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Risking It All To Thrive As A Financially-Successful Creative Artist

Updated on January 6, 2018
Joel Eisenberg profile image

Joel is an author, screenwriter, and producer. He has developed projects for TNT, CBS, Warner Brothers, FOX, Ovation Network, and more.

(And Picking Yourself Right Back Up After Falling On Your Face)

The title above is deliberately phrased: “Risking It All To Thrive As A Financially Successful Creative Artist.” Am I implying that sacrifice is necessary to earn a greater than full-time income through your art?

Of course. I’m shouting it from the damn rooftops.

Understand, a career in the arts is not for everyone. We’ve all heard that there’s no such thing as an overnight success, and yet, daily, we read about new acting discoveries, or debut writers who sign multi-million dollar deals for their first novels, or...you get the picture. What you may not know is what it had taken for them to get there.

Personally, the efforts undertaken to “get there,” for me, have been hell on relationships. I’ve been happily married now for nearly 17 years, but the route to that success was fraught with more than its share of angst. Also, I’ve faced every financial implosion known to most any artist. I’ve worked a hundred day jobs over the years to prepare me for where I am today, meaning I quit nearly a hundred day jobs to get where I am today.

Can you relate to any of this?

I graduated from Brooklyn College in 1985 and moved to Los Angeles in 1989. I became a full-time writer-producer in 2005. It’s only been 12 years since I was able to turn my passion into a career. My B.A. degree is in Special Education. I worked a host of teaching jobs prior to moving to CA, and worked in two schools after; 20-plus years, a hundred day jobs.

I wrote at nights and early mornings.

Other than my writing time, however, I was generally miserable. I loathed working for others. Why would I want to make them rich off my efforts when I could do this for myself?

That was the question that made the difference.

I needed a strategy. In 2004 (published in 2005), I wrote a book called How to Survive a Day Job, where I interviewed a host of celebrities and other public figures about how they turned their artistic passions into lucrative careers. I blind emailed my targets through their personal websites, and was shocked when one after another agreed to be interviewed. The book did well. I stayed in contact with most and, suddenly, I had a database of invaluable professional contacts that, to this day, continue to make a difference in my career.

I went from there and never looked back. I still had concerns, mainly financial, but I gained enough confidence that I knew everything would be okay if I didn’t quit.

I’m 53 years old (for another couple of weeks) and look 63, but other than that, I’m doing okay.

Strategies: Don’t be afraid to visit websites such as Craigslist for artistic gigs. I’ve done exactly that. Sure, 90 percent of the ads may be BS, but ten percent of those ads can be gold to you.

I speak from experience, and still visit CL every morning in Starbucks just to see what’s out there, and what I can recommend to friends.

If you follow my advice here, you can make enough yearly income consistently to match or surpass your nine to five. But you need to stand out. In the subject line, when I’ve responded to writing assignments, I usually posted something like this, all 100 percent true: “Multi-Published, Multi-Produced, Award-Winning Writer-Producer.” The line always received attention and, based on responses, the emails were usually opened.

There have been years I surpassed my highest paying full-time job income from internet writing ads alone. Don’t dismiss it so quickly, though, of course, you need to perform as contracted. If not, a loss of reputation will follow and quickly get around, and you’ll deserve it.

If you’re a filmmaker, subscribe to IMDB Pro, which contains contact info of every company and individual you may want to pitch to.

For networking in the film and TV businesses, San Diego’s Comic Con International is unbeatable. Also, if you are a Sundance visitor, forget the sardine-packed parties; have lunch or a hot chocolate in a surrounding ski lodge, the best being the Stein Eriksen. That’s where most of the so-called “A-listers” stay, and when there’s no press around and they’re off the slopes…casual conversation and potential business happens.

Been there, too.

Also, there are professional networking groups everywhere. I’ve learned that people generally are fascinated with writers, filmmakers, and other artists. Speak to everyone.

Need money for your independent film or music? Visit real estate investment clubs. Same rule applies. You are now sitting in a room of investors. Strike up a casual conversation. Chances are, they’ll be interested in what you do and, again, where it leads can yield big benefits.

Need an agent to get your script or book to a producer or publisher? Ask an attorney to query and submit on your behalf and save the time. Dirty Little Industry Secret (DLIS): Many attorneys do this work for a percentage of your earnings.

Another DLIS: If you’re a filmmaker and you need to reach an actor… understand that actors need to work. Hugely successful actors have bills, too. The A-list is usually protected by a fortress of agents and managers. Most will not look at a project unless it is A) solicited, and/or B) funded. However, many of these actors own production companies. I’ll be cursed for this and some will deny it, but I can assure you it’s a regular practice: Attempt to submit your script to their production company. How you get there is up to you. This is a strategy that has paid off for many. It is immensely difficult to get an actor’s production company to agree to read a script, but there are many examples of them saying “yes,” as well. You need to be creative, but most of all, your work needs to be damn good. You will only get one chance to do this, and word does get around.

The bottom line…

There are always strategies; there are always ways to “make it,” but how far you want to go to get there, as I’ve said here before, is up to you. Getting out of your comfort zone is a good start.

Post-Script: My small press, print-on-demand book series with Steve Hillard, The Chronicles of Ara, sold to Ovation TV a few years ago in a wide-ranging deal. We had sold less than 200 copies at the time of approach. I mentioned this yesterday. They loved the book. They purchased it.

The project has since gone into turnaround, and the rights have reverted, but I'm confident we’ll get it done. We’ve had a couple of offers.

This can all happen to you if you don’t quit. Cliché , I know, but these are truly words to live by.

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