Before I get into the meat of this post, a little background information is necessary.
I finished my novel. Yes, I know, finally. You can pick your jaws up off the floor. Only took… how many years? Eight? Nine? Regardless, I finally finished it. Or at least the first draft. I’m editing it (slowly), and eventually plan on self-publishing it once I get it cleaned up, proofed, get some Alpha Readers to look at it, etc. and so forth. That’ll probably take a couple of months. In the meantime, I’ve cranked out a short science-fiction story that I’m revising and plan on publishing once I get it all cleaned up. That should only take another 2 weeks or so.
My initial plan with the short (which I’m calling Lifeblood) was to self-publish it via Kindle Direct Publishing for $0.99 since I thought I’d only make a pittance selling it to a magazine while I’d earn 70% royalties from Amazon. That plan hit a snag when I actually did some research and ran the numbers. Turns out that I’d make a great deal more selling it to a magazine than I’d first anticipated (at least 3-4 times more), and in order to qualify for KDP’s 70% royalty program, you have to price your work between $2.99 and $9.99. A 13,000-ish word short story is not, IMO, worth $2.99, especially not a first story from a brand-new author. I’d earn KDP’s standard 35% royalty rate if I publish the story for $0.99, but that’s still half of what I’d anticipated. Long story short, I realized that I’d almost certainly earn more money by selling the story to a magazine rather than publishing it myself on KDP, which was the opposite of what I’d been expecting.
So my question became do I want to earn more money all at once, but a couple months down the road and if a magazine buys my story at all, or earn less money and spread over a long time, but starting much sooner and with a guarantee that it will actually happen. I voiced this question to a family member about a week ago, hoping to get some advice or at least an opinion. Instead, the response I got was:
But if writing really is your passion, you shouldn’t be doing it for money, right?
Or something to that effect. It was a couple days ago, and I’m running light on sleep (blame a neurotic dog who misses his Mommy) and heavy on caffiene. But the point made was that since I love to write, getting paid to do so should not be a concern. The statement wasn’t made with malice, but rather out of honest ignorance and with genuine curiosity. And I agree with the statement, to a point: writing is my passion because I love to do it and love being creative and not because I want to be able to sleep on a pile of hundred dollar bills (though I admit that would be nice), but at the same time, virtually every artist does ultimately want to get paid for their work.
I think my family member’s remark was born from the fact that our society has come to romanticize (and probably over-romanticize) the starving artist. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. What’s romantic about having to chose between paying a month’s rent and buying another week’s worth of Ramen noodles to put in your otherwise-empty pantry? Or, as in my case, having to still live with your parents long after the rest of your college friends have found “real” jobs and at the very least moved into their own apartments?
And before y’all jump on my case, yes, I know that old maxim, “Art Requires Sacrifice.” And I agree with it: it gfmeans dedicating time and energy to your craft even when you fervently want to be doing something else. There are days when I desperately want to go to the shooting range, for example, or go to the movies, or watch a DVD, but don’t because I know that I need to make progress on my novel and/or Lifeblood. Incidentally, I haven’t been to the range in months. In fact, it’s been so long that I’m not sure I remember what burnt powder smells like.
Art requires time, and effort, and passion, and artists who invest those three things into the creation of something new and wonderful should be lauded and respected. But at the same time, artists shouldn’t be criticized or shunned for wanting to be rewarded for their time, effort, and passion. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first to call out an author (since that’s the field I know best) who turns out nothing but dreck and to hell with quality, because all that matters to them is a paycheck. I do that because they’re obviously not investing any meaningful time, effort, or passion into their product. They don’t care about their audience: just their audience’s money. A real artist wants their work to inspire their audience, or at least make them happy for a brief, shining moment. But the unfortunate truth is that an audience’s happiness alone won’t put a roof over an artist’s head or food on their table. So getting payed for their work is, for good or bad, a necessity.
Yet our society doesn’t seem to understand that. And certain segments of society seem to reject that notion outright: that any artist who receives compensation for their work isn’t really an “artist.” I’m mainly referring to those hard-core hipsters who only listen to indie musicians who self-publish their own albums, and immediately reject those same musicians when they “sell out” by accepting a contracts from a mainstream recording studio.
I have a reality check for those hipsters: pretty much any indie artist who has the opportunity to “sell out” and “go mainstream” is going to take it. They’re going to take it because it means they’ll be able to focus more of their energy into creating their art rather than worrying about how they’re going to be able to afford to do so. The indie garage band won’t have to worry about having to pay for professional studio time to record their album, or buying dozens/hundreds of blank CDs to burn copies of that album. Their record label will take care of all that now. The self-published author won’t have to worry about how many print-on-demand copies to purchase, or how she’s going to be able to afford them, or how much to charge for them, or how to market and sell them. Her publishing house will take care of that.
I’ve heard those hard-core hipsters point to the Great Masters, like Michelangelo, da Vinci, Mozart, Beethoven, etc., in defense of their position. Again, reality check: they all got paid for their work, and payed rather handsomely at that. And what’s more, some of their works weren’t even their own ideas. Michelangelo, for instance, didn’t just walk into the Sistine Chapel one day, look up at the roof, and think to himself, “I want to paint that.” No, the Catholic Church came to him and said, “We want you to paint the roof of the Sistine Chapel. This is what we want it to look like, this is the deadline we’re assigning you, and this is how much we’re going to pay you. Will you take the job?” And part of the reason Michelangelo said yes was probably because he needed the money.
A true artist pursues his craft because they thrive on expressing their creativity every chance (s)he gets. But at the same time, we generally prefer to sleep indoors and on a bed rather than outside on the cold, hard dirt. Which is why we like to get paid. We’re not being greedy, or selling out, we just want to be able to survive by doing what we love.
We like to eat, same as you.
Also, in case you’re wondering, I ultimately decided to publish Lifeblood on KDP. I’d rather not wait several months to maybe get paid, especially since I’m still between jobs at the moment. I’ll let y’all know when it finally goes live: probably in about 2 to 3 weeks or so.