A few weeks ago, I was perusing some forums and came across a thread that essentially boiled down to this: “I’m pouring all of my energy into my art and my family and friends don’t care and don’t want to support me.” To be honest, this struck a bit of a chord with me as well. When you pick up a book in a store, do you know how long it took the author to write? Do you know how many revisions were needed to polish it into a publishable work? Do you know how much work it takes to get the word out? Granted, if it was sold in a store, there was probably a publisher helping the author to get to that point, but this just highlights the issue that independent and self-published artists face. Mainly, how do we build a base of people who would want to read what we’ve written?
Of course, the first thought is that our family and friends will support us in our creative endeavors. They’ll buy our books, they’ll talk about our photography, they’ll attend our concerts. And yet, as I expand my network of artists and writers, I am frequently finding that this isn’t the case. The most many of us would get is a “that’s nice” as our work gets put on the refrigerator with a magnet. To an artist, that’s equivalent to patting a newborn on the head, telling the parents, “That’s a kid all right,” and leaving it at that. After all, some creative endeavors can take months or even years to complete, and the fact that it’s passed off as something unimportant definitely doesn’t help an artist’s confidence.
It’s usually at this point where an artist starts pushing their work on their family and friends. While I sometimes feel this is in poor taste, it’s a desperate cry from someone just wanting validation and acceptance. This merely exacerbates the issue, since those close to you are now obliging you out of guilt instead of an actual interest in the creative products that you’re producing. Granted, there’s a chance that whatever you’re making isn’t that great, and perhaps your creative tastes are not the same as those around you, but the independent artist needs that word of mouth in order to succeed. I understand that most people will have their own thing and don’t have the time, energy, or commitment to peddle the creative products of their family and friends, especially when it requires an amount of time to sit down and read what they’ve written. That being said, sometimes a “share” on Facebook is worth a lot to an artist that you know on a personal level.
So, why are we finding this phenomenon to be a semi-common occurrence? I’ve found that the best example lies in the ministry of Jesus Christ. He was an independent “creator” whose success was attributed to the word of mouth that came from the stories He told and the miracles He performed. However, let’s read what it says about a visit He made to Nazareth:
[Jesus] came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.
– Matthew 13:54-58 (The Holy Bible: New American Standard Version NASB)
Apparently, nobody in His hometown was open to His ministry because they thought they already “knew” Him. They were too close to His past to accept His talents and abilities. A similar thing happened to Him with his family as well:
Then His mother and His brothers arrived, and standing outside they sent word to Him and called Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.” Answering them, He said, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” Looking about at those who were sitting around him, he said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
– Mark 3:31-35 (The Holy Bible: New American Standard Version NASB)
His family wanted Him to come home and stop talking to these crowds of people. It was at this point when He essentially said, “Those who follow me are my family.” Harper Lee can add to this with what she wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.” Yes, we should recognize our roots and not ignore our family, but sometimes the best support we can get comes from strangers. These people don’t know us and our past. All they know is that you’ve created something that they like and they’ll support you for it. How do you think authors can get on best-seller lists with millions of copies sold? They certainly don’t have a family that large, that’s for sure.
What does this mean for authors who aren’t getting the support they need from home? Unfortunately, it comes down to building up enough confidence in yourself to start approaching strangers with your work. I’m not saying that strangers will accept you; in fact, the vast majority will reject you. But maybe there’s a chance that someone will listen. Someone will like what you have to offer and tell their friends. Clearly, I’m not an expert on gaining an audience, but I’m trying. I know it’s hard and most days you’ll ask yourself “what’s the point?”
At this point all I can say is, “Don’t lose heart, your fans are out there . . . somewhere.”
PS – For those of you who know someone who is creating on a regular basis, whether it’s their primary job or a serious hobby, perhaps set aside a little time and/or money to help them out. Share their posts on social media, write a review on Amazon, talk about their works with your friends. If you share a personal relationship with an artist, these things really boost their confidence, as well as their exposure to strangers. The more you do this, the less they’ll rely on you for support as their fan-base grows. If we all make an effort to be less apathetic and more empathetic, everyone wins. In fact, if you’re an artist who knows another artist, offer to help them! Not only does this give you some “artistic karma”, but it might just be reciprocated in kind.