Posted by Tee Morris
It doesn’t matter what the profession — public speaker, audio engineer, musician, writer, artist — there is a trend that if you want to be a professional creative, you’re better working independently. You are truly a working artist when you are free of agencies, publishers, or labels.
That is all well and good, but there is something to be said about being an artist and being a successful working artist. Sure, the battle cries of “Take control of your artistic career! Do it yourself!” and “Stick it to the Gatekeepers!” sound seductively empowering, but you might be destined for disaster if you don’t know what you are doing. Across a decade of writing, editing, and book layout, and reflecting on another lifetime where I was a professional actor, I’ve collected a few considerations for any artist — new or seasoned, corporately or independently creative — to keep in mind when it comes to managing a career.
1. Accept the fact that no matter how good you think you are, you need an objective critic. There are some authors I’ve met who have a real resentment when it comes to editors, and I can even think of one or two editors who have voiced their disdain for successful writers. I have always been a writer who respects the editor as well as the editorial process. Why? Because I know when I get to writing, I get attached to a story so objectivity is chucked out of the window. When you’re a creative you are human, making it difficult to take a harder, critical look at what your creativity hath wrought. Objectivity is not a curse or an unnecessary delay on your work. With the right critical point-of-view, your work becomes a diamond cut from a creative rough.
2. Giving Your Creative Work Away for Free (or Even for 99¢) Should Have a Plan behind It. So how often have you been asked to give a presentation in exchange for great exposure? How about creating a blog or website in exchange for compensation of equal value? And how about giving away your writing online for free in order to build an audience? Back in 2005, I was one of the strongest supporters of free fiction. Now, over eight years later, I’m still a big advocate for giving ficiton away for free, provided there is a plan behind it.
Giving away free works has proven successful for writers like Scott Sigler and Cory Doctorow, but for whom else has this tactic worked? Even as author Chuck Wendig points out in his “Making Sense of 99 Cents” blogpost, it’s not the best strategy to price everything the same. Free can work as part of a larger plan, but remember when you are building a brand be it for a production or for yourself, you are placing a value on your creativity. Don’t short change yourself.
3. Some People Will Never Want to Pay for Your Work. In a recent episode of The Shared Desk, around 28:38, I made a really dumb remark: “A little bit of book piracy is okay.” I said this before receiving the Google Alert notifying me that The Case of The Singing Sword: A Billibub Baddings Mystery was being torrented. Not the podcast, mind you. A PDF of the print book.
So, to be clear here — a novel I am already giving away for free in audio was being pirated.
I also made that less-than-thought-out statement before I wrote this article on why I did not want people to pirate my book
The business model you set for yourself needs to include boundaries for your work and how you deal with Internet Entitlement.
4. Consider a Double Life for Your Career. My wife, author Philippa Ballantine, is insisting I use here her “Many streams make a river…” quote when talking about an artist’s income. In between developing creative works for a corporate setting, why not create your own brand as an independent artist?
Is it possible? With patience, time, and a strategy, yes.
Breaking into the mainstream can open doors that still remain closed to smaller to the independent; but being independent does offer a maverick freedom as well as valuable lessons in building a brand. I have been published in both mainstream (Wiley, Que, HarperCollins) and independent (Dragon Moon, and my own Imagine That! Studios) channels; and while it is extra time invested in the independent label, I’ve been able to leverage the independent work in order to promote the mainstream work.
The creative independent is not only possible, it is a reality; but there is a method to the madness. At the center of this methodology is patience and time. Financial success does not happen overnight. You invest time in researching your art, time to create, and time to produce. Be prepared to also spend time in finding out if your investment is indeed working. There’s no magic formula for success, but you will know when your investment is coming to fruition.