Imagine what life was like for sixteenth-century monks. Toiling away, day after day, illuminating manuscripts and hand-copying texts as directed by their superiors. Hunching over a rickety wooden table, the hapless monk would carefully do his best to either produce miraculous work or, more likely, not screw up so bad that he would be sent, head bowed down in shame, to stand in front of the head monk.
Now, think about a modern-day author. Not much has changed, except perhaps for the persistent presence of Facebook trying to seduce you away from working.
Artists, authors, editors, and designers don’t have to live a solitary life unless it suits them (or they happen to be chained to a wall in a dank dungeon.
SEND HELP!) They can band together into a collective and help each other progress. Of course, most creative types hear the same mantra over and over — “Don’t give away your time or work!”
The cool thing about a collective is that everyone has something they can trade. Everyone gets something they need in exchange for something they can provide. You’re not giving away your creative time, effort, and energy for nothing.
Artists have a tough time. Everyone wants their best work, but most don’t want to pay for it. Their work gets plagiarized or stolen from their website or Deviant Art page on an almost daily basis. Non-artists don’t understand that creating art, let alone crafting a high resolution book cover, takes a huge investment in mental and physical work. I’ve even heard authors low-balling artists at conventions, trying to snag some amazing artwork.
Probably the one statement that makes every artist on the planet cringe is:
“I can’t pay you for your work, but you’ll get a lot of exposure if you give me the copyright so I use it on my E-Book cover.”
Reminder: People often die of exposure, especially when it’s cold out.
Reminder, redux: Never ever EVER give away a copyright on your work UNLESS you’re well-paid up front. Think Disney animators. For everyone else, artists can consider licensing their work.
Everyone needs the artist’s work, from author to publisher to web designer to advertising executive, so there’s a good-sized audience waiting to buy their best work. The question then becomes, “What can you do for me?” Here are some possibilities:
- Provide cold hard cash.
Remember that quip about exposure? Artists can still become popsicles if they can’t pay their heating bills.
- Website Coding.
Trade some artwork to a website developer or coder. You can get a nice showcase for your art, or if you already have a basic site, you can have additional functionality added (such as a store to sell prints).
- App Coding.
Same idea as web coding, except applied to a mobile device.
Need some text on your website to go along with those pretty pictures? Are you trying to break into the world of comic books or graphic novels? Pair up and have an author produce a script while you provide the panels.
- Design an artbook.
If you have a large collection of high-quality artwork, and you have enough of a following to sell enough books to get filthy rich, trade your services with a professional or experienced book designer.
Yeah, I know. Everyone and their grandmother can write. The difference is you know how to write well. Some authors can produce amazing prose, while others are virtual wizards when it comes to cranking out advertising copy.
As far as working in a collective, the author is the universal receiver. They need something from everyone else in the group. The good news is you can provide positive, effective text in exchange for the services of others. Need someone to properly edit your new novel? Trade some ad copy or blog posts towards your bill. Want to produce a graphic novel? Collaborate with an artist and knock out something to send to Dark Horse, Vertigo, Zenescope, or BOOM! Studios.
Professional-quality editors can be the odd woman out. Authors and web designers need their skills, but editors don’t necessarily require artwork, writing, or even code work. Of course, should she require those services, she has a trusted team to choose from. Cash for editing can be the standard, but seriously consider offering a discount to the collective members.
Semi-pro and advanced authors can arrange better deals within the collective. They can read each other’s work and point out ways to improve the text. It is important that everyone does as thourough a job as they can. Giving a manuscript a quick scan and announcing it’s just fine and dandy is reserved for the parents of authors. Edit and give constant feedback. Point out errors, don’t comment that you think the author is a bumbling idiot that should be kept away from sharp objects and things that can produce text. The object is to improve, for you as an editor and for them as an author. It’s also important to note that nothing really replaces getting properly edited, especially when self-publishing. A few runs through the collective gauntlet should produce a manuscript that requires less revision when it comes back from the pro editor.
Book Designers, E-Book Coders, Website Wizards, and App Developers
These are specialized skills, and are more technical in nature. I’ve found that many of the folks who can perform these services are also authors, artists, or rich Gatsby-like socialites. Website developers can always use new graphics or blog posts. E-Book coders can always use the services of editors to look for problems with the work they’re producing, especially if someone has a Nook Color or Kobo Aura and the coder only has a Kindle Paperwhite. App developers just scare me with their skills…it’s the equivalent of a magic user in fantasy.
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Working together in a collective can help to further every member’s career. Make sure to value each other’s work, and be willing to discuss trading services such that everyone is satisfied with the deal. If you don’t understand why an artist doesn’t want to trade a magnificent digitally painted book cover for two or three blog posts, ask them to walk you through their process so you understand the time and creativity investment. You might learn something in the process.