“Never accept feedback from someone whose opinion you wouldn’t seek out in the first place.”
I wrote that on a sticky note on my desk. I put it directly in front of my keyboard.
I don’t know where I got that line. It was probably something I wrote down when watching a Film Courage interview.
Jacob Hurst of Swordfish Islands tweeted the other day. The tweet and my response has been sticking in my mind.
One of the most wonderful things about the internet is that you can use this system to create something and distribute that creation directly to the people who are interested in what you are making. You don’t need an intermediary. You don’t need permission. You don’t have to change your work because marketing had a focus group and they think the main character is a little too unlikeable.
Regardless of whether you charge, give it way, make it available in physical form or digital only, you can get your creation into the hands of other people across that planet without getting permission from someone in charge. This is new.
There is this idea that was expressed in one of the responses to Jacob’s tweet. “because they might want more people to buy or play their game? if you don’t care about the audience, go ahead, do anything, just don’t expect the audience to suddenly care about you”
This is wrong because there is an underlying premise in that sentence is false.
There is no such thing as the audience. There are many audiences.
Some of those audiences aren’t going to like what you do no matter how good at it you are. Some people just hate The Eagles, man.
What is new, is that creators can find their audience and it doesn’t have to be the mass of humanity. You can not give a shit what “the audience” wants and still find people who like your work and are willing to pay for it.
The old production and distribution model required volume. If a traditional publisher doesn’t think there is a possibility to sell at least 10,000 copies of your novel, they aren’t interested. If a producer at a big studio doesn’t think your screenplay will make $100,000,000; forget it. If Wizards of the Coast doesn’t think a streamer with 5 million subscribers will do a review or an actual play on their Twitch channel, then the the line editor isn’t interested in your adventure.
A creator who is willing to do the work and put in the time it takes to find the people who like their work; don’t need the big publisher, the studio, the record company. They can do it on their own or with a small team of like minded people. This is not easy. It takes work. Years. Decades. Sometimes it never happens.
It can be done and is being done every day. There are self published authors who put out two books a year on POD and digital distribution. They may only sell 2,000 copies of each book but are able to do it for a living. A writer like that can’t even get an agent let alone a contract from a big five publisher.
Take a look at the Old School Renaissance. While nobody is getting rich, there are designers and game publishers who make a living doing what they want with the people they like and admire.
I call that freedom.
I write for someone, not everyone.
Some of you enjoy my work, look forward to reading it every week, and share it with your friends.
You are the people I’m writing for.
Some people are going to be ambivalent. Some will be angry and hostile. Others will simply not care at all about what I write.
I’m not writing for those people and I’m not concerned about their opinions.
The main reason I’m not interested in the opinions of the angry and the hostile is that I am going to die.
No, I don’t have bad news to share. I’m in good health. I am clear about the fact that it is going to happen and it could be unexpected and at any moment.
In the last two years, a number of my acquaintances, friends, and family members have died.
A few of those have been lost to COVID. Over the summer, one of my cousins lost her husband to the disease. It was less than a week from the time he contracted it to the time he died. One Saturday, he was hanging out with friends and family at his camper, enjoying life and retirement.
The next Saturday, he was a corpse.
A few of the guys I served with in the Marine Corps committed suicide. One was hilariously funny, had lots of friends, a family, a wife and children who loved him. For whatever reason, he just couldn’t cope.
He shot himself in the head.
These events have caused me to reflect on my life and what I am doing with it.
Just because you have a lot of something doesn’t mean you should waste it.
Why spend any time listening to someone who isn’t ever going to play a game I make or enjoy the essays and stories I write?
It’s one thing to engage with the people I am writing for. If I didn’t see a growing number of people reading my blog every month, if I didn’t get positive responses from the people whose opinion I really do care about then I would need to stop and reevaluate what I was doing.
I do listen, but I listen to my people, my tribe.
It is a waste of the limited amount of time in my one precious life worrying about the haters.
I’ve wasted so much time in my life. It pains me when I think of it. One way that I’ve wasted my time was being concerned about the opinions of people I don’t know and who will never enjoy anything I’ve done or ever will do. It’s the fear that most creative people have to deal with.
What if nobody pays attention?
What if I have to work in the warehouse until the arthritis in my knees and feet cripple me?
What if I never sell a story, or a game, or a book?
Over the last three years, I’ve cared less and less about all of that. Sometimes I backslide and get wrapped up in what other people think. I’m human. The fear is still there and it will probably never go away.
I have learned to acknowledge it and then get back to work. I show up every day and write as much as I can. Anything that I think might be worth reading, I post. Everything else gets reworked or filed away.
Maybe if I changed what I wrote about, took the edge off my writing, took the darkness and shadow out of my games, started making stuff for the “greatest fantasy role-playing game in the world,” I’d have a much larger readership. I don’t want to do that.
Freedom is doing the things you want to do and being with the people you love and admire.
I want to make the kind of things I like for the people who like heavy metal, horror and fantasy comics, grimdark fantasy novels, weird pulp stories, classic adventure gaming, medieval European history, horror movies, and sword & sorcery stories.
Those are my people. This is my scene.
If you don’t like those things, I may not be for you and that is OK. Really, it is.
I’m probably not going to make things for you and I’m not interested in what you think about my work.
There are other people making stuff for you and who like the kind of things you like. Please, give them your time, your money, your encouragement. They need it just as much as any of us need it. Many of those people are very skilled and lovely human beings. They make stuff I’m not into and that’s fine. There’s room for everyone.
It’s a waste of your time to write me and tell me I’m an asshole. It would be a waste of my time to read your comment telling me I’m an asshole. We both have better things to do.
Remember. You must die.