The real reason why most indie artists are starving: overcoming (and preventing) community drama as AltSciFi evolves.

Seriously, Artist Twitter? Are we going to do this every few months?

*sigh*

Okay.

This blog post exists as a point of reference in case similar situations arise in the future. A comprehensive blog post can be useful due to the appearance of behaviour patterns that are worth learning from (and not repeating).

Note that all parties involved are not personally named, and no personally identifying details are included here. AltSciFi protects your privacy, regardless of who you are or any relationship between us.

This post contains two parts: this part, and guidelines for the future, further down. You can read straight through or skip between them as you like. “Artists” referred to here also includes writers, and all independent creators in the science fiction genre. “Artist Twitter” refers to artists who are also heavy Twitter users, as you probably guessed already.

Fact and fabrication, gossip and misinterpretation

This post is dedicated to all the random Bored Artists and Angry Stans of Twitter who have arrived (again) to hunt witches and exercise their right to act like an mindless zombie mob.

Isn’t that what Twitter is for, though? Apparently so.

> the real reason artists r starving?! Bcos ur stealing it!1!!! #arttheft

— 300+ idiots on Twitter, in the space of a few hours.

Months ago, AltSciFi posted an image created by an artist. The image was tagged. “Tagging” means the artist’s Twitter username (“handle”) was included. The tag didn’t show properly, so a second tweet was added with the artist’s handle.

The only reason the artist (Artist A) knew her work was posted is that her handle was added (i.e. she was given credit). Twitter automatically notified her, which is the intended effect. It’s like saying, “hi, we re-tweeted/re-posted your work”.

That didn’t fit her personal specification, however. She soon demanded her full name be used. Fine, no problem there. But…

…instead of sending a DM (a private message on Twitter) and saying, “can you cite my name and/or contact details”, she quote-tweeted the image. Quote-tweets are like using quotation marks to tell your friends what someone else has said to you. She added nonsense about “stealing art” to her quote-tweet, and this triggered a mob from Artist Twitter screeching about “stolen work”.

This is how Twitter works…?

Artist Twitter seems to love this condescending bit about bragging “this is how Twitter works” then arbitrarily saying, “it must be as I demand”. Tagging an image cites the artist; no “stealing” involved.

Rather than argue for days with a zombified mob of people who weren’t reading (or thinking) before barking and howling, a massive number of people were blocked, including Artist A.

Fast-forward to now, literally months later. All was forgotten from the previous incident, or so it seemed. A notification arrives, including Artist A and Artist B. Artist A’s tweets were invisible (blocked), but clearly she’d been waiting for an opportunity to howl again.

Now we have Artist B. Her work is brilliant and unique. This is why it was included as one of the first around which a concept design was built for AltSciFi’s online store site.

The Opposite of Amazon

The essence of a store, obviously, is having items you pay for. AltSciFi is about helping indie artists get paid without corporations that gouge us like Amazon. So while building the site’s backend (database/etc.), a payment structure naturally needed to be built as well.

The key to this is AltSciFi does not have inventory of its own. The idea is to work with artists who have existing online shops, or help them create theirs.

This approach is something no one has done before (at least, perhaps not). That’s the whole point of doing it. In order to explain how it works, it’s better to use a “show, then tell” approach. Artists in particular are obsessively (rightly) wary of having their works stolen, so it’s necessary to paint a full picture before asking anyone to sign on.

Over the past few years, AltSciFi has tested prototypes and requested feedback. Artists and fans tend to fail to see value unless they have tangible work to lay hands on. There’s no point in giving an audience the first draft of a screenplay if you can show them the completed film. Likewise for the AltSciFi project.

How to Unleash the Undead Hordes…. by Mistake

Now, back to today. Artist B says she found the concept site via search engine. That was not independently verifiable, but there’s no reason to assume she was lying.

So what happens? Minutes later, yet another horde of frothing Angry Artist Twitter appears as if by magic.

A few pages on the concept site, including Artist B’s page, have functioning PayPal links. In theory, it’s possible to buy items. This is a proof of concept. It works. Finally. :)

In practice, as mentioned previously, there are no items to buy. No inventory. Plus, at least while using search engine DuckDuckGo, the concept site is nowhere to be found. But apparently Artist B found it somehow.

So here’s where the problem begins. Instead of contacting AltSciFi, Artist B replicated Artist A’s behaviour and sent a Frothing Twitter Horde of Doom.

Unfortunately, over the past few years of development, this is just the sort of thing that happens periodically. People don’t know what they’re looking at and sometimes decide doomsday is nigh. Instead of just blocking all who arrived with pitchforks at the ready, this is a thread (now, blog post) for the next time someone decides to bark instead of think.

Ironically, with proper demonstration of a completed project, Artist B probably would have thought this project could work well for her, as an indie artist with a unique style. Indeed, she backhandedly admitted exactly that.

Instead of reserving judgment, Artist B and the unthinking horde burned the bridge to AltSciFi before it could be built.

Mistakes Were Made, But More Importantly, Who Wins?

Was it a mistake to leave a “functioning” store site online? Yes. It was an oversight. The site is not being marketed or promoted and no one has tried to buy anything, so it was assumed to be invisible for now.

On the other hand, it’s also somewhat strange to unleash a bully-mob when you’ve only heard one side of what’s happening. In this case, Artist A clearly spewed nonsense about “art theft” when she had no clue, as she was blocked for months already.

AltSciFi is for artists and techies, by artists and techies. Our followers are constantly reminded of it.

As it is, apologies were offered several times to Artist B for the oversight. Artist B was too busy winning a fight. If you want a fight, well, okay. But you’re fighting against your own ally here. This is years of work spent, zero dollars for marketing or promotion.

Picking the Wrong Fight

If you want a fight, fight against the social media companies that create social norms around endlessly churning out work for free. Fight against the idea that artists (and techies/programmers/hackers) should give away their work for “exposure”.

Realise that if you’re using social media as your primary marketing platform — and even worse, if you’re using your personality as your “brand” — you’re throwing away your work and your identity to corporations who are selling you out to anyone who pays.

Squabbling about who tagged whom, forgot to add perfect citations, or didn’t email about a site that isn’t even finished yet…? That is fucking frustratingly stupid. It’s an understandable mistake. But gathering hordes and making sport of harassing people is fucking stupid.

We’re artists. Probably half of AltSciFi’s followers are hackers, makers, tinkerers and engineers (and others who Know Things). We’re weird. Some are outcasts. The urge to bully when given the chance may be strong. It’s still wrong, though, especially in this instance.

You Are Not Special, and Life is Too Short

This isn’t “damage control” or “artist management”. This is artists versus artists; the most pointless kind of conflict. No one wins. The strife created does the dirty work of keeping mega-corporations like Amazon as the only option. You’ll see more about exactly what that means in the set of guidelines below.

Next time someone gets chafed that AltSciFi blocked them, it’s because life is too short for bullshit — hours were wasted, today alone. Stop wasting time quibbling about bullshit. Find out the situation. instead of reacting (and feeding the social media machine), think and respond.

If you want a fight, a fight you might get. More likely, anyone who comes with more noise will be blocked and ignored. Explanation is usually a waste of time, especially for those whose minds are set to “off”.

A hard lesson learned over years: your ego is not special. Your work is not special. The world doesn’t need you or your art; that’s why it’s hard to get paid.

It’s also why AltSciFi exists. We need to build better alternatives. Allow yourself to make mistakes along the way.

This was a messy moment, but a necessary one. Better deal with misunderstandings now than fight endless brush fires later. “Move fast and break things” is how you end up with Facebook, after all (not a good idea; doing it right — not “perfectly” — is more important than doing it fast).

AltSciFi isn’t a business yet. We’re close, but doors have yet to open; until then, useful thoughts are welcome. Approach with an open mind, and receive the same in return.

Guidelines for Professionalism in the Attention Economy

Beyond the childish pettiness described above, here are a few thoughts on professionalism. These informal notes are based on experience and study, not about how to be a “superstar”. Key points are rephrased or repeated, and merit re-reading.

Never make accusations until you understand the situation at hand.

Anyone with a few thousand social media followers is a superstar in their own mind. AltSciFi maintains a small following; the “followback” game (where you follow someone in exchange for them to follow you, thereby increasing both users’ “popularity”) is silly.

For independent devs, infosec people and artists, Twitter is a “professional networking conference” where everyone is saving face while desperately looking for work.

Never rely on gossip or the insider voices of your comfortable little clique.

Do not use your work as a business card.

Pour energy into no more than four unpaid projects per month that add to your portfolio. Young artists and hackers especially fall into the trap of churning out new art and working themselves to the bone on open-source projects.

Resist “positive thinking”: thousands of indie creators give away their work. This creates an expectation that no one need ever pay for it. Remember: your style may be unique, but your ego and your art are not “special”. If your art is absent, someone else will step in and do the job. Welcome to capitalism.

Value your time and work. Do not give it away. Asking people to pay after giving work to them for free is like billing relatives for Christmas gifts.

Ignore social media popularity.

Followers can be bought. Bots and spammers accumulate. Twitter gets rich, indies stay broke. In the so-called “attention economy” of social media, if you’re an indie (sole proprietor/independent contractor), protect your time. Do not spend time on people who will waste it. The business model of social media is to seduce you into doing the work (organising and sharing information) while the social media company gets paid by running ads and selling your personal data.

Remain aware that the most important opportunities you lose may be the ones you never hear about. More about that in a moment.

“If you need the money, don’t take the job.”

Always have an alternative if negotiations fall through; never resort to begging or bullying. If potential colleagues or clients display tendencies to bully or abuse you and your time, gladly fire the client and find new workmates.

The inverse: be glad to discover unprofessional people who engage in gossip, whisper campaigns and backstabbing. Cut them all out at once.

Those who can help, elevate your work and be mentors, are already well aware of you.

Drama always reflects badly, even if you “win”. You will lose far more than you gain by bickering and squabbling with your peers. Those above you will assume you don’t have what it takes to join them. And until you learn to avoid or prevent drama, you will never know why you remain stuck near the bottom. Those at a higher level will never waste their time on you.

Inverse: if your industry worships “superstars”, be ready to defend yourself. Bullies and hardline negotiators steamroll over anyone they perceive as weak.

Four caveats:

0. Do not act based on gossip or incomplete information. Never request secondhand facts if a firsthand source is accessible. If there are two sides to a story, listen to both.
1. Immediately apologise for mistakes and fix them as quickly as possible.
2. Walk away even if you can “win”.
3. Never make an enemy due to a bruised ego.

That’s all for now. These are exciting and interesting times for AltSciFi, but when has that ever not been the case? :)

P.S. One more guideline for time management and emotional wellbeing: never engage with those who deliberately misinterpret your words.

P.P.S. This isn’t “damage control” or “artist management”. This is a signpost, and a warning for every artist dealing with others online. You will probably encounter similar behaviour if you decide to do anything that challenges the status quo. People can rarely imagine beyond what they already know, and nearly always fear that which is foreign to them. Artists are not exempt from herd thinking or acting like childish bullies; open-mindedness often stops where social interactions begin.

Beyond that, hopefully you’ve learned something you can use in your professional, and perhaps even personal, life and evolution.

And if you’re new here, welcome to AltSciFi. This is as good an introduction as any. :)

Update: this post now has a second part (click here).

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