The Thing About Exposure

This is a picture of a train.

And if you don’t mind my saying so, it happens to be a particularly snazzy picture of a train.

I should know. I drew it. And excuse the glare.

By the way, please don’t tell anyone I drew it. Because… I don’t really draw trains. In fact, for the most part, I don’t draw anything recognizable. Whatever I am, I fall well and truly on the abstract side of the road.

The train is a special occasion. Specifically, a friend asked me to draw a train for her grandfather, a retired engineer (who happened to be one of the adult mentors in a youth club we both belonged to.) So, I drew a train.

And the train hung on his wall, viewed by tens of people. Tens, I’m telling you.

Well, fine. I did it to make a friend happy.

Now, imagine, on the other hand that I had done it for exposure.

I get a lot of pay-in-exposure type requests. Some of them are direct, and others beat around the bush a lot, and some of them are open calls to all of the artists in the area.

Among the more notable versions of the request are the community art project, in which I would wind up having to buy an unfinished rocking chair (for example) from them, paint it according to their “theme”, and then let them auction it off for “their” charity. (And I’ve seen this with other objects, ranging from trash barrels to giant rodents.) And it usually is for charity. And always “exposure.”

So, imagine I drew a train for exposure.

What I usually draw, and what I want to draw, is this:

This:

Or, this.

But the exposure I’d get for a train picture is tens (or hundreds, or thousands) of people who have seen work I don’t typically do. The people who want what I do probably aren’t going to connect my abstract work to that picture of a train. And the people who really liked the train and call me? Well, they’re probably going to want more trains.

The same goes for people who liked the rocking chair, the trash barrel, or the giant rodent.

The exposure that I would be getting paid in isn’t usually exposure for what I do, or what I want to do. It’s exposure for what someone else wanted me to do, or talked me into doing for the poor orphans.

You could send a hell of a lot of train picture aficionados my way before it becomes worth it to draw that train. I don’t do trains. And yes, there may be some crossover, and maybe somebody will look at the paintings I do have, and fall madly in love… but more likely, they’ll take a quick look around, realize there are no train pictures, and then walk back out.

And the people who do like what I want to do? Well, they probably never bothered looking for the train artist in the first place.

So, where do I draw the line?

1.) If this is a personal favor, how well do I know the person who is asking, and anyone else involved with it? For instance, I’d known both my friend and her grandfather since we were kids.

2.) If this is a fundraising thing, is this a charity I would give actual, cold, hard cash to? You know the saying Time is money? Well, why would you invest your time in a charity you wouldn’t invest money in?

3.) Is the exposure worth it? Does it highlight the direction I want my art and my business to go? The skills and aesthetic that I’m proud of? Is the piece that I’m showing off similar to pieces I do in real life? Is there enough space in my artist’s biography for a couple of pictures of what I really do, and a comment that I’ve done something out of my comfort zone to support the cause?

4.) Does the “exposure” actively damage your brand? For instance, if you draw children’s books, auctioning off an erotic nude for charity could be a very bad idea. Or is that life-sized wombat statue really what you’d like to be associated with?

5.) What happened the last time? Did I get a ton of traffic from links on their website? Or was it pretty much a one-way street?

How Can You Tell If Your Work is Good?

This morning, I ran across what has to be the single most objectively bad book cover I’ve ever seen in my life. Someone I follow retweeted it to help out the author. And even at the ass crack of dawn with an hour and five minutes of sleep (an actual Fitbit reading, not hyperbole) I could tell that this cover was slow down and look at the train wreck bad. It’s not pardon me, your slip is showing. It’s more… Hey, your bikini waxer missed a spot.

The book in question was a BDSM romance in the vein of 50 Shades. The adver-tweet, itself said BDSM romance, and yes, I actually followed the link to more description on Amazon. No, I can’t remember a dang word of what Amazon said.

The models on the cover were the requisite well-built and shirtless man(cropped at the neck), and a blonde woman who was pasted over him at a rather odd angle. You got the impression that some other background had been removed, and the original furniture didn’t really have the same contours as a hard six-pack. The whole thing was very clearly patched together.

She also had an expression on her face that didn’t really suggest a consenting adult. I’m very serious when I say that my first thought was that she’s dead. In the sense of… well, that’s a very life-like makeup job. Literally dead. (This is partially the weird angle she was at, and partially the expression on her face.) Dead. Overdosed. Vapid blow-up doll surprise. Best case scenario, she looked like a vulnerable adult.

And yet… someone not only decided that collage of images was sexy… they chose it to represent their book.

The cover had absoutely nothing to suggest BDSM or any other part of the plot. The only thing that made me notice it at all was just how awful it was. Who the hell is sending me this crap?

Writers are not artists. Most of us don’t have a lot of graphic design background. I get that.

I still found myself looking at this cover and wondering just how it happened. Author designing their own cover to save money? Probably. But still. How objective do you have to be to catch that your female model looks dead or intoxicated? Author not getting or not trusting feedback on the cover picture? Probably that, too.

And of course, to some extent, I’m guilty too. After all, I didn’t pull the author aside and send them a nice note that says… hey, uhm… did you know?

I have a writers’ group on line–an actually fairly large forum–where people can post titles, cover copy, and cover images for feedback. You get to vote as to which thing you like best, and then you get to comment about why. And the longer I’m there, the clearer I am getting about sorting out the objective–this is just wrong–information (Such as The cover model is a blonde Caucasian, but you described the character as a pretty Afro-Caribbean) from the subjective. (I like the blue one.)

So, the question is… how do you find the friends who will say hey, your slip is showing, your breath stinks, and you can’t for the world tell the American spelling from the British one?

How do you know when what you’ve done is actually good, and how do you develop the taste that lets you know the difference?

I Am In The Wrong Line of Work

I came across these paintings on display in a public building, yesterday. Aside from the obvious–why are the winter-y holiday-y paintings up this early?–I would like to point out the price tag on some of these suckers.

Okay, so that probably doesn’t add up to minimum wage, either, but there’s a very direct-to-consumer model going on here that feels very… immediate.

The paintings themselves are actually pretty nice.

Sort of a cross between Grandma Moses and Thomas Kinkaide going on here. Not really my style, but since I’m in the habit of taking pictures, I might as well pass these on.

I’m not 100% sure on the cost of wall space here. Whoever’s in charge of that made themselves pretty scarce. But it does get some decent foot traffic.

 

(I think we decided this one is Providence, Rhode Island.)

They are for sale, and if anybody wants to buy one, I’ll chase down some contact information for you. (Unfortunately, the artist’s name isn’t as clear in the tag picture as I thought it was.)

Pondering Patreon

I’m not signing up, just yet, but Patreon has been on the edge of my radar for a while, now.

For those of you who don’t know, Patreon is a platform that allows people to support the creatives they love by pledging various amounts of money per (well, thing created, or month, or… well, you get the picture.)

In exchange, the creatives produce “things” for their patrons, beginning at one end with access to patron-only content (think stories, music, or comic strips) and progressing to bigger, more extravagant rewards as the money goes up. (Think private performances, real-live art, physical, signed copies of books, and sometimes out-takes that never made it into the finished manuscript.)

And in theory–if you’re good enough, or lucky enough–you get paid enough to live, and work on your art, and so forth.

So, getting serious, here.

The first time I heard of Patreon, it was from a rock star. Who had just published a New York Bestselling memoir. Who, even several years later, is making 38,000 dollars per thing.

Well, obviously, her variables do not apply to me.

I’m an introverted writer, and my tits are strictly indoor tits, and by the way, I don’t have a pre-mustered army of fans behind me.

So, I went in search of lab rats. early adopters who are biologically similar to myself.

That’s easy enough. I headed off to Twitter, and made a list. And every time someone mentioned using Patreon, I added them to the list.  Okay. So, there aren’t all that many, and they’re probably not a cross-section. It’s an on-again, off-again hobby. (If you know anyone else who should be on the list, or if you have a Patreon, yourself, send me Twitter handles.)

And now–thank you, hurricane–my teacher Holly Lisle is joining Patreon. Here’s a link, so you can get the scoop straight from her.

That’s another not-my-variables situation, but I’m hoping we’ll hear the inside story of how it’s working, and what she thinks. (You know, assuming she isn’t blown all the way to Canada by the next hurricane.)

As of right now, though… the conclusions I’ve reached are:

  1. It helps to have a ready-made fan base
  2. Having a means of reaching out to people who are not fans yet is imperative. (That would be the people at your show who just turned up for the buffalo wings. I’m not really sure where a writer pulls in spectators.)
  3. Most people are starting way too early, and probably wind up with one or two family members or close friends sending them a buck now and then.
  4. Rewards should be really well thought out, and consist of multi-disciplinary content.
  5. If you have a friend who can be talked into jumping, maybe watch them hit the ground before you leave the window, ’cause you only get one chance at the grand opening.

 

So, any thoughts on Patreon or other pay-the-artist platforms? Tips?

And, again, if you know anybody who’s doing it, send me a message, or leave a comment, and I’ll add them to my List of Glorious Fame.

Art And The Engineering Student

So, once upon a time, I had a boyfriend.

(Shut up.)

And somehow… (you’ve gotta supervise those devils every moment) …he wound up finding my art portfolios. I had two of those at the time, enormous, Weimaraner sized manila envelopes that held vast sheets of newsprint on which I’d drawn various and sundry highly educational subjects.

One of them was labeled “Clean.”

And the other was labeled “Dirty.”

As in…

Boyfriend dove head first into an assortment of charcoal drawings of landscapes and vases.

(Did I mention they have to be supervised constantly?)

These were charcoal drawings… I know I said that, but what I mean is, they were intended to make the student (in this case, me) look at both light and shadow with intent and purpose. You start out with a blank sheet of paper. Then, you cover every last inch in charcoal to make the whole thing a smooth middle gray. (Read “mess.”) And after that, if you want something to be white, you have to use your eraser. If you want things to be black, you have to use your charcoal. You can’t ignore light, shadow, or line.

And no matter how much fixative you spray on them, the charcoal comes off. On your hands… your clothes… your carpet.

In the sense of… for one semester, I had “art clothes.” The charcoal never really came out of them, although, after a while, they did get back to where you could sorta tell what color they used to be.

Well, you know we weren’t going out that night.

Well, he wasn’t, anyway. No place nice was going to let him in looking like that. (We do not open our girlfriend’s “dirty” portfolio while wearing a white shirt.)

The look of horror was still fresh on his face when I came up behind him and said, “So what do you think?”

Dreams Without a Sell-By Date

I was talking to a coworker… or maybe this is a theme, and it’s just suddenly becoming obvious… But, it was one of those “At my age” conversations. So, here she is, in a job that she hates, coming off the last job that she hated, and which finally just hit the boiling point. Just couldn’t stand it, anymore, so here she is… And she was basically saying… what else can I do, at my age? (Her age is older than I am, but probably still about an eternity from retirement.)

The thing is, she had ideas. None of them are really things she’s passionate about, and most of them are things that you probably should be passionate about, if you’re going to make them your life’s goal. But they sound better than here, and why not?

Oh, yeah. That’ right. At my age… There are geographic factors, too. Kids, grandkids. Family in the dying little town we live in. We’re all good at finding reasons not to jump. Not to face the unknown.

The truth is, I don’t believe either one of us should count on our current job being here for long. Definitely not until I retire. Probably not even until she retires. And it’s really not that great a job to begin with. More of a devil you know situation.

Not everybody gets be an astronaut when they grow up.

And most kids… we pump them full of the kind of dreams that do have sell-by dates. How many years do you have to become a baseball player? I mean… you might spend your eighties tossing a ball around with the Senior Sluggers, but you’re never going to play for the New York Yankees. No, not even way out in left field. How long before you lose your chance to be a rock star? Do you even want to be President of the United States after you’re old enough to buy a beer?

Writing is different.

You can actually do that, regardless of age or geography for as long as you’re interested in doing it.

You can be better at eighty five than you were at twenty five.

There’s a lot of value in the idea that I can still make it, even at my age. Even at her age.

And I can make it doing something I’ve always loved.

I’m still working toward that goal.

In school, I got a lot of That’s Nice, dear… Have you considered this assessment-indicated career in forestry and wildlife management? Certainly more than anyone suggesting that writing could be a career path in itself.

 

And we made it. Happy New Year, Everybody.

Time to get back to work.

Onward, toward those goals.

I did some math, and came up with a number. Figured out what happens to the page views on this blog, if I carry last year’s growth rate through 2017. I’m too far away from that number, right now to consider it a realistic goal.

Then, again… a year ago, I wouldn’t have believed how much I’ve done since then.

I’ll keep my number to myself, but I’ll write it down, and maybe, if I remember, I’ll compare at the end of the year.

I’m heading back to my revision, and to the first of my stories for the 52 Week Writing Challenge.

You go back to your art, and your goals.

We’ll put in the work. We’ll put in more work. We’ll make the world a better place, not just for other people, but for ourselves, too.

It’ll be a good year.

New Year’s Resolution #3: Get Involved

Resolution #3 is to take the time and energy to be actively involved with my creative communities. I’m a little hit-and-miss on that one. It’s hard to find my local creative community, and being quite honest, a little harder to find common ground with them. Well, I’m taking the effort. Will track them down. Will take brownies and chips. We’ll see what happens.

I’m a little better with online communities, at least in part because I can cherry pick the parts I like. No one on the internet has ever asked me to help them move, for instance. And finding people who are working on the same challenges I am is sooo much easier.

So, I’m working with some groups to get to where I want to be.

I’m taking on the 52 Week Writing Challenge (Found it on Medium.)in 2017. The challenge is to write one something every week for a year. There’s no specific something it has to be, but something. A poem or a book chapter every week. I’ve already talked about my desire to write and publish more short stories, so **surprise** I’m going to commit to writing one short story every week in 2017.

Fifty-two short stories. That means four for the A-to-Z Challenge in April, and four for the StoryTime Blog Hop. Probably one or two for my blog during the Holidays. That leaves forty-two that I can submit to magazines or contests. Which, all said and done, would probably do wonders for my career.

I’m going to hold off on committing to NaNoWriMo until closer to the date. I might be ready for a new project on November 1st and I might not.

As always, I’ll be jabbering away at the Holly’s Writing Classes Forums… Which are really one of the most supportive and stable writers’ forums I’ve come across. And keeping up with this blog (which may or may not be less solipsistic in the future. Prob’ly not.)

And I will be jumping back into my revision with both feet in the new year. Hoping to start annoying agents–and eventually, the unsuspecting public–with my work as soon as possible.

So, what challenges are you taking on for 2017? What are the best communities to push you forward? What’s made you a better writer?

New Years Resolution #1: Ask More Questions

I wasn’t going to do a New Year’s Resolutions post this year, and now I am. In fact, I’m going to do a series of them over the next few days. I don’t really know why the change of heart. Maybe it was writing my last post, and thinking about how people make money from art.

Maybe, it’s just the realization that at their heart, New Year’s Resolutions are about making your life better. What can I do differently? What would make me happier, stronger, wealthier? What can I do to make myself happier next year than I was, this year?

So, I’m working on a list of open-ended resolutions. Not things like “lose twenty pounds” or “take up atlatl hunting.” But soft resolutions. Friendly resolutions, where there really isn’t a succeed or fail. Just things to keep in mind over the next year.

So, New Year’s Resolution #1 is:

Ask More Questions.

I’m not the most outgoing person in the world, and if I’m not in a venue that actively supports asking questions like school, or a brain-storming meeting, most often, I won’t. It’s not that questions don’t pop into my mind. They do. All the time.

But I still don’t ask them.

I don’t know why.

Information should be one of the easiest things to ask for. It’s something everybody has, and even if they give it away, they still have it. It’s not like asking for a quarter or a new bicycle.

  • How long have you been doing this?
  • What do you do differently now than when you first started?
  • Who helped you the most?
  • What’s hurt you? Professionally, I mean.
  • Where and how do you make your money? Craft fairs? The internet? Day Job?
  • How did you think of that?
  • What else do you do?
  • What are you going to do next?
  • And the big one, the one nobody asks a whole lot, if they’re a grown-up. Why? Why? Why?

For 2017, I’m giving myself permission to ask the questions that pop into my head, even if they’re the wrong questions, even if all I’m really asking is “Point me in the right direction?”

I will ask.

And I’m accepting the responsibility of answering questions, too. The ones people ask, and the ones they don’t ask… and the ones they don’t know how to ask.

So, what about you? What are the best questions you’ve heard, and the toughest questions to get people to answer?

The Business End of Art

They’re selling the local art gallery that fought so bravely. It clung to life for as long as it could, but today, the only words on the sign are “For Sale.” The various sculptures that once filled the yard are gone, and there’s no doubt the sign means the building, itself.

We’re not quite big enough–not quite enough traffic, either–to support an art gallery. I suppose you knew that, if you paid enough attention to know that the sculptures on display in the yard were always the same sculptures.

I don’t know how the gallery’s finances worked, exactly. If I had to guess, I’d say something along the lines of a co-op. A group of artists getting together to fund the space, and sell their work together. Now, I’ll have to give it a decent mourning period before I ask.

The closest I ever got to going there was that time I called to see if they knew of a writers’ group in town. I feel just a little guilty about that. Some tremor on the “supporting creative communities” thread.  I honestly don’t even know if they would have taken my help. Maybe. Maybe not.

More and more, I’ve started looking at the business end of things. If you’re going to make a living making art… how do you do that?

I remember being told that what you should do, if you wanted to make money from art, was to make lamps and clocks. Because, look around you. How many people do you know who own paintings? Sculptures? Okay. Now, how many people own lamps?

Of course, that sounded cynical when I was just out of high school. In the first place, I do know a disproportionate number of people who own paintings. And in the second place…Lamps? Really?

And about a week ago, I went out to eat and noticed the paintings were for sale. I asked how much they were renting the wall space for, and after I finally made them understand the question (as opposed to how much the paintings cost) it turns out that they aren’t charging anything for the wall space. I didn’t push further, because I think I’d hit the end of the knowledge train, but if someone with a little more authority had been there, I’d also have asked how they chose which paintings to hang, and so forth. (The waitress informs me that her boss should pay me, because the place is falling apart.)

There’s a range. From the gallery sells my stuff on commission, to I rent the space, to the restaurant gives me the space for free, (I will add, by the way that actually buying one of the paintings seemed like it would be a little bit of a mess, since no one actually had any information beyond the artist’s business card.) to “this is my mother’s business, and she gives me space for free. You are on your own.

Some of them are work space, in addition to sales space.

Quite a few of them also offer classes, and that sounds like a good way to supplement the venue’s income.

And then, there’s the reaching out to other kinds of creatives thing. Letting the writers use space, in exchange for money or copy writing. That kind of thing.

I suppose–as always–the moral of the story is to know your options, and make a well-considered choice.