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.


CC Rogers said...

I agree, it's much better to do good art and let whoever appreciates it be a fan than to try to contrive something for the sake of popularity.

I think you're crazy to want to be that famous! Neil Gaiman has 1.4 million followers on Twitter. Can you imagine having 1.4 million people listen to your every offhand comment? I would be too paralyzed by fear to tweet anything!

Cherie said...

Part of being creative is being true to yourself. Something that "should" be a big hit sometimes just isn't, while the obscure book or movie may hit it big when no one expected it. There's no way to predict it, which is why writing what you want to write is so important.

Diana Laurence said...

CC, I didn't mention it in the post, but I totally agree. I would NOT want to have to deal with everything that comes with that kind of fame. From the amount of tweeting and blogging Neil does though, I think he's ideal for that job! LOL

Cherie, you echo Seth's point in another way, and it's so true. No use going on an impossible quest, when the rewards of just being yourself and sharing your gifts as life permits are so easily at hand!

Mesmer7 said...

I agree with both Seth and Cherie that it is important to be original and true to your creative muse.

But don't forget about cross-product marketing. If people like any one of your books, they'll look to see what else you've written. You have to reach people first. Once you catch their interest, you can introduce them to new and more original/experimental material.

Diana Laurence said...

Quite true, Mesmer...and I'm hoping that some of the thousands who've discovered me through my vampire book will sample my other stuff as well. Heaven knows I've read books on subjects I'd never thought much about because I loved a book by the same author. Just finished learning all about Marconi that way (from "Thunderstruck" by the author of "Devil in the White City").

Miss Organizized said...

Funny the 'fame' thing is brought up because I just got wrapped up in this whole mommyblogs thing. From time to time I read this women, Angie Smith's blog...she's very inspiring and real. Well, within the last few posts she's alluded to some rude behavior from some commenters and/or people from other blogs, who then go on rampages about this other mommyblogger, and Angie's friend, MckMamma for exploitation and other various 'offenses' in their eyes...ANYWAY, it made me think about how I soooooo wouldn't want hundreds of thousands of people reading my blog(s) afterall! The more people that follow you, the more people you might offend by something you do, say, or write and it gets so out of control. Clearly you hope to touch and affect more people positively, but people are so fickle sometimes!

Diana Laurence said...

It's funny how that works, and it's so true. No one loathed Stephenie Meyer back when Twilight was obscure, and now she had bizillions of haters. Neil Gaiman's fiancee, Amanda Palmer, is currently embroiled in a little online controversy (she's done nothing wrong in my eyes) and now there are people literally saying "Neil, I won't be your fan anymore because your fiancee sucks." It's just ridiculous, but certainly human nature for some twisted reason.

Miss Organizized said...

that makes me want to barf!!

Cherie said...

Yes, yes yes to what Mesmer7 said! I think HTCAKAV is, even now, introducing people to Diana's work. You never know what a project or book will bring in terms of exposure. It's all about just getting the attention of the people that would like to read your stuff.

(People, read Diana's stuff! I'm assuming you are if you're reading this blog, but still.... spread the word. :)