Are You an Artist or Businessperson? How About Both?

Artist or businessperson

I recently finished Write. Publish. Repeat., by Sean Platt. It’s a book about self-publishing and being an indie author. It basically asks the question, “Do you want to be an artist or businessperson?” The majority of the book focuses on the business end of things and assumes that “art” is for those who don’t care about money.

If you care about money, art isn’t as important as writing quickly and aggressively marketing your work. i.e., If literary fiction is your goal and you’re happy with one book every three years, you’re an artist. But if you want to make money, you’ll churn out whatever the market is hungry for as fast as you can, cut some corners, and just “get it out there.” Laboring over your “art” has no place in commercial success. Or so the book seems to think.

(While this post isn’t a review of the book, I’ll say that if you’re thinking about self-publishing and are interested in making decent money, it might be worth a read. Understand, though, that the same information is available for free elsewhere. You’re reading this for the entertainment value.)

Anyway, what really stumped me about the book was the reviews. Like most readers, I read reviews before I hit that purchase button. While many reviewers praised the book, a common comment kept recurring. “This book is for businesspeople, not artists. Where’s the advice for artists, because writers should be more concerned with their art than business.”

Um. Try another book. While there is some craft advice in the book, it’s geared toward sales, not art per se. How to create a plot that guarantees sales. How to create characters that appeal to your ideal reader. Treating your future books as products that can help sell each other. Efficient ways for writing books faster (because fast delivery=more sales). So there’s some art advice in there, but it’s tied to (what some consider) crass commercialism.

Which is the point, because it’s a book about making money from your writing.

But it struck me how many people seemed offended at the notion of authors also being businesspeople. Especially fiction authors. The thing is, though, in today’s market you have no choice but to also wear a business hat in addition to your author’s hat. (Unless you’re independently wealthy, just writing for fun, or you have a patron who is somehow supporting your creative efforts. Then lucky you. Carry on.)

The days of holing yourself up in a garret for years and writing the perfect masterpiece, only to give it to a publisher and then collect checks are over. Even if you publish traditionally, you will shoulder the lion’s share of the marketing. (Unless you’re a household name or have a hot upcoming book.) If you self-publish, you have no choice but to do everything yourself when it comes to marketing, cover design, publicity, pricing, and stocking the sales channels. You live and die not only by your art, but also by your business savvy.

But just because you have to be a businessperson doesn’t mean you can’t also be an artist. There are those who are content to churn out mediocrity as long as it makes them money. You see them in both fiction and non-fiction, turning out so-so books as fast as they can so that their name stays at the top of the lists. It’s quantity over quality.

These people are willing to sacrifice a bit of “art” in exchange for money. And there’s some evidence that this strategy works, particularly if the work is priced aggressively. Lots of inexpensive books will always win out over one expensive book for some readers, even if the quality of the latter is “better.” (There’s nothing wrong with that. In books, as in all art, everyone has their own tastes and wants.)

Even if you go this route, though, it does’t mean that you have to embrace mediocrity forever. Every book can be better. You can improve your craft. You can transition to “artsy” books if that’s your desire someday. Art and money don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I’ve read plenty of authors who started out writing quick, easy sells, and their latter books are bounds better than their first few. Maybe they’re not “literary artists” in the eyes of some, but they are very good writers.

You don’t have to throw “high” art (however you define that) to the curb. There is always a place for well-crafted, thoughtful, expectation-bending books. Books that change the world, or at least challenge our ways of looking at it, will always be welcome. It is, however, a different mindset than that of the person who purely wants to make a living as a writer. Sure, the artists among us can make a living, but it’s not likely to happen as quickly as those who pursue more commercial careers and write with an eye toward salability.

Just because you think of yourself as an “artist,” however, doesn’t mean that the day won’t come where you’ll have to get your hands dirty in the commercial end of the business. If you’re fortunate enough to secure a publication deal, you will be doing some marketing and publicity, even if it offends your artist sensibilities.

Every single one of us, whether pursuing the higher calling of “art” or wallowing in the gutter of commercialism, will have to wear both hats at some point. The question isn’t “Author or businessperson?” It’s “How do I manage both without going insane?”

(Photo courtesy of gorartser)

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