It’s time to take control of your creative career.
We live in a judgmental society. People judge us by our looks, our clothes, our pedigrees, our homes, even our pets. There’s no end to keeping up with the Joneses. Whether you’re looking for a job, submitting art to a gallery, trying to get a poem published, auditioning for a play, or seeking a business deal, you have to get by the gatekeepers.
Gatekeepers are just normal people, but they have been assigned to protect a turf. You may have the greatest novel in the world, but if it doesn’t fit into some kind of marketing plan that can raise lots of profits, it’s toast. You may feel so frustrated you want to give up.
With the Internet, it’s now possible for you to choose yourself and your audience. You may have thought about this, but aren’t sure it’s any easier than getting past the gatekeepers. Rather than one fell swoop, think of it as as series of small steps. Sure, it’s not easy to self-publish and sell a lot of books, or upload fine art prints and sell a lot of those. And some unsavory characters have gamed the systems, making it even harder for honest, hardworking creatives.
But the fact is, the opportunities are out there. And the Internet has merely brought back the way things once were—in the 19th and earlier part of the 20th century, it was common to self-publish or partner with a publisher. Dostoyevsky, Twain, Hemingway and Lewis Carroll all had to finance some of their own works.
Perhaps you’ve taken a stab at doing it on your own, and it hasn’t worked out. What’s great is you can reinvent yourself and keep going. You can test what works and what doesn’t. You can aim your work at the whole world or at your immediate groups.
Study what has done well. You’ll probably find it’s not the most intellectual, not the most creative, and certainly not the most obscure works. It’s those that reach out emotionally to an audience that’s well understood by the author. Did you know that Julia Cameron’s landmark book The Artist’s Way started out as a self-published book? It was called Healing the Artist Within. It didn’t get past the gatekeepers. But once it was out there in the world, the gatekeepers took notice and turned it into a best-seller.
Could it have done just as well without gatekeepers? Well, gatekeepers do have their advantages. They do marketing and distribution—but ask any author and you’ll realize that author is responsible for a lot of her own marketing, even with traditional publishers.
Some best-selling authors are doing it entirely on their own. You can make digital products or paper ones. You can free yourself of all printing and fulfillment duties, or, have your work printed and sell it yourself. You have a greater chance of climbing the success ladder by approaching smaller gatekeepers, such as libraries and bookstores.
The main thing to stick to it regularly, and keep up your confidence. You’re now writer, artist, publisher, gallery, and bookstore (or some of those, anyway). Keep a sense of humor and be patient. Reach out to others, but don’t spend all your time on social media. There’s no substitute for pounding the pavement. One vital thing that all publishers know is to know and understand your target market. Choose your audience.
Give back to your community
One artist just painted dozens of portraits of people in his Brooklyn, NY community. The portraits culminated in a parade, a museum show, and a ton of free publicity. Not only did he bring the community together, he gave them the gift of being immortalized in art, and did his career an enormous favor. That’s classic choosing yourself. Did he sit around and scheme? No, he truly wanted to give back to his neighborhood.
In many non-Western cultures, art is woven into the fabric of life. It’s not stuck in museums, it’s lived, in textiles, dance, language, food, and ritual. When you think about it, that way of living is truly giving back, rather than being fixated on impressing the suits. It’s joyful. It’s what art’s about.
Choosing yourself will increase your gutsiness in all areas. You might just take to it like a bird to flight.
Vicky Young is a writer and and illustrator. She works in traditional and digital art, and has a masters in art education. She blogs at Tablets for Artists.