Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why Do People Hate Artists Who Expect To Be Paid?

Conventions are one of my favorite things. I get to meet readers and other writers, sit in the green room with guests of honor, and hold forth during panels. I also get to see friends I only see during cons, and I get to write all of it off on my taxes. This past November was my second year at Windy Con in Chicago, and overall I had a great experience. It was also the first time that I had someone decide to hold up their opinion flag and wave it vigorously at me.

Opinions are like dicks; glad you've got one, I don't need it in my face.
Generally speaking when I'm at a convention people don't decide to walk up to my table and harangue me about how I'm doing my job wrong. Part of it's because I'm affable, friendly, and there to have fun. Part of it is that I'm a white male dressed in combat boots and weighing in at about 225 pounds. Putting both halves together means that I don't have to deal with problems the way some of my fellow authors and artists do when someone decides to inform them they aren't being a proper artist/author/filmmaker/painter/etc. In this instance an individual who is a former editor of a major publisher decided to pick up the book from my table (Sidekicks by Alliteration Ink which you can check out here), then snort at my business card. He then proceeded to talk down to me about how real authors do it for the love of the craft, and about how if you're just doing it for money then you've got no business being an author.

I smiled politely, nodded in the pauses, and eventually he grew tired and moved on.

Show Me The Money

There are two reasons I bill myself as the Literary Mercenary. One, it's pretty goddamn catchy. When you make most of your connections at cons and big events you need something that's quick and easy to remember, and that handle has proven to be a great advantage for not being forgotten. The second reason is that I'm a professional, and I expect to be paid for the work that I do. I make no apologies for expecting cash on the nail if someone wants me to put words on the page for them.

Is this the emblem of someone that works for exposure?
If I was an accountant or a blacksmith no one would be surprised. In fact I doubt I'd ever have to remind people that they have to pay for my services with real money if I wasn't a creative professional. But I am, and as a result I meet a lot of people who are interested in what I do until they realize that I'm not just going to give it away willy-nilly.

And I know I'm not the only one.

Problems With Pomplamoose

Pomplamoose is an indie music duo who recently posted the breakdown of their yearly finances. The point was to illustrate where money goes, and why touring really isn't a smart move if you're not a superstar. Instead of empathy for the artists who have to stretch budgets and try to make a living on very little though, Pomplamoose was blasted. Why were they paying back up singers so much money? Shouldn't those singers have just been happy to be on stage with a successful band? Why did light designers and sound techs get paid money for a job a computer could do? And so on and so forth, essentially demanding to know why the band had chosen to pay other professionals the value of their work rather than keeping all the cash for themselves. If they'd taken advantage of other creative professionals and given them pennies on the dollar, or paid them in sandwiches and "exposure," they would make a real living. Or Pomplamoose could charge less for the overall endeavor, enabling more fans to enjoy them for less money.

Martial artists are never asked for freebies because they may just oblige you.
Everyone who is trying to make a living as a creative professional has heard these arguments before, and they're like trickle-down economics. You know, if you just give all the money to rich people then eventually it will work its way down to the poor. The difference is in this case we're being told to just keep making art and giving it away for free because eventually people will come to value what we make and money will mystically come our way.

Neither circumstance works. In the former all the rich people hoard the money for themselves, and in the latter art isn't valued because it's been free for so long that the very idea of paying for it will stop occurring to people.

So what's the problem? Is it that artists are greedy? Is it that people are shitheads? Is it that the marketplace is flooded with so much creativity that the supply far exceeds the demand? Well according to this article it might be a lack of empathy between artists and fans.

What is Art Worth?

It's no secret that art is typically seen as a feast or famine career choice. The maxim is that with dedication and hard work you'll eventually rise to the top of your field and become rich and famous, but that's no more true with writing books and making movies than it is with working in an auto garage or building rocket ships. No one can download car repairs or make photo copies of a NASA satellite though, which presents authors with a unique challenge: Convincing culture that art doesn't grow on trees, and that you can't just pluck it off a branch as you walk by.

If it was that easy there would be no problem.
Art is a necessity. People want to read books, admire paintings, watch movies, and listen to music. But the idea of paying for these products is something people instinctively resist when all it takes is a right click to download the product for free. If an artist is famous then they can obviously afford to cover one little pirating, and if an artist isn't famous then they should be glad that someone as discerning as you wants to read their work.

Stop and ask yourself what you would say if you got your dream job, but were told that you'd be working without pay until after your review. You'd say no, particularly if you still had to work a day job to cover your expenses waiting for the day that your dream job paid you enough to stay afloat. Now imagine if the hiring rep's response was, "Come on, everyone's going to see what a great job you did. Think of the exposure this will grant you! I'm sure that someone who can pay you will see this on your resume and snap you up immediately." Your reaction would likely be to slap this person, or at the very least to say something rude at a very high volume.

This is the reality that artists deal with every single day. Now imagine if artists were treated with respect, paid a fair price for their work, and given bonuses instead of pats on the head. Would that make them sell-outs? Or would it make them just another part of the workforce creating things that we desperately need?

Something else you might not know about Pomplamoose is that they created Patreon, a system for fans to support the artists they love. If you'd like to see more from the Literary Mercenary then check out my Patreon page and become a patron today! If you want to get the latest updates with no extra work just plug your email address into the box on your right hand side, or follow me on Facebook and Tumblr.


  1. Oh so true. And people think nothing of straight up stealing your work, whether you're an artist or a writer or a photographer, and then act like you're wrong to expect to be paid.

    I don't work for exposure. I have plenty of exposure if you google my real name. I work for (gasp) money because I have bills to pay. The power company, the Internet, the rent, they all expect to be paid if I want to have a place to live, power and the Internet so I can keep working.

    AND there's whole websites that STEAL books and post them for people to read for free. To all the freeloading readers who think this is OK, if you want to read a book for free, there's this thing called a library...

  2. Medical professionals face a similar fate - help and save people out of the goodness of your heart, as if doctors, nurses, assistants and staff don't have families to feed and bills to pay. Anyone who is paid to do what they love, is met with resentment and envy by some.

    Nice insights, ty. Patron...rhymes with matron and makes me feel old (well, I am)