Baby, it’s cold outside

If you’re a writer, then you’ve been found by the investigative arm of Writer’s Digest. WD is the best in the business, and I strongly recommend you contact them if you ever lose your dog.

This week’s WD flyer is for its annual writing competition. The marketing copying:

EXPOSURE

is the SINGLE MOST VALUABLE COMMODITY in the publishing world – and that’s what you’ll get if you win.

Actually, exposure is among the most valuable commodities in the art world. Artists will do almost anything to increase their exposure, which translates to paychecks and strangers waving at you in the grocery store.

Exposure is a box with lots of tools. Winning a respected contest is great exposure, whether you’re a painter or a writer. Other tools: media coverage, a popular blog, ads, public events, or, most importantly, good work.

Exposure also is code for “free.” Because people see art as a hobby, or they think art is too expensive, they offer exposure instead of money.

When I was working on my MFA, I took a creative nonfiction class. The students complained that David Sedaris was reading/speaking in Minneapolis and charging $50. We were outraged. Didn’t he realize his appearance would sell books? Didn’t he realize wannabe writers needed $50 for next semester’s groceries?

The professor, an extraordinary woman, writer, and teacher, said this: Writers deserve to get paid for what they do. If David Sedaris gets an auditorium full of people who paid $50 to see him, that speaks to his talent and brilliance. Good for him. Artists deserve to get paid for what we do, just like doctors or accountants or janitors.

Amen and thanks for that, Diana Joseph, author of I’m Sorry You Feel That Way. The Astonishing but True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother and Friend to Man and Dog.

The Frye: Joe Tougas (my X) and Ann Rosenquist Fee. They've played with the Indigo Girls, they've played in Memphis bars and, apparently, at construction sites.

The Frye: Joe Tougas (my X) and Ann Rosenquist Fee. They’ve played with the Indigo Girls, they’ve played in Memphis bars and, apparently, at construction sites.

Regardless, fine artists donate works of art to charity auctions. Some give workshops and donate the money to a cause. Writers read, for free, to near-empty bookstores. Writers visit classrooms and book clubs and writing groups, making a fan base one person at a time. That’s good strategy, and it’s fun, too.

But you can’t do it forever. You need to write. You need to eat.

Musicians get the most requests. My X is in a popular band, The Frye. At least once a month, if not more, The Frye is asked to play for a charitable event. They usually agree because they can’t say no to cancer research, political rallies, a family overwhelmed with medical bills from grandma’s treatments. Who could?

Diana would agree that artist donations – whether it’s a reading or a giveaway – are yes, exposure, and reasonable things to do from time to time. Decent people support charities. Some people write checks; some play banjo for free at a fundraiser. It’s called having a heart.

But there are borderline “causes,” the groups with real budgets that prefer to spend money on decorations instead of the band.

Frankly, artists get tired. Most have other jobs. They need to actually work at their art. Those acrylics aren’t paint-by-numbers. And, bottom line, they need a paycheck so their art can continue.

When you finally tell the organization, sorry, I can’t do it this time, maybe next year, what you hear is this: Consider it free marketing. It’s such good exposure!

My artist friend had a wonderful response: Did you know you can die from exposure? 

Amen and thanks for that Amy Kortuem, a musician, singer, and writer.

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