10 things I learned about selling creative work during a global crisis

10 things I learned about selling creative work during a global crisis

This year just will not end.

I don’t know why it won’t just end, but for some reason, every day in December is dragging on forever.

I just want it to end, but it won’t.

So, I thought since this year will never end, I would tell you the ten things that I learned during this nightmarish hellscape that I can’t seem to wake, which I hope will help make next year a better year all around.

1 – You can’t force somebody to like something, no matter how much money you spend.

Yes, you can find NEW people who might like a thing, and you can fix your branding/marketing to highlight the right areas of what you’re offering, but you’re never going to convince somebody who doesn’t like your thing to like your thing, no matter how long you spend making it.

If you’re banging your head against the wall, then either you have the wrong person or the wrong product or the wrong market. Those are your three options. Rebrand, redesign, or retarget. When you have the right thing, designed for the right person, they willingly buy it, share it, and love it.

2 – Just because you have good taste, doesn’t mean what you make will work

I spent two years developing what I thought was going to be an awesome universe expanding the novel universe for fans of my two most popular graphic novels, Katrina Hates Dead Shit and Pixie Dust.

I literally dropped over $8,000 writing twelve stories (two novelizations and ten new stories) and figuring people were going to flip out when they saw it. After all, people had been begging me for new stories for half a decade, and yet, when it launched…it flopped, hard.

In fact, my whole novel experiment cost me over $16,500 and has left me over $12,500 in the hole after nine months of releasing novels in 2019 (I didn’t start releasing books until March).

I spent the second half of this year redesigning those novels to play to my audience better, speak to my audience better, and relaunch to where they buy…on Kickstarter, where both graphic novels originally launched, and where I’ve raised $125,000.

Even Disney, the greatest conglomerate of entertainment ever established in the history of the world, fails much more than they succeed. They just have learned how to mitigate their losses and double down on their wins.

3 – You can come back from just about anything.

I almost immediately knew that launching my novels was going to be a disaster and needed to do something that would salvage my year.

The first novel launch didn’t even break even on production costs, and then every subsequent launch did worse. So, I have been in recovery mode for months, trying to figure out how to salvage this year.

I couldn’t make more Katrina or Akta books, b/c I had just dropped a TON of money on them and they hadn’t recovered yet. I certainly wasn’t ready to start a new universe from scratch, either. However, I also had people begging for more Ichabod stories, and since we were out pitching a TV show for Ichabod, I thought it would be a good idea to do more Ichabod stories.

It meant committing $9,000 to a new trade, and $30,000+ to production if that trade was successful. It was the single biggest commitment of resources in my entire comics career, and I had no idea if it would work. After all, Ichabod came out in 2015, and while it sold well, it had been through seven printings. How many more fans could there be. Plus, my novel launches were doing so poorly that I worried I was no longer relevant.

But I committed anyway, because it was the only chance I had to salvage 2019.

Ichabod was going to be the make or break for 2019. If I couldn’t pull this out, then there was no way I could hope to have a good year. Even with relaunching Ichabod, it was nearly impossible to have a good year with the way that the book launches were going, but with Ichabod, I could salvage the year. Without Ichabod, it was doomed.

If I couldn’t get Ichabod to sell on Kickstarter, then this would be the worst year of my professional life, at least since the 2007-2011 string while I was absolutely not selling ANYTHING, and couldn’t even book a meeting.

Luckily, when we brought Ichabod to Kickstarter, it raised over $16,780 against a $15,666 ask, overfunding by $1,000+ and proving it wasn’t my taste that was bad. It literally saved my year.

It was my medium of release and my format that needed work. I wasn’t making something my audience wanted before, and I wasn’t releasing it in the right place.

This was an Earth-shattering realization when I proved it out, and it literally turned around my year. If I want people to buy from me on Amazon, I literally have to build them from scratch, just like I did on Kickstarter.

4 – Just because somebody buys ONE thing from you, doesn’t mean they will buy everything.

This is a hard, harsh truth because everyone wants to believe that if you make one thing that people love, they will follow you anywhere, and yet, though I’ve learned this before, every time I try to test this theory, I get my butt kicked.

People see you as a person who does a single thing, and since they have finite things they can love, they make a spot for ONE thing you do, and if you venture outside of that, MOST people won’t follow. Some will, but most won’t until you come back and do the thing they like again.

I thought people would read my novels because they were set in the same universe as my graphic novels, but what they wanted was more comics. When I gave them what they wanted, and sold it in the place they wanted to buy it, I made 10x more than I had on Amazon all year.

5 – Everybody is fighting a battle so hard that you can’t even comprehend it, so be kind.

I look fine on the outside, most of the time, but I’m not fine on the inside, and I have found that almost everybody I know is fighting a similar battle, either with depression, or MS, or cancer, financial issues, or some demon. Once you shake off one demon, another one latches on, because at every level there will be another devil.

They are sick people faking being well, and we live in a world where almost everybody is throwing on a veneer of being okay when they are barely able to function. Capitalism forces us to be these fake humanoid drones so that we don’t scare people off, but the truth is more likely that every interaction you have is with somebody so fractured and messed up that they are barely holding it together with scotch tape, and if you dug a little deeper you would see a wounded person who can’t heal because the pressures of capitalism force us to keep going even though we aren’t alright.

So, given all of that, be kind to people. Be helpful. Just…try to understand that nobody is okay, and it’s getting worse every day. Health care costs are rising. Debt is compounding. Hope is fading. It’s okay to not be okay, but try to see that other people aren’t okay either, and if you’re one of the shiny happy people, you are probably in the minority, so you should see that, too, and just be kind.

6 – Next year probably won’t be better, so find hope everywhere.

I’ve been doing this for a long time. For three years I’ve been doing it at a high level, and every year, while financially better than the last, feels worse and worse than the one before.

The moments of joy are further apart, and there is less joy in the things that I used to have great excitement for. This is just the way of things, I have found. As I reach higher and higher levels, the big goals I once had become the expectations, and the big goal become harder and harder to reach, which makes the doldrums longer.

I’ve forced myself to find joy in the little moments because the entropy of the universe is pain and suffering.

I am convinced that the universe does not want you to be happy, and the most punk thing you can do in a world intent on stripping you of all hope is to find hope everywhere.

It may be foolish to do so, but late-stage capitalism is a ceaseless void of pain, dolloped by just enough joy to keep you from breaking the machine, and the most punk thing you can do is find more joy than they give you and refuse to give in to their corporate, soulless trash.

7 – Anything somebody can do to get through the day, assuming they are not hurting themselves or somebody else, is a-okay.

I used to make fun of everything and everybody who did “dumb things” which I didn’t understand. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized what a piece of trash I was doing that.

This world is so hard, and if you take solace in religion, or books, or movies, or picking flowers, awesome. Turn into that skid and find more joy there than you’re supposed to be allowed, because the call of the void is ceaseless, and life is pointless, so find something to love that gets you through the day, and whatever it is, I think that’s awesome.

If it’s reading or comics, or this site, and enjoying my work, even better, but if not, that’s okay too. We all have to find our way somehow.

8 – Give stuff away

Give as much away as you can afford to give, not to help with your business or as some marketing strategy, just because you can and it will make you feel good, and make the other person feel good.

Give your time, your experience, and your products out, because in a capitalist nightmare that expects you to consume everything, giving something away with no expectation of return is one of the most punk rock things you can do.

And it will give you a hit of dopamine, which will allow you to keep going through the boundless void of existence.

9 – Quitting is for winners

For years I thought that quitting anything was a sense of failure, so I kept friendships, and projects, and business relationships that strained me to the point of breaking. This year, I decided to just quit some things that were weighing me down, a lot of things that were weighing me down, and not have shame in quitting anything, even if it was working, if it didn’t serve me anymore.

Screw the line “quitters never win”. If you never quit, then you’ll be saddled with baggage and fighting against a current while all that baggage is bringing you down. Not everything is meant for you, and you aren’t meant for everything. Find the one thing, or couple of things, you’re meant to do, and then double down on those, but in doing that, you will be trying, and quitting, a lot of things.

I refuse to keep anything in 2020 that isn’t pulling me up instead of dragging me down, and that means quitting a LOT of things to make room for things that will serve me better.

10 – I don’t know how somebody does this for 40+ years

I honestly thought I would be dead by 35, and the fact that I’m still here at 37 has thrown me for a loop. I designed my whole life to make sure I had a decent career by 35, expecting not to make it through that birthday, and now I find myself staring down 40+ more years of creating and living on this Earth, and I have no idea how to do it. I have no idea how people have done it for the last 10,000 years, and I have no idea how I’m going to do it.

If I just live to the average, I have more time left on Earth than I’ve been on this Earth, and I have no idea what to do with that information. It’s both scary and comforting at the same time. Even somebody who is 60 has 16 years left on average, which means they have as much time as it took to reach from birth to car driving age. That’s so much time.

What does one do with so much time?

I don’t know if this did anything but help me ramble for a long time, but this is what I learned this year. I had a lot more things enforced during this year that I already knew, and many of these concepts I knew intellectually but hadn’t seeped down into my subconscious.

For instance, the kindness part of this is one I’ve been preaching for years, but it has been something in my head, and heart, but not something that I internalized in my soul until this year.

Sometimes, it takes years for something to become a part of you. Sometimes, you have to be beaten down by life before things become a part of you, and I feel like the last couple of years have beaten me within an inch of my life, made me stronger, and forged me with iron, so that hopefully in 2020, I will become the kind of human who can have a good year.

I’m not hopefully, though, since the last couple of years have been like eating fine steak out of a dumpster fire. Yes, you are doing well enough to have steak, but it still tastes like burning garbage.

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