Diane Meier

Diane Meier

Welcome to Diane’s Blog!

I’ll use this spot to chart what I enjoy and endorse, as we attempt to live a life of style in a culture of business and writing and art. And I hope you join me; share your own stories, insights and ideas about living a creatively expressive life.

She Writes For Free

Friday, April 30, 2010

SheWrites, is a kind of on-line support group for and about women who write. And while I'm pretty hostile to the idea of dividing genders -- especially in things professional -- there is, I have to admit, some logic in reaching out to women who share, sadly, a set of challenges that reflect the pathology of our culture, and make it just that much more difficult to produce, to be taken seriously, or more to the point—to support ourselves by our wit, creativity and craft.

Today there was a piece by an enterprising Amy Tiemann, who gave an account of self-publishing. http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blogs/the-writerentrepreneur-amy . When she started, she knew no one and realized that she needed to build a bridge as a first step. Here are her own words:

"When I first pitched Mojo Mom to agents in 2002-2003, the response I got was "This is a good idea, but it's a crowded marketplace and you are not famous, so we'll pass."

That's a real chicken-and-egg dilemma. I knew for sure that I was not going to get famous sitting around waiting. I cared enough about the project enough to invest in publishing it myself. I didn't know anybody when I started out: no other writers, no agents, nobody in publishing. I "built my platform" with a ton of hard work.

She advocates building an audience by giving away (in her case, through downloads) content. I see it all around me. And I'm asked to contribute to blogs and magazines—all for free—in the name of spiriting my book around to a larger audience. But I have a book to sell. I am leading the people who care to follow (at least I hope I am), —to a place where they can get to know me in a deeper way, by actually buying my book. Something to warm the heart of my publishers, to be sure, but I'm not sure, in the effort of trying to "build an audience" that many writers aren't actually shooting themselves in the foot.

I so admire the gumption of Amy's efforts and article -- and her generous spirit about sharing knowledge and connection with a larger world of like-minded people. But I worry that in this article, as in so many I am reading these days, we seem to be moving to a point of actually teaching a digital audience that we will 'give our talent away'. And while I completely understand the marketing value of using this 'taste' of talent or enterprise to build a following, I worry that if we're not also teaching them to support us with their patronage, we will find ourselves working in a medium that expects us to create for the love of it. God knows, publishers have been talking like that since before we were born. Do we really need to instruct the next generation of 'end-users' to not value talent?

I actually don't believe that readers mean to cheat us. But when we're standing there, arms outstretched, with something for free, they have no way of connecting to the fact that our time, our energy and most of all, our skills and talents, have been used in its production. If we don't tell them, how will they know? And does it look as though WE value it? At least a "gift with purchase" suggests the purchase. We're not helping ourselves, I think, unless we accompany this kind of outreach with clear and directive ways the audience can participate in our commercial and professional enterprise.

As an audience member, as well as a content provider, I want Stephen Sondheim compensated for the song I've download. Isabel Coixet should be covered, when I buy a DVD of Elegy. And I wouldn't steal Olive Kitteridge, as a book or a download from Elizabeth Strout, or her publisher—or a bookstore. I could be hooked reading a free first chapter, listening to a song I could not download, but enjoy, or catching a movie I might fall in love with on HBO or TCM. I would appreciate the taste and the introduction, but I'd know clearly how to support the artist with further patronage.

I'm sure most everyone else feels the same way. But if we don't remind our supporters that they are 'patrons', not our 'users', how will we, in the long run, be able to afford to provide them with the things they've come to appreciate from us? Or will our void just be filled by others willing to give talent away for free?

I'd love to hear from more of you on this.

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