Sell Your Stuff, Not Your Soul
or, How to make creative content that also makes you money
Dear creative community,
I see you out there, making your groundbreaking, inspiring, amazing, awesome, meaningful and totally original content.
And breaking your bank accounts and your hearts doing it.
Maybe you’ve been able to scrape together the money to fully produce your work through a crowd-funding platform like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or Patreon. Maybe you’ve won some small grants or taken out a loan. Perhaps you’ve already hustled so hard you’ve got a VC or two behind you. Maybe your idea even catches the right kind of attention and takes off, getting thousands or — YAY! — millions of viewers on a digital platform like YouTube, Netflix, or Amazon. That’s freaking amazing. Because you’ve dedicated so much time and energy, blood-sweat-and-tears to make your dream come true. And it. is. awesome.
But you still can’t pay the bills.
But here’s the secret: you can.
You shouldn’t have to take a part-time or even full-time job to recoup your costs and keep the lights on while you stay up all night working on your passion. And your small commissions or online advertising profits will only get you so far.
So I’m going to give you two totally boring but completely magical words to consider for your next project that will help you think about additional revenue streams — and, as a bonus, will come totally naturally to you, as a creator:
Make it ICONIC and OWNABLE. I mean all of it. As much as humanly possible.
Everything I know about how to develop an intellectual property’s potential boils down to those two words. And you, as creators, know how to do it far better than any of us business people.
Let me explain.
When you design — create — make — something, anything, the details are yours to decide. They’re what you dream up. And sometimes you might borrow inspiration from other amazing things that’ve influenced who you are as a designer, a maker, a creator. Sometimes you might fall back on what’s familiar or easily at hand. And I’m not here to say don’t take inspiration. PLEASE DO. Even — dare I say it? — do some research on what’s resonating with your audience. But. Take the extra step and make it your own.
Take a look at whatever you’re working on right now. Do you have something core to your idea — a character; an icon; a costume, location or background — that you can further customize? Do it. Do it so that it is undeniably yours — so that anyone who sees that thing out in the world, totally out of context, RECOGNIZES it as yours.
Fear the generic. Create the iconic. Make it ownable.
Make it truly and fully yours — so that you have the right to share it with others.
Because this is the first step to building your creative IP as a brand, and even a potential franchise. I’m talking the next Sesame Street, Harry Potter, or Star Wars. You’re putting your creative stake in the ground. You’re building a visual identity that’s easily recognized across media, outside of your original core idea.
You’re creating totally original assets that can be merchandised — because they belong to you and no one else.
So what do you need to do?
Let’s look at character design. If your character wears, touches, or lives in it, think about how you can make it original.
Don’t borrow the design of the jacket on your coat rack. Create your own.
Go a step further. What about that jacket could be iconic, recurring, and immediately recognizable? What is your character’s lightning scar; its Superman shield? What’s its TARDIS?*
The more you can make original, the more YOU OWN, the more you can totally naturally and organically merchandize to support your creations. And if you’re ready and interested in the big studios, publishers, distribution platforms — whoever it may be — this is going to make your pitch more enticing. Because, trust me, as they look over your materials and listen to your pitch, they’re calculating the value of what you’ve created not only in terms of viewership or readership, downloads, and ad revenue; they’re looking at the whole picture. The games they can make; the books they can publish. The toys and fashion lines and theatrical spin-offs and live events.
Now, there’s lots more you need to do to build the most appealing content for your audience and put together the perfect pitch for the studios, but this — iconic & ownable — is something you, as creators, already know how to do — and do it better than the rest of us. If you can keep this in mind when developing your idea, you’re already ahead of the game. And if you can dig into your audience and understand what they really want (or hire someone like us to do the market research for you!) — what they find relevant, aspirational, and relatable — that’s the next step. Bake that in too.
But that’s for another day.
Please, keep creating. It’s why I left my cushy corporate job: you are doing groundbreaking things that just don’t happen within the big industry system. You keep us inspired. You are the reason we do what we do at Doobry.
*I’m a total geek. I can’t help my references. Forgive me.
Marielle Henault is an ex-Disney exec and founder of Doobry, where she helps companies evolve their businesses into brands and intellectual properties into entertainment franchises.
If you’ve got a spark of a thing that you think maybe — probably — hopefully — other people might find cool, too, get in touch! I’m here to help with what comes next.