The following is a chapter from Business for Breakfast, Volume 1: The Beginning Professional Writer.
However, if you’re like most writers (broke!) I will also be posting a chapter a week, so you’ll merely have to have patience to read all twelve chapters.
Drips to Trickles to Streams
Why you write or create art probably has nothing to do with money.
Why you publish may or may not have anything to do with money.
And possibly there is no money coming in at this point.
But your intent is to make money at your art.
This chapter describes how that happens for many artists, and how to think about the money coming in during this new age of publishing.
Suppose you write a short story and decide to publish it yourself.
Somebody buys it. Great!
This is a drip.
You make another sale that month. Maybe you don’t sell anything the following month. Then you have another sale.
Many properties (remember, every story or novel is intellectual property, and can be referred to as property) work in this fashion.
A sale here, a sale there.
Of course, you could always bottle lightning. Hit the social zeitgeist. Sell a million copies of the very first novel you put up.
Those are the exceptions.
For most artists, the first pieces generate drips and nothing more.
Everyone who has read your stuff loves it. You continue to write and publish. But your work hasn’t found its audience yet.
Then, at some point, maybe after your tenth or twentieth novel, you notice a change.
A single property may still only have a sale every other month or so.
However, this other property is also selling a copy every other month. And that other property as well. And maybe there are a couple of other properties that sell that way.
Not a single property is selling consistently or well.
However, all your properties sell one or two here or there.
Suddenly, you have a trickle. Instead of a single sale of a single property, you have a single sale of a dozen different properties.
This is a trickle. It isn’t enough to live on. May only be coffee money.
But it’s a constant trickle of money.
So you continue to write and publish. You’ve continued to improve your property. Maybe you’ve spruced up a neighborhood by painting the houses—that is, putting new covers on your work. Or you’ve taken a class and learned how to write great blurbs and have updated those.
Sometimes now you catch the attention of a voracious reader, who goes through and buys everything you’ve written.
You’re starting to get reviews. Nothing that you’ve paid for, but from fans who genuinely like your work.
You’re selling more copies. Maybe you sell a short story to a major magazine or to an anthology.
Your income jumps to the next level. Suddenly, instead of just trickles, those trickles have combined to become a stream.
But that’s just a single stream—your published electronic work.
You now need to add more streams. Like print books. And audio. And hey, you have a friend who’s an artist who’s always wanted to illustrate one of your books. So you do a graphic novel.
Or maybe you’ve only ever written fiction, but you know a lot about business. So you start writing and publishing non–fiction.
Instead of a single stream of money coming in, you have many streams.
If you continue to play the long game, the slow game, then eventually, you’ll get there. Maybe a book will take off after you’ve written twenty, and you’ll be an “overnight success” after years of hard work.
Or maybe for your career, you’ll just combine all those streams into a river.
Professional writers, those with long careers, all have seen this sort of ebb and flow of money. Money washes in, then they go through a dry spell, then it flows again.
You should expect the same thing of your long–term career as well. Things change. They always do. New technology occurs. New stores pop open and close.
Streams dry up. But then they come roaring back with new life.
Have many streams flowing into your rivers.
Have many neighborhoods filled with different types of houses in your subdivision.
Money is always an interesting concept. Most people won’t talk about it, not in specifics.
But we all have ideas about money, where it comes from, how hard it is to acquire.
More than one artist I know have unconsciously sabotaged themselves by not understanding themselves.
It has nothing to do with being good or bad with money. That’s the end result.
As an artist, you need to dig deeper.
In your family of origin, what were their attitudes toward money?
Were you raised to believe that money is something you’ll never have? Or were you raised to believe that money will just always come in, whether you work or not? Or perhaps you were raised to think money should never be associated with your art?
Your underlying attitudes toward money will affect your drips and trickles and streams.
If you think you can never have money, that money will never come to you, then you’ll stop writing and publishing, won’t believe the constant drips, will take your work down when you start selling. (I’ve seen it happen.)
Or you stop working because you’ve put up great stuff—someday someone will start buying it. You won’t improve the neighborhood. You let it go to seed because the money should just come in.
Figure out where your own attitudes are. Understand yourself as you go into this, your own ideas about money. You may or may not be able to avoid the pitfalls. But you might be better able to dig yourself out of one if you fall.
These are the three things you need to remember about income and how it flows to an artist/writer:
- Money trickles in. It probably won’t come all at once in a deluge.
- The more sources that money trickles in from, the better.
- Understanding your own attitudes about money will go a long way toward helping you manage it when it does start coming in.