When I was about 18-years-old, I was given the once in a lifetime opportunity to meet my idol, Oprah at a cocktail party in Las Vegas. She was everything you’d believe she would be and more. She glowed and emanated a presence that was indescribable to me. I was excited, not only because I idolized her (and still do) but because I believed, she could be “the answer”.
She could be the one that would rescue my family out of American poverty, turn me and my screenplay into a star and make all my dreams come. Pleasant as she was, none of that happened. And I spent the next 15 years or so trying to chase other phantom Oprahs; people that symbolized “the answer”.
It’s something a lot of writers and artists in general do. They believe, once that savior picks their project, then all their dreams will come true. Whether it’s agents, studios, book publishers, stars, music labels, the national news media or even popular bloggers, artists believe that their fate lies in the hands of these anointed people.
Well, I’m here to tell you, that ain’t true anymore.
There may have been a time when blessings by these people meant the world and could super-launch your career and they were believed to be the only way to “make it” but not anymore.
Nowadays, there’s nothing they can do – nothing – that you cannot do on your own.
BOOK PUBLISHING INDUSTRY
Book publishers used to finance authors through advances, edit their work, print and distribute it. But we know that bubble burst a long time ago. Everyone knew it was an illusion but we hoped no one else would notice. Advances have dwindled in half or less, literary agents complain that editors don’t edit anymore, some say editors only have time to project manage. Book publishers do distribute to bookstores on consignment but most books are returned, their marketing and publicity departments are understaffed and not able to service the books they have already, so the only thing publishers have to offer that you cannot get anywhere else is printing copies on a massive scale. But why? So, that they’ll be returned and you’ll get your $.75 cents royalty rate a copy after agent cuts and taxes (that is, if you’ve even earned your advance out).
Nowadays, authors can hire their own editors (many of whom are from the masses of people who were laid off at the publishing houses or moonlight), get their own book covers for less than $100, market themselves through social media or hire a small firm, print on demand and distribute the book on their own to bookstores as well. Look at how many indie authors are hitting the New York Times bestsellers list on their own with zero marketing budget?
I’m not saying New York publishers aren’t needed. There are some amazing people that work at them that I am proud to call my friends and colleagues. But when we’re honest, their power and influence has dwindled to the point where they’re just another right that you can sell.
Look at how many literary agents are forced to close their doors. Most were so overwhelmed, they didn’t have time to service the books they already represented, let alone the hundreds of submissions they received every week. Nowadays, you can just hire a reputable book consultant to give you the hand-holding agents used to have the time to do and you can hire a reputable publishing attorney to negotiate your contract for you.
I’m not saying literary agents are not needed, because if you can find a really great one, they are, especially when it comes to foreign rights and many of the innovative agents have adapted their business models with the times and service their eBook indie published authors in a way that makes financial sense for everyone.
MOVIE AND TELEVISION INDUSTRY
Movie studios and networks used to finance, attach A-list talent, distribute and market films and they were the only ones that could do it. But not anymore. Nowadays, you can finance your film with Kickstarter, attach an A-list star (now that your film is funded), distribute through Gathr or Tugg.com, get it on Netflix and DirectTV through Distribber and market for free through social media. Advertising rarely works. National media doesn’t either. How many studio films do you know were given multi-million dollar marketing budgets and bombed big time?
Sure, studios give you credibility and have an easier time getting films into theaters. But how many little films ended up successful on their own. It happens every year.
It used to be that a talented band would come off the street, go through the A&R department and come out the other end a star. But nowadays, they want you ready-to-go with your own fan base before they’ll even think about distributing you. But you don’t need that anymore either. Most of the sales are from digital downloads and you can use TuneCore to distribute on your own. You can hire a reputable music industry consultant to coach you along the way. You can hire the same publicist that the stars have for the same amount of money or you can just do it on your own through Youtube videos and once you create enough of a following, they start looking for you. And where do you get the money for hiring all these great people? Kickstarter.
You see, there’s nothing they can offer you that requires you to put your career on hold until you receive their blessing. There’s no need to chase Oprah anymore. Go for it. Be brave enough to spend all the time and energy you were wasting to get someone’s blessing for you to continue on your career and re-invest it in making yourself the best artist you can. Be great, be fantastic, be breath-taking and most importantly be yourself, and literary agents, book publishers, music labels, movie studios and television networks will come chasing after you.