Amanda Palmer has a new blog post up responding to the storm of interest in her post explaining why she asks for money online. As expected she got a few idiots insisting that she provide music for them for free, or that she “get a proper job,” but the vast majority of the respondents appear to have made interesting points, and Amanda replies to many of them. I’d like to pick up on a few points that are relevant to us book people.
Firstly, lets get this out of the way:
ASKING FOR MONEY FOR YOUR ART IS NOT SELLING OUT
Sadly, it bears repeating, because people keep forgetting it.
And you know, this is absolutely a class issue. The idea that artists should not charge for their work presupposes that they are either independently wealthy or that they are supported by someone who is. It is exactly the same argument that was fought over professionalism in sport. Anyone who is good enough should be able to make a career in art.
Secondly, Amanda notes that what is right for her is not necessarily right for others. In particular she says that for people like Lady Gaga the big record company route is exactly the right thing to do. This is correct, and the same will be true for books. You won’t see Neil doing what Amanda does, except in support of her.
As markets become more global and more transparent, the power law effect becomes even more marked, and the number of major celebrities in each field becomes smaller. Amanda can’t compete with Lady Gaga in the celebrity stakes, and nor does she want to, because she doesn’t produce the same sort of music. It is the same with books. You won’t find M. John Harrison trying to compete with Dan Brown for the celebrity author market.
But market concentration means that the retail business is becoming less and less interested in mid list artists — whether they be in music or books — and that means that people like Amanda, or Cat Valente, or Tim Pratt, have to turn to more direct means to make a living.
One thing that didn’t come up in Amanda’s post was any accusation of “self-publishing”. Musicians self-publish all of the time. So is it right for them but not for us?
Well, not exactly. Like Cat and Tim, Amanda is not new to publishing. She has been through the record label process and worked with other musicians and producers. Tim and Cat have been through the big publisher process and have worked with editors. In all three cases the artist in question has learned enough to have a good idea of when something is polished enough to be presented to the public. If, on the other hand, your work has never been near a professional editor, and you only take feedback from friends and family, the chances are that your fiction probably isn’t ready for the public. Not always, but mostly.
So I don’t see anything wrong with writers self-publishing the way that Cat and Tim are doing. If they are good enough then it will work for them. Nor do I have any objection to them, or Amanda, asking for money. Because I think it is the way things will have to go in the future. We are already in a position where many of the really good SF&F novels that come out are produced by small presses that can’t get their wares into high street bookstores. Even big names like Tor can’t get their entire catalog into bookstores. It will only get worse from here.
So for good writers to make money we need to find other ways to get them paid. Self-publishing is one. Paying good rates for online fiction is another. Which is why Clarkesworld pays SFWA rates for its fiction. And why we, like Amanda, ask you to give us money. To quote our donations page: “Every dollar donated to Clarkesworld Magazine goes into our fiction, non-fiction and art budgets.”