Fiverr Fail

A wise man once said, “Experience is a hard teacher. It gives the test first and then teaches the lesson.”

Following this principle, I now know that in the future, I must read the fine print. As a general rule, you should read everything. Just in case.

Case in point, I recently opened a new page on my blog, dedicated to my Freelancing ventures via Fiverr.com.

It’s a fun little website, where I can sell my services to others and get some extra cash.

But unfortunately, my first real investment in the platform resulted in a Fiverr Fail.

To cut a long story short, I purchased on Fiverr a beautiful video explaining my service as a ghostwriter for comics, meant to service artists who can’t write.

Unfortunately, the Fiverr team did not approve my video, as it contained the web address for this blog, in violation of Fiverr protocol.

But it wasn’t a total loss. I may have spent forty bucks on a video I can’t use on Fiverr, but I can use it here.

I do hope you all enjoy this lovely video, created by a Mr. “Artwong.”

Please see my new Freelancing page for more information!

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Monday Round-Up

Before I finish my series on Talk Radio, I thought I’d give a quick update about what I’ve been reading lately, some movies I’ve watched, and an idea I had for a startup.

Books

I recently finished reading two books related to Christianity and the church.

Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer is a short, slim read that concisely and brilliantly makes the case for involvement by Christians in creating works of art, whether they be the fine arts or more popular mediums like cinema or the novel.

The only flaw was the truly asinine introduction by Michael Card. You can read my full Goodreads review here.

The Prodigal Church by Jared C. Wilson details how the modern American Evangelical church has embraced secularism in a misguided effort to attract large congregations.

Wilson is sympathetic to the motives behind this shift, but seems indecisive of whether the “church-growth” or “attractional church” models of churching are totally flawed or mildly good. You can read my full Goodreads review here.

Movies

I watched The Sound of Music all the way through for the first time a few weeks ago. It’s a truly charming film, containing many elements which are completely foreign to the modern era, such as positive depictions of the church and large families. I’d even go so far as to say that Maria von Trapp ought to be hailed as a Feminist icon.

My full review on Letterboxd here.

I also finished watching the German film Downfall last night. It was a very difficult film to watch, similar to Twelve Years a Slave. Depicting the final days of Adolf Hitler during the Battle of Berlin, we see that one of history’s greatest monsters was in fact quite gentle and kind in his private life, even if he believed and acted on truly reprehensible ideas and ambitions.

I intend to review the film in more detail on Letterboxd shortly.

Ideas

I’ve recently been going through some of the books listed in The Personal MBA reading list.

As a Bible and theology enthusiast, I began to realize that something like that really needs to be provided for pastors, preachers, and ministers.

I began doing research on whether you really need to have a Seminary education to be a pastor. I found this article by Albert Mohler who stated that in the end, the answer is “no.”

Mohler opines that while having a formal education in the Bible’s original languages, church history, systematic theology, exegesis and homiletics would be a splendid thing for all preachers to have, the fact is that the cost of such an education is incredibly high.

The result is that seminary graduates tend to leave with tens of thousands of dollars in debt with no way of affording the meager salary a small church can offer them.

This gave me an idea: What if there was a resource website, similar to that of The Personal MBA, which provided a list of the 99 best books on Pastoring and related topics?

What if someone created a website or wrote a book detailing such knowledge, intended for use by lay ministers or preachers who can’t afford a formal seminary education?

I could call it, “DIY Seminary.”

Must investigate further.

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Rated P for Passable – An Ancient Secrets of Lead Generation Review

Note: This review is adapted from an article I wrote on LinkedIn on November 4, 2016, which was in turn adapted from a review I wrote for Ancient Secrets Of Lead Generation: Your Primitive Business Guide To Better Leads With Less Effort on my Goodreads.com account.

Today’s business blogosphere is teeming with thought-leaders and wannabee-thought-leaders, including myself.

The ones who manage to grow a big enough following are invariably offered book-deals.

The typical result of such book-deals is a compilation of the newly minted thought-leader’s most popular blog posts.

Combine that with a sliver of original content and a punchy-sounding title, and you’ve got something that will fly off of conference room tables and help fuel the thought-leader’s personal brand.

Ancient Secrets of Lead Generation by Daryl Urbanski is one such book. Although it contains legitimately good business advice, it is without a doubt the most sloppily-written eBook I have ever read.

I put this book on my to-read list after I saw it on Josh Kaufman’s Personal MBA reading list. After having read it, I concluded that Ancient Secrets does have some good points.

Unfortunately, they are rendered nearly moot by its chronically haphazard editing. This is another hallmark of the books put out by mini-thought-leaders such ask Urbanski.

Ancient Secrets of Lead Generation is a slim volume with advice which is almost as gaunt.

The basic principles of hanging out where your target audience is and using targeted ads for different demographics are rather elementary, but sometimes that’s a good thing.

What’s unique about Urbanski’s book was that he made me rethink my ideas regarding these tactics.

I guess you could say that Urbanski gave me perspective on this strategy by giving an example of it in practice, via his anecdotes of running a small martial arts business.

But that’s where my admiration ends.

The eBook’s core flaw is that it’s littered with typos, misspellings, and bad grammar.

This takes the reader out of the experience of reading to an intense degree, making it difficult to absorb the author’s platitudes. It also undermines Urbanski’s credibility as a marketing guru.

If he cannot produce a high-quality product, then his marketing scheme will only serve to fuel the dubious reputation that reviews like mine will give him.

Again, a lot of eBooks written by mini-thought-leaders such as Urbanski tend to be a bit spotty in terms of editing, but this book left me utterly flabbergasted.

To wit, Ancient Secrets of Lead Generation presents old ideas in a new perspective, making them easy to grasp for relative amateurs such as myself.

Sadly, the book’s execution is critically lacking. It would have been improved a hundred times over if Urbanski had hired a decent proofreader.

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Popularity is Amoral

Many authorities seem to believe that if something is popular, it is therefore low quality. This is particularly true when it comes to works of fiction.

This is nonsense. There are plenty of popular works of fiction which are also good.

Inception. Star Wars. The Lord of the Rings. (Both the books and the films.)

Likewise, there is plenty of tripe out there which is enormously popular.

Twilight. (Both the books and the films.) Fifty Shades of Grey. (Ditto.) Most Adam Sandler movies.

The exact opposite of these two parallels are also true.

There are works of artistic genius mostly ignored by audiences (Twelve Years a SlaveLincolnHugo) and equally obscure works of utter hackwork (Dylan Dog: Dead of NightRepo Men).

In the end, popularity (or lack thereof) doesn’t matter. It’s amoral, like money. (See 1 Timothy 6:10).

The only thing that matters is why something is popular.

The Dark Knight was popular not just because it was good (that’s what made it memorable) but because it had a kick-butt marketing campaign (see here).

Similarly, the Twilight movies were popular not because they were good (they weren’t), but because they had a kick-butt marketing campaign (see here).

The principle of popularity being amoral can be seen everywhere. The films put out by Marvel Studios are generally mediocre aesthetically, but people do go to see them.

The late Roger Ebert said as much in his review of the 2011 Thor movie:

“Thor” is failure as a movie, but a success as marketing, an illustration of the ancient carnival tactic of telling the rubes anything to get them into the tent.

On the other side of the coin, Marvel’s Netflix properties, such as Daredevil and Luke Cage, are both television masterpieces and smash hits with audiences.

As I discussed a few months ago, more genuinely good artistic endeavors would be financially successful if one or both of the following were true:

  • If people had more disposable income.
  • If more artists had an entrepreneurial mindset.

The political economy of the arts and entertainment industry, it is definitely more feasible at this moment for artists to hustle up and market the heck out of their art rather than to wait around for a more forgiving economy.

Until then, rest assured that popularity neither certifies a film as good nor condemns it as bad.

It just is.

Note: I realize that in a past postArt Needs More Entrepreneurs (Part 2/2)“, I stated that popularity “generally” denotes quality, in that there must be a good reason for many people to pay for something. I now realize, in keeping with the subject of this post,  that this reasoning is crude, if not without merit. I intend to expand on this point in a future post.

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Art Needs More Entrepreneurs (Part 2/2)

In my previous post in this series, I discussed how popular culture and the arts have been in a state of stagnancy for a while now, but are slowly making a comeback. I will now expand on the subject of how we can encourage more and greater artistic innovation and growth.

In the internet age, it is easier than ever for artists and writers to market themselves, get their work out, find collaborators, and accumulate followings. But not many artists seem to be taking advantage of this state of affairs. Their lack of commercial success is not often a matter insufficient products, but of insufficient marketing.

As I stated in part one, I primarily buy old back issues (comic books, that is) that I know are good instead of those new, hot-off-the-presses books that, while good-looking, tends to lack substance. Again, if I have no reason to have confidence in the product’s quality, why should I buy it?

This is not to say that today’s entertainment lacks quality fare.

In comics, there is plenty of stuff both outside of the Big Two publishing houses (Marvel and DC) that’s both original and compelling, if not generally clean. I don’t always read stuff from independent publishers such as IDW and Image, but they and their publications do have significant followings.

Webcomics continue to provide quality content, such as Gannon Beck’s Space Corps and Scott Christian Sava’s The Dreamland Chronicles. Most of them are independent, creator-owned works, examples of true artist-entrepreneurs. We’ll return to this concept later.

In the realm of theatre, new musicals such as Hamilton and Newsies have taken young audiences by storm. I look forward to watching Hamilton myself one day, as it has come highly recommended from sources I know to be reliable. Any musical that gets people thinking about the lives of the Founding Fathers is definitely worth taking a look at.

Even in film, genuinely good movies are still being made, notwithstanding the sneers that certain popular adaptations continue to draw. The 2013 film 12 Years a Slave, for instance, is without a doubt the best new movie I’ve ever seen, though it was quite painful to watch due to the heartrendingly realistic portrayal of chattel slavery. I wouldn’t want to watch it again.

Going back a few more years, Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception remains the most original film, sci-fi or not, to be produced in recent memory. It is definitely worthy of its robust box office and numerous accolades.

Inception is also one of a very short list of recent films which fall within the classifications of “good” and “popular.” I’m certain the two need not be (nor haven’t always been) mutually exclusive.

The point of all this is that new, innovative artistic talent exists. There are people out there who are creating fresh, original, entertaining stories. They just aren’t always visible to mainstream audiences.

This isn’t so much a failure of product as it is a failure of marketing. Plenty of artists have a good product, but don’t have the marketing savvy or inclination toward business to get their name out.

The central reason this problem exists, I think, is because many artists shudder at the mention of “money,” “business,” “marketing,” “sales,” and “profit.” This is absolutely not true for all artists, maybe not even most artists, particularly Millennials.

But for many older persons in the arts industry, the prevailing wisdom in their circles has been that if you manage to make money or achieve popularity through your art, then you’re a “sell-out.” One theatre guy I know apparently gets most of his funding through government grants while his audience dwindles.

In the minds of these artists, if something sells and is popular, then there is definitely something wrong with it. I took a drama class during my community college days, and this attitude was rampant, especially in the textbooks we were assigned.

The drama enthusiasts seemed open to new types of theatre that attracted young people, but paradoxically were opposed to any kind of commercial theatre. I’m not alone in noticing this attitude. As Lyn Gardner, a theatre critic for The Guardian pointed out in a 2009 article:

That squeamishness is daft; after all, way back in a golden age of new writing, the careers of Shakespeare, Marlowe and their contemporaries relied entirely on the entrepreneurial flair of theatre owners. Our greatest playwright was a commercial writer working for a commercial management.

But this chrometophobia is not found in all artists. What may in one case result from antipathy toward anything related to the word “profit” may in another case result from simple ignorance of basic marketing principles.

One of the biggest is, “You have to spend money to make money.” This could mean hiring a decent web-designer to make you a good-looking landing page. That alone would surely increase the amount of traffic that half of these webcomics get.

Plenty of artists know how to use Patreon and Indiegogo but most aren’t making it clear through their website design that people can actually donate. I didn’t know that Space Corps had a Patreon account until last month, and I’ve been reading it for the better part of a year!

I’m not saying this stuff is easy, it’s not. I am saying that more artists need to start thinking like entrepreneurs if they want to get a large following behind their work.

Like it or not, art is a business, and that’s perfectly okay. If people are willing to pay money for something, that’s generally a good indicator of quality. (Key word: generally.)

(Image credit: Vienna Opera Backstage, Austria” by Jorge Royan is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

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Art Needs More Entrepreneurs (Part 1/2)

In this day and age, we are said to live in the Golden Age of Television. We’re watching more TV more often and more enthusiastically than ever before. On lunch break you’re more likely to chat with your coworker about the latest season of Orange is the New Black than the last thing you saw at the nearest movie theater.

Indeed, television is going through a renaissance, what with the dawn of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime which allow us to stream innumerable hours of TV, old and new, into our homes and onto our screens. These new platforms also allow for the production of original content which, appropriately enough, is refreshingly original.

But while TV is doing fine, can the same be said of other art forms? I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie in the theater that wasn’t an adaptation, let alone a good movie. Going to the movies is also quite pricey, so regularly going to see any movies in the theater other than the latest Marvel flick is not something I’m interested in.

Comics are a growing area of interest in terms of aesthetic quality. They have been for a long time. Indeed, new advances in technology have allowed fans of older issues like myself to catch up without accumulating a pile of back-issues. Comic book art (penciling) is better and more original than ever before.

However, that’s where the innovation ends. Chuck Dixon lamented on a Goodreads blog post that quality of writing has gone out the window, even as penciling continues to improve. I can’t say I disagree with Mr. Dixon, whose run on Robin is my primary area of interest at the moment. I am happily reading through his work on that title at present, which dates back to the mid-1990s. Thank goodness for Comixology.

There are plenty of good new novels to read, I’m sure. But the most popular ones seem to serve merely as fodder for distended, big-budget movie franchises, often of dubious quality. The books themselves are hit-or-miss, ranging from spectacularly good (The Book Thief) to hilariously awful (Twilight).

I’ve dabbled in the theatre, and have found the typical production put on by my local community theater to be wanting. The last play of theirs I went to see was an obscenely pretentious melodrama where every other line had the characters bursting into song.

A glance at the program told me that this was almost literally the case, with a brief, expletive-laden exchange between two characters being listed as one of the musical numbers, even though no actual song was sung in that instance. A college theatre class, and the plays we were instructed to watch and study, were all it took to solidify my suspicion that most modern theatre is a pompous exercise in pointless vulgarity.

However, I do love a good play, such as the production of Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Carol that this same theatre put on last Christmas. I still remember an occasion where my father and I went to see Max McLean’s Screwtape downtown when it was on tour in Seattle a few years ago. I eagerly await the arrival of West Side Story and 1776 in the mail from Netflix.

So, we see that all art, from TV to comics to theatre, is having its ups and downs. But what is the common factor that could inaugurate a golden age not just for television, but for all art?

The answer is entrepreneurs and freer markets. We’ll talk more about that next time.

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