I think the two different ways of gaining success as a creative person are very interesting. You can either rise to the top of your profession and/or art through word of mouth based on your talent. Or you can gain notoriety because of a slick marketing campaign. If you rely solely on word of mouth, you are bound to be eating top ramen for a long time, but there is the benefit of knowing you have autonomy. If you go the other route, you may have a broader ripple effect - connecting with more people - thereby making more money, in less time. The irony is if you do well because of a grassroots efforts, then you are a "true" artist, and the flip side is that diving into deep pockets for advertising, big publishing companies, or big record labels, etc. and you're called a sellout because your art was bought based on a Pavlovian response created by advertising gurus and media, rather than quality.
I have heard of artists who won't sell their work to someone who doesn't "get them." And I've heard artists saying they'll do whatever it takes, just to be able to write, make jewelry, or sing, etc. It's rather obvious that the combination of the grassroots and advertising is really the best option, but for me the trick lie in figuring out where to put my energy - 40% here and 60% there. How many blogs can you write? How many festivals can you attend hustling your books? Should you carry the books in your car, place them title side up at your favorite coffee shop so people ask about you, push the publisher to do more? How much do you push and how much do you trust the process and quality of your work to prove itself?
Personally, I think I lost my trust in marketing when I studied public relations in college. First there was Orson Wells' radio broadcast called The War of World in which people freaked out because they thought Martians really had landed on Earth. Wow, radio sells ideas, radio convinces people. Then there was the Nixon/Kennedy debate when Nixon refused to wear makeup and sweat like a pig under those harsh lights, whereas John F. looked calm, collected and ever so handsome. Oh, so looks sell, too they realized. Of course, the irony is that I'm very intuitive pr gal/professional, who happens to love creating symbiotic relationships with people, organizations, and businesses. That is the quandary - the artist or pr gal? I know I don't have to chose, but where is the balance?
In six months, on June 10, 2008, my first novel, Rogelia's House of Magic, will be available. It's my first book with an actual release date. All other books had release months. It's my first time with a big publisher. What they will do for me, remains to be seen? It's mine to ask from the universe. What will I choose? I will continue to reach out to my community and hopefully find the trust and balance in marketing for a piece of art that is very dear to my heart.
So what would you chose? Marketing or grass roots? Or both?