Happy Accidents

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-12-05 07:00:00-05:00 No comments

It's become clearer to me over the last few years that the vast majority of creative work that's done in a commercial context is successful for reasons that have less to do with the work itself than you might think. That doesn't make the quality of the work irrelevant, just that the quality of something and its success don't influence each other as much as we want them to.

Most of the reason a given thing gets in front of people is because of network effects or the community around the thing. That can happen to things that are well worth it; that can happen to things that deserve none of the attention. The number of truly original and influential works out there is very small, and almost none of them exist as they do without those network and community effects. I'm not laying any of this out with a moralizing tone, mind you, but as a way to unpack the situation. It's part of the thinking I've been doing lately about the motives people bring to this work.

Many of the folks I know who write want to create something first and figure out the marketing or the audience later. That's fine as long as they are not producing work that has no conceivable audience at all. That said, "Write for yourself first" does not mean "and nobody else either". They are not interested in the work as a vehicle towards commercial success, but that doesn't mean they have contempt for the attention of others. They make what interests them, and if anyone else is following along, great. If not, that's fine, too.

One nice thing about indie publishing is how there are now more venues for stuff that can only grow in the cracks in the sidewalk, so to speak, than ever. E.g., the submarkets for bizarro fiction or high weirdness of various stripes, which now have entire mini-houses dedicated to them. It's a nice development, but one of the things I do wonder about is if it simply recapitulates a situation I see in the rest of publishing. People look around, see that something sells (in whatever quantity and to whatever audience), think "I could do that," and turn away from whatever is genuine to them in favor of manufacturing something marketable. Bizarro is like any other label: it runs the risk of becoming just another thing to conform to.

You might as well make what you love, and the hard part of that is finding out what you actually do love. Not enough people clear the space and the time in their lives — or can clear space/time in their lives — to find out. Popularity is a fluke, and not always the best thing for one's work anyway. The work should be the most important thing.

Tags: creativity creators