How to Write About Culture for a Living and Not ‘Sell Out’

The term ‘sell out’ is used a little too liberally these days. People expect artists (and, yes, writers are artists) to do everything for the sheer love of creation and the moment they make a bit of money, people start to call them ‘sell outs’; but it’s not true and it’s not fair! Everyone has to eat. Here’s how you can write about culture for a living and avoid the dreadful ‘sell out’ label.

Collaborating with Local Artists

You yourself, as a small-time writer, are a local artist and local artists have to stick together! If you can get in touch with other artists, you could perhaps help one another out. Have you got quite a following on your blog? Speak to a local musician and ask if you could review their next performance for a fee. Let them know that it would be good exposure. Meanwhile, you could genuinely pay for a ticket and encourage other friends to come with you.

Once you’ve built up that relationship, you could offer to do a bit of “marketing” for their next job. You could offer to report on an upcoming performance and use your social media presence in order to tell lots of people in the area that it’s a gig worth going to. You’ll be writing about something which is genuinely cultural and helping out an independent artist.

You could make some kind of agreement where you get 10% of the revenue from these events because of your contribution to the event’s marketing. Make arrangements like this with a few musicians and you’ve got a nice little income as well as a supply of relevant content for your readers. You can use the site Musicians Database in order to get in touch with local musicians in your area. (And you can use this strategy to collaborate with painters, sculptors, poets….)

Maintaining Integrity

If you are promoting an event — be careful about what you can/can’t say. It’s important you still give an honest opinion, even if you’re being paid. If it’s an event which is totally at odds with your worldview and not at all relevant to your blog, you’d probably have some moral qualms about promoting it anyway. In a worst case scenario, you could promote something you personally are not interested in, but which your readers might like. In these instances, just keep your writing completely neutral. Quote other reviewers and just generally tip toe around directly saying anything you do not agree with.

Another idea is to make sure that for every promotional blog post that you write, you also write two posts from the heart. Blog posts like this one, really reflect the human side of bloggers and people love a bit of emotion and sentimentality — it’s important to keep things personal and connect with readers with real stories of your life, rather than just covering the pros and cons of your interest area. As long as you continue to provide this kind of content alongside your promotional work, your integrity will never be lost.

Selling Arts and Crafts

Use your writing to help launch your very own product line, or use your writing as springboard for other artists and creatives.

Do you do anything besides writing? Like, maybe, knitting? Or sculpting? Maybe you even make your own CDs? If there’s anything else that you do, then you might like to start up an online shop to run alongside your blog. You’d keep running the blog and it would work as content marketing for the ecommerce side of the site, which would be where the money is.

These days, getting an ecommerce website off the group is easier than ever. There are so many websites out there which have been designed to help you start up an online store. WordPress’s Woocommerce is one of the most popular, but by all means look around until you find whichever one you think is just right for you — you’ve got newcomers like Shopify to test out, and don’t rule out the possibility of selling through your social profiles, or through social media groups.

If you don’t make anything of your own, perhaps you could still start an ecommerce site in conjunction with your blog, but with the intention of selling the products of any artsy friends that you have. Again, collaboration is always going to be very important for independent creatives. It’s a great way to galvanize a whole community around your business.

Comfort Before Commenters

At the end of the day, it is more important for artists like you to be living comfortably than it is for you to appease the odd troll who’ll get mad at bloggers for “selling out.” Even if you go down the more corporate route and do some affiliate work, it doesn’t mean that you’ve completely changed your attitude — affiliate marketing is just about making natural and relevant product recommendations, not spamming people.

Amazon have a large affiliate scheme and the fact that they’ve got so much to offer on their site means that you’ll be able to always find a relevant product recommendation! All you need to do is include special links to Amazon products and then they’ll give you a commission for every sale made by people who come from those links. Buy you can also be an affiliate for any of the services you use to manage your business (like hosting companies, email platforms etc) — this is a very natural place to start as your audience will naturally be curious about ‘how you do it’.

So do what you want to do, and if some people call you a “sell out” don’t worry about it. They’ll be a tiny minority. For every person who criticizes an artist and calls them a “sell out” for daring to try and support themselves, there’ll be another person who’s more than happy to try and support you. What plans do you have to monetize your writing?

Patrick Foster (Guest Contributor) 

Ten years of ecommerce know-how as a consultant and marketer. Time to share my knowledge with the world and help other businesses and entrepreneurs grow and thrive.

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