Aidan Wayne writes our April guest editorial, talking about how to cope with the overwhelming feeling which comes with making your creative work your business.
As an author, I have quite a few thoughts about trying to market creative work. I love to write stories and I want my work to be enjoyed. I hope that people read my books but, well, I also hope that I get paid for the time, energy, and effort that goes into creating a book. My goal as an author is to support myself with what I write. I’ve learned a lot on my journey to doing that.
There are many positives when it comes to being in business for yourself. The big ones, I think, are that you can make your own hours doing something you enjoy, and there’s a lot of freedom that comes with having creative control.
That being said, there are also a lot of aspects that you might not think about. For instance, yes you make your own hours… but because you’re in business for yourself, you’re probably working a lot more and not all of that is doing the creative things you love. And while you’re doing all the other things that come with working for yourself in a creative field, you’ve got to be disciplined to continue to produce work.
Though there are the smash-success creators—Rowling, King, Steele—most people trying to make a living off their creative work do it on a much smaller scale. They don’t have thousands of dollars in marketing to back them, nor do they have the ear of big name companies. A lot of the work that helps get their product seen, such as running social media, building a mailing list, and contacting ARC reviewers is often done themselves. Not only do I have to write something I like—and thus want to write—it needs to be something I think other people will want to read. I then have to find those readers and start building an audience. Once I have readers, I need to keep them interested so they will continue to follow my books. Ideally they’d recommend my work to others too, as I continue to produce work for consumption.
And then I need to keep doing that.
Now, more than ever, being in a creative field means not only marketing your work, but marketing yourself. There are articles everywhere about the best way to run a Facebook page, how to gain followers on Twitter, how to utilize Instagram. It’s a given that you need a website, though what you put on it can depend. Regular blogging is encouraged as a way to reach out to readers. A blog post a week, update Facebook three times a day, interact on Twitter as often as you can between the hours of twelve and two pm…
There’s an awful lot of suggestions out there. It can get overwhelming quickly.
Further, on top of the marketing, the actual content still needs to be made. And smaller creators often have to produce more content at a faster rate, in an attempt to not be lost among all the other work being released at the same time. Again, while there are the exceptions, most often you aren’t “done” once your first book is out. If you truly want to be successful you’re continuing to write and publish books, and you need to keep marketing them as well as the ones you already have out. It doesn’t matter how many things you have available if nobody knows it’s out there.
Sometimes it feels a little like an uphill battle, truth be told. The thing about creative work is that it is very personal. I spend so much time on my stories and my characters: doing research, developing plots, learning about quirks… I put a lot of myself into what I write. When it doesn’t do well or people react negatively to what I’ve done, that can be very disheartening. It’s difficult, sometimes, to separate yourself from your work.
On top of that, although it’s not a topic people like to think about when it comes to creative work, if my work doesn’t sell my income is directly affected. Even if my work is very well-read—through pirating, for instance—I only make money off a book when an individual or an entity—like a library—buys it. That’s it. There’s no other formula or fail-safe. If people don’t buy my books, I don’t earn money. This can affect my ability to keep writing. If I’m not earning enough income from books, I need to make money other ways. Most authors have at least one other job that they do in addition to writing full time. The more time I have to spend working other avenues, the less time, and energy, I have to write.
It can be scary for someone trying to make what they love into something they do for a living. Burnout is very real, and often happens when you’re struggling to come up with more and more work to please as many people as possible. It can suddenly go from something you love to do to something you dread. And it can be tough to find a compromise within the structure of the “business.” Ultimately it is up to you, the creator, to decide on the best path to take. That might mean continuing to do your best in marketing yourself, trying to approach things in a different way, or even taking a step back from the business completely.
It was actually interesting, writing my latest book, Play It Again, because the two main characters, Dovid and Sam, are also in the business of creativity. Both of them are YouTubers, making money off of things like ad revenue, Ko-fi donations, and Patreon pledges. Dovid, a vlogger, is already a success. He and his twin sister Rachel run a successful channel with millions of viewers, and they have total creative control. Sam, on the other hand, is a let’s player with very few followers, who does YouTube as a hobby while he works a day job he doesn’t like. Part of the book is about him growing as a creator and learning more about the business—with the help of Dovid and Rachel—on his own journey to be an independent, professional content creator. Sam shares a lot of the fears I have: will what I do be enough? Will I be able to keep up my output? How do I keep from disappointing my audience?
Will they like what I’ve done?
For Sam, well, this isn’t a spoiler—of course he gets his happy ending. And I wish nothing but success for anyone who hopes to make their dream a reality by going into business with their creative passion. But it is good to keep in mind the less than savory aspects too. Forewarned is forearmed.
Thank you so much for reading, and best of luck to you!
Aidan Wayne's latest book, Play It Again, is out now. You can find more information about Aidan's writing on Facebook and Twitter, and at AidanWayne.com.
How do you deal with the pressures of building a business and its drain on your creativity? Tell us in the comments or join the discussion on Social Media.