Paying (for) Attention

Does it take money to make money — or maybe just a little bit of effort?

Being a designer involves wearing many different hats, particularly if you’re independent. Sometimes, it seems like the task of marketing yourself and your work is a bigger part of your job than the actual creative efforts themselves.

Making a name for yourself isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, and you can get every bit as creative with selling yourself as you do with your work. But that’s a different post.

I’ve only been involved with the design community for a little over three years, so I’m no expert on the best ways to advance a career. That amount of time just doesn’t feel like enough of a sample size to really draw any definitive conclusions on the things I’ve done.

There are some things I’ve specifically not done, however, and though I can’t speak to what effect they might have had on my career if I had, I can say that if given the chance to go back, I’d not do them again.

All throughout history, it’s consistently been considered unfavorable to, in any way, buy popularity or pay for attention. One example that always immediately comes to mind for me is payola in the music industry.

But in the design industry, it’s quite another story. There are countless design books, awards, contests, etc., that require you to pay a submission fee just to be considered, and not only is this not frowned upon, apparently, but designers are lining up to fork over the money for them.

How is this still a thing?

There are some things I’ve specifically not done, however, and…if given the chance to go back, I’d not do them again.

So, you’ve won the title of “Best Use of Paste, 2015” in the Society of Collage Designers Awards. You paid your $90 submission fee (times however many projects you sent them), and now your name gets to live on forever on the society’s website (or for as long as it exists). There’s probably not enough room to present every winner’s work alongside their name, but at least everyone will know your name now.

Then, in a stroke of genius, you submit your 10 best logos to your favorite logo book contest at $10 a pop, and whoa, two of your designs make the book! Of course, you’re out the money for those other eight, but hey, one out of five ain’t bad.

Now, think about all the site traffic the collage society gets in a month. In a year. Think about how many copies of that overpriced logo book were probably sold. Now combine all of those, and how do you think that level of reach compares to, say, the number of people that have viewed the latest posts on sites like Under Consideration or Grain Edit today. Those posts that the subjects paid nothing to be featured in.

Or, maybe you’re not in it for the exposure. So let’s think about what’s left. Something impressive to put on your resumé? Are you really still using a resumé?

In the age of the internet and social media, there’s really nothing these tired avenues of achieving notoriety can do for you that you can’t do yourself for free.

One of these logo books reached out to me recently to offer me some free submissions into their competition.

A few years ago, I actually recall saying to myself, something along the lines of, “If one of these competitions wants to let me submit for free or recognize me out of nowhere with an award, that’s great, but until then…”

I immediately flashed back to that thought upon the idea actually coming true, but by now, my feelings have of course changed a bit. Sure, it helps that in the last few years, I’ve somehow been fortunate enough to weasel my way into the attention of far more people than I probably deserve, and have worked with some incredible clients. But suddenly, I felt very different about this proposal.

What if I took them up on this offer — and won? The most beautiful girl at the party just charged a bunch of desperate guys 10 bucks to be considered for a date with her, and then left with her boyfriend and kept their money. Those desperate guys, in this case, are a gang of undoubtably talented, likely young, scrappy designers just trying to get some new eyes on their work. If I could, I’d tell them all to save their money and forget about this shit too, but at the very least, I’ll be damned if I’m going to take an unfair advantage because of whatever status I’ve randomly been given.

The most beautiful girl at the party just charged a bunch of desperate guys 10 bucks to be considered for a date with her, and then left with her boyfriend and kept their money.

A more politically charged person could easily draw some pretty strong comparisons between this scenario and, on a much broader scale, the embarrassing distribution of wealth situation in this country, but this isn’t really the place for that.

If you want to pay to get your name and/or work in front of more people, fine. Advertise. Otherwise, start thinking about this for what it is. Your art, your work, your whatever has value. When you take a second to really look at it, why wouldn’t they owe you for getting to publish your work in their book, or present it on their site, etc.?

As an illustrator, for instance, fees can vary widely based on the amount of exposure your work will get from a specific use, how long the client intends to use the work, and so on.

Some organization puts out an open call for submissions, and now suddenly you owe them for a chance of being included? Sounds like kind of a raw deal from that aspect.

Connect with people. Pour everything into your work. Get over any silly aversion you may have to promoting yourself to your followers online. They would all want you to see the cool things they made if they had, why shouldn’t you? Make your money, and then please, please, please put it to better use than some form of design payola.

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