To Work for Free or Not for Free. That’s the Question!
“If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” -The Joker
I have worked with many artists during my years of self-publishing. The list includes pencilers, inkers, letterers, voice actors, digital artists, and other writers. I also belong to a group of local comic artists of all skill levels, and The Joker’s above sentiment is oft expressed by comic artists. In the field of indie comics, many creators feel they have the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Crow, or The Tick that will sweep the industry by storm, but the creator (writer, publisher, or writer-publisher) lacks the start-up capital to offer a page-rate to artists, and instead, they will offer “a percentage of profits” because they believe their product will rake in the cash and the artists will benefit more than a page-rate ever could. But any artist who has been around knows that it is unlikely the comic will make a dime, leaving them having wasted their time and talent.
After I published my book Twenty-One Octobers, I set to make it into an audiobook, primarily so my aging mother could enjoy it since even large-print books are hard for her to read. Taking to heart the mantra that you get what you pay for, I began to search for a voice actor worthy of the task with a budget in mind. ACX (a division of Audible, a division of Amazon) provides digital services that include complication and distribution of an audiobook, and they also help to coordinate voice actors and publishers for either a split of profits or a straight rate per hour of finished audio. I hired an actor, and after a few months, we had a product I was sure would help recoup my investment.
I’m not going to discuss why it hasn’t made any money, but I know it’s not because the writing or the voice actor is sub-par. People haven’t found it yet, and that’s okay. I imagined audiobooks being the new California Gold Rush or bitcoin in 2009, and maybe it is, but it wasn’t for me.
“A rising tide lifts all boats.”
I have four other books with audiobook potential, but I didn’t want to risk the cash up front, knowing that they probably won’t make money. The marketing technique I gleaned from the Facebook group 20BooksTo50K is that when you have twenty books (or book-like products) online, you’ll start to crack Amazon’s algorithms and show up prominently in searches, thus making you 50,000 dollars in annual revenue. Obviously, this is not guaranteed or scientific, but people smarter than I say the theory is sound. So, I listed the four books, three a modern fantasy series, Champions of the Maelstrom, Vengeance of the Maelstrom, and Avatars of the Maelstrom, as well as sVck, an erotic comedic vampire novel I wrote with my partner under pen names. I put these books up for profit split, with the clear understanding that these books were unlikely to make a dime. When two talented voice actors enlisted, I repeated my statement that they were likely to get a 50% cut of zero dollars, and they were undeterred.
Though both actors wanted the entire series, I split the difference, giving one book to each with the intention of uniting them for the final book. I have been told that audiobook listeners prefer the same narrator for an entire series, however, since I had two talented professionals who wanted the gig, I opted to share the (lack of) wealth. The final book is narrated by the primary character of each chapter, giving an immersive first-person perspective that allows for a richer storytelling experience. (More on this later) My plan was to give the male parts to the male actor and the female parts to the female actor.
The other reason I split the duties was a result of my experience with other artists. People, through no fault of their own, sometimes people get sick, or overwhelmed with other projects, or day jobs, or family issues, or health concerns. And sometimes, they just flake out. By dividing the responsibilities, I could have three books done in half the time while minimizing the risk of an unplanned derailment of the whole project.
Derailment number one: Health issues with actor number one slowed down the book. Then, voice actor number two starts landing other paying projects and is booked for the next couple years, but as they are a professional, they agree to do the agreed-upon half of book 3. However, the ACX contract system does not allow for the splitting of profits among two or more actors, thus throwing a monkey wrench into my whole plan. I should have done more research before making the deals, but everything worked out. I let VA2 out of the contract (they wanted to leave, too), and VA1 agreed to read book 3. Crisis averted.
Today, we’re on the verge of releasing Champions of the Maelstrom (book 1 of the Tragic Heroes Trilogy) after already releasing Vengeance of the Maelstrom (book 2).
I know, right?!
This brings me to my earlier thesis: If you’re good at something, never do it for free. Remember? It was only a few paragraphs ago.
We do stuff we’re good at for free all the time. I have written for free, and I would do so again if the cause and/or market were right. If Marvel Comics asked a beginning artist to draw for free, most would leap at the chance! Many starting actors take small roles to gain experience and acting credentials. I often have sex for free. The list goes on. My point is, “Know your value, but ice your nips.” Meaning—always be working. Not everything is a stepping stone, but every step is closer to somewhere else. What does that mean? I don’t know.
I wrote this for free.
What do you think? Have you ever worked for free and regretted it? Or did you receive experience and “exposure” you found to be rewarding? Let me know.
Check out my publications on Amazon or wherever you buy your books.
The League of Super Groovy Crimefighters
Twenty-One Octobers: Inspired by a True Story
Champions of the Maelstrom
Vengeance of the Maelstrom
Avatars of the Maelstrom
sVck (Seaward Dracula & D. Stroker)