Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Confessions of a "Snuggie" middle class writer

My significant other listens to NPR's Planet Money pretty faithfully. When I got back from a writer's meeting on Saturday, he was practically vibrating about this one.  He insisted I listen to it and respond because Jonathan Coulton's story in the music industry is basically my story in the romance novel industry.  I was writing books that didn't fit the existing published romance genres well. Coulton is writing music that doesn't fit anyone's genre but his--which is gutsy and the most artistic part to me. He believed in himself and what he was doing and just did it. How can you not admire that regardless of your opinion about his art?

While this Planet Money podcast is about the music industry, the discussion contains some great examples of what traditional industry thinkers are really worried about concerning anyone making money from artistic Indie efforts. They talk about his uniqueness not being repeatable and say he's a "Snuggie" musician who is just lucky/good at marketing (as if this was a bad thing).

Somewhere else in the debate Coulton is also referred to as a middle class musician. I believe his earnings last year for selling his songs at $0.99 each was a half million dollars. Middle class? Not hardly. With a master's degree, I made 23K last year teaching college English classes at four colleges and universities as an adjunct and had to have two other part-time jobs in order to keep paying the bills. Middle class? Every middle class person I know is having to work multiple jobs to maintain a reasonable standard of living in this economy. Coulton is a successful musician in a field where it is hard to make a professional living. He is doing well for himself and working to achieve his success. He is anything but middle class. His efforts are admirable.

Let me summarize Coulton's sins as mentioned by NPR Music Industry specialists who co-interviewed with the regular Planet Money host (these are the same sins as those frequently mentioned against any Indie writer--see Konrath's blogs):
  • he was having fun
  • he was giving some work away free
  • he was talking directly to his fans/customers (and having fun doing this as well)
  • he was writing songs for a niche market (computer software programmers mostly)
  • his was "undervaluing" all music sales by pricing his songs so cheaply
  • his success wasn't repeatable by the average person (as if true art is supposed to be mass repeatable)
  • he didn't "earn" his money--he got lucky (this was implied by every criticism)
Here's the link to the podcast if you're interested in hearing it.  I highly recommend it if you are an Indie or thinking about becoming one:  Via @nprnews: The Friday Podcast: Is This Man A Snuggie? | http://t.co/svDpqqx
Here's the answer I posted on NPR's blog (along with several other Indie writers who commented):

I found the Coulton story incredibly inspiring and validating for my own journey as an Indie.
As a fiction writer, I tried going the traditional path. Like Coulton in music, I did not fit the mold. In March,I self-published several books on Smashwords.com that had been rejected by agents and editors. I made the first one totally free so readers could see if they like my writing before they put out money. The second and third books are priced at $2.99. I have another book out this month and one in early July.

These are humorous romances featuring older characters. My readers range from ages 20-60. It is looking like I will be able to earn a living and do something I love that makes other people happy. If anyone calls me the "Snuggie" of middle-class writers, I would just laugh about it on all my social media sites. My readers would probably love it.

If I'm paying my bills and happy AND if my readers are willing to pay for my work and happy, what other success is more worth having as an artist? Super fame does not look as happy a condition to me.

Is what I do repeatable or can any other writer do this? Yes, if they can write a story readers want to read. It is repeatable. I am planning to repeat it over and over myself.
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