You live for your art. Every day, you paint or compose music or write short stories or make beautiful hand-crafted objects. But every day, you also need to eat. If you aren’t engaging in your art just for pleasure, you’re not only an artist, you’re a small business owner. Starving artists don’t actually last very long.
Here’s a dirty little secret of successful artists: you have to plan on how to make money. Many creative types believe (wrongfully) that if they just pursue their art, the world will discover them, and they’ll become rich, or at least not starving. If only that were true.
Whether you work for yourself or are hired by other companies, especially as a freelancer, here are five tricks to be smart about your art:
1. Sell directly
Today, fortunately, there are more ways than ever for artists to make money. There’s been an explosion of online sites selling creative works. Explore the right ones for you. Some of them for visual arts and crafts include Etsy, Artfire, Deviant Art, UGallery, 20×200, Zazista. For selling music, try SoundCloud, or iTunes for music and videos. For writers, try IngramSpark to self-publish that novel through a company highly respected in the publishing industry.
2. Work with an agent
Writers, artists, actors, and musicians all routinely employ agents—people who act on behalf of the creative professional to market and sell products or services. Sure, you give up a percent of everything you sell, but if your agent is good, you’ll end up with more money than trying to market everything yourself. You’ll free up your time to do creative work rather than dealing with marketing and sales and billing and collections. A good agent should know the market for your type of work and be able to sell your work more effectively.
3. Protect your intellectual property (IP)
Under US laws, it’s not difficult or expensive to protect your creative works—books, music, art, illustrations, videos, and so on. In fact, the rights to your creation are yours the moment you create it (unless you sign ownership away—see below). Theoretically, you don’t have to do anything to ensure your copyright. But take some easy steps to protect your asset. Whenever you produce something, add the word “copyright,” the © symbol, the date, and your name. However, this does not conclusively establish authorship. It’s wise, for greater protection, to register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. It’s inexpensive and easy.
4. Get it in writing
Many artists are hired by other companies to work for them—composing music for a company’s video game, painting a mural for a restaurant, creating logos, or writing marketing copy. It’s imperative you get a good contract (you can call it an agreement if you’re more comfortable with that term). Most importantly, specify whether what you create is a “work for hire,” meaning the party paying for the creative work OWNS it. If, for example, you create music for a video game on a “work for hire” basis, the video game company owns the work and pays you once. If you specified you continued to own the music, the company would probably have to pay you a royalty for every game sold (a far less likely scenario). If you want to keep the ownership of your work, make certain your agreement states specifically, “the artist retains ownership of the work and is not being engaged on a ‘work for hire’ basis.” Also, detail how much you’ll be paid, when, and exactly what the deliverables are (including the number of revisions or what happens when the scope of work changes).
5. Follow the money
Always track the amount of time you put into a project, even if you’re being paid a flat project rate. This way, you’ll see how much time it takes to do a job—and how much time a specific client requires. Whenever possible, get some money up front. This commits the client to the project and makes it harder for them to pull out midway. Insist on regular payments throughout the course of a project rather than wait for the project to be completely finished before submitting your invoice.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2017
This article originally ran in USA Today on May 24, 2017