Tag Archives: creative industry

Hopeless Sinners

I’m excited to announce the arrival into the world of Sinners, the next volume in the Hopeless Maine series. It’s been a bit of a journey – having been picked up, kicked into the long grass and then dumped by Archaia, we found the awesome home that is Sloth Comics. But, it made sense to reboot the series and put the first two books out again. It’s been a long wait to get something new out there.

Let me mention at this point that Personal Demons and Inheritance were the Archaia titles, now gathered into one volume at Sloth called ‘The Gathering’. When we left Archaia they sent us a letter to say they’d stop selling our books, but those books are still being sold and we get no money for them. I’ve no issue with people moving second hand books about, but the length of time Boom (who took over from Archaia) kept them out there was dodgy to say the least. Also, while it says on Amazon that you can buy these – it doesn’t always turn out that there’s one to buy. People trying to buy old versions have had problems.

Sinners picks up with the characters who survived the first two books and continues their stories. By this point they are young adults. You can jump in here without having read the first two stories. I’m confident about this, because Sinners was the first thing I wrote for Tom. He went to a comic con, saw the power of the cute and wanted to do a young Salamandra story, which is where the first two books – written as prequels – came from.

Getting comics out into the world makes merely trying to publish a novel look very easy. A graphic novel – or fat comic – represents six months to a year of full time work (ten hour days, five and six day weeks) for the artist. We’d have to sell tens of thousands of copies for that to turn into the minimum wage. We can realistically expect to sell a few thousand. The only way to do something of high standard as an indy comics creator, is to be willing to accept poverty as a consequence. A lot of people are making that choice because they want to tell their stories and put beauty into the world. For comparison, Tom has worked for larger publishing houses and on projects that paid advances, and even then, he wasn’t on minimum wage when we figured it out by the hour. The book industry in the UK alone is worth billions a year, but creators are treated as disposable by the companies with the most money.

These are issues across the creative industries. People have to work part time at something else to pay their bills. We want nice things, but we don’t pay for them. The internet makes it easy to have nice things at no cost – and in many ways this is a good thing. Creators are not the only people wrangling with poverty, and lack of financial power should not mean a life devoid of good things, I feel. It’s one of the reasons I’m happy to put time into this blog every day. I want everyone to have good stuff.

I work part time as a book publicist to pay the bills, and I create with what time and energy I have left. I buy books, art, tickets for live music, CDs. I have no desire to exploit other creators, but I also have limited funds to pay them with. If those of us who can pay a bit here and there do, it helps keep creative people going. Part time comics artist is not a realistic trajectory when it can take a whole year of work to create a single book. If you’ve only got a couple of hours a day, it could take more like a decade. As a part time artist you don’t have the opportunities and time to develop your craft or much time to create anything.

And on that merry note, here’s a pre-order page for the new Hopeless Maine book https://www.bookdepository.com/Hopeless–Maine-2/9781908830142 

Here’s The Gathering https://www.bookdepository.com/Hopeless-Maine-Nimue-Brown-Tom-Brown/9781908830128

(you can get them anywhere that sells books)

And here’s my Patreon page in case you can spare me some small change every month. https://www.patreon.com/NimueB

Where is my inspiration?

To be creative, to be innovative, a person needs inspiration. We call it the fire in the head, with reference to Yeats. For much of my adult life, it’s been a given – a head full of ideas and a heart full of a passion for creating. What happens if it isn’t there, or if it goes away?

When finding the words for a blog post, or a simple email takes considerable effort.

Last summer, I decided to change tack and try to sort out more of my general body and mental health issues rather than worrying about where my inspiration had gone. My theory was that fixing those things might well solve the awen issue anyway. I can’t say it has. I take more time off, rest more, I’ve tried to increase the amount of stuff I’m exposed to that could inspire me, but the fire in my head is just old, cold ashes.

A few observations on life for this blog is the best, and often the only writing I do in a day. I’m not often motivated to get out an instrument, or to learn new music. I’ve written a couple of poems in the last six months. Nothing comes. Nothing sparks. Nothing flows.

I know if I was talking to anyone else about this, I would tell them that inspiration is something we’re all entitled to, and so is creativity. I’d tell them that their creativity mattered, and was wanted and needed.

Part of the trouble is that I know that fiction and poetry are the least helpful things I can do with my time. There are so many creative people struggling right now, because the creative industries are an exploitative mess. The world has more writers than it needs, by factors of a lot. It needs more reviewers and book bloggers and readers and people who support the idea of creative culture. Doing that has become my day job, and I do it well.

Being a creative person can make you the centre of attention, make you feel important, and valued. That’s attractive, and it’s part of why so many people want to write books and so forth. Giving up on the idea that my vision (now absent) my creativity (now lacking) is important is part of the process I’m in. I think what I can make as a creative person is less useful, less needed than what I can do by spending my time and energy on blogs and social media supporting other writers and creative people.

How do I justify giving time over to writing, when I could be helping other people? And that’s without opening the can of worms that is activism and the need to change and fix so many things in the world. Fiction is the least useful thing I can do right now. I think it’s this awareness, beyond all else, that has cost me my creative inspiration. Nothing has come into my head that seemed big enough, powerful enough, intense enough, passionate enough to be more important than any of the other things I could do with my time.

Maybe, if I push the other way, I can make it more feasible for other creative people to create. I do believe that has worth, and the more I can do there, the more worth it will have.

Last autumn I thought long and hard about rededicating to the bard path, but am increasingly thinking that what I need to do is dedicate myself to other people’s bardistry instead.

Wife of the artist

Last year, will be remembered by my household as ‘the year of the raven’s child’ because mostly what my husband did last year, was draw. There were a lot of 12 hour and longer days, and a lot of seven day weeks of him sitting at the table, and drawing from the moment he got up, right through the day and well into the evening. This is, it should be noted, entirely normal for comics artists at all levels of the business. Long days sitting at the board and no days off, for wages that numerically are the same (not relatively, numerically) as they were in the late seventies.

Art takes time. Back in the 19th century, John Ruskin was protesting about the way in which people were being required to work as machines, but no one really listened to him, and the industrialisation of creativity has continued, and if anything, got worse. I have heard of artists working 18 hour days. I know authors who write at a rate of a novel a month.

For those not caught up in the creative industry, this can all sound fine. Because as everyone knows, doing art and writing books is fun, so doing it all day must be fun and not like a proper job at all. By extension doing it all day every day and never getting a day off is also fun because this is a hobby so you can just keep doing it. Right? I grant you, a bit of playful painting of a Sunday afternoon is fun. Writing a poem on a whim, making up a short story… these are delightful ways to spend some time.  But when your day starts about 7am and you have to hit the board, or the keyboard, and make content for ten hours and more and then get up tomorrow and do it all again… ‘fun’ is not the best description. When you tot up the figures, the chances of making the minimum wage doing this are slim. No one joins the creative industries seeking this, but to be ‘professional’ this is all too often what’s required.

Many comics artists die prematurely. They die in America in part because their low pay does not allow them to afford health care. They die because their sedentary lifestyles undermine their health, and because if you have to spend your waking hours working, then all the self-care things like cooking and food shopping go out of the window.

Such work does not pay most people doing it enough that they can keep a second person at home to take care of them. Fortunately for us, I also work from home. Last year, alongside the various day job things I do (press officer, publicist, editor, professional blogger, occasionally author of fiction and non fiction) I did pretty much all the household stuff. I fought a running battle to make the time to get him outside regularly, to get odd hours of downtime when we could, and to give him some leisure time alongside this phenomenal project.

There were about 200 pages of art in this project. A page a day isn’t unusual for comics, but often a person is drawing, or inking, or colouring, not doing all three. A page a day doing all three, is tough. Tom can do a page a day, but then to go from the drawn image to the finished electronic image takes more time. A comics page isn’t created by just sitting down of a morning and putting down the lines. It has to be planned to get the text onto the page. Often, research is required. There are continuity issues and things that have to be remembered and repeated. The bigger the book, the more of these there are. So alongside the drawing and the toning, there also has to be time for page design, character design, and research.

There’s a really macho culture in comics. It has, for a long time, celebrated the habit of working yourself to death. People take pride in their long, long hours hunched over drawing tables. Anyone who can’t keep up should get out, is the general wisdom. That complicity with the system helps keep the comics industry the way it is. But in the last few months I’ve seen increasing numbers of artists stepping away from this, to talk about the truths of their lives, the human cost of being asked to work like a machine. It’s one thing to suffer for art out of personal passion, another to institutionalise that process. Last year was tough, but we got through it. Tom could have made the choice to push straight into the next big thing and go along with the story about how you get successful as a comics artist. He could have chosen the short life expectancy, and restricted relationships. He didn’t. Having put heart and soul into the year of the raven’s child, he’s eased off, and we’re going to try and find other ways to make this work.

I’m with John Ruskin on this one: We should not be trying to turn people into machines.

A modest business proposal

Tom and I have an idea for a business model and we’d like to run it past you all and see what you think. We’ve been thinking how great it would be to open a restaurant. We’d need to get funding for the venue, and to buy all the eatery gear and set up a kitchen. We’ll need to pay for raw materials, for waiters and bar staff, cleaners, managers, someone to take bookings, maybe some publicity. Where this really gets clever though, is our vision for the chefs.
We think chefs should be paid a percentage of every meal they sell, rather than paying them a wage. It gives them opportunity to earn a great deal more, of course, but if their food doesn’t sell, it reduces our financial risk. We’ll only start paying them that cut when we’ve covered the cost of the food and the waiting staff and taken something towards the rent, too.
If we’re taking on new chefs, who won’t automatically attract eaters, then we think they ought to pay for their own ingredients. We, after all, are taking most of the financial risk here, it’s only fair to ask them to contribute to that. We think it would be helpful if chefs made some effort to promote their food, too. We envisage them going out to people’s houses to cook sample meals now and then in order to attract customers. If a chef already has a TV program, they’ll get a better deal and we might be able to consider paying them up front.
We’ll pay the chef their percentage every six months. Well, we say that, but in practice the six monthly cheque will arrive when we get round to it, and could be a month or two late. However, such will be the contracts that if chefs don’t like this, about their only option will be to take their skills and recipes to another restaurant and try their luck there. To really make this work, we will get all other restaurants onboard, so that these are the only terms available for wannabe chefs.
We realise that with this model, the chef will probably need to work a regular day job in order to make ends meet. However, as being a chef is such great work, and it’s really a hobby job, this seems perfectly fair and reasonable to us. They ought to be happy doing it for love. Given the glamour and reputation of being a chef, we’re also confident that there are so many people who want to do it that we’ll never struggle to find people willing to work for us on these terms. After all, everyone has a meal in them.
If this business model made you a bit uncomfortable (and I really hope it did!), please consider that this is how the publishing of art, words and music tends to work, and that this is standard as a way of treating creatives in those industries. We’re wondering if the idea of ‘fair trade’ could be extended across the creative industries. All creative industries depend on the ‘product’ but usually the people making that product are the last to see any money from it. Editors, managers, in house designers, and the person who cleans the editor’s office will all get paid long before the creator sees a penny, in the vast majority of cases.

Insanity mathematics

When you want to expand a business, you invest, and do something new, or do more of something you had established was working. Your put profits back in, to pay for development, or you borrow some money against anticipated future returns. No one attempts to grow a company by taking money out of it, cutting staff, and doing less. No one sane, at any rate. Sure, you might do a bit of economising now and then, efficiency drives are good, but in a company that is, and will be thriving, the economy drive is there to free up time and resources for more productive things. You don’t just cut back and assume that will achieve something all by itself.

I’m not an accountant, or an economist, I have a GCSE in maths. I have worked as a self-employed person for a lot of years now and I know a lot of others who do the same. I’ve seen the working end of a number of businesses and I pay attention to things. No company grows by cutting back on everything. Maybe some strategic cutting back, but nothing more. Companies grow on investment, of time, money, ideas. I’ve talked before about working more effectively by doing less and picking carefully. That’s a strategy. It’s about using my resources to maximum effect to get the best return I can. All businesses do that sort of thing.

Here in the UK, we’re still in recession. Austerity has not delivered a reduction of national debt. There is a lot of poverty out there, a lot of unemployment, a lot of punishing the poor. The government were explicit in their assumption that if they cut public sector funding and jobs, the private sector would just magically fill the breach, do the work, hire the workers. Using all those magic spells and supernatural powers we in the private sector are known to possess. Sorry Mr Osborn, but economics don’t even work that way in Harry Potter stories. Of course it hasn’t happened, because to expand a private sector you need to invest.

We’ve been taking money out of higher education and research, which we could have invested in, to encourage the private sector. We’ve missed out on much of the potential for growth in new green technologies. The government could have led the way there. Much noise has been made about infrastructure, but no action. Do we need high speed trains? Not really. We could really use a bus network capable of getting people to and from jobs affordably, and delivering customers to our ailing high streets. We could use everyone being on broadband to stimulate the online economy. No government input there. We could use not having VAT on ebooks, crippling British writers and publishers. Our publishing industry is one of the few areas growing, not shrinking, you’d think a helping hand to keep that going would be an obvious call to make. How about investing in us as a cultural and tourism destination? No, we’re taking money out of the arts industries as well. How about supporting our valuable film industry? No.

The lunatics in power seem to believe that you can grow a country, and economy by taking money out of it. Your average five year old could work out there’s something wrong with the maths here. Mind you, if Mr Gove gets his way, we probably won’t have to worry for much longer about our five year olds being better trained to think than our politicians.

We could be investing in the good stuff: Green technology, creative industry, scientific research, and innovation. We could treat our people as a valuable resource, not as scroungers. We could be a great country to live in. The epic failure of courage and imagination is depressing, and I am heartily sick of being told this is the only way. There always were other ways.

Working like I don’t need the money

I’ve just read Autumn Barlow’s blog for this week, http://autumnbarlow.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/motivation-and-competition which reflects on writing issues and finished with the line ‘After all. This is just a job.’ Much of what she has to say I agree with, although I think about it in very different ways. I could write a small epic answering her point for point, but for the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’m not going there.

I’ve been involved in creative industries from various angles for about fifteen years now. Event organiser, performer, author, editor, publisher, reviewer, commentator, I’ve seen things from a fair few angles. I also know a great many creative people; amateurs, semi-professionals and full time people, some of whom are doing pretty well. I shall resist the temptation to name drop. Oddly enough, the really successful ones all tend to say the same sorts of things: Do it because it’s what you love. Do it because you have to. Make the art that you want to make and then see who responds. We’re not talking bright eyed young hopefuls here, we’re talking successful professionals who make a viable living from their creativity and who have done so for a long time. It would also be fair to say these are folk who work bloody hard – put in long hours, hone their talents, nurture their fanbases, show up at events, put heart and soul into what they do.

I’ve tried the ‘After all. This is just a job’ method. What it got me was misery, and no notable successes. My creativity is not a tap to be turned on and off at will, not a hose that can be pointed towards a lucrative market and sprayed liberally. There are things I am good at, and things I am less good at. The more time I spend forcing my creativity into shapes that are not natural for me, the less creative I become. I’ve tested this more than once. I can do it in short bursts, and then the inspiration dries up and the will to work goes away. The moment I treat it like it’s just a job, I am in danger of strangling the goose. It may not lay golden eggs, but any kind of egg is better than no egg.

If you are inherently sustained by the prospect of making money, the ‘just a job’ approach where you follow market trends, leap on bandwagons and try to be the next Dan Brown may work for you, but frankly, I think you’d be happier in the kind of job where returns are a bit more dependable. It’s also been my experience that people who are motivated by a desire to be rich and famous are usually not very good musicians, singers, artists, authors, dancers… not compared to the ones who are driven by passion and who are dedicated to their form.

Success as a creative person depends on dedication. If you’re always looking for the next lucrative bandwagon to jump on, you never really find out what you’re good at by developing your own skills. JK Rowling made YA fiction big. Think about what the YA fiction scene was like before Harry Potter. Yes, there have been a ton of Dan Brown conspiracy rip off books since his Da Vinci code came out, but he’s the one who cleaned up. It’s not the copycats who tend to make the money, it’s the innovators. Of course, if it’s just a job, then that niche may appeal.

When creative work is all about the money and all about the bottom line, the soul goes out of it. The world is full of examples of this. Cheap, disposable, forgettable, throwaway entertainment that kills a few hours and gives you very little. Good art should be entertaining, I’m with Ursula Le Guinn on that one. It should be moving, surprising, inspiring, uplifting, funny…  all manner of things. It shouldn’t be a way to not be alive for a few hours. It should enhance life. I do get very angry about commercially led, box ticking rubbish designed to appeal to everyone, which appeals to no one. The market for books is not growing. The mainstream music industry has been on its knees for some time now. Sure fire hits tend not to be as sure fire as they are supposed to be, and if we imagine that creative industry can function without risk…. We’re on dangerous ground.

If you’re creative and you want to make a living, you need to be professional, you need to polish your work, build an audience, promote, all that. But if you aren’t doing it for love, you won’t get through that first winter when you can’t afford to heat the house and have to sit in cafés to write. That was JK Rowling. If it’s just a job, that’s the point at which you quit and go work in the nearest takeaway place. Thank the gods she didn’t, the world would have been much the poorer.