I’ve been mulling things over recently trying to come up with some coherent thoughts on a couple of related subjects. Two completely different threads on social media made me think about the concept of “value”.
This in particular is in relation to creative work and more specifically to writing and literature. One of the threads was a discussion on Twitter about a specific site providing free downloads of thousands of books - copyrighted works by authors.
Another was a request of a Facebook writers group for advice on DIY book cover design and cheap and free ways to get a cover design while paying the least amount of money. The thread was littered with advice and statements such as “don’t pay a designer” to create your cover, “designers charge too much” and you can do as a good a job yourself for free. Similar conversations abound on the subject of author website design.
As a designer both print and web I was seeing the parallels in both conversations.
Now to be absolutely clear, book piracy is not right either legally or morally, you are stealing creative work and affecting the livelihoods of hard working authors. It’s not OK.
So what do I mean by value?
Something like the free books download site highlights this well - authors are obviously infuriated that their work is being given away at no cost, it’s theft. And that their work is not valued by the people downloading it for free, after all a book only costs x amount of dollars / euros / pounds to buy and each sale helps the author make a living and offers some reward for the hundreds or thousands of hours that goes into writing it.
In the wider context of the publishing cycle we can look at the perception of value affects all of the creative work that goes into a producing a book. Self-publishing has allowed authors to bypass the traditional publishing gatekeepers. But in overthrowing the traditional publisher model it’s important to realise what it does right:
- cover design
Self-publishing has now opened up all of these THINGS and the free market.
On the book cover design side - it’s a free market, we know that - if you chose to design your own cover that’s absolutely fine, the virtual book shelves of the world are littered with designs of varying quality. If you decide to go for a cheap website using a stolen, possibly malware-infected theme instead of hiring a designer to create a bespoke site then that is also your choice.
The core of the conversation though is how much value we place on our own creative work and the creative work of others. How much value are you placing on your book when you pay somebody on Fiverr ten bucks to combine a potentially stolen stock image with a stolen font using stolen software. Let’s face it when you employ one of these sites for your design, corners have to be cut somewhere, usually at the expense of the design but frequently at the expense of the software companies or type designers.
Most authors do realise the value of creative design work but recently in the world of self-publishing there’s this pervasive attitude that the only work of value in the publishing cycle is the author’s work. There seem to be a lot of authors expecting to receive design work for free or cheap - there’a a huge lack of respect for the value of cover design with many authors advising others authors to do it yourself or go on Fiverr.
Don’t be fooled, work produced on Fiverr and similar design competition sites is cheap for a reason, outside of the fact that many of the “designers” on there are in low cost economies, their cost of living is lower, and that’s fine they have a right to earn a living too. But in order to keep the cost of the work at such incredibly low levels corners need to be cut and usually that’s at the expense of the photographers, illustrators and type designers and small software companies whose work is frequently pirated to make these bargain basement prices possible. So the self-published author might not pay but that does not mean that everybody wins here - somebody is paying - through lost sales, through stolen work and plagiarism.
Now problems related to value and cost existed long before self-publishing became a thing but there’s no doubt that the digitisation of all the things and the freemium economy have contributed massively to creative work being devalued. Much in the same way as our kids cannot understand how the music industry was able to turn a profit by selling plastic discs containing around 10 songs!
And to steer the conversation back to the writing process, and away from my obvious bias the other corner I see being frequently cut is that of editing. I’ve seen many authors advise others to use software to correct the spellings or friends and family to spot errors!
And of course the cry that many will use is that “I can’t afford a professional web designer / cover designer / editor -they are too expensive” or “I don’t have a budget for that”
But whats the number one excuse / justification for people who steal books - “I can’t afford bookstore prices”
To both, the answer should be - “If you don’t have the budget just shut up and save up until you do!”
It’s easy to throw blame in every direction here, but the fact is that if you consider yourself as a writer or designer to be part of the “creative economy” then pay fair and play fair with your peers. It’s a two way street.
Respect the value of creative work whether it yours or somebody else. It’s all connected!
If you are a writer employ and support a good editor, cover designer and web designer.
If you are a reader - support new writers, independent bookshops and small publishers.
Agree? Disagree? - Discuss on Twitter
Some further reading:
Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash