This is a long-ish post so apologies to those who like short ones! I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while. And I have my own thoughts on this but I’ll share those further down, first how I came to thinking about this topic. A while ago I read on a Blog post about the 10,000-hour rule.
In 2008 Little Brown & Co published Malcolm Galwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success which, in a nutshell says that if anyone spends 10,000 hours on their preferred art-form, they will become proficient and successful at it. The book uses studies (namely the study of children learning to play the violin) to“prove” that if you practice your art, you will become something akin to a savant/genius at your chosen art.
Now, let me start by staying I am a FIRM believer in practice makes perfect. Whether you are a dancer, a musician, a writer, a painter (etc.) the more time you spend practising your art-form, the better you’ll become. However, I couldn’t help but question the logic. After all, some people simply open their mouths and beautiful music comes out. Other’s put pen to paper and write amazing stories or brilliant symphonies, did they all spend 10,000 hours unbeknown to the rest of us?
Outliers doesn’t just touch on art-forms, it refers to pretty much every sort of profession, be that science, or business or web-design-genius’ such as Steve Jobs (etc.) So, given I love facts and figures as much as I love art (those that know me well will know I thrive on stats and graphs and all kinds of mathematical equations), I started looking into this. And it would appear many in the arts, sciences and business are questioning Malcolm Galwell’s “rule” as a, well… RULE.
Additional to reading the blog post, a few days ago I read a post on LinkedIn. The topic was the cost of hiring an editor. An author wanted to know what he should be paying and what he should be asking/looking for when hiring an editor. Most of the replies were a mix of other people’s experiences and freelance editors taking the opportunity to advertise their business. But there was one reply that had me re-visiting this TALENT vs HARD WORKquestion. Since adding their reply, they have deleted it so I can’t give you their word-for-word answer but it was along the lines of this:
…some people have natural talent, others don’t and no amount of work will change that, and people without talent should give up trying…
I found this reply really disheartening and also concerning. I don’t think the answer is to “give up” I think the answer is to work out what your motivation is and whether the drive comes from a deep passion. If it is passion then DO NOT GIVE UP.
Now I’d like to share my personal thoughts. I do not agree with that stand one little bit. However, I also do not agree with the 10,000-hour rule. I happen to think that the truth is somewhere in the middle. I also happen to think determination and perseverance play a MASSIVE part in an artist’s future, as does luck.
I’m going to ask you all to indulge me a little while I share my own life experiences as I believe this demonstrates my point.
I have been always been a duplicitous person. By that I mean, I’m constantly split between the Arts & the Maths/Sciences. And it runs in my family. My father writes poetry and sonnets (published) and paints a little. He is also a brilliant mathematician and worked as an Industrial Engineer. My mother is a wonderful artist and skilled at many hand-crafts. She won a full Fine Arts university scholarship and then went on to major in chemistry. My grandfather was a musician and singer, as well as having gone to university majoring in applied maths and physics. He worked for the government in the finance sector for a time and then (as he loved open spaces) became a forest ranger… but never stopped singing, playing and performing. There are many more examples in my family, (cousins/uncles/aunts), however you get the picture.
As for me, I have primarily worked in the finance and/or accounting sector’s but have also been writing and drawing/painting all my life. I was also interested in performing, having studied drama.
I had my first written works published when I was 13 years old (short story, local newspaper) and since then have had the odd additional thing published. I have never studied any formal writing or publishing subjects, I simply wrote what appealed to me (however, I have recently started a new BA in professional writing).
With regard to painting, although I studied the “greats” I have not had any formal art classes. This did not stop me from enjoying in indulging in sporadic bursts of painting energy.
In 2006 I began painting more often and in 2007 & 2008 I held exhibitions in Melbourne. In 2009, after sending jpeg’s of my artwork to several galleries in Paris & London, I was asked to exhibit in Paris – and I did, in October 2009…
The timing could not have been worse. The Global Financial Crisis had just hit, the European economy was flushing down the toilet and there was pretty much no hope my exhibition would be a success. However, I’d already booked my flight, paid for my accommodation, left my job and sent my artwork on its way to the gallery. So I was stuck with having the show and consoled myself with the fact that I’d be in Paris.
Here’s the thing. I DID sell pieces. In fact I sold enough to allow me to stay in Paris for almost 6-months. It’s also the place I started writing my first manuscript (but that’s another story).
Did I spend 10,000 hours on my artistic skills throughout my life? My best estimate 4,000-hours. Am I the most wonderful artist on the planet with an awesome talent? Hardly! Am I gifted with genes that have blessed me with a raw talent? Who knows? Personally I think my gift was the encouragement of my parents and these sage words by my father:
Remember, no one is better than you, but remember also no one is worse than you.
If you remember that you are as good as anyone but no better than anyone, you can achieve what your passion and perseverance drives you to achieve.
So how did I sell works of art, enough works of art (remembering galleries take between 40-50% from each sale) to allow me to live in Paris, without finding any other work, for six months, and also pay the rent on my place back in Melbourne?
Again, honestly, I’m not 100% sure. But I will share with you what I did, perhaps differently, to others and also what those who bought my pieces said.
(i) Almost 12-months prior to leaving I started forming contacts with other Aussie’s living in Paris.
(ii) Prior to arriving I printed flyers of my artwork and my exhibition date.
(iii) As soon as I arrived I met-up with as many people as I could from my contacts.
(iv) Every free or super cheap event that was on in Paris, I attended. I didn’t care if they all spoke French or not, I needed to get my face and name out there.
(v) Every single café and restaurant I visited more than three times I told the waiters about myself and my exhibition.
(vi) At every art supplies, or workshop that would allow me to, I left flyers.
(vii) I attended the opening nights of all three exhibitions prior to mine at the gallery. I got to know the artists and mingled with potential buyers and whoever was interested, I offered them a flyer. It was in the same gallery so there was no conflict of interest.
(viii) A week before my gallery opening, I walked into every single shop, café, business on The Avenue des Champs–Élysées and offered any of their staff a 15% discount on any artwork they wanted to buy, all they needed to do was bring in their special flyer (I signed them) and offer it at the time of purchase.
(ix) And this one was a bit sneaky I left random numbers of flyers at bank and post office counters all over Paris.
As for why I sold artwork, a relative unknown in a city full of artists? Aside from literarily flooding the city with my flyers, it was my artistic style. It didn’t “fit” any label. It was uniquely me. I wasn’t trying to paint like anyone else, though naturally I was influenced by many wonderful artists. So, my work was unique in a city that was filled with hungry artists trying to recreate the masters.
So what’s my point? My point is, don’t believe everything your read and only half of what you see. The world is made up of magic and illusion. Do your own thing. Make it unique to you. Don’t try to copy or emulate others, you’ll never succeed unless you are you.
Art doesn’t lie. Sure it fakes and misleads but it does so openly, whether it’s fiction-writing or an artistic interpretation of a seascape. Be it a photo-shopped image of the Grand Canyon, manipulated for the sake of art, it openly fakes the truth and therefore it is not a lie. Don’t dishonour this concept by trying to be someone other than who you are.
As for 10,000-hours make you a success, in my opinion its a load of CRAP. There is no FORMULA written in stone for success. There are things you can do to help achieve, but they vary in style and aptitude and attitude for every single individual. What works for me will not work for the next person.
Yes hone your craft. Practice your art. Get involved with groups and mentors and fellow artists and learn from them, but don’t think… “OK, so I’ve worked it out, I have done 7,892-hours, I’m almost there…” because if you do get to 10,000-hours and have not achieved what you call success, you’ll feel a failure. And you are NOT. As much as it would be great to believe there is a magic number, there is not. Timing, luck, persistence, patience, positive attitude, respecting others and hard work is all part of the equation. Some people write their first novel and it’s brilliant and becomes a best seller and is made into a movie and they live happily ever after. Others may write ten novels before they break through. And still other’s many never reach the best seller list.
As for natural (born) talent, I’m still of two minds on this one. I truly believe everyone can draw and paint however we become conditioned to believe we cannot because when we were eight, or ten, or twelve someone was better at it than us and we began to believe we were not good at drawing or painting. Having said that, great singers, in my opinion, are born. You can improve your voice with 10,000-hours, but I don’t think you can be truly great (and I’m not talking famous, I’m talking brilliant voice) if you were not born with the right vocal cords.
I started this post asking if the ability to create great Art in our Genes or our Perseverance? The truth is, I believe, it’s both, but it is the part in our genes that doesn’t allow us to give up that makes the difference not our skill with a quill or brush or ebony & ivory keys. And it is the willingness to go the extra work, the marketing, self-promotion, mingling, learning, studying the greats while maintaining our individuality that will make us stand out, not the number of hours clocked.
And do not let ANYONE tell you to GIVE UP because frankly, they are wrong, wrong, wrong.
Failure and rejection is part of success. I’m serious. The more times you fail, the more likely you are to know what success is. And while we are on the subject of genius and 10,000, I’ll leave you with this quote by Thomas Edison regarding inventing the light bulb:
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
As we round up to the end of the month, it’s time to share some stats with you all. (everyone loves stats as much as me right?It’s OK, I’ve done all the work for you.
**Note:I will be sending out Scorecards to the 10-reserves & posting the results of those scorecards in two days. I decided to split the scorecards and stats when I realised how much space the stats would need.
So down to the Fun Facts & Figures.
We had around 220 submissions, of which almost 200 were accepted. (Several did not meet the guidelines, remember people Submission 101- follow the guidelines). The final submissions were made up of:
Of those submitted the following % were selected by the Bloggers to feature on their blogs (as a number not a %):
PB = 4 / MG = 10 /YA = 31 / NA = 10 / Adult = 17
The first thing you might notice is that, while the % of Picture Book submissions was high, the number selected was quite low. Without going into a great deal of detail, what I can say is we all saw so much potential in so many of the PB’s but many simply weren’t submission ready. The other thing I find interesting is how many NA’s were selected in comparison to the number submitted. As you can see, NA submissions made up 8% of the total but the number selected equalled that of MG. More on NA further down – some interesting trends 🙂
Because I know everyone likes pretty pictures, here’s a chart which will better explain the above:
The above compares the number of category manuscripts selected by the Bloggers (blue) with the number of requests from Agents (violet). As you can clearly see, while YA was both selected and requested the most, the difference between selected and requested is smallest between the NA & Adult categories. Below we compare, submitted, selected & requested:
As you can clearly see the pale blue, (NA= pale blue), in the first column shows it was the least submitted category, followed by MG. The third column shows the difference in the number submitted and the number selected by the bloggers. Again, NA stands out. While the physical number is low, the % of selected by blogger compared to submitted by pitch-ee, blows all the other’s out of the water. Further down you may see why this is.
Now, before I go further, we have to take out the variable of solid writing. If the writing wasn’t solid, the pitch would not have been selected. We must also take out the possibility of a pitch chosen based on Category alone, i.e. to make up the numbers. When it comes to category diversity, first must always come quality of writing, followed by category diversity. The reason I’m qualifying this is, further down as there appear to be some obvious trends that might explain the above graph.
The next graph looks at across the board category (excluding PB). What we are looking for is, regardless of category, what are the agents genre choices.
As you can see, the most popular choices by the agents were clearly fantasy or fantasy mix. By mix I mean, Historical-Fantasy, Fantasy-Romance, etc. Contemporary, Romance, Adventure, Mystery/Thriller and WF also were quite popular.
However, what the above chart doesn’t take into account is the numerous requests for the same pitch. And of course we need to keep in mind that the agents who took part in NestPitch have their own preferences, even so, with ten agents from nine agencies, the cross-section of agent WishList was well catered for.
Below I have included all 98 requests from agents, including multiple agents requesting the same pitch. As you can see, fantasy and contemporary were the most popular pitches. And Fantasy-mix was quite healthy too as was Romance-mix. In fact, Romance-mix was much more popular than straight Romance, this may be something to keep in mind; Romance + (something else such as say mystery or adventure) = larger interest pool. Naturally, the below is a small selection and we can neither dismiss a genre (e.g. Romance) nor a category. Also, NEVER write to “meet the trend” because, let’s face it, by the time you’re done fashion/taste may have changed.
Now lets look more closely at each category (excluding PB’s) and what’s trending. MG submission break down; largest portion of MG submissions were in the Fantasy genre, though contemporary was close second:
YA submission break down; largest portion of YA submissions were in the Fantasy genre, though, as with MG, contemporary was second:
NA submission break down; while the largest portion of NA submissions were in the Romance/Romance-mix genre’s, I have to say, with a HUGE smile on my face, that more than ½ of the submissions were not Romance Genre based.
I say this with a smile because this goes to prove two things. New Adult IS A CATEGORY – accept it folks! And non NA Romance novels are being written and requested by agents… and this is why I feel there was such a strong request % for NA in NestPitch – because they were not all romance. Don’t get me wrong, romance is great, but diversity is always what we strive for 🙂
Adult submission break down; largest portion of Adult submissions were in the Fantasy genre, though barely, with Contemporary, Women’s Fiction and Fantasy-Mix all following close behind – and yes I know Fantasy-Mix is still Fantasy 🙂
And finally, I have a breakdown of the pages requested by the agents as a table showing what was the most common request size. What I find interesting here is the peaks and dips. Most agents requested at least 25-pages + Synopsis with around the same number of requests for 50- pages as there were for 15-pages.
I hope everyone had fun playing along with Nestpitch 2014, remember come back in a few days time to see which pitches made the reserves – and you are welcome to give feedback/leave comments.
So until then, Ciao-Ciao for now 🙂
And now, please excuse my indulgence in some shameless self-promotion:
The Nestpitch blog up for BEST BLOG Site 2014 (Australia) & there’s also a Peoples Choice Award. Voting is open to everyone worldwide & is anonymous, so I’ll never know if you voted or not (but if you do, thank you, I know some of you have already voted, & this is greatly appreciated). If you can spare a minute and would like to vote, here’s the link: