You wouldn't know it to look at my royalty checks, though.
|This is $10 and one gun more than I made in royalties last year.|
We need to stop using that phrase. Why? Well, I'll tell you why.
The Double Standard
Calling someone a starving artist or a struggling artist might be accurate, but it's also putting them in a box. If someone is a painter, or an author, or a steel sculptor there's no need to put a qualifier before it. Defining someone by the art form he or she practices is enough. By calling attention to the person's lack of financial success all the speaker is doing is invoking the double standard of the art world.
|The who with the huh?|
If an artist does get noticed, and manages to achieve success that can also lead to self-sustaining cycles which are referred to by laymen as "the Big Break". Artists which make a lot of money like rock stars or bestselling authors are judged to be "good enough" for their success because if they weren't then why would so many people pay them for what they produce?
This reasoning shows up in bookstores all the time. People buy bestsellers not because they like the author, or even because they know what the book's about; it's the idea that a book which sold 100,000 copies must be worth something. This logic flaw goes both ways though, which is why if an author hasn't sold a lot of books people may make the assumption he or she simply isn't good enough. We assume an author's previous sales reflect his or her talent, and it's why no one feels bad judging creative professionals they see as struggling.
The True Secret to Success
What really makes an author successful? What puts food in the pantry and pays the rent check every month? What's the big secret of success that divides the struggling from the commercially successful?
|Yes, even this guy.|
You want to know how quickly that can happen? How fast someone can go from a struggling nobody to a celebrated master in a genre? The answer to that is Clive Barker.
Today people know Clive as a painter, a director, an author, and a master of horror. Once upon a time though he was a fairly fresh author with a book of short stories that was tanking badly on the British market. "The Books of Blood" is famous now, but there was a solid chance it was going to fade into total obscurity. Except that one reader thought it was pretty goddamn good, and he said so.
That reader was Stephen King.
Practically overnight the sales of the book skyrocketed, and what had looked like a half-sunk career with maybe one or two more books in it became a titan in the horror genre. Did King's opinion change the words in the book, or alter the intent that Barker wrote them with? Did his approval magically transform a struggling author into a bestseller?
No. The readers did.
The Moral of the Story
The point I've been trying to make is that all of us are authors. We put words on a page for the enjoyment of readers. By separating us into successful authors and struggling authors we are being labeled in ways that can and do affect our careers. Do people want to read the latest release from a "struggling" author? Probably not. Would they be interested in a "local" author? How about a book written by a "horror" author, or a "science fiction" author? That sort of labeling plays less on the heart strings, and more on a reader's curiosity.
Secondly, just because someone isn't on the bestseller list doesn't mean there isn't a great story waiting between those covers. I'm not saying you should just throw aside your favorite writers to start snatching up everyone you've never heard of, but just keep in mind that the number of 0's on a check doesn't necessarily mean what you're buying is a well-written story. Not that you didn't already know that of course, but it bears repeating.
Third, if you really want to help then take a lesson from Mr. King. The greatest compliment you can pay to an author is to tell someone else how great his or her book was. Leave a review on Amazon, make a post on a forum, put up your favorite quote on your FB page, or just talk to your mom and dad over coffee about this fantastic tale you couldn't put down. By doing that, and doing it honestly, you might be the first pebble of an author's own, personal avalanche.
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