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Lessons Learned From Four Years of Content Creation Failures

Lessons I learned while trying to make a living from creating content on the internet - and failing - for four years.

Oren Cohen
Oren Cohen
Begin.
Photo by Danielle MacInnes / Unsplash

Four years ago, I missed an incredible opportunity. I created a Facebook page about my fantasy world and started publishing draft chapters from my story. I didn’t know where it would lead, what would be the outcome, and whether it would help me pay off my debt. The chapters I published felt lacking, I had one engaged fan who wanted to read more and about 600 passive fans to the page. Yet, all I needed to do was persevere — but I didn’t.

I missed the opportunity to make my fantasy world something more serious since I lacked consistency. But that wasn’t the only thing I was missing. Here’s what I learned from four years of content creation failures.

Successful Monetization Involves Context

Imagine someone stops you on the street and offers you to buy a mug with the saying: “ It’s Time to Duel!

You have never seen Yu-Gi-Oh! — the kids' TV show which features this saying — and so you don’t have an emotional connection to this phrase. Would you buy it? I bet you wouldn’t but I could be wrong. If you would buy it — I would be very interested to learn why.

I could give an example of a brand like Game of Thrones to explain this point but I don’t want to use big Hollywood names. Instead, let’s think about internet shows like Critical Role, Dimension 20, and NADDPOD.

There are never quick solutions.

Those shows all have a merch store and people are raving. Why? Why do people care so much to own a piece of merch related to a show they love to watch?

Research tells us that we crave shopping to “repair our negative emotions”. When you buy a product related to your favorite show, you own a piece of that emotional value and it basically makes you feel better, happier. Buying a product of your favorite show gives you a sense of belonging: “ I have a branded mug from Critical Role — I’m part of the community now.

Back in 2016, I didn’t know about this research. I didn’t know that at some point if I introduced a t-shirt about one of my characters that people connected to, they would appreciate it. I never got to that point because I wasn’t consistent with my writing. And besides, back then, I had a very fixed vision about the end goal: publishing my book. This is where we get to the second lesson.

If Your Goal is Overwhelming — Break it Down

Back in 2016, I believed I would need to release a book to actually monetize my stories. I didn’t know that it’s not about the end-product, it’s about the journey.

Imagine this train-wreck going on in your mind about your to-be-published book: “ Wow, I need to get that book done to actually profit from this. That means, editing, publishing, how many words should it be? I don’t even know how it ends! Can I make it in a matter of a few months? I also need a cover for the book, and I need beta readers. Wow! There’s so much to do! “ Would you give yourself a sense of accomplishment after something like this? I’m guessing you wouldn’t.

This exact line of thought was on my mind in 2016. I never released that book. I also never completed its manuscript. Even today when I think back about that story, I cringe a little. Since then, I learned two important things about getting your goals realized:

  1. You need to break down your tasks into smaller more digestible ones.
  2. Don’t let yourself overthink it. Just get something started. Start crossing off those little tasks.

It’s all about planning and then getting stuff done. Letting yourself think about it only raises the chances you won’t actually complete the steps needed to reach your destination. Instead, focus on being consistent. It’s the only way to build a community which is the most important part of your journey.

Don’t Focus on Making it Big — Focus on Building a Community

One of the things I love about Dimension 20, besides the content, of course, is the amazing community surrounding that show. Dropout, the service that airs the show is also maintaining a Discord server where people can talk in a chat room and also to each other. Which is by far one of the most amazing things you can do for your community.

Most online creators fail to understand that to quit your day job and focus on making content full-time, you don’t need millions of buyers — you only need what Kevin Kelly calls 1000 True Fans. To make a living from your art you probably need about what your salary brings in each year. Let’s say on average a person can live a comfy life on $100,000 a year. That means, in simple terms, that you need to create something worth paying $100 a year and find those thousand people who will pay that. Maybe you only need 500 people who will pay a yearly $200. Or you can make it cheaper and then you need more people, like 2000 people paying a yearly 50$.

It’s not a complicated concept. You could find people who will pay you that amount of money through paid ads. But they aren’t your true fans. There is no guarantee they will buy again into your dream or your products. Building a community means people who are emotionally invested in your creations. It could be stories and it could be art. At the end of the day, you need to give them emotional value. Many artists build communities on Patreon using the integration with Discord. Many writers do so too. You don’t need a million people — you only need enough to pay the bills.

By not being consistent with my creative work, I never found those thousand true fans. I was too focused on paying off my debt and looking for quick solutions. There are never quick solutions.

Conclusion

In this essay, I explored the lessons I learned from four years of content creation failures. I explained what kind of monetization works, what to do when you feel overwhelmed with your goals, and the most important aspect of your creative journey — building a community.

Where do you stand on your creative journey? Are there any of these points you want me to expand into a separate article? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!