Business BFFs Blog-Along: Episode 0

So, I’m really into this new podcast that has come out from my fellow Canadian artistic entrepreneurs Samantha Beiko and Clare C. Marshall, called Business BFFs. You should go listen to it if you have any interest whatsoever in becoming a creative professional in Canada, ’cause they’re speaking some truth. Here’s the link.

I first heard about this project from the SF Canada online group, and I was immediately intrigued. So few people are out there talking about how to survive and thrive, or even make a credible attempt at making a small arts business work. When I started my small publishing company six years ago, I can count on one hand the amount of credible sources of information I could count on to help me find my way, and most of what I did was through trial and error and the generosity of established publishing professionals who gave me a leg up with much-needed critique. Working in Canada also poses unique challenges for artists, because we simply don’t have the population base or super highly-funded media machine that the U.S. does.

I knew that Samantha and Clare had come up with an amazing idea for a podcast, but as I started listening, I also felt like I had stuff to share. I wanted to join the conversation and add in my experiences for anyone who may be curious. Plus, it’s a great writing prompt. So, welcome to the first episode of my Business BFFs blog along. I’ll be covering one topic per entry. The podcast got a little ahead of me because I was hard at work doing NaNoWriMo when it debuted, so I will catch up over the next couple of weeks and then release the new blog-alongs with each new episode.

Episode 0

Samantha and Clare were kind enough to introduce themselves in this episode, so perhaps I should too. Who is this person offering her completely unsolicited experiences and opinions on small arts businesses?

Well, I’m a lifelong writer and artist who started writing and illustrating her own (construction paper) books in first grade. In fact, I refused to stop after the unit was over and made a total of thirty books before the principal gave me an award to get me to quit and move on to the next unit. That brings me to probably the most important thing about me… I am exceedingly stubborn. I am independent to a fault, and always do the thing I have in my head, even when it’s like rolling a boulder uphill every morning. There’s a story in this, about a disastrous/hilarious ballet recital, but that one really needs to be told in person. I spent most of high school as that weird kid who hangs out in the hallways, skips all her classes and does nothing but read huge novels, mostly Fantasy. I am in love with Hamilton, Ontario even though some of my friends think he smells funny. I am married to a professional freelance illustrator, who is okay with me having an affair with Hamilton. He’s cool like that.

Okay, okay, on to the creds. So, I have two degrees, a Master’s in English Literature with a focus on Contemporary Fantasy and Postcolonialism from Brock University, and a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Animation from Sheridan College. I am also a graduate of the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop, Class of 2006. I personally think that one is the biggest deal. It was certainly the hardest to get into. I’ve had two short stories published in Alien Skin Magazine and the Mystic Signals 3 Anthology, respectively. I worked as a writer for Hitgrab, Inc, creators of the popular online game Mousehunt. I have written a license novel in a video game universe that never saw the light of day (don’t judge me, the game tanked). I spent five years running Pop Seagull Publishing, my own small publishing company where I published myself and numerous other exciting and unique individuals, many of them Canadian indies with important things to say. I have also written a narrative non-fiction book about WWI nursing, They Called Her Canada, which was published by the Mayholme Foundation. As an animator, I have worked on projects for the University of Toronto and was a layout artist on Mike the Knight: Journey to Dragon Mountain. I have also created my own CG short film, Wor(l)d, from concept to completion.

So, you ask, what am I doing now? I’m sure you didn’t ask that, but I will tell you anyway. I work a day job. In a call center. It’s not glamorous, but one thing I’m sure Clare and Samantha will get to is that arts careers have ebbs and flows. I’m lucky that I have a schedule that fits my life and leaves most of my days free for artistic work. I have been a full-time professional artist at many points in my life, when working in animation or games. The problem with all of those jobs was that they were contractually based, and once the contract was up, well, good luck. I also had to make a hard decision at one point to keep a full time writing gig or pursue my dream school (Sheridan) and I chose school. That is a long story for another day.

Right now I am on an exciting path to sustainability with my work, where I am trying to get intermittent revenue coming in from writing and editing, and revamp my portfolio to get a sweet animation gig at a studio that gets lots of work and can keep hiring me.  I have a big, exciting animation project that I will be working on for the next year, and I plan on really knocking it out of the park. I am also producing and marketing as many manuscripts right now as I can to try and catch the elusive agent and get my work out to a wider audience. That has been… trying so far, to say the least, but I have an end point in mind and I will either succeed, or do something else. That’s business.

And on that note, folks, I will leave off. Stay tuned for the Episode 1 Blog-Along… Fitness! This is going to be interesting.

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Camp NaNoWriMo Post-Mortem… It’s a Lot More Positive Than It Sounds.

So, I won Camp NaNoWrimo. I finished on Sunday, a full day ahead of schedule. My final word count was 50,378 words. The work in progress, tentatively titled The Face in the Marsh, is at a total of 60,732 words.

I have written in previous posts about my strategy for NaNo, and I think that the results have shown that it was a big winner. I set boundaries on the word count per day and time spent writing, I outlined everything I planned to write, and I did my best to make it a competition with myself and not with my perceptions of everyone else and their opinion of me. I cannot recommend these strategies enough to writers who want to become more productive. I also experimented with competitive writing sprints using the pomodoro method (short, intense bursts of around 15 minutes followed by breaks) and that was the most fun I have had collaboratively with writing, probably ever. Big thanks to Victoria Feistner for doing that one with me. I learned a lot.

My energy levels didn’t look like a lot of other people’s do during NaNo, which I found interesting. A lot of people reported the ‘week two weepies’ in a big way, hitting a wall somewhere just shy of the middle of the month. I did not hit a wall until Week 4, when the writing I was producing almost outran the area of the story I had solidly plotted for. I have a slightly eccentric plotting process for my books, wherein I come up with a general concept, themes, good characters and the overall thrust of the story, and then I just start writing. This is my way of ensuring that the book is entertaining, because I am reading it in a way as I write it and assessing pacing, tension and interest. It is common for me not to know the ending of a book I am writing until halfway through. I outline each scene or a cluster of scenes in detail before I begin writing them, and do the detailed scene outlines as I go. Usually the detailed outlines will go beat by beat in the story. My crisis in Week 4 was that I hit the tipping point where the dominoes start to fall and I needed to outline the landslide to the end of the book in detail, and had no time to do it. Luckily there was just enough material left to get me over the finish line. Of course, I also managed to make it extra interesting by working overtime at my day job to pay for consulting on another project that I’m doing right now. I did this because it’s me, and I don’t know how to do things halfway.

July was a stressful but rewarding month. I feel like I have taken a step forward in the never-ending road of professional development, and tested a new skill set that will serve me well. As for The Face in the Marsh, it is far from done. Despite my hopes that NaNo would put me close to finishing the book, it is looking like it will probably top out at 100-110k. Far be it from me to comment on how a horror novel about an out-of-control swamp monster is becoming, well… you know. Any humour that others may find in such a comparison is entirely their own doing.

The Mid-point Post

Here I am.

This is a place that I have been only one other time. I have reached the mid-way point of Camp NaNoWriMo. I am on track, and have remained on track.

The last time I did this well, I was so squirrely by this point that the ‘week two weepies’ as other NaNo participants have put it, felt like a week two ‘neverending flood of tears and lack of sleep’. I was completely burnt out. This time, I can’t say I’m 100% energized and fresh, but I’m definitely feeling good, with a lot more fight left in me.

I guess it’s true; If you’re going to run a marathon of any kind, even if it’s only straining your carpal tunnels, you have to prepare. The daily work and word count that I have been putting in for the last few months has made a huge difference. In fact, it has made all the difference because I have never been so well-situated to win before.

My secret weapon is consistency. Butt in seat time. Practice and steady care for myself, my craft and my professionalism, which for me, means achieving a significant word count per day. Want to achieve it? Then live it, every day, and then the main event will be a breeze.

I could still burn out, and if I do, I won’t be too hard on myself. At this point, I have the pride of knowing that no matter where I end up in this, I will be doing better than I ever have.

*Walks Back In, Takes Off Shoes*

Well, it’s been a while for this blog.

I’m sure you’ve been waiting, breath held in wordless anticipation for an explanation, so here goes.

I got busy. Busy with Pop Seagull Publishing, busy with trying to find a full time job, busy working on me. Blogging was not top priority during that time, especially as I was trying to get my personal writing word count up and could not justify writing 1000 words on non-paying material. Sometimes, I think we can all agree that you just have to re-focus on what’s important, and re-orient yourself in the right direction.

So, why am I back, and why this blog, instead of Pop Seagull?

I have been resisting putting this on the internet too much, because I don’t want people to see the company as ‘out of business’ (which it most certainly is not) but Pop Seagull is now on hiatus, possibly for a few years. We are not accepting submissions, we do not have any new publications on the docket, and all accounts are settled with our current authors. I am still planning on printing new runs of our existing titles for the benefit of those featured in them, and all titles are still available for sale online. I am simply choosing not to actively promote and build the company for the time being. I do fully plan on bringing Pop Seagull back, better than ever, when I have a few things in my own life in better order.

Before I go on, I want to clarify a few other points. Pop Seagull was never in financial trouble, and in fact was doing quite well for an arts business of its size. I have been honoured by the welcome that we were given in the Canadian publishing community, and I plan on being a part of that community for a very long time. There were a few reasons that I decided to slow things down a bit on a temporary basis.

  1. When I founded the company, I planned to make it a ‘hybrid’ publisher where I published myself and others. This can work for many people, and is not necessarily a bad model, but over time I found myself falling more and more in love with building other authors up and found that there was too much conflict of interest. I want to be in a position to put my all into the people I represent. I want the company to be eligible for grants and other forms of funding that will make it more sustainable for everyone, myself included. Which brings me to…
  2. Being a micro-publisher who wears many hats is a huge amount of work, especially when you have a full-time day job, and may experience job insecurity. I spent much of my time with Pop Seagull also working as a temp in offices, and although I now have a good full-time job, it was pretty rough there for a while and did not leave any time for my own work. I concluded that for now, I need to use what time I have to focus on getting good work out there and finding ways to market my work independently of Pop Seagull. I also need time to re-do my animation portfolio to get more work in that arena. Once money is flowing in for my artistic work, I will be able to focus on getting back to running the company.
  3. I run Pop Seagull as a business, first and foremost. I have that mindset, and I am willing to look practically at what is making money and what isn’t. I took a good long look at the finances for the business and realized that the only writer in the stable not being compensated for their time was me. That will not be the case when Pop Seagull starts up again. I have a plan, and it is going to bring the company back bigger and better than ever… eventually. Just bear with me.

So what am I doing now? Well, more about that in the next post. But in short, I am writing books like crazy, knocking on agents’ doors, and planning one hell of an animation project. Oh, and I bought a really sexy mouse. It is so sleek it’s making me want to clean my office. Because my current office is not classy enough for this mouse.

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Further Updates on all my Life Stuff

So, it’s been a little while since I posted an update on what’s been going on in my life. Actually, a lot of it is quite well summarized on The Hatchery, as I’ve been working my tail feathers off getting Love, Time, Space, Magic ready for release.

However, what I don’t tend to post on The Hatchery are my feelings about what goes on, or any projects I may have going that don’t relate to the company. There has been lots going on lately, and not all of it has been Pop Seagull related.

I’ve been spending weekends in St. Catharines since the new year, to carve out time to write the nonfiction book I’m working on with the Mayholme Foundation. The first draft is due May 1st, and with the launch of Love, Time, Space, Magic now in the rear view, I’m going to be forging ahead and finishing that draft off, as well as catching up with some web design that’s been on the back burner for way too long. My mini-retreats out of town are resulting in lots of work done, and a much-needed break from the daily grind, but I will be cutting back to every other week after the manuscript is done. I’m missing my church community, and I haven’t been to as many classic movie screenings lately, which is kind of a bummer.

After May 1st, I will be meeting with Mayholme stakeholders and working on the next steps for the book, and reading submissions for Robotica, Pop Seagull’s next anthology. After the riotous success of Love, Time, Space, Magic at the Ad Astra launch, we are well-positioned to continue with production on future titles and grow Pop Seagull to accommodate more outside authors. For more details on that, see my post on The Hatchery, and the upcoming con report series. I’m also planning a possible local Hamilton launch for the anthology since I have confirmed local interest, and the first one went so well.

So, how am I feeling about life, the universe and everything? Pretty good, actually. The success at Ad Astra was a watershed moment for the company, where we far surpassed any evidence-based estimate I had formed for our sales and the enthusiasm of con attendees. The hard work I have put into the company, and the ongoing research and development I have committed myself to have paid off in a big way, and I’m hoping that things will only get bigger. If things continue the way they are going, I can see a day when I might derive a modest income from the company and be able to accomplish many of the larger goals I’d always had in mind.

In my non-literary life, I’ve found some stability doing regular temp work, and I’m currently at a place that I enjoy very much. Since I don’t comment online about employers, generally, that’s all I’ll say. But, the stability in my work life has enabled me to better focus on the other things that I want to do, and I’m happy for that. Robin and I are making a modest savings per month now, and as a result we’re able to worry less about the future, should there be a break in employment, and we’re seeing the eventual light at the end of the student loans tunnel, although that’s still a few years off if I don’t find a permanent job. We’re even dreaming about the day, still a long way off but closer than ever before, that we might be able to afford a cute starter house.

So, where to go from here? Well, I’m looking at some new conventions for the 2015 season after a last-minute change in the lineup, and most of the summer is going to be spent selling, working The Day Job, and working on future books. Oh, and I’m going to go camping for at least one weekend, with or without anybody else. I’m determined.

Enjoy the sunshine, everyone!

Writing Progress 24/01/2015

Since I want to make more use of this blog in the new year, I thought it might be interesting to post my progress on writing and submitting things as well as the usual local new and opinion pieces. After all, this is my personal blog, and it’s great for posting stuff that would be less pertinent, or totally self-indulgent, on the Pop Seagull blog.

So, let’s start with today. I’ve finished 2000 words of the non-fiction book I’m writing with a local non-profit, which is excellent and making me feel very accomplished. That’s probably why I’ve come online to brag about it, honestly. But, I do plan to remain accountable when I’m not doing so good.

I’ve also finished another few paragraphs on the story I’m hoping to have done by the end of the month to submit to Tesseracts. That one is becoming an issue… I think I can get past my unease with the structure, but it is threatening to become a bit of a whale, and that might be more of a problem. I think I’ll finish it, see how long it is, and then if it’s too long for the GL’s I might change the POV or start it in a different place.

And, lastly, I’ve begun work in earnest on the layout and cover design for the Love, Time, Space, Magic anthology. That’s not word count, per se, but I am really proud of it and I’m looking forward to geeking out on fonts and graphic design again. I’ve actually found some really helpful books in that arena that are helping my designs out, and I’ll probably do a separate entry on those.

So, overall, lots of progress today, which I hope will continue over the weekend and beyond. It’s great to be back working after so long being under the weather. *shakes fist at the Streptococcus Bacillus*

Getting Back to Notebooks

Like just about everyone else in the Western world, except the cynical and the very, very confident, I tend to make New Year’s resolutions. I like to flatter myself that I stick to them pretty well, too. I mean, I might forget a few minor points, but for the most part I actually tend to follow through on my resolutions, at least until I figure out whether they’re going to be sustainable for me, or I hit a large and unexpected road block.

Most of my resolutions aren’t really pertinent to anyone but me, and certainly not to this blog. Honestly, think of the worst New Year’s resolution stereotypes, and yeah, they’re on there. Because I do need to lose some weight and make more time for self-care and craft a chore wheel that actually works.

I also have a less common resolution: I want to rediscover my passion for the writing life.

As writers go, I would say my level of professionalism is really high. I know my work back to front, I’ve got several degrees related to writing and the creative arts, and I’ve been a writer in the workplace, meeting tough deadlines with ease and delivering copy that meets and exceeds the specifications. I know how to knuckle under and get the work done, and how to tailor my work to the correct audience. Writing is not just a hobby for me. I take it seriously, and hope to be taken seriously in return.

However, as I have written here before, I have been through some tough times in the last few years, and some of my experiences have left me doing my writing and art on auto-pilot, to some extent. Somewhere along the line, creating became an obligation rather than a joy. Some people might say that this is a necessary and practical progression in the journey to artistic professionalism. To some extent, I would agree. Part of taking my craft seriously is understanding that I have an obligation and a responsibility to get work done, on time. However, I also think that the journey to getting the work done, on time, is a much more powerful and productive experience if it is also filled with joy. I have a lot of work to do in the next few months, some for other people, much of it for myself, and I would like to enjoy this time. I remember when writing was my life, and that was so amazing and exciting for me. I want to recapture the spirit of my thirteen-year-old self, toting a hard-bound notebook everywhere and secreting away stories that were so amazing to me that I wanted to live them.

I began to think about the kinds of things that influence my motivation and mood while writing. I realized that my office was a mess, due in part to it also being my bedroom, so I hauled out the backhoe and shoveled it out. That helped, but the office is always pretty much the same. It doesn’t look much like anything that used to inspire me.

I then got thinking about how I approach work. Usually, I sit down in front of the computer after a long day at the office, and spend a few hours typing out a draft, or working on the publishing business, or doing some graphic design. Something felt off about using the computer, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was for a few days, but then it hit me… my writing had become completely computer-centric. Due to the ease of editing in a word processor, I had slowly shifted writing in my mind from something that you can do anywhere, that adds joy to your day, to something that is solely confined to a computer, in an office, at a very specific time of day. Freeing up my mind to see writing as an ‘anywhere’ activity again, and grabbing my hardbound notebooks when I go out, has ignited some of that passion again, and freed up a lot of creative energy that was going to waste.

Looks like I’m on my way to seeing my resolutions through.