Thursday, October 4, 2018

Being a "Po-Fessional" Author

We're all familiar with the idea of Schrodinger's Cat, right? We live on the Internet, this is a thing we've heard of? Well, for those who need a refresher it's essentially a thought experiment. You place a cat in a box with a source of radiation, and a flask of poison. When a Geiger counter detects radioactivity, the poison is opened, and it should kill the cat. However, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics says that as long as you cannot observe the results the cat may exist in two states at once, both dead and alive. Because quantum physics gets silly when you take it too far.

When you're a minor league creative professional, you also exist in a strange double state. On the one hand, you are a known professional who produces quality work. On the other hand, you also live below the poverty line. I have come up with a term for this... the Po-fessional.

When one remains in a quantum state of valuable, yet unpaid.

Being Broke In The Time of Demand

We live in a world where it is more possible than any other time in history to be a professional creator, but which is also ironically one of the hardest times to make a living with that trade. Everyone wants art to grace their walls, books to read, comics to enjoy, and music to listen to. Not only that, but there's big money in becoming a YouTube star, in writing Amazon's next big Create Space sensation, or in running a podcast that attracts a huge audience.

There are a lot of artists doing all of these things as we speak. They're putting their time, their sweat, and their passion into making something for other people to enjoy. And you know something? Most of them aren't making any real money from it.

"How is that possible?" you may ask.
Well, a big part of it is because the corporations who make the real profits while providing so many platforms (Amazon, Google, etc., etc.) specifically set things up so that they get the biggest benefits, while giving the creators a pittance. I talked about some of this in Writers on YouTube? Prepare For An Uphill Battle a few weeks back, and it's a prime example of moving the goal posts so that creators have to work even harder (for free) before they "earn" the right to be monetized. Another reason is because passive earning mechanisms that worked in the past (mostly ads) are being ignored/blocked by readers, which means that the kind of traffic that would once have generated a fairly livable wage is now worth bare pennies. A perfect example is how last week's post Fantasy Writers, If You're Just Changing Something's Name, Don't Bother generated about 16,000 views in a few days... all of which earned your humble author about two shiny dimes in ad revenue. Once upon a time, that would have been close to $50. You add in fees that many platforms charge on creator earnings, and the fact that a lot of clients simply don't have the budget to offer creators anything remotely close to professional rates, and you have a situation where businesses get paid even when the artists don't.

This means that, now more than ever, creators depend on our audiences to help support our projects. We depend on you to look at our stuff, share it around, and to help fund us through tips and donations (such as through The Literary Mercenary's Patreon or Ko-Fi pages). We also depend on you to understand and appreciate that we have bills to pay, and that we are working hard to make things that you will value. To know that you, more often than not, are the only reliable paymasters we have since corporate backing, sponsorship, and even ad revenue rarely amounts to much these days.

It's A Tough Situation To Crawl Out Of

Note that, earlier in this post, I referred to myself and other creators like me as minor league. We're good enough to be paid, and for people to acknowledge that we have some skill, but not good enough to demand the kinds of salaries that major league creators are given. We don't get $50,000 advances, VIP treatment at conventions, and we don't have inboxes crammed with big businesses looking to secure our talents.

Why? Well, because we haven't actually succeeded yet.

That's the Catch-22 of this whole thing. If you want to get to that point where you get the kind of wages that can sustain your life while you create, you have to prove that you can still sell gangbusters without that kind of support. It's insane, but there it is. With so many creators out there, companies can pick and choose who they want to back. So if you're a YouTube creator, you aren't going to start getting those posh checks until you've proven you can bring in 50,000+ views on every video you produce. If you're an author, you don't get publishers willing to make a deal until you've already got a big audience clamoring for new titles. Etc., etc.

So, the next time someone makes a thing you like, keep that in mind. If you can afford to, buy some of their merch, or make a donation to their fund. For example, you can get my books (like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife) on My Amazon Author Page. If you can't afford to help that way, then leave them a nice comment, like and share the thing you saw, and tell your friends about them. It helps a lot more than you can imagine, trust me on that.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. If you like it, please share it with the folks you know who need to hear this particular message. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive. To follow my work, hit me up on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! And if you want more of my work, check me out on Amazon.

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