Nobody Knows What You’re Doing
Magic robots and the case for marketing your work
“Magic robots.” That’s what JM said when I asked how he got to our conference.
“You must have magic robots that somehow stole my email address because I have no idea how I started receiving your emails. In fact I just kept deleting them. For six months.
But about two months ago I received one and opened it. Then I searched your name in my inbox and found 40 emails I hadn’t deleted.
I sat there and read every email. The last email was an invitation to the Tribe Conference. So I came.”
Not too long ago, I was at the tail end of a huge book launch for my fourth book, “The Art of Work.” This was my biggest launch yet, and I was determined to hit a bestseller list this time. So I pushed, and I pushed hard.
After six weeks of nearly daily marketing, hitting several bestsellers lists, and outselling every other book I’d ever published — combined — I finally slowed down.
It was around this time that I casually mentioned on Facebook a comment that a reviewer had left about my book.
Immediately, someone replied, “You have a new book out? Congrats!”
It took every bone in my body to not respond sarcastically. Surely, this person was being tongue-in-cheek. Surely, they couldn’t have missed the 837 messages in the previous month and a half declaring that I did indeed have a new book out.
But I gave them the benefit of the doubt and asked, “Are you serious?”
To which they replied, “Yeah, I didn’t know. That’s great. Good work!”
And suddenly, I realized something:
Nobody knows what you’re doing.
People aren’t watching your every move. Even now, in the age of digital voyeurism, where we’re broadcasting everything we do from what we ate to the latest trade secrets, we’re still far more concerned with ourselves than with the lives of others.
Even when we go on social media sites to stalk our friends and measure our lives against theirs, we’re still just thinking about ourselves.
At our core, we’re quite selfish creatures.
But there is also something liberating in this, isn’t there? Every failure we fear and every anxiety we have ends up being not quite so significant. Not if this idea — that nobody knows what you’re doing — is really true.
On the other hand, this also requires us to get a lot more serious about marketing. If we have creative work to share with the world, and many of us do, then marketing is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity.
Of course, we all want to make work that speaks for itself, but as Austin Kleon says, talking about the work is the work. Promotion is part and parcel of the job of being an artist.
In my latest book, “Real Artists Don’t Starve,” I even call this a “rule” for creative success. You have to be willing to share your work in places that people will find it.
Yes, you must create great things that move people and spark conversations. But you must also talk about those things. A lot. Maybe to the point that you’re sick of talking about your work and feel like you’re annoying people.
It’s at that point that someone will finally know what you’re doing. It sounds absurd, but I promise you. This is how it works. You don’t have to be annoying. But you do have to persist.
Because everything in the world is conspiring against you.
All of it.
Creation is a fight. And as soon as you stop pushing, you lose.
In the end, it’s not really magic robots doing the work. It’s you. Good luck.