Thursday, October 1, 2009

Starve Artist, Starve!

How much is art worth?

I always like to understand an idea's evolution. This post comes by the way of Jeremy Brooks who sent me to this post from Amanda Effing Palmer, but the seed was planted when I read about author royalties at Galleycat a few weeks ago.

I quote from the comments:

Marvin11: "I think that writer [sic] make MORE than enough money"

PeterKing: "writers should be writing because of their love for the craft, not for the money"

I could go on...but you are all big people. Read for yourself.

So how much is an artist's work worth?

According to some, evidently a penny is too much. Personally, I'm not there yet...I can't and won't demand money for my work. I don't even expect it. The work (in my case writing/editing) is done first, and then maybe, if I'm fortunate, some editor at the Goat's Lunch Review might say "hey, let's print that guy's story and send him a copy and a free donut."

I will continue to write because I enjoy it. I really do...for now. But, if you expect that I'm going to spend thousands of dollars out of my pocket to make someone else money?

I will...only if my payoff is worthwhile. Personally, I favor the direct artist to fan model, but face it: distribution sucks. If I self-publish something, only a handful of people--maybe as many as a dozen, might buy a copy (and that's only after my mom picks up six). I can add value...something special to sweeten the deal (signatures, freebies, etc.), but if nobody sees the deal, it doesn't matter how sweet it is.

You can build a church (or website), but no guarantee people will worship (or visit).

So the big publishing houses have least the ability to help your book be seen by bookstores (they have the distribution channels--they can help it be "seen"). If an author works for a publisher (i.e., the book deal), the publisher is being paid by the author, not the other way around. Famous folk, even D-listers, land huge deals because publishers know they can make money on a D-lister byline. Even a silly celebrity will sell books because of a name. It's about making money, after all. Always has been with "middle men".

Artists create. Fans consume. Middle men do neither, but benefit from the creation/consumption cycle--their motivation is to feed the "beast".

For now, I'm satisfied being what the aforementioned Jeremy Brooks once called a "literary busker". Picture me with my open typewriter case, reading my stories on the street corner, hoping a few kind souls will toss in the latest copy of Goat's Lunch Review...maybe even a leftover donut.

Care to join me?


K.C. Shaw said...

I love the "literary busker" idea. It definitely feels like that sometimes--some days I write and write and end up making nothing, some days I end up with a nice little payment for something that came easy. I think part of the problem is that it's impossible to set a price on art that's really fair to both the artist and the art-consumer. I suspect that's part of why publishing is structured so oddly.

Mercedes said...

Sure, some people make enough from writing that they can live on it. Ultimately that is my dream...but I really don't see it happening. If somebody is writing for the money, they're definitely in the wrong profession! Unless they're doing romance or erotica. That's where the money seems to be, so I keep hearing. And being neither particularly romantic or erotic...*sigh* :P

Fox Lee said...

*reads Mercedes note*

Sweet Sam Lee in Hong Kong.... people who write yaoi must be millionaires!

Alan W. Davidson said...

I liked the "literary busker" line too. You know what, I love buskers and watch them perform on the street and throw money in their hats. Perhaps enought people want to hear your stories, sir.

Jamie Eyberg said...

I know a good street corner in Omaha, it is covered so we won't get wet. We might have to fight the violin player for it, but I think we can take her. ;)

Aaron Polson said...

K.C. - Publishing is a crazy train, for sure.

Mercedes - My romance/erotic would turn out all gory and wrong. There might even be tentacles. :(

Natalie - Whoot! Maybe you've found your calling.

Alan - I'd even juggle a flaming manuscript, if that would help.

Jamie - There's two of us. We *might* have a chance.

Katey said...

As a child of musicians who was raised in a theater and studied art-- er, yes. I think about this a lot. I think we need both artists and business people-- the middle-men who don't create, but benefit-- in a world where people are as disconnected as we are. But artist to consumer is always best. And if you're Radiohead, you know, that works.

You will be, though. So here's to that day!

Cate Gardner said...

I do think writers should be paid more than they are, but for me it's the joy of getting feedback on the strange things that come out of my head (good or bad).

If we start busking can I sing my stories? I should add I'm never in tune and people normally flee the room when I start singing but we write horror, right?

Aaron Polson said...

Katey - "in a world where people are as disconnected as we are" - maybe this crazy 'net thing can fix that? Dunno.

Cate - I'm right there with you on the feedback. I'll bring the earplugs, and we can make people pay for you to stop singing. ;)

Katey said...

It's getting us closer, but I don't know. Sometimes I think if it fixed it entirely I'd never write a damn thing. :D

Barry Napier said...


Still, in a year where Eli manning signed a 63 million dollar contract to play football, it makes you sort of angry how most "artists" aren't paid nearly as well.

I feel a rant coming on, so I will walk away now...

Jeremy D Brooks said...

I'm going to put on a suit and bowler, slather myself in gold paint and go sit on a bench in front of the Bellagio and write. Funny part is I'd probably make more in tips than I would off of selling the story.

Aaron Polson said...

Katey - Addicted to the struggle? Huzzah for the starving artists!

Barry - I'm no Eli Manning author, but it would be nice to be paid the league minimum. ;)

Jeremy - I'm sure you would. Every friday night, there's an old dude who honks out tunes on his sax at 7th and Massechussets streets downtown. He starts playing the Sesame Street theme when we walk by with the kids. I know he makes more money than I do. I'm okay with that.

I gave up the sax in 7th grade.