Because You’re Not Worth It (Or, Why Friends Don’t Ask Friends To Work For Free)

This post, by Kian Kaul, originally appeared on his Stockholm site on 5/10/11.

I used to find this quote inspirational, but now it just seems puzzling…

“One man writes a novel. One man writes a symphony. It is essential that one man make a film.”
– Stanley Kubrick

[Editor’s Note: strong language after the jump]

Not to pick an undebatable point with one of the greatest creative minds in recent history, but having produced a novel (yes, produced – more on that later) it’s fairly clear that all the author traditionally does is put the words together pretty.  Write the manuscript.  What usually follows in the process is turning it over to proofers and editors, lawyers who vet the prose for lawsuits-in-waiting, marketers whose job it is to judge to whom and how to hock the story, which in turn informs the graphic designers who mock up the jacket cover and possibly any accompanying advertising materials (if handled in-house), all overseen by the publisher whose vision greatly supersedes the person who slapped the words together pretty in the first place.  Not to mention the ENG crew who may be hired to shoot crisply-lit interviews with the author to be used in the press kit (produced by yet another company entirely) for media outlets who may want to cover the product (yes, product).

Before the switch is thrown on this assembly line, it’s debatable whether the manuscript is really a book or just a pile of papers.  Or perhaps it was best argued on an especially subtext-heavy episode of Seinfeld , “It’s a pizza as soon as you put your fists in the dough!” “No, it’s not a pizza until you take it out of the oven!”

But, all the above is pure fantasy if you’re an indie author (the recent rebrand of the dreaded “self-published”).  Unless you’re versed in some or all of these skills, or just wealthy (in that case, read no further, you’ve got life on a string!) you’re probably planning to pull in favors, find other skilled creatives who “need to build their portfolios” and enlist friends who will be brimming with enthusiasm to drop whatever they’re working on to help you.  But the truth is, you’re not worth it.

The math is pretty simple; if you’re not in the position to hire for pay, none of the following highly-coveted descriptive terms apply to you: wealthy, famous, influential, incredibly charismatic, double-jointed.  Because, let’s be brutally honest, if you were two or more of those things you wouldn’t be an “indie author”.

The term “indie” seems to be a more sanitized form of “punk” or “underground”, with the aesthetic implications of photocopied demo tape jackets and monochrome fliers, circa 1980-199something (pre-Photoshop, post-Guttenberg).  And that’s essentially what we’re doing, sticking up our own demo albums on the local giveaway shelves until either someone offers us money to do it on their terms or we make enough to pay ourselves a living wage and continue to produce (while screaming “fuck the man” and pretending that we haven’t become exactly that).

Read the rest of the post on Kian Kaul‘s Stockholm.