NOTE: This is the sixth in a series of several posts David Nygren of The Urban Elitist and I have been cross-blogging concerning the issue of authors (whether traditionally published, e-published, or self-published) actually getting paid for their work.
And it’s my final entry because after reading David’s interview with Tao Lin, I’m tired. Don’t get me wrong. Doing this series has forced me to take a good look at what I’m doing and why. Because of all the things converging on the world at the same time, I have been forced to take a candid look at my resources and limitations with regard to A) putting my art out there to begin with and B) getting paid for it. It would seem to me that David’s list of what you have to do to get read, much less paid, can be boiled down to 1 starting point:
Until you do, you won’t get read. Until you’re read, no one has a reason to pay you for your work, much less your writerly ephemera and dross.
This takes marketing.
This takes time. Lots of it. As Paul said over at Publishing Renaissance,
There is a time limiting factor, people expect you to pay as much attention to their work as they are paying to yours. Many people will only continue to read or comment on your bloggedy blog if you read and comment on theirs. As a result a kind of whirlpool effect is generated, a lot of time and energy expended for very little reward.
Well, I don’t know about looking for reward, but in our heart of hearts, that is the goal, no?
I hang out and comment on a lot of industry blogs: writer, publisher, agent, etc. My name-link in the comments section is an opportunity for someone to click and find me, even though I’m simply participating and not actively selling. But I’m selling. I HATE that. Every single day, something knocks on the door of my brain and says, “Why are you marketing to writers and industry people? Writers have their own projects and if publishers and agents wanted you, they’d’a said so when you were querying.” Every single day, I have the same epiphany:
Go where the readers are.
Well, where the hell are they?
The minute I started to answer that question for myself, the economy tanked, and I had the startling epiphany:
They’re in the financial doghouse, like everybody else.
Well, okay. Maybe I should just be grateful my (non-publishing) business has some income. The fact of the matter is, I invested in a leisure time industry (well, two, but that’s a different story). Right now, folks are trying to put gas in their cars to either get to work or get to job interviews. We’ve been extraordinarily lucky thus far, but those around us haven’t. If I think twice about buying a book or an e-book, it’s very likely others will, too.
I recently got active (well, semi-active) on Twitter and every time I log on, I wonder why I waited so long. I love Twitter. I love it far more than blogs and fora. It’s the methadone for my chronic IRC and Usenet withdrawal (even though I do have a really really good newsgroups provider and I hang onto mIRC like a fiend). When I tweeted my frustration with Amazon and that I feel my presence on Amazon is solely as marketing and visibility, and NOT as a revenue stream, I got this:
Along with the book marketing advice I’ve sometimes seen given: “The best marketing is to write another book, build your backlist,” this had me thinking for days.
About my limitations as a writer/publisher/marketer.
About my limitations as a writer.
About my limitations as a mother and wife.
About my limitations as a business owner (other than publishing).
About my obligations and priorities, to whom I owed what first.
About that little economic concept called opportunity loss.
The sad fact of my life is that I’m not a sales person and I don’t think creatively about ways to market. Tao Lin’s creativity in this knows no bounds, yet it stymies me, even when it’s laid out in detail. Every single new idea that comes to my attention seems like a chore of enormous proportions, adds to my to-do list, and takes the joy out of writing and, moreover, out of meeting people because I start to think of them as sales targets and my web stats start to become the measure of my worth.
Do I want to monetize my art? Yes, I do. I surely do want to make money doing what I love, but I have had to come to terms with the fact that I probably won’t, or at least, not anytime soon. I not only don’t enjoy marketing, I find it drains my energy for anything else in my life I could or should or want to be doing because I’m always chasing that next sale. It decreases my enjoyment in online and real-life interactions.
As an independent, I can be in this game for as long as I want; I have no restrictions other than whatever my resources allow. I can afford the time to wait out the economy, to build the backlist, to interact with a community of people who like my books.
But in the end, it only boiled down to one thing: I had to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to close my main business and write full-time. Not now. Maybe not ever. I had to decide that if the best I can do is make the books pay for themselves and give that many people a good read, then I have to be at peace with that.
Monetizing art? It’s a gamble at best, especially with the roadblocks in the way: market saturation, financial doom’n’gloom, loss of leisure time and money, changing technologies. But it’s not like most of us are going to stop doing the art. I’m not. David’s not. Tao Lin’s not. Zoe, Kel, Robin, J.M. Reep, and Ara aren’t. Scalzi and Wheaton and Gennita Low aren’t.
My instincts say to me, “Mojo,” they say, “a lot of people have paid money for your book and they like it and they want more. Ultimately, your loyalty should be to them, and what you owe them is another book and, if you’re feeling generous, a whole multi-media playground in this world you’ve built.”
Eventually, the economy will cycle around again (economies are cyclical, though it seems everyone forgets that), people will have money, and they will spend on leisure activities. In that time, I will have built my backlist and my world so that those people who find me and want to immerse themselves in what I’ve created will be able to pay for it.
So what have I come to? It’s simple really:
Work at the money-making business I’ve got.
Patient? you hoot. Yeah, in this society, whatever.
If the only real resource you have is time, use it.