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An Organized Hobby

I stumbled upon an old blog post by Seth Godin called, "Advice for authors." It's from 2005.

His first piece of advice stuck with me and reminded me of the entertainment industry:

Please understand that book publishing is an organized hobby, not a business. The return on equity and return on time for authors and for publishers is horrendous. If you’re doing it for the money, you’re going to be disappointed. On the other hand, a book gives you leverage to spread an idea and a brand far and wide. There’s a worldview that’s quite common that says that people who write books know what they are talking about and that a book confers some sort of authority.

The emphasis above is mine because it's what I mean to get across about the entertainment industry.

"The Industry"—writing and making movies and TV and all the related media—isn't an efficient business in the traditional sense.

Yes, a few people get very rich. But that's different from a stable industry with good jobs.

In truth, the entertainment industry is a labyrinthine game of courtly rites.

A tiny percentage of the population can afford to play. And many people who seem to be making a lot of money are simply putting on a show.

Yes, that means that lots of people who get to participate in the organized hobby were rich—or had rich parents—before they showed up. Even those who get to play and get paid for a while often have to quit because it's not sustainable.

The return on equity and return on time is terrible! Most Hollywood projects take years to get going and ultimately pay next to nothing. For over 16 years, I've been surrounded by brilliant, energetic writers, producers, and directors who have barely squeaked out an existence. They could have been comfortable lawyers, doctors, bankers, or software engineers. But they do this—often frustrated and grinding away at second jobs—instead.

If any of us were doing it for the money, we'd have packed up long ago.

If you're thinking about going to film school or pursuing acting or making an independent movie for the money, please stop right now. In 99% of cases, the money's never coming. Regardless of how smart and hard-working you are.

So what's the reward?

You get to do something you love. Your work feels like play. You're surrounded by people who are as passionate as you are.

Yes, the answer is that corny.

The vast majority of Americans only get to participate in their preferred organized hobby on a day off or once they're retired. The golfing, crocheting, hunting, fishing, whatever-have-you is their reward after a week or lifetime of miserable work.

If you want to participate in this crazy game—this poorly organized, endlessly frustrating hobby of writing and directing and producing—the work must be the reward.

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