Content Creators: Emotions, Expectations, Responsibilities, and Reality Dues (Essay)

What do we as content creators owe our public… and ourselves?

I read a blog post this morning, a post that has been running through my head all day. You see, one of my favorite authors and podcasters, Jake Bible, has decided…

…wait, do you know Jake Bible?

… I guess I’d better explain a bit before I go on, in case you don’t know who Jake is.

Jake Bible (http://jakebible.com/) is a prolific writer of fiction who blends cross-genre elements and twists them into great stories. He’s a fantastic author whose stories really speak to me on a primal, human level… even when there are zombie messiahs and assassins involved. He’s one of those authors who can capture a persona and really drive it home. He’s written many many stories and novels: DEAD MECH; THE AMERICANS; METAL AND ASH; BETHANY AND THE ZOMBIE JESUS; STARK; THE MAN WITH NO FACE; and LITTLE DEAD MAN.

Like many before him in the New Media movement (aka emerging writers who use alternate marketing techniques and delivery methods such as the internet to get their works known), he has been steadily going down the road of providing his stories free in podcast format as well as through digital text mediums.

…At least he has until now…

According to his blog post released yesterday (March 7th 2013: http://jakebible.com/2013/03/07/with-a-heavy-heart-i-leave-podcasting/), Jake is leaving podcasting behind. From how it sounds, it wasn’t an easy decision by any stretch. Like others before—Scott Sigler, Mur Lafferty, Paul Cooley, Phil Rossi, and many many more—Jake took the free podcast approach as a way to generate interest and market his product… his stories.

As many authors will tell you, this used to be a great way to get content out there and generate sales for their written in print or electronic print forms.

Unfortunately, with the rapid proliferation of eBooks, podcasting, and the establishment of New Media as mainstream, this is no longer as easy as it used to be.

According to Jake:

I know at one point I said I’d podcast all of my fiction for free FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE! Guess what? Life has a way of making one eat their words. Life is currently shoving my words down my throat. And laughing while doing said shoving.

While I’m not an author, per se, I am a content creator. For me, a content creator is any individual–be it an author, podcastor, artist, musician, or craftsman– who develops creative materials for consumption by the general or specialized populations.

For creative types, there are mainly two motivations that stoke our fires to create.

First, are those who do it strictly for the emotional reward. These are the folks who are no looking to make any money at what they do. Instead they are either Pure Creators (those who do art and create expressive materials strictly for the sake of the art) or they are the Emotive Creators (those who do art and create expressive materials for either the joy or responses it brings other people or the joy or satisfaction it brings to themselves). One the extreme of this side of the creative house are the Narcissistic Creators (those who achieve an almost orgasmic or spiritual satisfaction from inducing emotions in others through the creation and viewing of their works).

To be honest, almost all creatives have aspects from all three of the emotional side of the content creation spectrum.

On the other side of the pendulum are the Realistic Creators. These are the folks who have the skills and passion of the Emotional Creators, but who are looking to become serious about what has been before only a hobby and who want to make it a viable way to earn a living while doing something they love. in reality… no pun intended… most of us who end up taking our creative process seriously and who begin to move away from creating just as a way to pass the time end up migrating toward the Realistic side of the creative spectrum.

Let’s be honest with each other, here in this intimate setting. Life is very, very short. By the time we end up finding ourselves and truly come to understand that we need a purpose in this life and that every single second counts–those of us who actually attain that level of self-awareness that is–we have already lost a huge chunk of our lives. For some of us, it may be twenty years gone, or thirty, or even forty. For others… God forbid… it could be sixty, seventy, or eighty years lost to the past. No matter how much we may delude ourselves to believe that we are the next Lazarus Long, destined to live forever, or hang on to faith and hope that there is an afterlife, the only guarantee is that we will all eventually die and that the time we have left is precious.

The bottom line is, folks, that in the end it all comes down to making the most use of our time to squeeze every single bit of usefulness and life our of the time we have remaining.

I know from Jakes post that he has been struggling with his decision for a while now, struggling with what could be considered a broken promise with his honor on the line. Personally, I think he made the only decision he could have made in the circumstance, the only realistic choice possible. Life has a way of giving us what we need on average, but occasionally life can be a real bitch.

This is echoed in what Jake has revealed in his post:

Now I find myself in a place that Karma doesn’t want to touch. I think I played all my Get Out Of Jail Free cards. I am left to do the dirty work all by my lonesome. And there be dirty work that needs doing.

What is that dirty work? I need to walk away from podcasting. And, since I just launched my latest podcast novel, it’s a pretty shitty time to walk away. I know there will be many people upset by this and I know that some negative mojo will be flung my way. But such is the life of a struggling writer. I do apologize for leaving Metal and Ash unfinished (the podcast at least. Novel is available!), but the reality is that I don’t know when it could get finished. Time and life have not been kind lately and I need to take a few hundred steps back and reinvent my writing career.

It is a very thin tightrope that content creators walk, especially those who work and interact very closely and intimately with their audience, such as podcasters and face to face entertainers. There is an inherent emotional connection between the podcaster and his or her audience, very similar to what is developed between actors and actresses and their audience. An emotional connection is developed between the viewer or listener, and almost false sense of familiarity, of friendship, and of a form of intimacy between the entertained and the entertainer. This relationship is formed on the part of the fan (and to an extent on the part of the content provider) to the point where any violation of the expectations can be met with sadness, anger, and outright hostility.

So when a creator violates their perceived (and in some cases even promised) commitment to the fan-base, the natural reaction of the masses is to treat the creator as a cheating lover when they don’t continue to feed their need.

So let’s look at Jake’s situation.

He had three basic parts to his writing approach. First, was to write stories. Second, was to release free audio podcasts of said stories as a means of promotion and marketing. Third and last was to release the stories as print and/or eBook releases for purchase to the masses. In the course of growing his approach, he promised his fans that he would continue to podcast all of his fiction “for free FOR THE REST OF <HIS> LIFE.”

As a creative model goes, at its core it’s a very sound approach: first create the material goods, then market it to general populous to increase demand, and then finally reap the rewards.

But here is the key concept that we as content creators really need to focus on.

We need to be constantly asking ourselves “what is my creative model?”

For the Emotional Creatives, it’s an emotional satisfaction model. The basic model is to create the material, share it with our fans, and reap the emotional rewards. This is the purest mode of content creation, which, while it has great emotional satisfaction, is very limited on the financial reimbursement. In fact, most of the time Emotional Creatives are spending their own time and money to deliver content to their fan-base. Very altruistic if you look at it that way.

For the Realistic Creatives, it’s a true business model. The overall process, if you boil it down, is to create the material and earn money from that material. THAT is the bottom line for Realistic Creatives. For these folks, they are still getting the emotional satisfaction, and are many times still spending their own time and money to deliver it to the masses, but their end desire is to reap some net profit from the transaction in order to hopefully, one day, be able to turn their passionate hobby into a truly viable career that they can live off.

As Realistic Creatives, we need to be able to treat our products and production process as a true business. So what does that mean? That means that we need to apply the same improvement practices that successful manufacturing businesses use in order to successfully grow our creative business.

This means that many times we will need to be the creative guru but also fill the role of the marketer and the finance guy and the IT girl and the project manager and a slew of other roles to keep the business rolling. But at the core, if we are not dedicating the majority of our time to being the creative, then our business of suppling creative content will come to a screeching halt. Without the creative piece, we don’t have a business.

Conversely, if we are successfully balancing the roles and still are able to provide creative content, then we need to be constantly measuring and analyzing the different processes that make up our creative business and make constant adjustments to the non-value-added processes to ensure we are producing the most and most efficiently with the highest quality. If there is a piece of the process that is reducing the time available to create our product AND is showing no net benefit to our end goals, then it needs to be eliminated or modified.

So what does this mean?

For an Emotional Creative who is looking to gain emotional satisfaction from people liking your products, the goal is to get some sort of reaction or response from your works. If no one likes your creations or no one seems to care, are you going to continue to make your products the same way?

Of course not.

You will either modify your creations to fit your target audience, or you will seek an alternative target audience. In some extreme cases you may actually stop creating due to the lack of return on your investment.

It’s no different for the Realistic Creative.

If he or she is doing a process step that is showing no net return or impact on the net return on their investment, they need to evaluate that step to see if it is truly necessary or if it should be modified or outright removed from the overall business process. We as Realistic Creatives need to be able to evaluate all of the processes as being necessary or unnecessary from a financial, emotional, and networking standpoint and make changes to best suit the overall impact on the end goal.

This is exactly what Jake has done.

Despite having made a commitment–perhaps in haste and most likely originally driven by his passion as a creator–he is making the best business choice for where he wants to take his creative process and achieve his end goal. When faced with the hard choices of diminished time, as a Realistic Creative we need to be able and willing to weed out the processes that do not directly contribute to achieving the end business goal. In the case of Jake’s situation, he had the choice of continuing to podcasting his fiction for free and at a slower pace (and thereby having no time to create anything new that would be viable and sellable products) or he could focus on the core of what he really wants to be doing, which is writing and turning his passion into a career.

I for one salute Jake’s decision, as it is one I too have been struggling with for the last year and a half since my father died. Life doesn’t give us too much time to do what we love. If we waste that time and don’t actually dedicate that time to doing things that give our life meaning and what we love and what will give us the most satisfaction toward our life’s goals, then we are shorting ourselves in our foot.

We have choice: we can continue to be the Emotional Creative and try to squeeze in our art when we aren’t too busy doing our day-jobs and struggling with the burdens that life straps us with. We can limit our reimbursement to those small emotional rewards. We can let it remain nothing more than a hobby.

Or we can be the Realistic Creative who drives toward making our passion for creation our primary means of enjoyment and potential income, ensuring that we eventually achieve the perfect balance. To get from the former to the latter requires change and constant evaluation… along with some hard decisions.

It’s good to see that Jake is willing to make those hard decisions.

Given the choice, as a fan of Jake’s, I’d rather buy his stories and directly invest in his future products than to mooch off a nice situation and reap a more limited reward (for free).

For me, it just makes good business sense.

 

What do you think? How do you strike the balance between the Emotional Creative and the Realistic Creative in you?

Please leave a comment; I’d love to hear what you think.