Monday, May 20, 2019

Why are Australians Lime Green? (Selling to the Niche)

Erasing the Color

I lived in Australia for six months, returning my dysfunctional boyfriend back to the arms of his home country. In a sloppy, emotional manner, of course. Australia, I found, was very American-adjacent, sharing reasonable facsimiles of food and clothing and television. It was surreal, the differences just subtle enough to not fully accept the country as reality.

Many Australians asked me the main change from the United States in attempts to pry small talk out of me.

“How is America?” they wanted to know.


I’ve talked about it before, but it sticks with me. The strangest thing I realized about my home country is how dull our colors are. Look around when you drive through town and see the white and black and gray cars. Sure, there’ll be a couple of reds and blues here or there, but they too tend to be on the duller, darker side. Dark colored clothing, grayish blue buildings, why is it that many of our possessions lack passion, personality, and just vibrancy?

And the answer is obvious.

It’s the same reason why it’s so hard to find shorter chained necklaces. The same reason tall, short, fat, and thin people struggle to get clothes that fit from a mall; if you want to sell well, you want to create something that will work for most people. In a way, you don't really want to stand out. Simple and well made encompasses a lot of successful business modules. Because, despite being known for our vanity, Americans these days tend to think of beauty as impractical, unnecessary, and lacking intelligence. We build perfunctory, cookie cutter houses in mass so they can be cheaper, creative heavy homeowners’ rules to protect ourselves from eyesores. We love Lululemon and Walmart where you have generic designs with a few variations. We move into white apartments with unsheeted, white mattresses on the floor, keep all our photos in the hard drive, and just generally focus on the grindstone of life instead of taking a moment to stop and make some roses.

How does this affect the writer?

We all can bitch about the common denominator movies which don’t push your mind or emotions too far, with the same story formula and actors who are probably all related, but the truth is, selling something with personality is difficult.

It’s not impossible, of course. If you note what does extremely well, whether that be bestsellers like Fifty Shades of Grey or cult classics like Edgar Allan Poe, they tend to be specific. There’s some weirdness in there, a risk that hasn't worked before, that makes it iconic, specific, and touch people right in the right place at the right time. They take a—if only a little—chance that doesn't fall in line with expectation.

This year, I finally escaped from my job as a caterer. With the decrease in stress, having more time and focus, and just being generally healthier, I started to really become determined in answer to a question that had plagued me since the graduation from college: Do I try to be a writer on the side, or risk poverty and aim to do it full time?

Of course, for a while, I had the sensible answer of you need a day job. Yet, based on my experiences and current situation, I thought, “This is prime time to not have a job!” I put so much energy into work that I didn’t feel to be important, if I could find a way to be that productive in a area I had personal investment…

Plus, more personal control over the success means having more mental stimulation. Not trapped by the priorities of people above me, I felt I could utilize my tendency to solve problems to make better decisions. Like ways to make my life easier, for one thing. 

So I began to research. Those people who get their word out there? What do they do differently?

Unfortunately, I learned some things that I didn't want to admit.

Self-publishers have often posted polls about naming their stories, series, or other things, and I’ve found that the one I liked best was… ignored. And the one that I hated? Adored! You look at those who become successful through great online campaigns, Instagram posts, blogs, and other strictly internet tacks and you’ll notice what society has been pushing all along: They’re pretty generic, comparable with each other, minimalist and focused one change.

To look professional, the best way seems to be to do the most minimal.

There are exceptions. Youtubers are typically noticed for their content and not the super-high quality. People connect with some things that, regardless of the context in which it appeared to them, they just fall in love. Love, is in fact, blind.

I guess the real trouble is that when you don’t have that “something,” you need to just not alienate everyone, and to do that by having . Which seems obvious, now that I’ve spent this time thinking about it, and frustrating because what the hell is that something? It’s definitely being genuine. It’s definitely having personality and doing something different. But if your personality and tastes don’t compensate for skills, don’t fall in line with expectation and lack the love, then people push you off with a little bit of disgust.

Or that’s how it feels.

As I try to come up with my style, a familiar vibe each time someone sees my work, I struggle with the business I like and the minimalism that appeals to many others. I struggle with the differences I see rather than the similarities others recognize. I (and this is the important part), imagine that each time someone looks at something I’ve created this whole storyline of how much I’m doing wrong, at the reason they don’t care. But while I do feel I have a long way to go in hooking in my audience, it’s important to pay attention to the facts.

Yes, my dark and busy style contradicts the successful blogs of Jeff Goins and The Bloggess, yes, I’m busier than most, and yes, I don’t want professionalism to mean simplicity, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not on the right path.

I can sell my hot pink and lime green cars to a world of beige, and even though there’s a reason most don’t, it doesn’t mean it won’t ever be exactly what someone else is looking for.

My focus is to do something I like, something I respect. And yes, gathering the skills to do that requires me to identify what others are doing “right,” but it doesn’t mean that I won’t be able to sell myself by toning me down.

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Professionalism and the Chamber of Poor Definition

Give me a lazy kid over a perfectionist any day of the week.

It’s not to say I don’t love me my little neurotics, because they definitely have personality, their projects are pretty awesome, and having arguments with them is certainly stimulating. But that’s just it; a lazy kid knows they’re wrong when a perfection is sure they’re right.

To win a fight with someone trying to do the minimal, mostly you just have to laugh and call them out on their bullshit. Children, at least, will be amused, their arguments growing more and more ridiculous as you insist, “You didn’t want that part of the painting white; you got bored and quit.”

But trying telling the perfectionist that their work is pretty damn good and please, please for the love of God, do not erase another one. That’s an argument you can’t win. Possibly because they want the praise, but typically because they truly believe that it’s Just. Not. Good. Enough.

When one of my most high-strung students drew a nearly perfect cartoon circle, she complained she didn’t like it.

“What do you not like about it?” I asked.

“I don’t know. It’s just bad.”

A typical answer. Completely useless too.

“Be more specific.”

“I just want it to be more professional.”

“Well, it’s a sketch. Professionalism has more to do with the medium; once you paint it and ink it…”

“I mean, I want it to be more realistic.”


I’d had a similar argument earlier this year. When two creative partners had a (we’ll put it politely) difference of opinion, they both criticized the other for not being professional, to which I realized, I didn’t believe any of us actually agreed on the definition of professional. One thought professionalism was inflexibility—having it planned out and sticking to it. Another thought professionalism was creative merit. Personally, I thought professionalism was credibility and reputation, which we seemed to be hemorrhaging from intergroup fighting.

These days it just seems to be an umbrella term for “good.” More often than not, it’s just an easy insult. There’s an, “I’ll know it when I see it,” sort of vibe.

For clarity, the real definition of “professional” is simply if you’ve been paid for the job. Many professional authors aren’t that professional looking, even half-assed self-published works making more than the painstaking story still hidden deep in your computer.

But what is it? What is it really?

The important thing is to be specific when trying to communicate, and remember that this word means different things to different people. Mostly though, the underlying definition is the difference between “someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing,” and “someone who does.”

So, this is the question for today: What makes an author look like they know what they’re doing?

Once you find the answer to that, you’ll be better at finding satisfaction with your work.

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