Last week, I talked about what I’ve learned from my favorite how-to freelance book, The Freelancer’s Survival Guide by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. The week prior to that, I shared 4 things I’m doing as a working writer.
Now that I have a writing-as-business theme going, I’m going to continue it.
Back when I first self-published Shattered, I had little clue about how to go about running my brand-new business. Luckily, I stumbled on to another of my favorite art business resources, this time by author and artist M. C. A. Hogarth. She uses three cartoon jaguars to illustrate business principles, first in her columns and most recently in a webcomic. What I love about Hogarth’s approach is that she puts both the right and left sides of the brain to work for the professional artist.
Hogarth separates the roles of a working artist into three: Artist, Marketer, and Business Manager (hence, the three jaguars). This trichotomy (oh look, it’s actually a real word) makes it easier to put needed walls between the various roles–and also the doors that act as communication channels between them.
Hogarth has a ton of great insights, but my single biggest takeaway from her columns (we’re talking about fireworks going off in my head, people) is this one.
Every artist should internalize this principle–preferably before you bring your work into the marketplace (or else the economic realities might well crush your very soul).
Every piece of art–a one-of-kind costume, a story, a musical composition–has inherent value. Its value is in what it means to the artist and/or the emotional response it evokes in someone who experiences it. This is not a value you can put a dollar price on.
However, what you put on the marketplace is not art, but a product. A short story that sells to an anthology is a product. A song available as a digital download is a product. The handmade doll on the vendor’s table at the Renfest is a product. And products are subject to economic realities like demand and supply to determine their prices.
Making that distinction is helpful because it separates artistic merit (or value) from monetary compensation. It keeps the Artist part of you from sinking into a funk because you put the novel that took you a year to write on sale for 99 cents. It keeps you from tying your artistic identity too closely to sales and money.
It also helps to realize, as Hogarth explains in a different column, that a single piece of art can be the basis of many products.
Before reading the three jaguars columns, I had the attitude that once I sold a story, it was gone. First rights had been all used up, and there was nothing else I could do with it. If I was very very lucky, and the stars were aligned just so, an editor might
ride up on a white horse contact me for reprint rights, but I wasn’t holding my breath.
Hogarth’s examples showed me how limited my thinking was.
Today, thanks in large part to a changing industry, I can create many different products from that one short story I sold to the anthology. I could bundle it with other short stories and sell it on Amazon. I could license its audio rights to a podzine. I could have it translated into different languages. I could sell it to a magazine that accepts reprints.
Each time that one story is re-released in a different format or venue. One story becomes many products.
I’m currently serializing Quartz, a science fantasy set in a sunless world, using the same model Hogarth uses for her serials. Quartz updates weekly on Tuesdays, but a $5 donation gets you an extra episode on Saturday. Once the serial is run, I’m going to have it formatted into an e-book and put it up on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo and all. Someday, I might even hire a narrator to do an audio version. One story becomes three products–each reaching a different market.
This concept also takes the pressure off me as an artist. I’m working on increasing my productivity (mainly by plugging my biggest leak, the Internet), but I can also enlist my Marketer’s help in finding new places for my existing work. Artist’s output may vary from month to month, but it’s the Marketer’s job to impose regularity in the production schedule.
All of Hogarth’s columns are well worth the read. Also be sure to catch the webcomic’s current storyline about why any artist being paid for her work needs to pay attention to the business side of things. It could save you a world of trouble.