave your comments at the bottom of this page!
About the author
Justin Blaney is the #1 bestselling author of Evan Burl and the Falling. He’s a blogger at JustinBlaney.com and I4J.org, the creator of Isfits, and a film producer with Inkliss. He lives outside Seattle with his wife and three daughters. Connect with Justin on Facebook, Twitter or Youtube.