Cutting myself some slack (and why you should do the same)
I have something I’d like to get off my chest. I don’t expect to earn a living with fiction or crafting. There, I said it. Phew! That was overdue.
In an era where so many creatives are competing for success, online and off; in a space where more creators than ever before have access to the tools of making and selling art, we feel pressure to sell A LOT and earn EVEN MORE. To the point of making art one’s sole source of income. It’s tempting, isn’t it.
My art doesn’t need to be my day job and that’s okay.
Once you begin to market creative products (fiction and jewellery in my case) you are likely to encounter service providers who can help you — with everything from bookkeeping and advertising to social media and mailing lists. When I used the term ‘service provider’ I generally mean, promoter, advertiser, marketer, designer, coach, personal assistant, accountant, or a combination, sometimes including creator (and direct competitor).
For clarity, I have no problem whatsoever with a creator also operating as a service provider. I did this myself, opening a supply shop after I’d been selling finished jewellery for a while. And not surprisingly, order volume at my supply shop quickly surpassed my jewellery. It’s just the nature of supply and demand; more people want to make and sell than source and sell. For fiction, more people want to be authors than marketers.
Over the years, I’ve heard success stories about creatives just like me who made their dreams come true. The idea has such a profound appeal that I couldn’t (and still can’t) turn away. The stories are real. The people are real. And I felt that if I could just get a bit better at the business side, I could be a success story too. Creative service providers seemed to remind me every day.
Don’t get me wrong, creative business services can add a great deal of value to your endeavours. But take a step back and look at who is really succeeding in these spaces. Is it mostly artists? Or mostly service providers? How many artists-turned-service-providers do you see?
I’m not trying to tear into anyone who offers services to creatives. I use these services myself! I’ve worked with some genuinely amazing service providers who toil tirelessly to help creatives succeed. I’ve very rarely felt ripped-off by a service provider. Services providers DO want you to succeed. After all, your success ensures their own survival as a business.
What I want readers of this post to take away is that you’re not a failure because you haven’t won the online creative lottery. Low sales does not necessarily equal bad products (although it’s always a good idea to welcome feedback on your work and really listen when you get it).
I’ve learned that I really am just an artist. I am not a born salesperson and I have no future as a marketing expert. I’m burnt out when it comes to optimistically pouring ad dollars into a new channel and finding ROI lacking, again. I continue to make art in the face of commercial flops because I love it, I find it fascinating, and I can feel my mind come alive while I’m doing it. To say I view this work as a ‘long game’ is an understatement considering I got my first byline in 1998 and I first showed work in a gallery around 1995.
I can’t stand a hard sell; either delivering or receiving.
Instead, I chip away at the task of building and maintaining my brands. I have a ‘real’ job I love and am not trying to quit. (If you hate your day job, there are easier ways to make a change than becoming a financially independent self-employed artist.) I’ve also become skeptical of the definition of earning a living. I’ve heard claims ranging from six-figures annually to living on less and making peace with poverty.
Am I stretching myself too thin, working, writing, making, and parenting? Probably. How could I be successful at any one unless I focus and cut out the mental chatter? Good question.
I do what I do because it’s the best balance I’ve found between meeting my family’s needs and my own while adapting to the society I live in, both geographically and emotionally.
I would love to have a hit book or a hot jewellery product. But I won’t beat myself up if neither happens and I won’t consider art a waste of time. I hope any other creatives reading this post can find a little comfort in the idea that success can arrive in your life in many forms from many avenues.