Newsletter: Wants and Needs

This is your weekly letter from me, Berin Kinsman. It’s not quite a newsletter, but a little bit more than and ordinary blog post. I publish one of these every Sunday at around 3pm EST.

In This Issue:

  • Wants and Needs
  • If You Can’t Say Something Nice…
  • Literacy as Elitism
  • Mediation as Part of the Creative Process
  • Why I Ignore Reviews
  • Ending on a Happy Note

Wants and Needs

Ethical marketing helps you to understand why you need a product or service. It solves a problem in a way that’s easy, convenient, or affordable. Unethical marketing – and these are my own thoughts and opinions, by the way – tries to make you want something you don’t need. They often do this by creating an artificial need, a perception of need, that does not exist. Over time, this has reshaped cultural values. Call it peer pressure, keeping up with the Joneses, fear of missing out, whatever.

The industry I work in is based entirely on wants, not needs. No one is going to go hungry, suffer ill health, or be left out in the cold without my products. I won’t go into how much soul-searching I’ve done about what I’m doing with my life because of it. For the moment, my job serves the greater good of paying my bills. I am not a burden to others. That my works isn’t needs-driven has influenced the type of products I’ve created, and the way that I choose to sell those products.

That’s not to say that my industry can’t fill needs, or doesn’t have any value. The problem is that the way I see the value proposition isn’t the way it’s been sold to people for decades. My work has the power to bring people together. It can create friendships. It facilitates collaboration and creativity. Katie and I met because of what the products in my industry do best. The power that it has as an outlet for self-expression, or as a tool for education and literacy, has barely been tapped.

The hard sell for me has been convincing people that you don’t need hundreds of dollars’ worth of merchandise to get value out of these products. You don’t need an expensive, fully-illustrated coffee table book to do that exact same thing that my $10 book does. Yet people remain convinced that they need the experience of purchasing that high-dollar product to get what they want.

This applies to all areas of life, of course. You don’t need designer clothes to cover your body when you can get affordable things that fit comfortably and look nice. There’s no need to eat brand name prepackaged food when you’re hungry and a generic piece of produce will suffice. It’s a minimalist thing. You’re taking up space — physical, emotional, social — with stuff you don’t need and crowding out all of the extra room you could have for things that you actually want.

“It is always the simple that produces the marvelous.”

—Amelia Barr

If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

In this video John Green say “thoughtful analysis of art is vital to the creation of good art”. The problem that most of what people pass off as reviews are more like a knee-jerk airing of grievances about what they didn’t like or how they would have don’t things differently. This is why I cite Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Man in the Arena‘ speech so often. I’ve got more to say about reviews further down, because it seems to be something of a theme this week.

Literacy as Elitism

When I was a kid, some of my classmates would ask me “Why are you so smart?”. Their tone of voice framed it as an indictment, as if they were really asking what the hell was wrong with me. I got good grades. My nose was always in a book, because I loved to read. School was something I enjoyed, because learning was fun. It was part and parcel of an anti-intellectualism that’s always run through American culture.

We already knew that reading was in decline. People who still prefer reading to watching television are perceived as pretentious snobs. I think this only discourages people from admitting they’re readers, and continues the downward spiral of anti-science, anti-critical thinking, anti-reason social decline.

Now it turns out that writer are endangered as well. Increasingly, only people with other means can afford to be writers. This is incredible dangerous. Check out this piece in The Guardian to see what I’m talking about.

Mediation as Part of the Creative Process

Let’s change subjects to something more positive. Meditation! During my work day I meditate several times. If I’m going to be be writing for an hour or two in a solid block, I do a brief meditation at the start to get myself into a creative frame of mind. I meditate when I switch to another project, to ease the transition. When I’m finished working for the day, I meditate to get myself back into a “civilian” mindset. It doesn’t require a lot of time. One to five minutes does the trick for me. The boost in productivity that I get from it is worth the investment of time.

Why I Ignore Reviews

An ubiquitous piece of conventional wisdom is that a writer should continually be hustling for reviews. I don’t want to get into my thoughts on that here, but I will say this: Just because you lean on reviews as a marketing tool doesn’t mean that you have to read them. I don’t. In fact, I go out of my way to avoid them. Some people find that scandalous. Initiate the clutching of pearls.

In a segment above I talked about thoughtful analysis. Most reviews aren’t that. They’re also presented after the fact. The “advice” some reviewers give might have been helpful back when the book was still being written. During that process, though, I would have been consulting with an editor, other writers, and people whose opinions I trusts, who I knew had a level of relevant expertise. I know how much of their feedback is objective, and how much is subjective.

Anyway, check out this piece by Chuck Wendig. If you can get past the cussing and the snark, he makes some good points about why authors don’t have to take either abuse or constructive criticism from random strangers.

Ending on a Happy Note

The Amazing World of Gumball is a cartoon about an 11 year old cat-boy named Gumball. His adopted brother is his former pet goldfish who grew legs one day. His sister is a pink bunny, like their father; Gumball takes after his mother, who is also a blue cat. That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the weird characters in this show, which is also somehow incredibly sentimental and sweet.

Nobody’s a nobody, and everybody is weird like you and me.

Thanks and Gratitude

Even though I’m writing this mainly for my own purposes, it means a lot to have people make the effort to read it and leave comments. Thank you.

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