Six Questions Every Creator Needs to Ask Themselves

Everyone can create, but should everyone create? Plenty of great ideas never get off the drawing board, and seemingly terrible ones manage to make it all the way to YouTube. Everybody is different of course, but before they even start creating, here’s six questions every creator needs to ask of themselves.

FELIX

Thinking Felix via: Tralfaz

Although the term ‘creator’ has become a bit of a catch-all for anyone making and distributing content on the internet, it is also synonymous with the independent artist making their best effort to get themselves and their work out there. Today’s ‘creators’ actually encompass a variety of roles that can include artist, co-ordinator, accountant, entrepreneur, and many more.

However, they are almost all producing the same form of content: an idea that they came up with and decided to make. The resulting quality can all over the place, and many creators can become disgruntled or even despondent if the idea fails to take off. It’s almost like many did not even think about what they were doing before diving head-first into production. A few manage to pull it off, but others aren’t quite so lucky.

Here’s the questions they should be asking themselves before they even begin, in order of importance:

Will anyone want to watch this?

It’s nearly too easy this one, but is almost always taken for granted. The YouTube gold rush and the continued illusion of its existence contribute to the “if you make it, they will come” frame of mind. Nothing could be further from the truth, and if Google’s heavy-handed push into multi-channel networks is any indication, if your content isn’t being pre-sold to an audience, it has an extremely slim chance of getting any traction at all.

Seriously though, it’s a question that needs to be asked, and asked objectively. Professional content in any form is never made unless it has been determined that there is a potential audience for it. Sure that audience may never actually show up to watch or read, but the point is that someone did the research, and assumed that they would. the process actually happens in reverse now: MCNs already have an audience and need have to find the content to put in front of their eyes.

So creators need to think long and hard about whether their work has any appeal to individuals other than themselves or like-minded individuals. As a sub-question, you should try and determine an answer to how big you would like the audience to be. Numbers can stroke the ego, but they don’t guarantee any results.

Will anyone who sees it, like it?

So you’ve determined that yes, a couple of people out there will consume what you’ve made. Now you have to consider whether they will actually like it. And when I say this, I don’t mean the act of giving it a thumbs up, or a Facebook ‘like’, I mean will they actually form a favourable opinion of it, and a strong one at that?

This is a critical question because, people know what they don’t like, and they like to form strong opinions as a result. The opposite is also true, but the effect is far weaker. Today, it is often a struggle to even get a ‘like’ out of consumers; one mouse-click being one too many for many viewers after the video is finished. The goal is to get them to actually like the video, and to like it in such a way that they will form a strong opinion, or at least feel like they have a stake in the game.

As a sub-question, think about how the audience will like the creation. Will it be the characters? The humour? The style? A blend of all of the above? Keep in mind that just because they like one aspect of it, that doesn’t mean that another aspect that they don’t like will overrule it. For example, I liked the use of colour in Superf*ckers, but the characters were a real turn-off, and as a result the show as a whole lost its appeal.

Will they like it enough to tell their friends?

Although this question may seem comparable to the one above, it really isn’t. It is one thing for people to like content; it’s entirely different for them to like it enough to tell their friends.

Yes, the notion of a ‘sharing economy’ is somewhat rooted in fact, but the actual truth is that people trust the judgement of those that they know over anyone else. To be fair, Facebook’s ‘frictionless sharing’ has diluted the effect somewhat, but an actual good word can still work wonders. Any content should aspire consumers to write a few to their friends.

Consider it the equivalent to word-of-mouth. It may be slow, but it is effective and desirable. It will also attract viewers who are more likely to do what the following questions ask, and isn’t that beneficial?

Will it connect with them strongly enough to part them from their money?

The first of the big three, and perhaps the most puzzling. If you’ve created something that people will watch, and like, and tell their friends, the next thing to ask is whether they will part form their hard earned cash for it.

Merchandise is as old as the hills, and plenty of new business models enable creators to sell merchandise of all shapes and sizes. What I’m pointing out here, is that simply having merchandise available isn’t enough on its own. We’ve all been to a hole-in-the-wall bar where the band has a table set up down the back flogging CDs (showing my age there), T-shirts and whatever else they can muster. If the band does a terrible gig, do you think they will sell anything?

Marketing content is a similar gambit, and if you, as a creator haven’t adequately answered, and addressed all the questions above, then you will be that band trying to sell something that is truly priceless.

The key here is to also be smart with the merchandise; people only need so many T-shirts, wallets, posters, etc. Having something to sell is better than nothing of course, but there is nothing worse than a lost sale. Be smart and listen for, and be open to, feedback from viewers and fans, and don’t be afraid to give them a reason to buy either.

Will they come back for more?

Before we discuss this one, do not misinterpret it, I do not mean more of the same thing, I mean more content from you. Any idiot can strike while the iron is hot, but they will quickly flame out like a one hit wonder on the charts. Ever notice how their follow-up singles tend to sound so similar to the previous hit?

What the question really asks is whether viewers will hang around for, or come back for, more content from you, the creator. Granted, this has become a lot easier since YouTube instigated ‘channels’ and thereby allowed viewers to automatically be notified of new content. That may be grand, but ideally, you will want viewers/readers to be anticipating your new content. This can take time to build up, but engaged and anxious people make for better fans than the ones who watch your video just because it showed up in their feed.

Do they like the content, or the creator?

Lastly, and perhaps most critical, this is a question that may only be fully answered after the content is created, but anticipating the answer can help guide things towards it. The bottom line is, will viewers like the content, or the person behind it. These are not mutually exclusive, but they can make a difference.

For example, liking Family Guy because it was created by Seth McFarland, or, liking The Simpsons, Futurama, and Life in Hell because they were all created by Matt Groening. In the case of the former, greatness can be achieved, but it may not be easily transferable. As for the latter, it is more likely that a core group of fans will circulate, and support all the creator’s works.

There is no right or wrong answer, but there is a decision to be made as to which one you prefer. I would rather have viewers and fans like me, because that not only permits more creative freedom on my part, but also ensures that my unique advantage cannot be replicated easily by others.

Did I miss anything? What other questions would you add? Leave a comment with your answer.

9 Comments on “Six Questions Every Creator Needs to Ask Themselves

  1. One of the biggest things that has me the most concerned about creating an IP is really how you’re going to get it out there. After you think about the audience, and you’re convinced you have something people might actually like, you then have to worry about the middleman who gets it to that audience. The main issue is finding someone trustworthy enough to handle your stuff, or finding the right platform if you plan on promoting it yourself.

    This in itself generates a whole flurry of questions. I’ve heard quite a few stories of people who have had their pitches rejected and their ideas stolen. I’ve heard about predatory competition-killing tactics waged by the industry’s big dogs against independents. Then there’s also the idea of how much control you’re going to have over your own product. Can I be sure that I’m not going to get cut off? How can I be sure they’re not going to run this IP into the ground without my permission? Are they really going to help my vision for this IP or are they going to try to impose their own?

    It’s a pretty bleak picture, but those are some of the harsh realities of this business. Anyone who thinks it’s easy is fooling themselves.

    • Those are all great points, and the good news is, they are easy to address.

      Is potential theft a problem? Sure it is; the internet and beyond is rife with ideas and art that is used and abused without permission. The thing to remember is that the only way to completely avoid it is not to make anything at all.

      It’s kind of like riding a motorcycle. Is there a risk of getting seriously injured, or even killed? Sure, but riders believe that it can be mitigated enough through protective gear and good riding techniques to make it low enough to be acceptable to themselves and others.

      In the same way, the risks of creating and pitching an idea can be mitigated by using copyrights, trademarks and only dealing with reputable people and companies.

      As for control, that is something that you have to negotiate on, but once a company buys a property, it is generally theirs to do as they please.

  2. Sorry for the delayed response, I wanted to reply sooner but have been busy with several projects!

    The thing that jumped out to me when reading this list is how focused it is on success measured by financial gain or popularity. I think one of the keys to being a content and joyful “creator” is not focusing so heavily on these aspects.

    The popular response to this is “You have to make money to live and do what you love to do” or something similar.

    Yes, that’s true. Money is a necessary part of the creation process. Even if your medium is chalk drawings on the sides of abandon buildings, you need to be able to obtain the chalk, most often through purchasing it, and even if someone gives you the chalk you can’t eat chalk so there’s that pesky “food to live” issue that crops up.

    That being said, I think the reason we see SO much derivative, stale content (especially in the animation industry) is because this “need to survive” cart is put before the “why are we creating in the first place” horse. In fact, often it seems the horse is dragged off and shot instead of being part of the equation at all. Which, I think, is a real shame.

    I have been creating content online for around 12 years. At my most enthusiastic and creative (and content, as in peaceful) this content (as in produced work, not the aforementioned peaceful contentment) has been produced with the mindset of “If one person is made happier because of this cartoon (comic, story, whatever) then that is enough for me.”

    Does that person’s happiness pay my electric bill? Not usually, unless they become REALLY happy. But it does pay my “soul bill.” My heart is at peace when I’ve done this task, much more than I’ve ever gotten by receiving a paycheck or yet another Twitter follower. And that fuels me to more creation.

    I think the questions you’ve listed are essential for creative people to keep in mind during the creative process. I’m not so sure they are REASONS to create, or to even decide what to create. The creative process is a very taxing one, and it takes a LONG TIME (especially animation!). If the goal is popularity and money, there are a near infinite number of easier things you can do to achieve those ends. Creativity, in my experience, must be fueled by the love of it and the joy/difference it can bring, otherwise internal emptiness is fast on its heels. You also burn out- REAL fast.

    Audiences can be built. If your work has quality and heart, people will find it and share it (so long as you don’t hide it under a rock). The finding and the sharing is generally not a great reason to create. It’s exactly what leads to things like Dorthy of Oz and Turbo, instead of Snow White and Toy Story.

    In my experience. 🙂

    Good article, though! As I said, things people should definitely consider during the process.

  3. Worse than all this is not creating. There´s no real way to learn but to make the WHOLE process, and that sometimes mean putting some shit nobody wants to see out there. Having this guidelines is cool, but you shouldn´t stop yourself from creating.
    One thing you need to avoid is getting into a “They don´t get it” mind-frame, just cause they don´t like it.
    Ideas pile up in the brain, the only way to make place for new ones is to let them out.

  4. Hi, we are a ‘newborn’ team of animators/musicians and sound-designers and we have decided to make this lyrical animated film, entirely hand-drawn. We have seen your blog and we are glad to have met a platform that speaks about animation and the industry of animation! We find ourselves in the strange situation of ‘independent productions’

    We are trying (and this is because we are all dickheads) to combine poetry through music, images and sound and create a language that can reach everyone. We have chosen to use no words, no language and to rely on personal feelings.

    What do you think about completely unknown producers/animators like us, what would you recommend?

    here is some of our work: http://pictoglyphs.blogspot.it/p/birdless-birds-eng.html

    • Hey guys, can you send me an email? charles [at] animationanomaly [dot] com. I can think of a few things, but am not entirely sure what to specifically recommend.

  5. I think it is important to create something you are passionate in rather than thinking if anyone will want to watch it. There’s always a audience for everything and the trick is to find them.

    Without passion, there will be no drive to keep doing it because it is slow steady process. Right now i am building up my youtube channel and animations as well as creating a business plan. Reading books on online marketing helps 🙂

  6. Thanks for such a wonderful article. These are the basic question when you start creating something. I am pursuing by career in animation and I must answer these ques before i start something new. http://www.zica.org/

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