When I talk about what authors or artists need to do to sell their work and earn more money, a common response is
“It’s not about the money for me. I’m in it for the joy of creating.”
This is what I hear:
“I don’t care if anyone likes my work.”
A lot of creative people will say they agree with the first one. That art shouldn’t be about money. That you should create out of love for your craft, and so they do that. But I don’t know any author or artist who doesn’t then turn around and try to sell their work.
They make books and products and then try and get people to buy them.
They say it’s all about the art, but they also hope, somehow, maybe accidentally, everyone will love it.
If you’re an author or artist who doesn’t think that’s true for you, fine. Take everything you have for sale and hide it in your attic. Never do a show again. Never post your work on Facebook again. Create for yourself.
If you do try to sell your work, and find it really difficult, it’s because you’re a hypocrite: you’re asking for money and telling the world you don’t care about money. Your actions betray your beliefs.
But here’s the thing: money is a really simple indicator of how many people like your work.
If people like your work, and they want it, they’ll be willing to pay for it. If you can get lots of people to pay you for your work, you can make lots of money. It doesn’t mean your work is “less” valuable (how could it be?!) and it doesn’t mean it’s less creative, artistic and brilliant. Money is just a validation tool.
If you’re earning money, it means you are providing value to the world that people appreciate.
If you don’t want to earn money, or it’s not about the money, it means you don’t care about other people’s experiences, or their lives, or their joy and satisfaction. You don’t care about them, or their reaction to your work, because you didn’t create the work for them, you created the work for you.
And that’s fine, if it makes you happy.
It’s fun to be creative and make stuff.
But when you try to sell your work, while giving off signals that you don’t care about the people buying it, you’re going to run into some obvious and predictable barriers.
First, you’ll feel awkward and hypocritical about trying to sell (as you should).
Second, you’ll have no idea about stuff like marketing, building a business, copywriting and sales, design and branding, and all the other essential skills that help people sell things. And you won’t want to learn. Because “it’s not about the money.”
Third, you won’t want to invest in your project, because you don’t see it as a business, so you’ll put it out there with a price tag but not work hard enough to overcome buyer objections, and not sell confidently enough to convince anyone else to buy.
Which means, you’re basically asking for favors. You’re saying, “I don’t care enough about my work to make it look amazing, and I’m not doing this for the money, but you can buy it if you want to.”
That kind of half-assed, confusing behavior is common in writers and artists.
And I totally get it, I used to do that too.
When I was getting good at painting, I had an exhibition that was really popular. I had a line of people who wanted to take selfies with my art. But I didn’t have price tags, and when someone asked how much they were I didn’t have an answer.
Why the money matters
It doesn’t have to be “all about the money.” But most creative people think in terms of absolute exclusivity, it’s either 100% about the art, “pure” and “untainted by the market” – or it’s “selling out.”
This ideology, while common, is crippling.
And this is the problem:
- Firstly, making money is awesome. When I decided to start making money, instead of focusing on my art, it actually gave me FAR more time to spend on my art. I didn’t need to get a job anymore. I didn’t need to spend as much time working or selling things. I learned how to earn more money while working far less, which means I get to do whatever I want most of the time. Instead of writing or painting as a hobby, I can do it all the time. If you want to be a serious, professional creator, you need to produce more quickly. Making money makes this possible.
- It is NOT cool to spend years making stuff that nobody wants. You aren’t a suffering, tragic, romantic artist who nobody gets. You’re just making stuff that nobody wants. And that’s OK, in your mind, because “it’s not about the money.” But I think it’s selfish to spend all your time making things for yourself, that don’t benefit, uplift, influence, charm, astound, surprise, shock or delight other people. In fact if your writing or art doesn’t ever make any kind of impression on other people, I would argue it is not art.
If you want to make art, “real” art, I think you need to do all of those things.
You need to make stuff that impacts people.
You need to make stuff that they can’t look away from, that grips them, that means something and matters.
If you aren’t making any money, you aren’t making anything that matters.
And that’s the problem.