Most of my professional creative life I've been thinking about my big "hit".
It's a little embarrassing to admit that but because this blog is about creative self reflection with the intent of helping others at my expense, I'll go ahead admit that.
My quest for "the hit" has been in several different arenas, resulting in a wide body of work but lacking consistency.
My closest hit thus far has probably been the publishing and Los Angeles premier of Real Housewives The Musical. I wrote it to be a hit.
It was not a hit.
It's good and I'm proud of it. Admittedly it was not going to change the world and that was never the intention. The aim was to make a light hearted musical comedy based on a brand that is a...what?
There is a common trend among hit books, movies (barring franchises), indie films, viral videos, blog posts, or breakout music. Most of them are surprise hits. The author is often surprised that they became popular.
Still the quest for writing a hit seems to be a trend among most creatives wanting to break in.
I ask these two questions of myself.
- Do I want to write a hit to be noticed?
- Do I want to write a hit for the money?
Answer: I want to write a hit in order to be noticed, in order to make money, in order to be able to do the work again.
Let me ask another question.
- Would I rather write a wildly popular hit that paid me, oh I don't know, three million dollars and never work again OR produce a somewhat popular mid-sized bump of something that gives me 1000 true fans that would allow me to create a body of work over time?
Answer: I'll take the 1000 fans.
- Would I want both?
Answer: Yes, obviously, but that's just not very realistic.
If my ego wasn't involved would my creative mind would be satisfied with the daily process of creation?
No. I'm not interested in being part of the longest tail in the equation. I aim to be in the middle of the tail so I can actually make a living. Don't know about the long tail? Read about it here.
I don't need to make a ton of money. I do need to make money. I also need to make the money I believe I am talented enough to make. It is after all what makes me a professional creative by definition.
Here's what I know.
If you spend all your time thinking about writing a hit then you may miss the nuance, the quirk, the individualism you bring to your creative project.
A majority of people buy one or two books a year. Did you know that? That seems low doesn't it?
The point is, if most people buy ONE book during the course of the year, what are the chances that they're going to buy YOUR book?
Perhaps you're better off creating a body of work that 1000 people will buy? It's the theory of 1000 true fans by Kevin Kelly. Read about that here.
Those 1000 people will tell their friends and it becomes 3000, and then 10,000.
Then you got yourself a career.
You may even become an international best selling author like my friend Lyndsay.
Lyndsay Faye is a great example of this. In 2004 Lindsay and I did the world premier of Andrew Lippa's "A Little Princess" at Theatreworks Silicon Valley. She is a ridiculously talented pop and opera singer but along the course of her career found out that she is a kick ass novelist who has made her amazingly steady career within the niche world of mystery novels.
This is not the story of a hit.
This is the story of a young actress who moved to New York and found herself with free days because her day job restaurant was knocked down by bulldozers. She started to write and launched herself into an almost seventeen year career as a novelist.
How did she do that?
I'm guessing she didn't set off to write a hit. She set off on a creative pursuit. She loved Sherlock Holmes as a child and turned that passion into a full fledged career. Five books later and nine short stories later her career is on fire. Her latest book, Jane Steele reimagines the victorian character Jane Eyre as a killer who strikes out at men who have abused her. Amazing right?! The movie rights to Jane Steele have been purchased by movie producer Chris Columbus. Exciting!
Lyndsay is a reminder to keep your eye on the work rather than the outcome. Sure, it takes an extreme amount of focus, solitude and discipline but it makes for a much more dynamic body of work.
If it produces a hit in the process? Well all the better!
Now let's get back to work.
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