Ryan Holiday says that the best marketing for your current book or creative project is to begin working on your next one. Creative work is never a one-and-done deal. It is continuous; you’re always working on something. There is always more to be unearthed from the well. Creativity is an endless source of material if we think like this. Something can always be reversed, twisted, turned, flipped, and associated with something else.
“Nobody wants to read your shit.” — Steven Pressfield
When it comes to marketing and promoting your creative work, Steven Pressfield reminds us that “Nobody wants to read your shit.” Now, your “shit” in this context is anything you’ve created. Pressfield uses “read” because, truly, nobody wants to read anything. Nobody wants to take the time to read your shit. Nobody wants to read your script. Nobody wants to read your blog post. Nobody certainly wants to read your first draft. In a world where absolutely nobody wants to read, what makes you think they want to read your stuff?
While the lesson may be harsh, it prepares you for what comes next for your newly minted creative project: Likely nothing. You play to crickets. You “launch” your book and you play to an audience of 1: yourself. Now, the other real work begins. Audiences, like creative projects, are not built overnight. They require daily work in marketing and promotion and giveaways. Once you grasp that nobody wants to read your shit, you begin to understand how important audience or platform building is to your creative future.
Sometimes talent isn’t enough.
The creative world is chock-full of boxes and boxes and boxes of books by first time authors who thought that if they built it, people would come. While it is sad in a way, it is another difficult lesson in creative work that just because you wrote it / created it / sang it / painted it, doesn’t mean people will show up. Who is more powerful in Hollywood? The Uber-talented screenwriter that is an unknown to the studios or the seasoned producer with three big hits to his credit, giving him walk-in credibility with the studios, not to mention, he gets meetings? Sometimes talent isn’t enough. The guy with the big list can potentially move those boxes of books while the writer without the list to market to has to buy more storage space.
The other powerful lesson in Pressfield’s statement is that when you grasp it, you develop empathy with your audience. You begin to question your creative work and see it from the audience’s perspective instead of just your own. You think, “OK. Nobody wants to read this. Got it. Well, if I got someone’s attention for five seconds, what would they like to read / watch / see next that would capture that attention for another five seconds? Where’s the next dramatic move? Who does what to whom? When?” This makes you a better storyteller and attention-getter. We can all work on being better storytellers.
When you start from the perspective of “Nobody wants to read this,” it steels you against mediocrity and self-delusion. While it may sound like a cynical place to begin creating, you’re genuinely happy and elated to see your work gain audience attention. This attention has to be earned. You won’t settle for just any kind of work. You won’t settle for two drafts or three drafts. You’ll iterate and iterate and iterate; hone and hone and hone until you’ve got it to where your audience is happy with it.