Thursday, February 18, 2010
Why Won't 1.4 Million People Like Me?
Everyone wants to be liked, but for entertainers--be they artists, musicians, actors, or writers like me--the matter is a little more serious. The old adage "you can't please all the people all the time" is true enough, but entertainers better be pleasing more than a few, or they are out of business fast.
That said, few of us want to be "sellouts." That is, we don't want to be slaves to public opinion, with nothing to say but what we think you want to hear. There may be money in that, but there's no satisfaction, nor are we making much of a contribution to art.
So it's quite a balancing act. As for me, I have a passion to be original, but at the same time, I really hate the "I'll write what pleases me and I don't care who else likes it" attitude. If I'm not entertaining and/or edifying anyone but myself, I should just shut up!
I'll admit though that I'd love huge popularity as much as the next person. Who wouldn't find it flattering to have their book on the New York Times Bestseller List, to be invited to be on talk shows, to get a movie deal? So I, like many of my fellows, am forever wondering what might be the next hot thing that half the world is dying to read about. If only there were some reliable way to know!
This very issue was addressed this week, of all places on the Sirius XM Broadway Channel. Host and Broadway genius Seth Rudetsky gave a little rant about popularity. He brought up how the now-famous and successful show "Avenue Q" was pooh-poohed when it first debuted. A musical with Sesame Street-style puppets singing about adult subjects like racism and homophobia and pornography? What audience was there for something like that? But shock of shocks, it became an enduring hit. Seth also brought up a favorite of mine, the TV show "Glee." Who would have thought a show about high school show choir kids would amass the rabid following it has garnered in merely a half season?
The point, according to Seth, is this: NO ONE KNOWS what is going to be popular. There is no way to predict it, no formula or science that will reveal a sure way to create a smash hit. The obscure beginnings of books like Harry Potter and Twilight and Carrie gave no sign that their authors would become wealthy celebrities. So if you're an artist, the best thing to do is be true to yourself, create what you do best, and not worry about popularity at all.
This is the first time I heard such a philosophy explained that way and it really hit home. It was so nice to have the burden lifted of trying to guess what might make it big!
I have a couple personal anecdotes to share here which really relate, I think. First anecdote: While my book How to Catch and Keep a Vampire has gotten like 95% great reviews, more than a few reviewers have suggested it was written simply to capitalize on the vampire romance craze. Well I can't speak for the motivations of my publisher when they originated the idea. But I accepted the project because I'd loved vampires all my life and had written vampire romance before anyone heard of Twilight. I had all kinds of ideas concerning vampire dating and couldn't wait to put them on paper.
I think this fact shows in the content of the book itself. As a reviewer wrote just this past week, "I love Diana Laurence's approach on an already heavily populated subject matter. She turned a prevalent idea into something unique." That's because I was sharing my own true insights, not trying to ride someone's coattails. Okay, that's the tooting-my-own-horn side of the issue. On the flip side....
This past week a reviewer also called the book boring. I admit it, she really disliked it. Which serves as my second anecdote and proves the point that no matter how an artist strives to produce something 100% irresistible, he or she just can't. You might have a dozen people who just adore it and become fans for life, but there will also be that occasional person who not only isn't won over, he or she actually thinks you sort of suck. There's no accounting for it.
And as Seth so wisely expressed, there's also no accounting for what will not only get an overwhelmingly positive reaction (every one of my books has that) but rise to prominence and widespread fame.
The past couple weeks I've watched as someone who created a "Can This Pickle Get More Fans Than Nickleback [sic]?" Facebook group amassed going on 1.4 million members. There's just no predicting something like that. Likewise Cake Wrecks, LOLcats, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Yup, a person has to just do his/her thing and try to make the world a better place in whatever size way comes to pass.