Chasing success in the arts is like chasing a ghost through the woods. You end up hopelessly lost. Whether you're an aspiring musician, author, filmmaker, graphics designer, you name it, the path to success is... well, I question whether the path exists at all.
First of all, I define success by its most objective measure: popular appeal and sales. That's right. I'm talking about money. I'm not looking for a smug sense of self-satisfaction at having written a book that strokes my 'artistic vision'. I do have an artistic vision, but I need to know that it's objectively good because I'm an empiricist. Testing if readers are willing to pay money after they've read my novel for free is the best and most objective measuring stick I can think of. That's why I posted my entire novel, Red Eden: Homeworld Bound, on Minds for free. I want to know that it's so good that you'd be willing to pay money for it even though there is no obligation whatsoever to do so. That's the standard I hold myself to.
With that definition out of the way, let's get back on topic. The path to success in the arts – it doesn't exist. This isn't to say that success isn't possible. I'm saying that there isn't an instruction manual, a map, a series of steps that you can follow that will get you where you want to go. If there is a magical formula, please tell me what it is!
I've had other successes in life. Becoming a doctor, a dentist, a lawyer, an accountant, or an engineer – easy peasy. Been there. Done that. Okay, not so easy. It took years of my life, a whole lot of work, and sacrifices like you wouldn't believe. It was hell, and I hated every step of the way. But I gritted my teeth, I put in the time, and I got what I aimed for. It paid off, I suppose.
But trying to become a successful novelist... man, this is something else.
If you want to become a medical doctor, you'll have to put yourself through hell, but at least the requirements – the steps you have to take – are literally spelled out for you. The exact degree you need, the minimum required GPA, the standardized tests, the references, the resume, the interview... you know exactly what you have to do. No matter how scared you are or how much it hurts, you just have to pull up your socks and do it. If you're strong enough to endure that pain, you'll get in. It's just a matter of time.
My experience with trying to become a successful novelist has been the exact inverse. Far from being a gruelling ordeal, the process has been quite enjoyable. The writing. The editing. The learning. Even the marketing is fun – my Minds channel is where I do most my marketing. However, I have no flipping clue what I'm supposed to do to make the cut. There isn't a Successful Novelist Degree or an Instant Best-Seller license where the exact requirements are spelled out for me.
It's like I'm lost in the woods with no GPS, no map, not even a compass.
I don't mind trekking through difficult terrain. I don't mind walking a path laden with obstacles and fraught with peril. I have already proven my willingness to endure hardship. I just need to be shown the way. Tell me where I must go, and I will follow where the light guides me.
And sure, there are things I can do to increase my chances of success. Learning how to write better. Constantly practising. Seeking feedback. Picking a niche genre in a market that's big enough to make good money but not so big that there's a whole bunch of competition. Building up an online presence so as to overcome obscurity. Building relationships with other people to get reviews because reviews are a good source of 'social proof'. Perhaps one day establish a relationship with some of the bigger players so as to get their endorsement – which would be a huge source of 'social proof'.
But see, there isn't an exact science to any of those things I just listed. Writing better? Sure. There's grammar. Then there's prose. One is an exact science. The other is art. Picking the right genre? What do people like? How much do they like it? Can their preferences be changed? How do you measure something so subjective? Yet there is an objective outcome. Are people willing to pay for the art you produce? No matter how fuzzy the cloud of subjective possibilities and probabilities, the answer will resolve to a binary YES or NO.
Art ain't classical physics. It's quantum physics. Nobody can claim to truly understand how it works, and yet there is a right answer and a wrong answer. When you open the box, the cat is either dead or it's alive. That's a reference to Schrodinger's Cat, by the way.
How to reconcile the subjective with the objective?
I dunno. I've done the work. I've posted my novel on Minds and Amazon. Now it's time to open the box:
Dead or alive?
Michael E. Vigil