Recently, I started a new blog Strange and Potent Mixture, which is titled after my demo CD and features my original poetry, spoken word pieces, and other writings.
For many years, I resisted the urge to share my creative writings online.
Two main questions crowded my mind: What were the potential negative repercussions of sharing my creative work with random strangers without making them pay for it? And why would I bother?
Most artists already work without getting paid for our creative labor. And for the vast majority of us that “big pay-off” will simply never come. That’s the hard truth about making a life and a living from art.
And for poets especially, making a living entirely from one’s publications rarely happens. Most professional poets must teach and do paid readings and speaking engagements in order to pay the bills. Or find other creative ways to earn sources of income. There are some exceptions, of course, but that’s the reality for most of us.
So, given there’s already little money to be had from publishing, is it wise to post one’s creative work online in a way that actually gives it away for free?
Another problem with posting one’s creative writing online is that most journals and presses aren’t interested in “previously published” work, and yes, they sometimes count that poem posted on your personal blog as “published.”
Finally, the nature of the internet makes it difficult to keep tabs on who may reproduce or distribute your work without your knowledge.
And the idea that someone may steal your work and put their name on it is absolutely ghastly for any writer. Moreover, the dreaded notion that someone may even go so far as to make money off your stolen work is terrible enough to keep most writers from taking even the smallest risk around this possibility.
These were the main dilemmas I faced when considering whether or not to post my poetry and other creative writings online. So, what changed my mind?
Re-Framing the Problems
First, I truly believe that with increasing technology, writing in general simply cannot sustain old ways of being reproduced and distributed.
Traditional publishing is not dead…yet, and it may never die, but it certainly has to compete with the broader range of offerings made available through the relative ease of self-publishing. Print technology is not dead yet either, but it will continue to compete with e-books and online journals.
The internet and its accompanying technology have changed the game significantly for publishing, distributing, and profiting from one’s creative writing and will continue to do so.
However, a book, even an e-book, remains entirely different from a blog or a web page. Readers who want to buy a book, whether in print or digital format, will buy a book. When I considered the tenacity of book buyers, I let go of the notion that somehow I’d never sell my chapbook if my work were available online, and I put that problem to rest.
More significantly, my income doesn’t come from publishing. Rather, my main sources of income are from teaching poetry and from live performances of my spoken word. In other words, I mostly make money from selling experiences that can’t be reproduced.