This past Sunday (January 25, 2015), I read an article that was depressing on a number of levels.
The writer, Cynthia McCabe, received an email from one Doug Williams, a sixty-six year old man who said he was going to kill himself.
“I am taking my life not out of despair but simply because I’ve said everything I wanted to say and consider my work finished. Since no one at present (nor in the past half-century) is interested, I have no platform upon which to stand and talk about my work.”
Much of the article details Ms. McCabe’s personal reaction to receiving such an email from a complete stranger. Since she’s a reporter, she ultimately pieced together the full story. I won’t spoil the article for anyone who plans to read it.
Although there’s probably a few good reasons why I said this article was depressing.
(You can read it here)
The only part I will reveal is that Doug Williams considered himself a writer and self-published a few books. As you read above, he could not find an audience for his work.
Ms. McCabe interviewed Ron Charles, Washington Post book editor, who said the following:
“There are more people writing than ever who are desperate for attention, and we just don’t have that much attention to give.”
As someone who has just helped self-publish a book, that sentence made me shudder. The brutal reality is that for every self-publishing success story, there are hundreds (thousands? MILLIONS?!) of works that go straight to oblivion.
If you’re a creative type, are you also shuddering right now? Should you throw in the towel on your dreams, or at best, consider your creative efforts to be no more than a hobby?
Well, listen up.
Do you have something meaningful to say? Whether you write, draw, or perform, are you doing something that means something to you? If you care enough to create it, somewhere there’s someone who will care to enjoy it. And not simply because they’re related to you and have no choice.
Back in 2001, Jake Sibley wrote “What it Takes to Sell Records: The Truth About Numbers.” Astonishingly, that article seems to have vanished off the Internet. Luckily, it so inspired me that I saved a copy some years ago.
In a nutshell, Jake Sibley used math to show that you can count on at least one person in a thousand who will like your work enough to buy it. If you’re Beyonce or the Rolling Stones, it’ll be more than one, but if you’re Beyonce or an aging rich rock star, you’re not reading this blog.
So, you have one fan in every thousand people. If you live somewhere that has maybe five or six thousand people, that’s five or six loyal fans. Depending on what you’re selling, that’s not going to do much more than pay for a latte every now and then. Don’t give up yet! How many people in your country? Your continent?
A million people gives you a thousand fans. A thousand people who will buy your stuff. That’s beginning to sound like a living, right?
How could you possibly reach a million people, or more? If you’re reading this, then you know about the Internet. Make use of it to reach out and touch a lot of people.
I’m not saying it will be easy. In fact, if you appeal to one in every thousand, that means there will be nine hundred and ninety nine who at best will be totally indifferent to what you do.
That’s a lot of indifference. There may even be hostility and unwarranted criticism (not to be confused with the constructive kind). Don’t let it get you down. Going by the math, the more of this you encounter, the more fans you will find. Eventually.
So go forth and find those who would be your fans, if they knew about you. Work at it with the same passion you have for your art. Yes, everyone and their dog (and their unhappy cat) is looking for attention. But you are not “everyone”. You are looking for your one in a thousand. The one who wants your work.
That gives a creator two options.
Option one is to be persistent. Get books on marketing, try out ideas, write a blog, try out other ideas, talk to people, try out even more ideas, and above all – do not stop. While you’re at it, try to get opinions about your work – how can it be refined? Always try to improve.
Option two is to quit. It is a lot of work, and if the world isn’t going to beat down a path to your door, well, the heck with the world. As Homer Simpson once said, “If at first you don’t succeed, give up.”
Thoughts? Marriage proposals? Cat photographs? Leave them in the comments.