Starving Artists?

I’m sure many of us feel starved in a way, but LitKicks member Nole Knapek asks:

“Who is the best example of a ‘starving artist’? I am undergoing the transition into this category. I have an unpublished novel that I’m going to take … make copies of it at Kinko’s, or wherever, and travel around the US distributing it for donations. Has anyone ever tried this before? If so, or if you have an opinion, please give me feedback.”

Whether you’re just thinking of shopping your work around, or if you’ve already self-published (a novel, a chapbook, a zine, etc.), what has your experience been with getting your work recognized and distributed? Any and all tips, anecdotes and even horror stories are welcome here …

9 Responses

  1. I’ll just have coffee…As
    I’ll just have coffee…

    As some of you know, I have a chapbook called Time Fades Into Next and Other Stories. I had some initial success when several LitKicks regulars ordered copies and also when a few were sold at the LitKicks Summer Shindig in Battle Creek, Michigan. I also sold a few here in Jacksonville at local clubs during poetry/spoken word events. The sales have fizzled out, however.

    My latest ploy has been to allow a local restaurants to sell the book and keep the proceeds. Why? Well, I’m glad you asked. See, I wasn’t making that much money anyway. The margin is pretty thin between the cost of printing the book compared to what most people were willing to pay for the book. The people who carry my book for sale need some motivation to push the thing, so I tried a couple of different angles.

    First, I got shops, restaurants, and clubs to display the book, and for each one they sold, we would split the money. But the logistics of this are difficult because I had to make my rounds on a routine basis to collect my piddley proceeds. Sometimes I spent more on gasoline that I earned from book sales.

    People who run a serious business are occupied enough with inventory, employee management, serving customers, and all the rest. At my favorite restaurant, the Boomtown Theatre, I noticed the waiters frequently asking, “Will you be staying for dinner?”
    or “We have a special on the menu today” or after a meal, “We have a cheesecake that is to die for…it goes great with that after-dinner cup of coffee…”

    This is what they are supposed to do. Suggestive selling is not bogus.

    But it must be a drag when I and my fellow writers & poets show up for Spoken Word/Poetry Slams, when maybe one out of ten of us plan to eat dinner, opting instead for a cup of coffee while filling up space where diners could otherwise be accommodated. It is a tribute to the owners of Boomtown Theatre that they feature Spoken Word at all. But they are special people indeed – Stephen Dare and John Allen – thespians extraordinaire and promoters of the arts.

    I don’t make much profit on these chapbooks, anyway. I really believe in what Stephen and John are doing at Boomtown. They feature not only readings, but also stage plays, variety shows, music, and Vampire Improv Night. So I told Stephen and John that I would like for them to sell my chapbooks and put the proceeds back into their operating expenses. It’s my way of supporting them for the fine work they do. I suggested $5.00 as the asking price. It’s worth more in my opinion of course, but it is, after all, a chapbook without a fancy flat, glued spine. Or an ISBN #.

    See, it occurred to me that, even if my books were displayed neatly by the cash register, my friends in the restaurant business know that each customer only has so much money to spend. By asking them to push my book, I’m making them choose between offering a slice of their scrumptious cheesecake or a slice of Billectric’s weird mindscape. It is only natural that they will push the book more if the cash goes right into the till. The idea is to get people to read it. Maybe if enough people read it, it will settle into the collective consciousness, to be accessed like long-dormant data when the “real” book comes out.

    Now I’m in the process of having the book self-published professionally. The title will be changed and there will be an additional four stories, for a total of nine. As for sales, the publisher will receive a much higher percentage than me, but that’s okay because, this motivates the publisher to push the book. Why would the publisher push the book if they didn’t stand to make much money?

    This brings us back to the “starving artist” concept. Damn it. I actually need to lose weight, so I guess I’m not starving. But I work at a bogus-ass job which I don’t like. I would rather make a living as a writer. It’s not easy but I will never give up. I don’t care if it takes until I’m 85 or dead and my estate finally gets Johnny Depp’s grandson to play one of my characters. Because, I hear that when you get really old or die, people think you are good.

  2. Billectric, I don’t think
    Billectric, I don’t think it’s too weird of a mindscape, when the new updated book comes out put me down for one!

    I too am a starving artist who needs to lose a couple pounds! But is that all we’re starving for? No, we want MORE, we want to be noticed, we want to be read, we want the Grisham/King sales, most of all I think we want to see our ideas out there and here people say “All right!”

    I’ve tried promoting my books on line & getting reviews (some very good ones too!) I’ve had some small success in getting noticed & people I’ve met on-line have helped too! (thank you Bill!) My next novel should appeal to several genres most notably the Rock & Roll audience which I think is a very nascent & unmined audience, so not only will I be seeking reviews from traditional sources I will trying to exploit (in the good way) that audience.

    I too work crappy temp jobs, recently got laid off & was living with my sister & she has decided to kick me out. But isn’t all this drama what we signed for? We didn’t want an ordinary life did we? We want to see different aspects of life. & you know occasionally someone like us does break through.

  3. back seat /bedroomI’ve met a
    back seat /bedroom

    I’ve met a few starving artist. They weren’t your conventional artist though, they were performing artist known as pool players. They had taken the leap into the joyous dispair. They’d sleep in broom closets one night and hotels the next, but mostly they’d sleep in their cars dreaming of the next big thing around the corner. They did it because that’s what they were; real living examples of character. Not the nine to five sludge that watches reality TV. Not the fluent speaking jargonmatics that sweet talk their way through sales and sell sell sell. Not the teacher, nurse, bricklayer, but instead the genuine article of which these poor saps would read about in fantastic stories of the road. Whishing they were there, possibly regretting their circumstance. The grass is greener on both sides. ‘Happiness’ is the key, along with a good conscience.

  4. A better nameHow about
    A better name

    How about striving artists instead of starving?

  5. Back in my old money-making
    Back in my old money-making sunset industry career, I crossed paths with a former supervisor who was retiring and I was just about to go up to the next rung on that ladder to success. He advised: “Live well and never think small.”

    I’ve been listening to these interviews and there’s many nuggets of solid information. One constant theme is how hard it is to get paid but one can’t really expect to get paid unless you have something really worthwhile selling.

    Possibly it might be worthwhile if you have many writer contacts to consolidate your pieces, find advertisers, and publish a pulp quarterly. First sketch out your break even analysis because already you know the costs of publishing and distribution.

    Good luck.

  6. Yes. Well said.Happiness is
    Yes. Well said.

    Happiness is the main thing. I’ve learned that you can’t go through life yearning for something that will finally make you happy. You have to enjoy what you are doing in the “here & now.” It’s okay to have goals, but you can’t bank your bliss on the uncertain future. Thanks for bringing up this point.

  7. I like what you said
    I like what you said previously. One can be starving for different things: fulfillment, artistic freedom, or recognition.

  8. Kafka and Kobe AbeI can
    Kafka and Kobe Abe

    I can remember two writers, Kafka and Kobo Abe. The former has Hugerkuenstler i.e. Hungry Artist and the latter has Magic Chalk in one of his early short stories.

    The Hungry Artist is an artist who has an art how to starve while the Magic Chalk gives anything an starving artist wants to get.

    And the end?

    I cannnot remember now.

  9. some day…a friend of mine
    some day…

    a friend of mine insisted once in I must publish a little book of poetry. and I did. but he gave me the following advice: some day, you will repent of which you have published. but I don’t. certainly I know that I’m sending better stuff to you, today but I don’t feel bad about those poems. I think that I’m constantly growing. and I think I’m not getting any more humble. don’t you believe it?

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