Welcome back to the Creative Life Adventure.
Recently, I wrote a few words about the necessity of uncertainty in the creative process. This time, certainty is the topic; specifically, the certainty we as creatives can offer to our audience.
I’m thinking of the “good old days” before the Internet and the World Wide Web. We’ve all seen the double-edge sword of digital technology in the arts. Anyone can publish a book now, but the number of titles published per year has skyrocketed. Over 300,000 unique book titles were published in the U.S. in 2016; an additional 700,000 titles were issued by self-published authors. The data company Nielsen estimates that 36,000 new music recordings were issued in the U.S. in 2000, compared to 77,000 in 2011.
When I lived in Silicon Valley in the 1990s, one of my favorite activities was browsing through my local Tower Records store for new additions to my music collection. There was some risk involved with every purchase. Even a favorite music artist can release a dud now and then. The same is true of writers and movie directors. When music stores introduced listening stations, fans had the ability to listen to select recordings before buying. Suddenly, we had certainty – we knew in advance whether this was a product we wanted.
Now we have more music and books and movies to choose from, but we have more tools to give us certainty as consumers. We can listen to music clips on iTunes or Amazon; sometimes even entire recordings can be previewed free on YouTube or Spotify. We have the “Look Inside” feature for books on Amazon. We don’t have to wait to see a few movie trailers at the theater, we can find them all online, along with critic reviews. For restaurants and other businesses we have online reviews and photos through Google and TripAdvisor. As individuals become more able to produce content and start small businesses, consumers have more resources available to make informed decisions.
What does this mean for creative types? If we want others to consume our work – buying a print of a photo, or a novel, or an artisan cupcake – we should view our work from an outsider’s point of view. Even if a prospective customer is familiar with our past work, individuals have a very finite amount of time and money and they are being pressured from every direction to buy more.
A little mystery is still necessary – you don’t want readers to know the ending of your mystery novel! Still, the mystery shouldn’t be the quality of your work. We owe it to supporters of the arts to be as transparent as we reasonably can. If you’re selling food, offer free samples. If you’re selling your own self-published books or music, sell through trusted third parties like Amazon or iTunes and take advantage of the opportunity to share excerpts or clips. If you’re selling your own paintings or photographs, offer to work with prospective clients to match their existing style and decor. If you offer a service like coaching, have plenty of past client referrals on hand. And whatever product or service you offer, keep an updated online portfolio, either through your own web site, a Facebook page, a LinkedIn profile, a photo-sharing site, etc. Take every opportunity to not just sell your creative efforts, but to communicate the substance of your work. In the long run, your real product is yourself. If you’ve done the work to make your work ready for the public, certainty is on your side: Proceed with confidence.