Luck

Before I begin this post, I just want to say that I agree with Chris Wage here and here. A lot of people aren’t reading this chick for comprehension, but for the chance to stand in line to be the next to tell her how wrong she is.  And let’s just never mind how disgusting it is to blame her or others like her for people’s deaths. Lord almighty. There is nothing the internet loves more than the chance to tell women how wrong they are and how our wrongness is hurting America and killing the very things–artists, children, families–that we love.

All that being said, I think this post by Jason Lewis tells a real truth, one that I have learned just by observation living here in Nashville, where literally everyone is the best guitar player you’ve ever heard:

once you get to a certain level, where you’re playing good clubs and have a following, almost everybody is good, almost everybody has something. What separates one band from the next is often a confluence of timing, luck, having the right people in the room at the right time…any number of somewhat uncontrollable factors. And the truth of the matter is, no matter how hard you work, on a certain level you cannot control that stuff.

This is the truth of publishing, too, and one I can’t really figure out for myself. You know I consider A City of Ghosts to be a great success and I really love that book. But I have to tell you, I’d rather have a publisher next time. I want a little of their luck. Not because I want to be rich and famous, but because I want my work to have a shot at being read and liked by people who don’t know me, at all.

And I can’t make that happen on my own. I tried.

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11 thoughts on “Luck

  1. I am not sure this is any consolation, but one of the reasons I’m so confident arguing for what I truly believe about the arts is that I’ve made peace with it (art) and its value for myself, with regards to my photography and any compensation I could expect from it.

    I made a joke on twitter yesterday about how these debates would be easier if everyone understood the heterodox theories of value. Ha ha, nerdy, right? But true, too. People don’t seem to understand value or markets for it very well. They just exist in a society with the assumption that there are certain fixed things that have value and you are thus guaranteed compensation if you produce them. Reality, however, doesn’t work that way. You don’t get paid if you go till a random field in the woods. I’ll spare you the agony of delineating how the various labor/margin/utility/etc theories of value decide what actually has value, but none of them really allow for something to have value (and obligated compensation) “just because”.

    So with my photography I’ve never tried (very hard) to get paid for it. I do it because I enjoy it and I enjoy it being seen. I would never pretend that I’m not an egomaniac and I don’t love it when people compliment me. That’s why I do it. That’s also why the only avenues in which I’ve ever tried to protect my images are ones in which it’s *rational* to expect that I actually could. It’s *irrational* for me to expect that people can’t just copy my images and print them out for themselves if they want to. So I don’t. I encourage it. The consolation for me is that maybe it’ll help people see my work and I can get that ego-boost I need.

    A lot of photographers have had trouble letting go of this. They protect their images with draconian measures, even resorting to giant ugly watermarks on any public display of them. It’s silly. I’m sympathetic to the photographers (artists) that emerged and existed in a world where they could rely on a dependable living by selling reproductions of their photographs (the market for which is now crumbling). I’m not sympathetic to anyone that willfully enters that market now and feels thus obligated to be compensated (and complains about it). It’s irrational.

    Anyways, so that’s my compensation rant.

    So it is with publishing, too. You would think that this whole debate would have played out much larger with publishing instead of photography or music, since copying and sharing text is about the easiest thing in the world to do. I guess people just look at pictures and listen to music more than they read? That’s a little depressing.

    But so it is with writing and photography as it is with the above quote for musicians: there are a lot of people doing it, and doing it well. I love photography and I want as many people as possible to see it. I think a lot of photographers would be lying to themselves if they didn’t admit that they would love to be seen as the next cartier-bresson, or that every writer wants to be known for the Next Great American Novel(tm).

    I would love to be great, but I can settle for good. But I think with any form of art these days (photography, music, writing), it’s now become officially irrational to expect compensation for it, and further it’s become irrational to even expect that a great many people will *see* it. The market is saturated. More people are making art in these mediums than ever. If you want to be great in this brave new world you have to be *really fuckin good*. And that’s daunting and maybe a little depressing for the egomaniac in us all, but for society as a whole it’s pretty fuckin’ cool.

    That was pretty rambley, wasn’t it. Less caffeine, more food.

  2. Goodness gracious, B, how in the world did you come across that Jason Lewis piece? I am about to go into the most excited squeeing about a small world that you ever heard — Jason is an old friend and sang at my wedding.

  3. This is one of the reasons I think we’re about to enter the rise of the small press–because there won’t be a lot, if any, money to be made writing books (ugh, but true), but there are and will be a lot of venues for distributing your books wherever in a form you can be proud of.

    People who know the money isn’t really there, but love books, who can help authors edit and format and produce their products will be necessary. I’d love Penguin’s marketing budget. I’d be happy with someone other than me hearing all the “Thanks, but no thanks”es.

    Which is to say, yeah, artists will have to have day jobs. With the exception of a very tiny few.

  4. I will say I think that it would be wrong to assume that just because we’re facing the rise of small press there’s not still money to be made. It’s hard now with music (i know less about the publishing industry, but I assume the parallels are the same), because artists are existing in this weird netherworld between the two markets. Things are shifting, but the traditional models still exist, and the overhead is still super high. So artists are used to producing great quantities of work and only eeking out a few cents on the dollar because all the rest goes towards overhead (or goes to line the pockets of the corporations that control the production/distribution). In addition, artists that leave this world and try to deal face to face with the consumer are finding this daunting as well, because of a) technological limitations and b) people/consumers are not used to it.

    Those two things will change, though, and fast. And as the old market and system crumbles, the new ones will be *saturated* with consumers.

    I don’t know what it will look like or how “good” an artist will have to be to on average to eek out a living by it. Likely it will differ for every person as far as they seek out ways to derive value from their effort.

  5. So, ironically, we’re back to artisans crafting things they care about for a select few that are willing to buy them and otherwise just furnishing themselves with a satisfying surrounding? How very early 18th century. (Maybe. Depending on how heavy the product was.)

  6. Here’s an interesting take on it. He seems to fall victim to some of the same reading comprehension issues regarding the original post, but he makes the argument that people don’t want to pay to download things because they hit their price limit just to get on the internet.

  7. There is a worldwide conspiracy of BS majors and engineers, in league with MBAs, against BA majors, possibly because they coveted the BA majors’ dates as undergraduates. This is why art “wants to be free”–and software hardware and cable and phone bills want to be expensive. Those MBAs tilted towards the BS major nerds..
    Content was supposed to be king, but it’ was sent into exile. So smash the pipeline cost conspiracy , and pay, you know, something really income threatening like a couple of bucks for some music or a book.

  8. You’re onto me Barry. I’m an engineer who secretly installs torrent software on computers at night so I can make my money without any of you arty types getting at it.

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