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The Power of Five

The Power of Five

A word of encouragement for creative folk

Unless you are one of the extremely rare and lucky folks who lands a benefactor early in your career (an art patron, a large publisher, a successful film producer), building an audience takes a long time, longer than you think. Based my own experiences and those of my creative friends in many walks, the magic number looks like five. It takes until about your fifth published novel, your fifth major art showing, or your fifth distributed film to build enough audience that it grows under its own power by word of mouth. At that point you can stop fretting about your reach and focus entirely on your craft.

Mass communication is responsible for this number being so high. Without mass communication we would not have self-publishing for writers, Imgur and Instagram for artists, or YouTube for filmmakers. Ironically what has made it easy for you to show your work has made it easy for everyone else on Earth to show their work too. The good news is, quality does float to the top. But as the amount of soup in the pot grows, it takes longer for the quality stuff to make it to the top. One good film or one good book used to be enough. Now it is five.

So how do you find the patience to be happy with a small audience while you are working your way up to five, and still have the drive to keep working your way up to five and beyond? How do you not succumb to the feeling you are throwing yourself against a wall of silence and obscurity? Your work gets five star ratings from everyone who sees it, yet your sales hover at zero.

There is one guiding principle and two secrets.

The guiding principle is to have faith in your work. If it’s getting high ratings from those few who see it, then you know it’s good and you’re not just deluding yourself. This leads to the first secret.

Keep producing. You must put enough of your work into play that it gets randomly seen by enough people that you start to get traction. Believe in the five.

The other secret is to be happy with the audience you have so far. Let them know you are happy with them. They are your core followers. They will buy whatever you put out. They are the ones who will start the word of mouth machine. Talk to them. Share stuff with them that makes them feel appreciated.

I have two award-winning, five-star novels, and in the three years since my first book came out I have gathered about 60 people into my core. I love my core followers (you know who you are), and I try to let them know it as often as I can.

Five is a damn big number. It can take two years or more to produce a novel or a film or a gallery full of art. How do you keep up your faith over ten or more years of feeling unappreciated? One way is to commiserate with and support your fellow creative friends. You are not alone. Luckily mass communication makes this easier too.

You should also take solace in knowing your earlier work was not a waste of time, and it will be appreciated when your whole body of work is eventually discovered. Often you spend a huge amount of time fine tuning the first big piece you put out for public consumption. You work so hard to get it perfect before braving the critics and the marketplace, only to have it slide into the shadows unnoticed. The Internet is forever. Even if you aren’t “discovered” until ten years hence, folks can still find your earlier work online, and they will want to see and buy it. There is no backlist on Amazon. Nobody purges old clips from YouTube.

So get back to work. Promote like the wind. Don’t lose faith. Love the fans you have. Know these things take time, even for the best.

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