If you ask anybody in Hollywood, in the music industry, in the publishing world or in any economically-viable, artist-led business, what is needed to make it, they will tell you it’s a combination of talent, luck, hard work and marketing.
It seems obvious when you see it written down, but few people understand the implications of this.
There is little you can do about talent: you either have it or you don’t. I can take dance lessons all my life, eat healthy, sleep early and train obsessively, but if I lack the raw talent, I will never make it. It’s as simple as that.
There is also very little you can do about luck. Actually, there is something you can do about it – more on this in a minute. Luck is being in the right place at the right time, being seen by the right person, feeling the zeitgeist before everybody else does, and expressing it through your art. You have little control on any of this.
If this is the case (and this IS the case), then what differentiates you from the hordes of aspiring actors, singers, writers, dancers, photographers, painters… It’s hard work, surely? Well, yes, hard work is key. It’s what nourishes the seed of talent and grows it to its full potential, it’s what allows you to keep going until you are at the right place at the right time, but it’s not enough. All successful artists work hard. Extremely and obsessively hard. It’s the only way to make it. And yet it’s not enough.
Marketing Becomes the Great Equalizer
But when your competition is just as talented and is working just as hard just as you are, only marketing can set you apart. Well, technically there is also luck: enough luck can make up for lack of talent, hard work and marketing, but you cannot direct luck.
Think about it: why do you think Hollywood keeps pumping out so many book adaptations, sequels, prequels and spinoffs, rather than creating original stories? Because audiences would rather pay to see something they know, something they believe to be good, rather than take their chances on a movie they know little about.
In a world where there is an abundance of art (songs, books, photographs, music, paintings, poems…), the only way to be commercially successful is to have a loyal following. Re-read this and understand that this applies to all artists from New York Times bestselling authors to aspiring bands practicing in their garage. To all of them.
I would argue that all aspiring artists need to dedicate a serious amount of time to creating a base to push them through (unless, that is, they have a massive amount of talent or luck – no, hard work doesn’t cover for marketing).
Self promotion has always been possible, but it’s always been scorned – as if talking about your work meant that it had to be mediocre – and it’s incredibly distracting. It’s as far away from talent, inspiration and discipline as it possibly can be. And yet it’s the reason for so many successes.
Based on a True Story
The Blair Witch Project and Papillon chose to go the “it’s a true story” route. It worked and it made them hits in their time. Arrival of the Gods went a different way. They claim to be creating something new. A self described video novel, this is an audiobook with an original music score and ambient animations (not too different from lo-fi music videos). If we can agree that books are going to line our shelves for the foreseeable future, then this might represent a trend we will be seeing a lot of.
There is a strong appeal to claiming that intriguing facts really happened, and I’m not sure that video novels are a new idea (it sounds very similar to a visual novel to me), but what Arrival of the Gods is doing right is their focus on social media and creating an audience before the actual video novel even goes live.
Their Instagram channel is a 101 on how to launch a project when you’re nobody. They have teased, released dozens of visuals from the upcoming video novel and even published a few chapters as an ebook. There are bios about the team, videos where they explain what a video novel is and there are even a couple of teaser trailers. And they’re not only on Instagram, they’re on YouTube, Facebook and they have a full website on which a handful of influencers praise the virtues of the book.
If there is an example to follow for fledgling artists this is it. It’s going to take work, a lot of work, and it’s going to distract you from becoming a better artist, but it’s going to be worth it. What editor, label or gallery is going to pass on an artist with a hundred thousand (real) followers on social media?