In the movie 1776—the dramatization of the first Continental Congress’ efforts to unite under the concept of independence—Congressman Thomas Jefferson delivers his draft of the Declaration of Independence to Congress; and as soon as it is read, the members of Congress begin castrating it to satisfy their personal desires.
As Jefferson quietly concedes to each edit, fellow Congressman John Adams gets increasingly agitated over the butchering of the document, and finally demands of Jefferson why he won’t speak up for his work.
Jefferson replies: “I had hoped the work would speak for itself.”
I thought of this classic scene as I read the posts of Kristine Kathryn Rusch, pointed out to me by author Sherri Mines after I officially capitulated on my long-term plan to be a profitable novel writer. Business Musings: Rethinking The Writing Business (in, so far, four parts) describe Kristine’s realization that the business of making money from stories has evolved over the years from a simple book publishing system to a modern process of breaking down the concepts and characters into components of intellectual property, or IP, and licensing the IP to content producers. I quickly understood that my failure as a writer was the direct result of my adherence to an archaic selling methodology, and lack of understanding and application of this new licensing paradigm.
Unfortunately, knowing that doesn’t help me as much as it might help other creators. Clearly, you have to be able to sell your IP to licensees. And unfortunately, I’m no salesman… never have been. Hello… shy, introverted writer here? I’ve never been able to sell my books to publishers, so I self-published them all. I tried to sell the idea of customers actually paying for my ebooks instead of jacking them, and I failed at that. I tried to sell to readers the idea of reviewing the novels to draw more readers, and I failed at that. Selling… yeah, not my long suit.
And I suppose I’d hoped to be Thomas Jefferson, who expected his great work to speak for itself. I should have been clued in by the fact that it didn’t work that way for Jefferson, either; his Declaration of Independence was hacked up like busty blondes in a horror movie sleepover.
But I’d hoped that the people who could help me further my ambitions would find me, offer their expertise and make everything happen for both of us. I’d hoped a John Adams would offer their application of the strengths I lack, and together we’d win the day. Alas, that didn’t happen. Although I managed to cultivate one contact in television circles, my own personal John Adams—in fact, an old friend who found me, years later, and tried to kindle a business partnership—between the two of us, we never managed to sell our shared IP to anyone.
And if I couldn’t manage to sell my IP with the help of a partner, I sure as hell wouldn’t be able to do it by myself. I mean, I know my aptitudes and my limitations. If someone had told me, 20 years ago, that instead of just writing books to sell, I’d be spending my time flitting between merchandisers, movie and TV producers, book and comic book companies and Gods know who else, trying to sell all of them on characters, concepts, story elements, packages, strategies, etc, etc… I’d’ve turned my back on the whole business and gone to work at Kinkos. After all—to paraphrase from another venerable franchise—I’m a writer… not an IP licensor!
So, what now? Well, the novels have already been pulled from distribution, since they have proven to be spectacularly unprofitable. Will I try to repackage them as IP property, to resell in pieces to licensees? It all depends on whether I can cultivate potential licensees. But I confess to not being opimistic about that: Without luck, connections, a personal aptitude for salesmanship, or money, I don’t know how I’m going to break through that barrier.
And as it is, I’d probably need to develop brand new IP, since my existing IP—my science fiction novels—were obviously not good enough to impress.
All in all, not terribly promising prospects for me and my desire to profit from entertaining an audience. Where can I go from here? Right now… beats me. Unlike a certain ship’s doctor, I don’t know that I’m going to fix this with thermal concrete, farming skills or a right cross.