It wasn’t too long ago that a creative person needed to beg or pay for a forum to do his work. He either needed to find a patron, impress a literary agent, please a record company executive, or buy his way into the system to get his work out.
The creator needed permission.
To put a book out, I once needed a literary agent. To get my articles out in public, I needed to fool some poor editor into thinking I could do the job. Rejection slips were just part of the process, and believe you me, I have a pretty fair collection of them going for myself.
That’s in the past, though. Thanks to the Internet, the whole idea of getting permission is no longer a real issue. That’s great news to the writer, the artist, the musician, the entrepreneur.
When I started writing professionally three decades ago, my big question was whether someone will let me work.
Unfortunately, the permission mindset is still around even though the reality isn’t there any more. It’s this need for permission that drives writers to work for peanuts or less, what drives musicians to play “for exposure,” what drives artists to starve in a garret somewhere. It’s that perceived need for permission.
Now, instead of wondering if someone would let me work the question is this: Who’s going to stop me?
Admittedly, a form of permission is still important. I still need to get it to make a living at what I’m doing. Fortunately I have some clients that have given me this permission, by agreeing to pay me a certain amount to do some work for them. But the dynamics have changed considerably.
Ebooks leading the charge
There used to be a stigma attached to being a self-published author. Unless you impressed the right people, you had to go to one of those subsidy presses and pay for the work yourself. A great gulf existed between writers for the “royalty” press and the “vanity” press — though as my man Michael Hyatt puts it, it’s all vanity.
Now, that stigma is disappearing. Ebooks are ridiculously popular. Amazon is selling more electronic books than the dead-tree versions. And although a self-published ebook doesn’t look as polished as one that’s produced by a royalty publisher, even that distinction is slowly fading.
Say what you want about “50 Shades Of Grey,” and you’re probably right. It’s porn for Mom. But that’s not the point. It started life as an ebook and print-on-demand paperback. Within the year Vintage Books picked it up, and author E.L. James is now one of the more successful novelists around. Without permission — in fact, Vintage Books basically asked permission to produce her book.
John Locke is another novelist who didn’t waste time asking permission. His specialty is short detective novels for your Kindle, with readers paying as little as 99 cents to catch the latest adventures of his protagonist Donovan Creed. Locke has sold more than a million e-copies, and Simon and Schuster has since signed a print deal with him. Again, it was the big publishing house asking permission, not the writer.
Hey, I’m not talking about quality of the work here. We’ve got a bunch of crap available online, and it appears quite a bit of it sells. I could go off on a rant about how people don’t read anymore, how they’re afraid to go deep, but that’s not even the point. Just the presence of so much crap — and how crowded the Internet is these days — is a testament to how this power balance has shifted.
Cutting out the middle man
OK, so the old gatekeepers who used to give the permission are outmoded. But permission is still there, and that balance has also shifted. It’s the consumer, the reader, who gives the permission these days.
By you clicking on this website or subscribing, you’ve given me permission to “talk” to you. To me, that’s worth a lot and I thank you for it. By clicking on my ebook link, you’re giving me permission to separate you from a few of your dollars. That’s perfectly OK by me, too.
See, somewhere along the line you’ve decided what I have to say is worth your time and/or money, and we’ve come to an agreement there. You’ve decided whether I provide value by your permission. In doing so, we’ve cut out the middle man, the gatekeeper.
But I didn’t need permission from some gatekeeper to get my stuff online. It didn’t even take any real expenditure on my part. A writer could just as easily put his blog on wordpress.com or blogspot.com, borrowing the domain name and space. But for $20 a year I own my two domain names, ericpulsifer.com and creativeanddangerous.com. Shoot, that’s about a nickel a day for both.
The cost of producing my ebook? That was free through Amazon, though I needed to come up with my own copy, my own cover art, and do my own formatting.
Gatekeeper? I don’t see any gatekeeper. Do you?
These days it’s nothing for a band to put together a Web site or even to post videos on YouTube. They’re out there, and all you need to do is find the material online, and you make the call whether to follow the artist.
I first got the idea of permission and gatekeepers some years ago, when I was playing a lot of music. Larry Broussard, a guitarist/singer from Atlanta recorded some tracks at a friend’s home studio, and wanted me to add some instrumental work. When I showed up at the studio, the sound engineer anesthetized his dog so he wouldn’t bark, hooked me up with a mic and headphones, opened the file to the song, and I laid down my track. A few minutes later I had the freshly-mixed track on CD, no waiting. The sound engineer used a Mac-based system with top-notch recording and mixing software, and I really can’t tell the difference between the final product and a recording done in the Capitol Building in L.A.
Although I’ll rant about the quality of stuff out there, you’re not going to hear me complaining about the new world of publishing. There’s no way. I can get my work published any time you want. You can get your artwork in front of the eyes of millions any time you want. The musician can get his songs out there any time he wants.
All of this is a long way of saying that one of the greatest excuses for not creating doesn’t make any sense any more. The rules of permission have changed considerably, and it’s good news for anyone with an idea. It’s more than good news; it’s great. It’s groundbreaking.
The gatekeepers used to stop us creative types. I don’t miss them at all.
The only one who can stop me now … is me.