He who pays the piper…
…Calls the tune. It’s something people in our profession tend to forget… and not just our profession, of course. It’s understandably confusing if you’re a Big Five traditionally published author. Your publisher is (apparently) calling the tune. Without him or her your tootle-pipe went unheard. That was who your check came from. Pleasing them and your agent (who got you in the door with them) was life and breath to your working author.
It didn’t actually MATTER where the money for that check came from.
Or so many authors – and musicians, and actors, and NFL football players thought (and still do think). Their money comes from the publisher, the record label, the Hollywood financier or their team contract. Yes, they might make more if they’re popular – but actually making them popular is not their skill, or quality… it’s that proximal payer, the publisher or whatever who does that.
Or so they would have you believe.
But facts keep proving them wrong.
In actual practical terms these people are really little more than gatekeepers – increasingly – in our profession anyway, keeping gates where the walls have fallen around them – or are crumbling (rumor has it that B&N is circling the drain – one of the last few walls). Sometimes, yes, those gatekeepers can – and do – keep quality out, and, if it gets in, down. That is true – but it works to their and everyone’s long term detriment, something many gatekeeper fail to realize, believing the own myth. It doesn’t end well. Sometimes they can indeed give a sow’s ear a temporary lift…
But unless the public actually WANTS sow’s ear… they still eventually call the tune. And if the publisher, record label, Hollywood financier or team owner think differently, well, they either learn… or ride their industry into the ground – taking down a lot of pipers who didn’t realize that they had to please the public and that the ‘very important’ gatekeeper was really little more than a beneficiary of the piper’s skill and popularity. Often an overpaid and over-valued beneficiary, at that. The gatekeeper’s real job was to make sure that the people who paid the piper got EXACTLY the tunes they wanted. It wasn’t to please the gatekeeper, or educate the public, or support the piper’s ability protest whatever the piper wanted to protest about.
We’re in the entertainment industry, and our customers (and that’s not your publisher, or, in most cases, the people in their NYC bubble they live in, or that their camp-followers admire and aspire to, any more than NFL customers are the Hollywood elite and various left-wing celebrities loudly encouraging the players to protest at the US Anthem and Flag) are paying to be entertained. There is, I am sure, a small market where people find abuse entertaining… but it’s not much of a market, and doesn’t pay many people.
You can ‘educate’ people, or highlight whatever injustice or cause you like… but if the paying customer doesn’t like… he won’t remain your customer. You can please whichever political faction or social group you desire to… but if those aren’t your customers (or only a part of your customer group, the rest of whom dislike them) – it might help your ego or your psychology, but not your bank balance. We’ve seen this in sf, we’re likely to see this the NFL – it’s been about pleasing a section of the population, not even a major section – to the irritation of the bulk of the punters.
Audiences are often slow to build and/or require a special set of circumstances to develop. You can be lucky and in the right place at the right time… once. Doing so twice is less likely and, as many an author has found alienated readers don’t give you that second chance.
You may think you’re important, and what you say is of value and should be read. BUT you’re asking people to pay to read it. And they pay because they want to be entertained. Yes, I know, they should be far more noble and be eager to pay to be lectured about injustices and how bad they are…
But it just doesn’t seem to work that way.
Always remember who pays the piper.