How can an old-fashioned Detroit assembly line worker walk away from the factory and become a creative, independent 21st-century entrepreneur?
That’s the way I now see the situation faced by fiction writers today.
Here’s what happened. Last month, I picked up Robert T. Kiyosaki‘s Rich Dad Poor Dad for a dollar at a library book sale. I was interested because I had a poor dad—a “progressive” teacher and administrator, strangely enough the same as Kiyosaki’s poor dad—and a rich uncle, my dad’s brother—a businessman who created a chain of discount record stores… “and never the twain shall meet.” My family background made Kiyosaki’s ideas shockingly personal.
Since then, I’ve been feverishly delving into this new-to-me world of entrepreneurship and business and money. I now have an sense of the chasm between Amazon and the publishers formerly known as the Big Five.
In his book Retire Young Retire Rich, Kiyosaki mentions the difference between the corporate mindset and the entrepreneur mindset.
This is simplified, but listen: corporate publishing is a bureaucracy. In contrast, Amazon, big as it is, still has an entrepreneurial soul.
What does this mean for fiction writers, especially indie fiction writers?
We fiction writers create products that didn’t exist before we invented them, new products that other people are willing to trade money to get.
In the past, we turned our inventions over to bureaucrats. We were like craftsmen who left their workbench because they were too focused on craft to be businesslike. When times got hard, they had to get an assembly-line job.
Think of each car coming off the assembly line as a short story anthology, a compendium of the collected works of all the workers. Except each worker keeps writing the same story over and over.
Is it any wonder we now see copies of copies of an author’s original idea? It’s like different models of assembly-line cars. Take the original idea of the car, give it a slightly different shape, color, accessories, horsepower, mechanical tweaks. It’s the same basic car, just a different model.
Take the original Twilight, The Hunger Games, Fifty Shades of Gray, give it a few twists and tweaks, turn out a dozen other novels, TV shows and movies, even a new genre, all based on the original invention… and what you end up with is different models of the same basic car.
It’s no longer enough for us to be craftspeople at heart who work on an assembly line, turning out stories for a bureaucracy to sell, tweak and reproduce. It’s not enough to hand over our copyrights—our only assets—to a bureaucracy that knows better than we do what assets are for.
We as fiction writers have to approach this process differently. What would it mean to be a fiction writer-entrepreneur?
Nora Roberts has famously said that writing is her job. Writing need no longer be a job within an enveloping corporate context. Writing is now the personal business of each indie writer. We must approach this as business people, not as employees, assembly-line workers or baby bureaucrats, but as entrepreneurs, like Amazon.
Amazon is currently the farmer’s market where we take our crafts to sell.
Many of us still have the craftsman’s view of the marketplace. We have to enlarge that view.
Now I understand better what Kristine Kathryn Rusch has been blogging about for a long time. How can we ourselves become entrepreneurs, each of us a mini-Amazon?
Some writers have taken the first steps, but there are so many questions.
What’s the best way to protect our copyrights, which are our assets?
Should each author become a Limited Liability Corporation? Would that provide enough protection for our copyrights? Would it give us a tax advantage?
Do some of us need to band together—not into unions, which are for job-holders—into some form of mutual entrepreneurship?
What’s the next step for us after the current Amazon farmer’s market develops into something else? Will we be absorbed into a new corporate bureaucracy? Or can more of us become this new kind of fiction writer-entrepreneur?
How can an old-fashioned craftsman who could no longer make it on his own and who spent years working on a Detroit assembly line walk away from the job and grow the skills needed to become a free entrepreneur?