Seth Godin and Jennifer Crusie on Artistic Legitimacy

Following onto the post about Amanda Palmer’s exhortation to legitimize yourself as an artist, instead of waiting for gatekeepers to do so, here are marketing guru Seth Godin and best-selling romance author Jennifer Crusie on the same topic.

First, Godin:

Interesting that Godin and Crusie independently came up with a "white night" metaphor for the irrational gatekeepers that keep us from feeling legitimate. In case the knight isn't enough, here he is on a unicorn. Image (c) Eli Wolff and used with kind permission.

In case the “white knight” hinself isn’t enough, here he is on a unicorn.

No knight, no shining armor

“Sure, Seth can do that, because he has a popular blog.”

Some people responded to my decision to forgo traditional publishers (not traditional books, btw) by pointing out that I can do that because I have a way of reaching readers electronically.

What they missed is that this asset is a choice, not an accident.

Does your project depend on a miracle, a bolt of lightning, on being chosen by some arbiter of who will succeed? I think your work is too important for you to depend on a lottery ticket. In some ways, this is the work of the Resistance, an insurance policy that gives you deniability if the project doesn’t succeed. “Oh, it didn’t work because we didn’t get featured on that blog, didn’t get distribution in the right store, didn’t get the right endorsement…”

There’s nothing wrong with leverage, no problem at all with an unexpected lift that changes everything. But why would you build that as the foundation of your plan?

The magic of the tribe is that you can build it incrementally, that day by day you can earn the asset that will allow you to bring your work to people who want it. Or you can skip that and wait to get picked. Picked to be on Oprah or American Idol or at the cash register at Borders.

Getting picked is great. Building a tribe is reliable, it’s hard work and it’s worth doing.

Then, Crusie:

A Writer Without A Publisher Is Like A Fish Without a Bicycle: Writer’s Liberation and You

It’s a lot like my high school graduation: by graduation, I knew I had to have finished my education; by graduation, I had to have a life plan; by graduation, I had to be engaged to be married.

As you can probably tell from that last one, I graduated from high school in the sixties. Today it seems absurd that marriage would be a life goal for a woman, but anyone who was around for the pre-Lib days can tell you that the worst thing anyone could say about a woman back then was that she was an Old Maid. It was one step down from Whore because at least whores had men asking to spend time with them. When I got married six weeks before I turned twenty-two, my entire family heaved a sigh of relief. Close call.

The madness that defined women’s lives back then was based on four Big Lies:

  • A woman wasn’t a real woman until she was married.
  • A woman had to distort herself and deny her own identity in order to catch a man to marry. (Remember girdles, spike heels, inane laughter, playing dumb, and flunking math?)
  • Any husband was better than no husband.
  • Staying in a bad marriage was better than divorce because God forbid a woman should be unmarried again once she’d finally achieved the goal.

Dumb, wasn’t it? Thank God for Women’s Liberation. You know the Women’s Libbers, the ones who said “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle,” and we all went, “Oh.” And thank God for Gloria Steinem, who said, “Marriage is a fine institution, but I’m not ready for an institution yet.” She’s the one (among others) who pointed out that waiting for somebody else to grant validation meant giving up control over our lives. She’s the one (among others) who clued us all in and made us stronger and helped guarantee our daughters didn’t fall for the same old lies.

Unfortunately, Gloria didn’t go far enough, probably because she didn’t belong to RWA. She didn’t see the same insidious forces at work in publishing, the same unconscious assumptions, the same frustration and depression. She didn’t see that just as women had to give up being married as a life goal before they could lead full lives as women, so writers must give up being published as a career goal before we can lead full lives as writers.

She didn’t see it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t, so let’s look at the Big Lies we tell ourselves:

  • A writer isn’t a real writer until she’s published.
  • A writer has to distort herself and deny her own stories in order to write to the trends and catch an editor to publish her. (Can you write babies, cowboys, daddies, secrets, or amnesiac brides?)
  • Any publication is better than no publication.
  • Staying in a bad publishing situation is better than leaving because God forbid a writer should be unpublished again once she’s finally achieved the goal.

Those four Big Lies are as dumb as the ones we told ourselves about marriage thirty years ago, and they’re just as dangerous to our writing careers today as the old lies were to our emotional lives then for exactly the same reasons. Waiting for somebody else to come along and validate us means giving up all control over our lives. Publication, like marriage, is indeed a fine institution, but anyone who says, “My goal in writing is to be published” is making the same mistake as the woman who said, “My goal in living is to be married.” Writing and living are about us, about who we are and what we want, about satisfying our needs as individuals, about listening to our hearts. . Please note, I am not saying give up publication (or marriage) entirely; I’m saying give it up as a goal.

Knight in Shining Armor? Mr. Right? Hmmm…I sense a common theme, do you?

Rather than wait to get rescued, go out and make your own fortune via indie publishing, crowdfunding, social media, and other new business models and technologies.

(I also write a lot about how to overcome feelings of illegitimacy in The 7 Secrets of the Prolific.)

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