Giving Your All, And Still Coming Up Short

This turd plopped into my inbox today:

I read the first 10 chapters of 7th Son online and ordered the book. I was under the impression that the online release was not the complete novel. When the book arrived from Amazon, I dug in, disappointed to find that the print novel was the same content as released online. Probably my oversight, but it seems a wasted purchase.

If we're defining "wasted purchase" as participating in the centuries-old practice of monetarily supporting the artists who create the content we consume, then yes -- the dude wasted every penny.

Free-flinging New Media creators, it's time we had a talk. Get your head around this. Nothing you do -- no matter how much time, effort and money you spend on creating pitch-perfect, delicious Free content -- will ever fully please your audience. They shall never be sated, mostly because people like us created precedents years ago that trained Free-fed audiences to be ravenous. They will consume until there is nothing left to consume, and they'll demand More.

(Even when you clearly explain that there will be no More, and why, they'll grouse about the inequity of your decision. I do not understand how, after receiving hundreds of hours of content for Free, a person can legitimately characterize my recent decision to leave podcasting as unreasonable or unfair.)

In today's case, my emailer wanted More content than what he could get for Free -- and he had Free access to the entire novel. There was no compelling reason for him to support my work simply for the sake of supporting it. There had to be More. Even when you give away the cow, people still bitch about the milk.

At least the dude bought a copy of my book. When you're in this Free racket, there's no accountability or obligation for fans to monetarily support your work. Of course, creators fully know these risks when they got into the Free game. There's no creative rape happening here, no victimization. Everyone involved is a consenting adult.

But back to More, and people wanting it. At first glance, this is an embarrassment of riches. What's wrong with people expecting more from creators -- especially creators who give away their content? It's Free, right? It's a weekly bite-sized confection for the ears, munch-munch-disposable, an easy delete from the hard drive. Yet ravenous fans fundamentally underestimate the time and effort that is required to create the content they consume. They can't help this. They undervalue creative work because they do not create; they consume. They're not initiated.

Time for a schooling. Did you know that a 30-minute episode of my podcast fiction requires more than 20 hours to write, edit, record, produce and post? Did you know even more hours are spent promoting that content? Presented in these terms, spending 20 hours busting ass for zero pay is crazy talk. New Media creators have only themselves to blame for this; we often bet the farm on ephemeral goals such as audience size, eventual mainstream publication, and bestseller lists -- and completely ignore the risks and tangible real-world costs of time, effort and money required to meaningfully play in this space.

Make no mistake: If you want to become a meaningful leader in this space -- and indeed, any space -- it ain't a hobby. It's a fucking lifestyle. (Which is why there are hundreds of podcast novelists, yet less than 10 who've actually secured those coveted New York publication deals.)

More, More, More. Audiences demand it -- and creators do too. There is a great misconception in the podcast creator community -- particularly in the podcast fiction space -- that creators must produce and release more content, and must do so consistently and immediately. The rationale: If they quit sprinting on this Free-fueled treadmill, they'll vanish into obscurity. Or in the less business-oriented vernacular so many New Media creators use: People won't like you anymore.

This is crazy-making bullshit.

Many of the novelists who consistently produce Free content often do so because they release "trunked" content -- meaning, content that's served time in a dusty drawer -- or because their financial circumstances permit them to be full-time content creators. (Or both.) These creators are rare. The rest of us heap those creative responsibilities upon the commitments of a 40-plus-hour work week and family obligations.  Unchecked, this can lead to a disconnect between being faithful to yourself as a creator, and running the risk of becoming a cafeteria slop-slinger. It is very difficult to effectively scale when you're a one-person show.

Further, life on this treadmill can confuse short-term creative validation with long-term career goals. It also nearly always prioritizes praise over profits. Grinning at the emails from happy Free-fed fans is delightful ... until the rent's due. If your ambition is to merrily swim in the overcrowded Free fishbowl and nothing more, keep producing More for Free. If you aim to make a living wage with your words, you must be far more strategic in how you spend your creative time, and how you distribute your creative content -- and for fuck's sake, do something about getting published, or getting paid. Anything less is crowdsourced masturbation.

Also understand that unless you are a truly great writer, running the Free rat-race in an effort to desperately feed your audience will eventually compromise the quality of your work. Sure, you're entertaining your peeps, but you're cranking out shit. Don't crank out shit.

And don't give away any more than you wish to give. You are not a hostage to your audience. The only thing you owe your audience is quality Free content released on a schedule that is dictated by your terms. If those terms transform into hanging up your Free hat and moving on to other important aspects of your career, you can do that. I did, and I assure you, life goes on.

With few exceptions, creators cannot sustainably dedicate their creative lives to performing heroic tasks for Free to please strangers. This can quickly lead to consensual enslavement, not artistic empowerment. That's no way to live.

And sometimes, as in the case of the email I received today, you cannot give any more than you already have. This is because you've freely provided everything there is. There is no More.

--J.C.