March 25th, 2011

jack skellington

But what does it mean?

Let's see if getting this into visual text helps me organize my thoughts a bit...

I've been reading a lot of interesting posts and discussions lately about crowdfunding, e-book pricing, and self publishing and pondering the implications for me as an illustrator.

I gave up on illustration by the time I left school, in part because I found the business aspect thoroughly unappealing. I can't stand dealing with people who care more about money than craft, and I certainly don't have the people skills to charm an agent or an art director into buying my work. The idea that one should never produce work for free, likewise didn't sit well with a young artist for whom learning and enjoyment were infinitely more powerful motivators than money.

Thank goodness for the internet.

In the five years since I graduated, technology and the publishing industry have evolved to the point where an awkward, introverted aspie can collaborate with an author thousands of kilometers away to create and publish a picture book. I can release an e-book myself, at no cost beyond my monthly internet connection. Sites like kickstarter make it possible to raise the funds needed to produce a print edition that can be sold in physical book stores. All without a single phone call or face-to-face meeting. For text based books the process is even simpler, with the flexible epub format, and a variety of print on demand services - some of which will not only produce paper copies of a book, but make it available through major book retailers.

Big publishers have become optional. Writers are excited about this, because it means they can keep the rights to their work. It means they can write the stories they want to tell without having to cater to mainstream tastes. It means not having to wait a year or more before their work is available to their readers. And it means they can make more money while charging less, which makes their work affordable to a wider audience. 

But I am not a writer. The benefits to artists are less clear. What I know is that bypassing traditional publishers leaves more opportunities for direct collaboration. I may lack the independent creativity to deal with a manuscript entirely on my own, but now I can work with an author to ensure that my vision is compatible with theirs. If I'm not sure about a character's hair or eye colour? I can ask. I hate trying to make decisions based on incomplete information, and that kind of certainty makes a big difference.

I know that with nothing to stop them, more stories are being released that could potentially be accompanied by artwork. I've got two more children's books lined up, and I've done nothing to market myself. 

...which kinda makes me wonder what would happen if I did.

There are people making decent money by sharing their work free on the internet. Their fans support them by buying merchandise and books (both electronic and paper) and through outright donations to express their appreciation. Huh. People with money are willing to spend it on things they actually enjoy. Who'd have thought. :P

Could that work for illustration? Storybooks are wonderful; I love working on them, and I plan to continue doing so, but they are definitely long-term projects, and I can't do many of them in a year. Is there any demand for quick sketches? If I invite people to contribute ideas for warm-up sketches and ArtRage experiments..will anyone want them? How about single illustrations? I already price personal/non-commercial work at 'what you think it's worth, adjusted for what you can afford' but I don't advertise my availability to take commissions. Should I? What do people want to see from an artist without her own stories to tell?