The “starving artist” cliché has been used to describe those in the creative fields for quite a while. It has been part of history that artists of the past were never appreciated until they were dead, crazy, and usually some combination of both. Pieces of art that are worth millions now didn’t make their artists rich while they lived. History doesn’t bode well for what I’m about to talk about. Now, we come to authors.
Writing a novel, painting, sculpting, music, designing, are all creative works, subject to other individuals appreciation of them. They don’t serve the same kind of utility that an ultra-sharp kitchen knife does. They are entirely subjective. Because of that, there is a persistent mindset that if someone wishes to engage in a creative (also known as selfish) endeavor, they are doing it for themselves, and not to make money. And many have the non-existent bank statements to prove it. Where I worry is that an author may think they aren’t going to make a living with their work, ever, because they are an artist. A mindset in the artist’s mind that tells them they won’t make a dime off their work, and they accept it. They believe that unless they are a huge hit that goes viral, get picked up by a major publisher, or are the next rocking thing in the genre industry, they are to stick with their day-jobs for the next 50 years.
It’s wrong and needs to change. The mindset that art does not equal a living needs to disappear. And the first place to start that is with the authors themselves. The rest of the world can think what they want for now, but do not let that influence your work and goals. I’ve said it before: Everyone deserves to make a living doing what they love to do. Writing isn’t charity work. Yes, it is what we love to do, and only want to do. This makes it more feasible overall.
Please don’t misunderstand: this doesn’t mean you or I would ever stop if we didn’t make a cent. This isn’t about that. But even if I went 20 years without a single book sale, that would not mean I’d either stop writing or expect to never make a living off my work. They aren’t mutually exclusive. My perception and outlook is unchanged. I write because I love to, and that’s the reason I write. Which has nothing to do with money.
I have a business mentor/guru/etc., who tells his clients something special: “I give you permission to …” – he’s giving them a push to do what they want to do, because now someone has told them they should. He talks a lot about how people often aren’t as adventurous as they want to be because they have no one telling them to do what they want. And that’s a big part of the whole making money as an artist dilemma. If everyone is saying that an artist must starve, than the artist believes that they must starve in order to do what they love. No one has given them permission to be paid for what they do.
We’re in an age and in a field that is seeing various types of progress. I read in Inc that there are 20 million entrepreneurs in the USA. 20 million people that are their own bosses. 20 million that don’t accept the industrial mindset that you must work for a corporation in order to live. People taking hold of their own dreams and ambitions and distilling them into a service or product not simply out of love for their jobs, but to make a living. A self-published author needs to recognize they are an entrepreneur, and have the desire to join the massive number of people doing what they want and living off its proceeds.
This isn’t about making lots of money. This isn’t about pushing aside your artistic vision in order to try and eke out a profit. I’m not trying to say that the money made off your work has anything to do with how good the book is, because there are several great works that probably have nil for sales. This is utterly idealistic stuff that should be true, even when the rest of the world doesn’t think so. This is about simple acknowledgment, one that many in self-publishing have taken, but others haven’t realized they need to take: It’s all right to make a profit with your writing. The first step is to acknowledge it.