Tuesday, February 9, 2016

I Do Not Farm

One of my favorite comedians of all time is the late, great Mitch Hedberg. If you aren’t familiar with his work, then carve out a least an hour of your day to spend on YouTube watching some of his bits. I promise he will make you laugh. He’s not a dirty comic, though he does occasionally swear, depending on his audience. But, seeing how most of his stand-up centers around food, he’s not likely to offend people, unless they take issue with the buoyancy of limes.

There are many jokes of Hedberg’s that I have committed to memory, but as an indie writer struggling to make a name for myself, there is one that is so pertinent to my career that it pops into my head often, usually when I researching marketing strategies or attempting to understand book sale algorithms. Here it is:

I love this line, but I also hate the truth behind it. So often when someone works in a creative field, there's an expectation that their skills are interchangeable with others considered in the same sphere. Creative people aren't always seen as specialists the way maybe doctors are lawyers are. I mean, it's obvious you wouldn't go to a cardiologist and expect him to perform brain surgery, or hire a patent attorney to defend you in a murder trial. But when it comes to specialists in the arts, we assume their talents should be all-encompassing: a painter should paint and sculpt. A musician should be able to play guitar and sing. An animator should know graphic design. And a writer should be able to write anything.  

Granted, there are some logical overlaps here. Many times people who are talented in one area of creative art are often naturally skilled in another. But, that's not always the case. Some people have a niche that they totally own and have little interest or ability outside of it. Does that make them less of an artist? I don't think so. I mean, was Shakespeare a one trick pony because he was only a playwright and not an acrobat, too? I guess I just don't see anything wrong with being really good at one thing. I don't think it makes someone a failure if they aren't a triple or quadruple threat. To not be good at everything is human. To be good at everything is to be Justin Timberlake, and almost no one on the planet is him.

I became a writer because I really love telling stories, and the written word is my favorite medium for doing that. However, if I want to be a writer who is read by other people, then I can't just be a writer. I have to be a writer+. I have to be good at things that don't even fit within the same realm of writing if I want an audience for my work. Indie authors have to wear a ridiculous number of hats to get their stories to the public, and not all of us (especially this girl) look good wearing even one hat, let alone multiple. 

The average indie author must first write their piece (author hat). Then, they either self-edit (editor hat) or hire an editor (researcher hat, financier hat). Then, they have to create or hire out the cover art  for their book (graphic designer/photographer/researcher/artist hats). Then they have to format their story into book form (formatter hat). Then they have to market the book (there are too many hats for me to list here...people get actual college degrees in marketing, that's how complex it is). Then, they have to do press (public relations hat). If a writer wants to keep a following, they must also become savvy with social media, keep up a blog, make public appearances, network with other indie authors, etc., etc., etc. (Um... fedora? Sombrero? I don't know. Just more hats). They must do all of this in addition to their day jobs (Less than 5% of writers make a living writing fiction at any given time). All of this, and then the average independently published novel only sells 150-300 copies during its lifespan.

I think that it's good to know stuff like this, but if you don't want your passion for writing to shrivel up and die, you just simply can't think about it too much. Statistics are a great way to gut check your motives for writing, but honestly if you're in this field because you want to get rich quick (or ever, really), then you should probably save your time and just buy a lottery ticket. You may even have better odds with the lotto.

Instead of worrying about whatever you're writing is going to become, spend your energy on making it the best work possible. The indie writer world is full of a lot or garbage. A LOT. (I know that art is subjective, but there is a sub-culture of people in the indie world who simply publish things just to say they have published things and have no regard for the craft of writing: DO NOT DO THIS, please. All of the writers out there who actually care about the term "indie writer" beg this of you). But there are gems, too. And if writing is your dream, it's likely a dream for a reason. Dreams are usually worth chasing, though perhaps not with reckless abandonment (like, maybe don't quit your job and take out a second mortgage to finance your first book).

As for me, I'm probably never going to be good at farming. Maybe someday I'll be lucky enough to find someone who already has a plow to do that part of the indie author thing for me. Until then though, I'm just going to keep telling stories to whatever size audience all these hats can get me. Because it's fun.

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