Providing a Service Versus Offering an Asset

For any creative professional who is providing a service, the difference between making money now and making money over the long-term can be pretty frightening. On the one hand, we all have the tendency to make decisions based on the power of a dollar. How many jobs have we taken that we were over-qualified for? How many assignments did we take because we needed to pay a bill?

Are You Providing a Service?

The idea that you, as a creative professional, are providing a service goes much deeper than making those quick decisions. Let me walk you through an example of what I’m talking about.

Let’s say I get hired to write a story set within the Hellboy universe. (Hah, I wish!) Because that setting is owned by Mike Mignola, I would not own the rights to what I’ve written. Since I already know the setting, I don’t need to spend a lot of time learning about Hellboy, so I wouldn’t lose a lot of time there. I would, however, need to research new stories within the setting because there’s already been a lot of myths covered. Then, there’s the time it would take to write the story and go through the editing process. Once the story was done, I can’t do anything else with it because now it belongs to someone else. Even though I wrote for a setting I love, I still produced an asset for someone other than myself. In short, I provided a service to develop something that someone already had a need for.

This example highlights how writing for a tie-in property typically works. The reality of being a creative professional is that we produce content for other people in order to make a living. I look at the process of developing an asset for someone else as our ability to provide a service rather than produce a deliverable. Other examples range from writing website copy for someone else’s business to graphic design to developing a game and pitching it to a publisher. The concept, though, is pretty simple to follow once you start tracking how the money is flowing to you. If you get paid up front for the work you’re doing, I feel that it’s helpful to look at your time as a service related to product development. You are, in effect, developing and providing an asset that someone else needs and will, in turn, sell.

Or Are You Creating an Asset?

When you design something for other people to purchase that you have more control over, then you’re creating an asset. An example of that is an illustrator creating a clip-art CD or offering prints for sale of artwork they own the rights to.

Now, there are advantages to both business models because, in many ways, an asset’s value increases depending upon how many people want that asset. I could design an interactive fairy tale for you, but if you didn’t want it, then it’s not worth anything and I’d lose money because I had just spent all that time creating something you don’t care about. The reality of developing your own assets, is that it isn’t enough “just” to create the asset. You need to figure out how you can get people to pay for it. For a writer, that means you have to develop a strong base of readers that will invest in your work.

A really good example of what I’m talking about here, are some of the arguments that self-published authors make. To those that don’t understand how publishing works, the publisher is greedy because they have too much control over the author’s asset (e.g. the book). What they don’t understand, is that the publisher is providing the author with a better chance of reaching readers which makes their asset more valuable. Even though there are many services out there that offer some of the same services as a publisher does, the majority of self-published authors don’t sell thousands of copies of their work for a variety of reasons. For starters, those services are not discriminate; they do not turn down an author based on the quality of the work. Publishers do, because they understand that books are assets that represent the author, but also their brand name, too. This is why authors who go through traditional models typically sell more books simply because of the way publishing works.

Then What?

Now, the examples I mentioned above may not apply to you specifically, but the idea is still the same. If you think about your time as your primary asset, then consider the following questions: Do I own what I create? If so, how am I getting paid for it? If I’m not getting paid what I’m worth, then how can I get paid more?

For myself, I don’t attach a “good” or “bad” value to providing a service versus offering an asset because I look at them in terms of different business models. Which is, realistically, what they are. I’d absolutely write a tie-in story for a property I’d love; on the flip side, I’d still want to write a fun story of my own, too.

Not sure about what you think about my post today, but I feel this idea is pretty important. That’s part of the reason why there’s so many changes going on here behind-the-scenes that I haven’t announced yet.

Deep thoughts today! Do these questions resonate with you? Why or why not?

Monica Valentinelli is an author, artist, and narrative designer who writes about magic, mystery, and mayhem. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.

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