When the Glory Train Comes In

Posted on 28 February 2011

You’ve put in the work. You’ve developed your skills. You’ve shown a real love and dedication to your art. Then one day something clicks with the media and the public. You’re handed a golden ticket to ride the Glory Train of success and fame.

Most people seem to think that this means they can coast, endlessly riding that train. But it doesn’t work that way. If you don’t take action to secure your position, the golden ticket is only going to take you one stop down the track.

Developing your career is an ongoing effort. You need to grab all the goodies you can from the snack trolley as it rolls past you on the Glory Train. This means accept all the solid opportunities you can when things are at a peak.

Agents

Your ego may say, “I will now and forever be famous.” But public interest waxes and wanes over certain subjects and certain people. If you walk into see an agent when things are going well, they will greet you with open arms and nice lucrative contracts. If you wait and start becoming a has-been, the agent will smile politely and say “maybe” or even an outright “no”. They need to make a living and you are no longer worth money to them.

So, the first goodie off the snack trolley should be to find a respected and effective agent with whom you feel comfortable. While you are hot, you have the luxury of shoppping around. Yes, you will have to sign contracts. Yes, you will have to give up a percentage of your earnings. However, these are people who should be dedicated to seeing you have an ongoing career.

The mistake I made when I had a hot book in the market was assuming that, since I knew how to negotiate contracts and I had a big name publisher, I could forego an agent. At that time it was possible. However, not long afterward most publishers stopped accepting manuscripts by unrepresented authors. The other thing an agent does is take time to hustle all the right people in the right places to get your next project produced in some form. If I am writing a book, I don’t have time to do the hustling myself. You have to be willing to trust and pay people to help you.

Regular Gigs

The next goodie off the snack trolley needs to be a regular gig of some sort. You will need to find a way to regularly be in the public eye. Get a column in a newspaper or magazine, be a regular guest on a TV or radio show, be an MC at a well-known comedy venue. Some of these may not directly make you a lot of money, but they will keep you in people’s awareness. I made more money off talks and lectures related to one book I wrote, than I did off the book directly.

What you want is to become an icon of your art, so that people fondly remember you, and ask you back onto things again and again. This also requires that you are personable and easy to get along with.

Buy The Person Next To You a Cup of Coffee

Universities are always eager to bring on people who have actual experience in a particular field to teach. It’s a nice regular job where you get to pass on what you know to an enthusiastic younger generation. It can also put you in the way of consulting work. If you choose this route, be careful in what schools you agree to teach. You may have to face a difficult administration, departmental politics, and low pay.

A similar route that requires more business acumen is to start producing other creators. In this manner you have both an extra revenue stream from your share of the shows, and you build up your network of people who may call upon you for their projects.

Charities

Charities will become a part of your career path. You will also have more charities wanting to sit next to you on the train than you can possibly accommodate. Depending upon your temperament, it may seem easiest to say “no” to everything or “yes” to everything. You can’t do either.

You can’t say “no” to everything because you are part of a community. Other people helped you, now it is time for you to offer help in return. Some practical reasons why you need to help a charity are that it will give you a likeable public image; if the charity makes you their spoke, you get more public visibility; and it becomes easier to say “no” to other charities.

You can’t say “yes” to everything because you are but one human being and you have to take care of your own needs. Any charity that feels you owe it to them to help should be avoided. Any charity event that is run by people with loads of money who expect you to work for free, rather than letting you offer, should be avoided. Supporting a small charity is fine and at times laudable, just understand that if you are particularly famous, the members of this charity may not have the emotional balance to manage your presence.

It is worthwhile to have one or two designated charities with which you have a genuine affinity, and you are already donating to in some fashion, from the very beginning of your career. It keeps you focussed on what’s important in life. It keeps you focussed on where you can be the most help. Having to figure this out after you’ve caught the Glory Train will be difficult.

A Little About Dealing With Publicity Opportunities

You will have media big and small after you to give interviews. You will have events big and small after you to participate. They will all tell you that they are a good publicity opportunity. Certainly every little bit can help, but you have to have time to focus on your career and time to relax on occasion. Therefore, you will have to select to whom you will give your time and say “no” to the others.

Agents or managers are sometimes the people who get to play the meanies. In contrast you then look like an angel who has no choice. Whether they are doing it or you are doing it, it’s still good policy to kindly reject people. Do so in a way that leaves the door a little bit open. A time will come when you are no longer flavour of the month, but the small publicity opportunities may be enough to keep you from disappearing entirely, until such time as you are flavour of the month again.

Keep Yourself Fresh

Always be thinking about your next gig and making it the best it can be. Always be finding ways to update yourself and your material, so that it remains relevant. It’s okay to be proud of your work. It’s not okay to think you have “made it”. You are always ever “making it”. Seek always to improve yourself and your relationship to the audience.

Working in the arts is a job. For those who have chosen it as a career, it’s more than a game and more than a past-time. Even when the Glory Train comes riding in, fame is not the lottery, it’s not a way to disengage from the world. You have to tend your career, so that you can more easily ride the ups, downs, and cycles of life. Work and relationships are the things that give our lives meaning. Respect them.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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