Advice column: How do I market my art without social media?
This is the advice column, where I respond to your questions, ponderings and predicaments regarding the creative life.
If you have something you'd like my advice on, email me at email@example.com, put "advice column" in the subject line and ask away. You can be anonymous if you want. 🖤
“Many people I admire have said that social media is necessary in this day and age, but if there is a way, I want to get away from it. It has not only changed my artistic approach but also my personality. I can feel how I'm getting more and more stressed, cynical and even straight up anxious at times when I look up what's going on in social media. “
This question comes from a multi-passionate comic book artist, storyteller and freelancer from Germany. They are sick of social media and of barely making ends meet with freelance work, but they wonder what the alternative is. "If I'm not marketing myself on social media, how else will people find me?"
That's a very good question, so let's dig into it.
First off, some real talk. Selling art is hard for everyone, professionals and beginners alike. There are no easy answers or success formulas. Anyone who tries to sell you one is lying, or deluding themselves. They are likely relying on outdated strategies and tactics, and using their own, individual and probably highly luck-contingent success as proof that "anyone" could do the same. That's not true. Even though we can get useful ideas from other people's success, some of which might work for us, ultimately success looks different for everyone. And a lot of very talented, hard working artists never see much success.
This is a depressing fact that we all need to get comfortable with as artists. We live in a world where "making it" as an artist is more difficult than ever. Not impossible, but very difficult. Because there are more of us than ever before in history, and we all "compete" on the same global arenas. And everywhere are greedy middlemen who steal the lion's share of our (already measly) income. The situation is pretty bleak.
"I can only do this because I can live for free at my mothers house if I am being honest."
I hear you. 🖤 I can only do this because my partner has a well-paid, steady job and can support us both if need be. This is the reality for a lot of other creatives as well, even though we prefer not to talk about it. It's nothing to be ashamed of, it's just reality. Being (or trying to become) a full-time creative demands humility and incredible sacrifices.
Should this scare us away from making art? Or prevent us from trying to earn money from it? I don't think so. But we need to set reasonable expectations. Living off of selling original art full-time might not be possible for the vast majority of us. Earning some occasional extra money, or even a part-time income is much more possible. Especially if we broaden our scope a bit.
There are many more ways to earn a living off of our art, apart from selling the actual art. For example, I mostly earn my living from teaching art, and writing/talking about art and creativity. I still get to practice my art and show it to people, even though I don't sell a lot of it. This all depends on what your preferences and possibilities are, of course. Most creatives I've known and heard of don't solely make money from selling their art directly. Most of them also either teach, freelance for businesses, or create other types of content or products.
Regardless of what that might look like for you, step one is to get very clear about who you want to sell to. Who are your ideal clients? Are they private consumers, publishers, video game or board game studios, or other types of businesses? Why would they want your art in particular? Where would they be most likely to come across it? Backwards-engineer the entire relationship to figure out how you might best reach these people.
Social media is the "shotgun" approach to marketing and selling art. We put our art out there and hope and pray that someone will stumble over it and will want to hire us or buy art from us. This approach might have worked back in the day, for some. But even then, many successful artists I've read about have said that a miniscule amount of their sales or leads have come from social media. Their actual income have come from pitching collaborations or projects directly, or by meeting people face to face, or via word of mouth. Social media today is a losing game. Anyone who claims that it's a viable use of your time as a business person clearly doesn't know our business very well, and hasn't been paying attention the past 5-ish years.
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