When should you give up on your creative dream?

Persistence is not noble.

This is the issue where I divide from most other leaders in the field – most creative people tell you to just keep creating. Keep doing the work. Don’t worry if the market isn’t responding. Don’t worry if nobody gets it. If you feel inspired to create, just make what you want to. As long as you’re happy, that’s all that matters.

That’s fine advice if you’re writing, or creating, as a personal hobby. But the majority of writers and authors also try to sell their work. And here’s the problem: creating a product without thinking about the market, and refusing to pivot when it isn’t working, is stupid business advice.

This stuff takes time and effort, but if what you’re doing is really failing, and all your work and time and effort isn’t paying off, you’re bound to get discouraged and frustrated. Instead of just pumping yourself up with more exuberant confidence, you need to fix the real problems.

1. Nobody is seeing your work.
Selling stuff is a numbers game. If you’re showing your work to 1000 people a month and only getting one sale… that’s still a success. Now the trick is to find out why that one person bought, and why (ask them!). Then start marketing to people just like that. Then your conversion rates should go up. Next, put your stuff in front of 10,000 people. That should help you start earning money.

2. Nobody is buying your work.

Let’s say you get your work in front of 10,000 people but nobody buys anything. It’s probably a problem of packaging, presentation or price. It could also be a trust issue. If you’re selling a book, this happens when you market a new book with zero reviews, from a new authors, that has an ugly cover. People just don’t want it! The solution isn’t to market harder and reach more people. The solution is a facelift: better packaging, more reviews and blurbs, probably a better/more compelling description as well. Keep improving and tweaking. Ask for feedback. Hire a professional. If it isn’t working, you’re doing something wrong. (PS – every time you tweak something, you need to send a few hundred people to see if it’s working yet. If you change something but nobody sees it, or just a couple dozen, that’s not good enough).

3. Nobody likes your work.
This one is the hardest to deal with – but it happens. If you wrote or made something without thinking of the market, and just expected them to show up and support you when you were done, you made a mistake. Granted, you followed the advice of all the art and creativity gurus, but like I said – that’s a stupid way to run a business. If you put your work in front of the right people, and those people didn’t like the work, you can either keep trying to find different/better people who might like it, or make something more likeable.

We could get into a big argument over this, but my definition of art or creativity is to make something that people value.

If you want to make a living doing what you love, you must find a community to serve. That means asking them what they like, and finding new ways to surprise and delight them. This isn’t selling out, this is simply how art and creativity are supposed to function. You’ve been misled by a century of romantic thinking, and legends about starving artists who persevered when everybody hated their work and got famous anyway (usually after they died tragic, frustrated, lonely deaths).

I’ve written a LOT about this stuff, but here are some quick links if you want more.

PS) I am NOT saying you should give up. If you want to make a living with your writing or art – you totally can! But you’ll need to experiment until you find out what kind of work is the most popular, and do more of that kind of work (why would you keep doing work that nobody cares about? Don’t you want to do something that matters?)

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me

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