Monday, June 29, 2015

Why Independent Authors Need to Stop Seeing Themselves as Such



“I work harder than anyone I know. I work 100 hours a week. Don’t I deserve 25,000 dollars a year?”

Sure you do. If you actually do invest 14 hour days seven days a week—which, unless a lot of that comprises of staring at a blank screen, your production rate is extraordinarily low—then thinking you deserve a certain level of pay is understandable.

In the same way it’s understandable that you think you deserve to be loved, have food, and basic human respect.

But, here’s the kicker…

Lots of people work very hard and do not get paid the amount they should. Not just artists, but people of all kinds of careers: waiters, maids, and an extraordinary amount of small business owners.

Being an independent artist is not the same thing as being a high school student—where we promote potential and support them for encouragement and education’s sake. Being an independent artist does not mean you get an extra level of sympathy, does not mean readers are any more obligated to give you a chance, and certainly does not mean you work harder than others.

Now, most of us realize this, and yet there are so many self-published authors who don’t bother to be competitive, and then admonish their readers for not giving them “what they deserve.”

I’ve always said that marketing and polishing a self-published book is far more difficult than a traditionally published one, but that isn't a reason for readers to go out of their way to pay the salaries of those authors.

Many people work their asses off on things that fail. And when it comes projects outside of independent novels, you also have the hard work of many more people per work, plus a ridiculous amount of their money. It can be difficult to see that new television show that got canceled after four episodes being someone’s baby, something he poured his heart and soul into, but it probably is. It was also many of the actors' hope for a big break, along with the camera man, the other writers, and the director.

Sure, there are a lot of people, especially in Hollywood, who are apathetic about their projects, not taking anything seriously, and there are even times when everyone is hired to produce something not a single one of them cares about. But, usually there is one, if not more, who consider it “theirs,” and who has worked so hard with the hopes it would get off the ground.

Does that make you obligated to watch every television show just because it’s someone’s baby?

Many new businesses fail within the first two years. You’ll see people who spend their life savings, work 12 hour days, and beg and pray for it to work out, and yet have nothing to show for it except bankruptcy.

When an author suggests he works harder than anyone he knows, my response is, “I don’t think you’ve talked to them.”

This specific quote in the introduction was posted by a Facebook friend of mine in which she was being asked by some gentlemen if she would pay into his Kickstarter. When she argued with him, this was his response.

You do realize you are talking to a fellow author, right?

We know how hard you work because we too work hard and often have nothing to show for it. It’s hard to have sympathy for someone who suggests their time is more valuable than yours, who strongly believes that they’ve “earned it” more than you, despite having no idea how much effort you’ve put in.

And this is not the first time I’ve seen this comment.

As much as the logic make sense, and as much as I would like to help you out, you have to realize a few things:

-You are a business. And I can’t go buying everything to support every business. I can’t watch every movie or T.V. show made, I can’t purchase every book written, I can’t order from every artist on Etsy. I can’t be giving money to every person who deserves an income. Instead, I can support the artists who have a product I actually want to financially support.

You can’t just start doing random jobs that no one agreed to pay for and then be indignant no one wants to pay you.

If you can earn money through Crowdfunding, that’s great. But your predominate focus should be creating and marketing a book that gives readers something for their money. Don’t expect people to fund you just because you’re a starving artist. Expect them to fund you because they are genuinely interested in you continuing your work.

-You don’t know how hard other people work.

No, I don’t believe he invested 100 hours a week, mostly because he would be able to finish several first drafts in the course of that time.

My best daily word count has been 22,000 words, which, if I was able to focus and write constantly, would take me about four hours (Yeah right.) But let’s say he has a better sense of control than me. If he wrote books at the typical 80,000 words, that would mean that he’d be able to just about finish two whole drafts within a week’s time. Even if we were to contribute 10 hours to research, editing, and Facebook, the truth is, he should have a whole lot of books coming out quickly.

Secondly, having the free time to write for 100 hours a week is a gift. There are so many mothers and fathers who have to work, take that work home with them, take care of their kids, spend time with their wives and husbands, take care of their parents, volunteer at school functions, and have so many extra responsibilities that it’s impossible to imagine that they get anything done. And yet they do. Don’t those people deserve to be paid?

I spend a lot of time writing, blogging, editing, drawing, marketing, tweeting, Facbooking (which, yes, I do consider work), and just all around trying to make my career a success. I don’t have any other responsibilities now, and I still feel I work hard enough to deserve something. You can see why I might brace at your assertion I should pay you because you work harder than anyone.

-You should be focusing on your readers’ enjoyment or intellectual stimulation.

Part of the problem with paying someone for effort instead of result is that it doesn’t encourage the product to evolve. I would say, “get better,” but I don’t believe in linear quality of literature, and obviously there are times when the work that gets bought is not the one that impresses me the most.

But, no matter if you believe in playing the market or not, writing should be about giving the reader something. Sure, authors get something out of it—enjoyment, control, respect—but the audience needs to receive something for their buck, not just for the writer’s right to write.

It’s not so simple as you need to service your readers—only writing what they want to read—but there is something to be said for forcing a writer to tweak his work and pitch until the audience sees merit in buying his book, rather than asking us to accept him for who he is without any concern for what he’s giving.

-Work smarter, not harder.

If you’re spending so much time on your career and you’re not getting any money for it, than you need to change something.

It really doesn’t matter how hard you work on something; your audience doesn’t really care, nor should they. If you write an epic book that makes them think and feel on the first draft, then why the hell would you arbitrarily put more hours into editing it? You’d ruin it. If you spent years on something that is boring and trivial, then I am under no obligation to read it.

Sometimes it’s not the amount of effort, but the actual thoughts that go into a book. Instead of arguing that the effort should mean something, think of alternative tactics to getting what you want. If you're working hard for little reward, then maybe you're putting your energy in the wrong place.

-You are no longer a child, and you don’t want to be.

People come see a child’s play to support him, not to enjoy themselves. They don’t expect him to be good, and would be considered assholes for being honest about not liking it. Our community (modern America) is a child-serving one. We go out of our way just to give children opportunities, to encourage them. This is all a good thing, but it does teach many a sense of entitlement when it comes to following our dreams.

As an adult, you no longer have people service your goals, but rather need to find a means so that your goals service their needs.

In a way, it’s a good thing, because while people give more support to children, we look down on them, disrespect them, and refuse to take their art seriously.

Now that you’re a big boy, you get the option to prove yourself. But you also have the obligation to prove yourself as well. No more billionaires funding a play just so you can star in it. Not unless you're lucky.

There are many fantastic traditionally published books out there. Just because yours is independent doesn’t mean you’ve worked harder, care more, or the ideas are better. Just because you’re alone, struggling, and yet determined doesn’t obligate readers to buy or like your book. Just because you’re an artist doesn’t mean your product can be ineffective.


Sell your book on its merits, its ideas, its importance to the people who read it, not on the work that went into it, and remember that, though you do have to put in more work than those with more money and support (and you should be proud of that), it doesn't make your book necessarily better or more entitled to being bought.