Eyes Wide Shut – Why Does It Hurt So Much To Sell Our Work?

The best thing I’ve ever heard about the struggle of selling one’s work was at a class I took at the Center for Cultural Innovation in downtown Los Angeles.  The speaker, a business consultant who specializes in helping artists, explained that too many artists visualize the distance between their work and their buyer as a simple, straight line, from A to B. Just hang the painting on the wall, mail the screenplay to an agent, or send information about your film to a university professor, and, fingers crossed, they’ll buy.

Too much of the time, of course, they don’t, or not for the right price, and the artist scuttles back to the drawing board, since they’re artists afterall, and all they really want to do is make their art  The problem, of course, is that the mystery of how one succeeds then becomes even more hidden, and for independent filmmakers with fewer traditional distribution outlets to fall back on, more daunting.

Luckily, the CCI consultant had an answer, for those of us with the fortitude to listen: the A to B line was not a straight line after all, she said, but rather a graph of hills and valleys, peaks and low points, that mapped a journey fraught with rejection and dead-end turns.   Each wrong turn, however, was a precious tool for re-calibrating our compass if we just had the courage to learn from it.

How does this relate to DIY distribution? Too often the first and last thing filmmakers do in DIY distribution is to buy educational email lists (i.e., addresses to point “B”), without ever considering how their website and advertising will attract their specific academic market.  They want to go from point A to B as quickly as possible (almost with their eyes shut, I sometimes think), and then if they don’t make sales, as many don’t, they can blame the list provider, or better yet, just give up.

Success in DIY distribution is the same as success in any sales field: know your buyer, satisfy his or her needs directly, and you will have a shot at making the sale.  And to find this direct link takes market analysis, testing, and understanding of one’s market.  Simply buying bulk addresses of librarians and professors is the last step, not the first, in a detailed process.

Traveling the road to successful sales can be painful, but the only real way to achieve success.  Eyes wide open is the rule.

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