03 March, 2013


Yeah, I titled this Money.

Many of you might know that Amanda Palmer (aka AFP or Amanda Fucking Palmer), she who makes music, breathes art, and smooches Neil Gaiman on a regular basis, recently put out a TED Talk.

I love TED Talks. Just want to clarify that.

Anyway, AFP, in her Talk, explained how, to her, it's about connections. It's about trust. It's about believing the fans will be there, will help you, will let you sleep on their couch, and how they will support you (the artist) in all possible ways, including financially, even if (maybe especially if) you put the work out there for free.

Frankly, I believe this too.

Sort of.

Today, Chuck Wendig wrote an awesome blogpost (btw, it's actually very light on his usual conversational profanity) about AFP's TED talk and his own uncertain take on the whole trust/free concept.

Read it. Please. I'll wait. :)

Okay, y'all with me so far? TED talk about trust and connection, writery art versus musicy art, keeping food in your kid's belly, believing in fans, and so forth.

I am right there, in all of it. The good, the bad, the WTF is the answer?!? But my reasons and methodology (and internal issues) are, sadly, my own.

I, too, was raised to 'have a job' in a lower-income rural midwestern home. I absolutely am not saying I was ever told to put the art part aside. Heavens no, although while I was working as a graphic designer I was asked several times when I was gonna grow up and get a 'real job' as if dealing with clients and creating art on demand wasn't real work, but I digress. My dad was a professional musician on the weekends (weekdays he was a machinist) almost until his death, and my mother worked mostly in bookkeeping (the kind like accounting, not taking bets, ha ha) and other officey work until she finally retired a few years ago. My family is crammed tight with artists and musicians, even a comic. Some are professional (as in regularly getting paid), most are hobbyists (as in mostly not getting paid). I am, as far as I know, the only working writer, although my niece may have also been bitten by that particular bug. Time will tell. I do know that my daughter could be a far better writer than I am - she totally kicks my ass at storytelling - but has zero desire to sling words, just as I have zero desire to be a musician. Seen it, grew up with it. Thanks anyway, I'm not that crazy.

Ever meet my daughter, feel free to ask her if she wants to be a writer. That's pretty much exactly what she'll tell you. Hell no, I'm not that crazy.

Anyway, I came into this job - and it IS a job - knowing full well the pay sucks. Generally speaking, novelists put in months and months of work for little to no pay. Most books lose money, and few find an audience at all beyond close family and a few indulgent friends. It's a rarity to get the 'big advance' and rarer still to be a bestseller, let alone a consistently working, consistently paid writer.

I am blessed. I am. I've done the impossible, gone from rural nobody to published novelist. It can be done! But the being published part isn't why my work keeps showing me I'm blessed.

I'm blessed because my home life and my family is intact and flourishing, despite the madness of the job. I'm blessed because my husband makes enough for us to live on so I can chase this writing beast in my own oddball way. I'm blessed because I have fans and many - an astounding number - have become friends. I'm blessed because I'm working again (GoSpore!!) and it's looking pretty golden up ahead. I'm blessed that lots of people read and love my books. I'm blessed because I know that while plenty of folks have downloaded the free .pdf versions of my short stories (linky here) plenty more have paid a buck apiece so I can donate that money to charity. I've gone places and done things I never would have or could have done without writing the novels first. Made friends. Grew as a person. And on and on and on.

It's a grand thing. Truly. But - ain't there always a 'but'? - I struggle all the time with money issues. Not the money itself - shit, it's only money - but with, well, the morality of it all, especially me, my demons, and getting paid to slap them onto the page.

I listened to AFP's TED Talk misty eyed yet terrified because in some ways she's exactly like me, and in others totally opposite. I'm much closer aligned with Chuck overall, but I don't have his drive. I - through instinct or upbringing - find the concept of a KickStarter abhorrent. To me, it *is* like begging,  but also slimy and untrustworthy, like the character Wimpy in the Popeye cartoon: I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. My experience says, for most people, Tuesday never comes. Or it's like buying the 'mystery box', $30 value, for only $19.95. Yeah, the pile of lug nuts, disposable lighters, and clothesline rope might be worth $30, but if I don't need or want those things, you've swindled me out of twenty bucks.

It's like paying up front for a home repair only to be left high and dry with your kitchen gutted, or sending money to some guy from Nigeria, or that ever popular deed to the Brooklyn Bridge. That's how kickstarter feels to me. Always. Skeevy and just plain wrong, especially since my own output is often flaky, especially near a project's beginning.

That's not to say I haven't 'supported' a crowdfunding project or three - I have, for people I know, and only because I love them and want to help. I am a master at donations, got a PayPal button, count me in!!

But is that the way to run a writing business?

But, then again, when the pay is so craptastic and the chances of making a dime so low, why not? But what if the kickstarter doesn't produce the promised product? Or what if the project explodes and makes a crap-ton of money and everyone's thrilled? But it's gross and... eeew. But it's grasping the current social media fueled marketplace!

Round and round we go.

I don't write for the money, but it's nice when it comes. I fully intend to sell SPORE (under whatever title it ends up with) to a traditional publisher and I will do whatever I can to help it sell for enough to 'pay off' something. Anything. Shit, my Kohl's account even. I joke about Kohl's, but, still. The car. I'd love to pay off the car. Or my student loan (graduated owing more than I ever made in a single year as a graphic designer at a job I haven't worked in for a decade! Yay apparently endless student loan debt! Woot! You're awesome!!) Or even - gasp! - the house. OMG! Wouldn't that be amazing?!?

But, see, the book is done. I'm selling something that's finished, not a slippery concept I'm passing around like a vaporous collection plate at a fundraiser. It's a real thing that actually exists right now. Here it is! If you like it, make an offer! If you don't like it, that's cool, I'll schlep it across town for someone else to look at! Okthxbai! Sale or not, I would have written it regardless. The money comes after, not before.

Maybe that's my real problem with crowdfunding. Taking a bet the person on the other side will produce precisely what they promise to. Unlike the shady kitchen remodeler or the $20 bag of lighters and clothesline rope. Or me who still struggles to write the next Dubric book after seven freaking years.

I have to admit I have considered sort-of crowdfunding Stain of Corruption (should I ever get past the tangle in the !*@&$^% middle) but can you even do that with something that's finished? Hey, look, I have this thing and if you'd like to be one of the first to see - with maybe some special stuff tossed in before it's out for full release 2 months from now!! - here ya go, toss some coinage in my digital hat, okthxbai!  Shit, I dunno, I just do know I cannot fathom the regular crowdfunding way. At least not for me.

I totally understand why folks do it, why it works, and why it's a good thing. I do, so please don't send me hate mail. I just can't get myself past the 'eew' factor.

But, on the other side, I do give away the short stories and, frankly, I've given away gobs of books. I give away quilts. I share freely of my time and talents, which completely astounds and disgusts some people. I get that, too. We all have our quirks and requirements, I guess. We also have our own motivators and money is waaaaay down my list. In fact, it's likely to not even be on my list at all.

And, maybe, that's where I fail. I am much more prone to giving than asking.

So much to ponder as the marketplace - and distribution methods - rapidly change.

So how about you? How do you feel about asking for the money?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great article, Tambo.

Hmmm.. it certainly doesn't seem like it's for everyone, that's for sure.

Being a front person for a band, Amanda Palmer probably is confident enough to get past that "Eeeew, kinda feels like begging" thing that she admits to feeling.

It just depends on the person, I would guess. For anyone with a strong work ethic, it can feel not right getting money up front when there is no certainty of the project (whether it is a book, movie, CD, etc).

It can also depend on the project itself. If it's a movie or a CD with the chance of seeing a cool show by said band, that seems like that can get more people excited and ready to donate. With books... well, often books are more of a low-key thing (at least that is what I would guess most people would view books to be).

With any difficult choice, I would say listen to others that have gone through it (both good and bad experiences) and think about it for a while then listen to what your gut tells you. Often, that is the right decision for YOU.

Best of luck!