I. Regardless of the Appearance of Inherent Romance: Starving Artists Don’t Particularly Enjoy the Starving, Nor the Table-Waiting Required to Pay Rent.
Way back in October, when this site went live, I mentioned my disdain for the romantic American myth of the Starving Artist. It goes hand-in-hand with the archetypal American villain, The Sell-Out. Has your favorite indie rock band, now signed to a major label, sold out just by signing up, or do they still have a chance to be reputable? And so on. Unfortunately, for the creators of art, there’s nothing romantic about frustrated creation, about being unable to paint because you have to work extra shifts at some shitty gig to pay backlogged electric bills. Curiously, we all want everyone to recognize how spectacular our favorite as-yet-unheard-of authors, artists, and musicians are, but when everyone catches on, starts saying, “You were right Death Cab for Cutie is amazing!” we begrudge the artist in question, formerly beloved, any success. Personally, I think this is because no one who’s unhappy in his or her job—as, let’s face it, most of us are—wants to see someone else succeed while doing something he or she loves. “Why should I have to work in accounts receivable, while some schmuck makes the same paycheck slopping paint in pretty patterns on a canvas? The audacity of that asshole.” You see, misery loves company—it’s that old chestnut.[*]
We’ve a societal predilection toward hoping artists in any medium stay mute on the subject of money (unless, I suppose, it’s to bitch about how awful it is to be rich and famous).[!] Frankly, that’s a shitty situation for artists: most of us are businesspeople, too—we have a product we’d like you to enjoy and we’d like to be compensated for providing it, vulgar as that sounds. I don’t want to wait tables the rest of my life; I’d like to be paid to make art. That may or may not happen, but I’m not going to be coy about my hopes. I’m certainly not “in it for the money” (I like renting a one-bedroom—seriously—and I don’t ever want to own a new car again), but money allows me to keep doing it, and it, writing, is what I like best. As I said back in October, DaVinci and Michelangelo had patrons who paid their way, and I don’t think anyone would say that that was something of which either should have been ashamed.
In the footnotes of “In This Twilight,” I mention the quests for independence of both Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails. Beloved by the music press, Radiohead gets all the credit, but Reznor—who is the single man who makes up the latter “band”—is the one not only consistently pushing the envelope and testing new business models for the benefit of every musician in the 21st century, but he’s providing for burgeoning artists everywhere invaluable hard data. When Radiohead released their flawless In Rainbows, unfortunately overshadowed by the Pay What You Want campaign, they never mentioned how, exactly, that went. What did people, on average, want to pay? What did they make, relative to what they’d've made with a label? Trent Reznor—who rejected that idea as insulting, saying, and I’m paraphrasing, “If someone decides an album I put all of my soul and sweat into is worth a nickel, it’s only going to demoralize and enrage me”—has tried a variety of ideas regarding LP release and, in every case, he’s been fairly transparent about the success or failure of the venture.
When working with Saul Williams on the breathtaking Rise and Inevitable Liberation of Niggy Tardust, which they chose to release independently, he revealed that only 5% of Williams’ downloaders, given the choice, decided to pay $5 for high-fidelity FLAC files, instead preferring to settle for the inferior, but free, 128kbps copies (and most of those folks were already fans of the man, not casual passersby, willing to try a sample, but not ready to shell out—it was his already extant fans who decided they’d rather not pay him for the entertainment they were receiving). On the other end of the spectrum, Trent was also candid about the fact that the limited edition version of the two-hour instrumental quadruple LP Ghosts: I-IV netted him a cool million, intermediary-free, in less than a week. So in that commendable spirit of transparency, I proceed.
II. State of the
As I’ve mentioned here and there, I’m learning on the fly how to do a number of things. At the outset, I wasn’t sure exactly what shape Sesquipedalism.com was going to take, other than having a storefront buried somewhere within its tabs. The goal, I suppose, was and is the advertisement of my fiction—the writing dearest to me, and the stuff on sale not only to the general public (in book form), but also up for grabs in the world of respectable literary magazines. There’s the hope that, between traditional publication avenues and this online venture, something might catch the right attention, and perhaps move me millimeters closer to publishing in more prominent places. Though I deeply admire Trent Reznor’s quest to remain self-reliant, and blaze a trail for independent artists of every sort, everywhere, I don’t quite have the requisite fanbase to make self-publication of these texts my Day Job just yet. Thus I must hope for the blessing/curse of the fabled Book Deal.
The lure used to reel you in, then, has been the freebies—the random articles and music reviews, and the footnoted memoirs I know to be way too unwieldy, self-indulgent, and genre-bending to be publishable by someone without quite a bit of name recognition. As it turns out, in defiance of the expectations of one petulant professor of mine, it seems I can, in fact “give this shit away.” Thanks for reading. I’m honored and flattered. Earnestly. For real. It’s actually been, paradoxically, rather humbling. I hope it’s been enjoyable, and a few laughs have been had. And, as is the ultimate goal of everything I’ve ever written, I hope that, for one moment, at least one reader felt a little less lonely.
Six months in, I’m pretty pleased with the way things are going. People have been sharing links, which has been a huge boon (thank you to those who’ve helped me disseminate these random ruminations to a wider audience than I could ever have reached alone—you know who you are), and occasionally (read as: not often enough) someone hits the “Like” button. Another plate that’s been spinning is the world of social networking: I’m also just six months into Facebook and Twitter and, speaking as an artist, I’m still trying to figure out how best to use these powerful beasts to my benefit. I was reluctant to join Facebook at first, but it turns out that A) it’s not so bad and nothing like fucking myspace.com was, and B) since around 50% of my site’s traffic comes through links from Facebook, it’d be an idiotic business decision not to participate. So link-sharing and the Like button do good things for me. If you enjoy, hook a brother up—you never know who might check out what you “Liked,” then spread it around ’til it’s viral. Heaven knows I get lost on Facebook for hours sometimes, ending up on some strange band’s website, having no idea how I got there. [1.5]
But yes, by and large, I am quite pleased. Except, of course, damn it, Google Analytics tells me that there are plenty of people reading, yet the comments section affixed to every essay looks like a blighted field. Comment, people. Comment. I get lonely over here. Alexandra can only do so much—she’s just three-quarters of a cat.
Finally, in addition to learning how to be Webmaster of My Domain, a social networker, and a shamelessly self-promoting author, I’ve also had to learn how to be an author—semantically different from being a writer. Primarily because a significant (to me) number of people are reading my work, many of whom are more or less complete strangers; secondarily, because I’ve realized that I can no longer hold as tenable my original position, “No, I’m not signing your book—I’m just some guy, you know. Why the hell would you want me to sign your book?” Again: Quite flattering, but very confusing to me. I still wait tables all week.
So all of this brings me to the original point of this post which was, for the record, originally supposed to be about ten lines long. Then I decided backstory was required. Then I decided that a moral stance which justified my backstory was required. Sigh. This is why the footnotes, people. Writing while allowing my brain to navigate is like getting lost link surfing on the ‘net; starting off checking a World Series score in Wikipedia, and ending up hours later on a youtube video about the dangers of using unwashed carrots as sex toys. See? I’m still meandering.
III. Free Books Coming Soon
So. While spinning all of these plates, I’ve made some observations, and watched how other young artists are using Facebook and Twitter. A lot of my favorite bands raffle off tickets to quick tweeters, or fast posters—sort of the Post-Radio version of “First three callers get free tickets to Supertramp.” I’ve participated in a number of these “contests.” And they’re win-win: More people start following the artist’s Twitter feed or Facebook page if there’s free stuff to be had, and more eyes watching can’t be a bad thing because there really isn’t any such thing as bad publicity ; more people get to experience the artist’s art, some of whom otherwise wouldn’t have done so if they’d had to pass over the dough, and if even one of them enjoys it, the artist is doing better than before; and last, but not least, you get free shit.
It should be restated, if it isn’t clear, that the best part of all of this isn’t popularity, or moving closer to some financial/career goal, it’s getting the art into the hands of folks who will read it, see it, listen to it, and thereby legitimize it. Turn writers into authors. Art isn’t art without an audience. Sure, musicians play because they like to, painters paint because they want to, I write because I love to but, really, some things just aren’t all that excellent until they’re shared. My favorite pieces are ones that aren’t yet published—one of them no one, except a half-dozen magazine editors, has read—and I’ve found, no matter how proud I might be of creating something I believe to be beautiful, my stories only make me sad if no one’s reading them. Lonelier. But, when I’m reading someone else’s work, even sad stories only make me feel less lonely. Kurt Vonnegut believed that the greatest plague afflicting human beings is “the terrible disease of loneliness.” I agree. Even the blackest death metal concert is about coming together—the word “concert” actually means “two or more people in accord or harmony.”
And so I’ve decided it’s time to give away some free shit.
IV. Contest Rules
At two undisclosed moments in the next seven days (before Friday, April 15), I’m going to say “GO.” Or possibly something more exciting than that, but to the same end. And what that incitement will mean each time is that five people will win a free copy of Happiness is a. But to earn that copy, you must:
1. Post a link to a piece on Sesquipedalism.com on your Facebook page. And if you’re feeling generous, go ahead and attach a ringing endorsement of that piece’s merits. If you don’t have a Facebook page, you’re out of luck this time. Sorry. There’ll be more chances to score swag in the future, I’m sure. If you don’t have a Twitter account, make one. The reason I first got on Twitter was to try and win free tickets/LPs from Nine Inch Nails & How to Destroy Angels.
2. Snap a screenshot of this link (because I can’t see into most Facebook profiles of people with whom I am not friends), and attach it to an @sesquipedalism tweet. I’ll leave y’all on the honor system that you won’t immediately delete that link the second you’ve taken the picture.
3. The first five people to create such a link and prove it via tweeted picture will win a free copy of Happiness is a, shipping included.
4. The link must be to an actual selection of writing, something from either the “Articles” or “Lyric Essays & Memoirs” section.
But a few restrictions apply:
1. The first time I say “GO,” the books will go to the first five non-U.S. residents. I’d like to say that all ten winners could be international readers, but frankly, I can’t afford to ship that many copies at $14 a pop.
2. The second time I say “GO,” the books will go to the first five U.S. residents. So if you happen to live in Toronto this time around, you’re right out. Apologies.
3. In no case can a winner be someone whom I personally know. For the sake of this contest, let’s define “personally know” as “someone with whom I’ve had a cocktail or a cup of coffee.” This is about reaching new audiences. But on the upside, if you get me drunk enough, or muddle a bunch of Vicodin into my tequila, there’s a good chance I might just give you a copy anyways.
4. Questions? Contact me using the “Contact” form on the home page, send me a tweet, or leave a comment on this post. Sound good? Deal. Get ready.
[!] It should be mentioned that, though the performing arts are assuredly a sometimes culturally invaluable artform, I do not in any part of this essay mean my remarks to apply to film and TV actors and actresses who are grossly fucking overpaid in almost every case (while their screenwriters are, naturally, underpaid). Think of how many aspiring novelists could pay their rent for a year, thus finally finding the time to write that perhaps brilliant and culturally edifying book, with just 1/50th of Angelina Jolie’s paycheck from whatever abysmal flick she’s just finished. I pay a little more than $7,200 in rent every year. What’s $1,000,000 divided by $7,200? And she does five of those crappy action films every year. What’s $5,000,000 divided by $7,200? I’m sure at least one of those 690 potential novels would be better than Salt, Changeling, or Tomb Raider II.[BACK]
[*] Hell, this isn’t just restricted to artists. I work with a woman who walked around complaining that, for a while, I was in too good of a mood when I switched positions. This actually pissed me off more than many other more egregious offenses I’ve experienced in my day-to-day life. [BACK]
 This is why I still buy every record I add to my collection. With cash. Real money. I don’t want to give my hard-earned to the mafia-like record label intermediaries, but if that’s what I have to do to get the artists their due, then so be it. Unfortunately, folks have been slow to adopt the idea behind flattr.com—probably because it would further cement the death, the obsolescence, of the “major label.” I wouldn’t be surprised if major label-signed artists have in their contracts a provision that keeps them from adding flattr buttons to their respective websites, or if there were an active Sony/UMG/&c. campaign to suppress references to the site. Admit it: You don’t know what flattr.com is. I didn’t until a couple of months back, and I’m in the field. [BACK]
 Unintentionally CC’d in an email to someone else: “Seriously, this footnoted thing is a mess. I didn’t know if it was even fiction until I asked. I don’t know what he expects to do with it. He couldn’t give this shit away.” That may be slightly paraphrased; I no longer have the missive in question. But that was the gist of it. [BACK]
 I’ve never been an autograph hound of any sort; I’ve met musicians and writers, chatted with them while holding in my hand their product, yet left without asking for a signature. Nevertheless, I don’t look down on people who do collect autographs and I recognize that, fiscally speaking, it’s dumb of me not to do the same. So the next time I meet someone who signs stuff on a regular basis, I’m buying some merch, getting in line, and firing off a few questions while I wait for inscription. For instance, how long, do you think, before Thom Yorke stopped wanting to say to fans who asked for signed CDs, “You do know I’m just a guy who plays guitar alright and, until recently, rented a one-bedroom flat, right?” I very nearly wrote “Have a nice summer” in someone’s copy because the last thing I had to sign was in 1998, and it was a high school yearbook. [BACK]
 Unless you’re Michael Richards or Mel Gibson. [BACK]