Mike Spinak »

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Artist, Respect Thyself

Many professional photographers are terrified of clients discovering their printing costs. Over and over, I’ve seen photographers post in a panic on private professional forums, “My client just found out the printing prices from my photo lab. She knows I only paid $30 for that print I charged her $300 for. What should I tell her?” I always reply, “Tell the client you’re selling the content on the photo paper, not the paper itself.”

Why would a photographer fear a client finding out the price difference between print cost and what she charges? Because the photographer lacks confidence in the value of her work.

Many artists don’t respect themselves as creators, don’t believe in the value of their work, don’t think they deserve success, and don’t think they can succeed in their endeavors.

It’s a problem among artists in all fields. I’ve seen it for years in photography. Since I published a book and started participating in the writing community, I’ve been seeing it among writers, too. In fact, I can recognize a number of close parallels between the two. For example, photographers sign stock agency contracts with outrageously bad terms they should never accept, and authors sign publishing contracts with outrageously bad terms they should never accept, in both cases demonstrating a desperate willingness to undervalue their work to nearly nothing just to get into print.

Artistic insecurity leads artists to doubt themselves, which leads them to make fear-based decisions, which often leads to shooting themselves in the feet. Usually through self-fulfilling prophecy.

Lately, a lot of people request for me to explain how I’ve managed to get my book into libraries, when that’s purportedly damn near impossible. My answer: I asked. That’s the whole “secret”: I asked the librarians if they were interested in purchasing my book for their libraries.

Many don’t get their books into any libraries because they assume they can’t, and therefore don’t even try.

Some authors seek traditional publishers because they assume they can’t succeed on their own. Then they go with the first publisher to make an offer, thinking it’s likely the only offer they’ll get. Then they accept all the terms of the contracts without negotiating, believing that they’ll lose their deals entirely if they try negotiate. Thus they let their self doubts prevent them from doing better.

Then they share their bad experiences, unaware that those experiences were of their own making, and they spread doubt to others.

I see authors ask writing forums whether anyone has tried crowd-sourced funding, such as Kickstarter. Someone usually brings up that only ~30% of book projects on Kickstarter get funded, so “the chances are against you”. Another brings up that books make less, on average, than any other category on Kickstarter, so “it’s probably not worth the bother”. Then someone suggests imagining how professionally damaging and personally humiliating public failure will be. And before you know it they’ve all talked each other out of it.

I also see authors come to writing forums asking, “An editor quoted me $1,000 to edit my book. At that price, is it worth getting my book edited?” Again, respondents will start up with an arsenal of statistics of failure. One will say that books only sell an average of 100-150 copies. A second will say that most books make less than $500. A third will say that most self-published books sell fewer than 50 copies. After a sufficient barrage of such statistics, the authors will usually decide it’s not worth spending $1,000 on editing a book that will probably make less than $500; and so they self-publish their books unedited. Thus they doom their books to failure by convincing themselves their books will probably fail.

Not only do artists undermine themselves with this kind of thinking and behavior, they often undermine others in their fields, too. How did we get to the point where Getty Images just announced five-decimal place (i.e., thousandths of a cent) “micro-royalties” for stock license sales, today? It’s the result of an endless supply of photographers willing to take such meager payment for their work, crashing the industry to the point where payments for pictures are far below the costs for making them. A similar situation with writers is why Harlequin can get away with paying a measly 6% royalty rate to authors for novels. Indeed, unconscionable terms have become boilerplate for many photo stock agency contracts and book publishing contracts, because there are so many artists who unhesitatingly accept them.

When you are in the grip of these doubts, or believing the doubts others are sharing with you, remember these points:

1) If you don’t value your work, others won’t value it either.

2) Your situation is different from everyone else’s.

3) You know you won’t succeed if you don’t try.

4) Audaces fortuna iuvat. (Fortune favors the bold.)

Now, go show the world what you can do!