That’s a Hell of a Hat that You’re Wearing

That's a lot of hat!
Eagle-eyed readers might notice a few changes around here. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my business and what I really have to offer other artists and small business owners.

As an editor, words are my public face. More people know my words than have heard my voice, despite a certain group recognizing me as the public face of Dr. Sketchy’s in St. Pete. Still, my words reach a much larger audience. Words I’ve written, words I’ve assigned, words I’ve flipped and twisted and edited into a complete, published piece. It’s how most people know me, and I like that. I’ve spent my life as a fairly tall redhead who wasn’t hiding in a crowd (5’5” by the time I was 10), so existing semi-corporeally to so many people is sort of refreshing.

But, as an editor, there’s so much more than words that goes on behind the scenes. Who do you think is formatting or proofing those layouts? Who is making up spreadsheets and maintaining records on freelancers so we know what to expect and when, and where the gaps are? As an editor, I basically serve as project manager for my words. (And yes, even if they’re someone else’s words, a piece of them is mine by the time I hit that “Publish” button. I don’t claim to own someone else’s ideas, but they’re, let’s say, part of the family by the time they’re out there in the world.)

When I first started working as a freelancer, I wasn’t sure how to focus my business. Copywriters, from what I saw, were marketers first, writers second, and so that’s how I structured my business. But I’ve come to realize that I was trying to think up a way to use the skills I’d honed as an editor without just coming out and saying “I’m an editor.” And why not? It just didn’t seem like something that one does.

So, after a lot of soul searching, I’ve decided to just come out and say it: I’m an editor. I’m a writer and a planner and an organizer and a strategist, and it’s my job to make sure that everything from the workflow to the design and functionality contribute to making a final, cohesive branding statement, wrapped up in a neat little package. It’s the hat I wear, and yes, it’s a big one. Over at Jack Move, I’ve got a hand in everything from assignments, editing, and writing to coding, choosing images, and tweaking layouts — and that’s exactly how I like it. Emma and I work together to put out the best experience we can for our readers, and it takes more than just words to do that.

What does that mean for my clients? If you take a look at my Services page, you’ll see a lot more packages, and even more that can be built from my “Sidebar” options. My job is to help my clients treat their businesses like magazines: set clear, fixed deadlines, plan out a manageable workflow, and get shit done. Some of that falls on the project management side of being an editor, while other parts are more about getting the right copy written. I think most people will still think of me as a copywriter, and that’s fine too — like I’ve said, most people know me for my words, and I do like that. A good editor knows how to write copy that’s on-target for their market, and people aren’t buying Vogue because they appreciate how punctual they are shipping the book to press. I’m your (wo)man on the scene when I need to be, but I’m also totally at home sitting behind my desk, using my editor’s cattle prod to make things happen and keep us on schedule. I’ll gladly write copy all day, but businesses who need a little bit of an editor’s touch will find out that I’ve got red ink flowing in my veins – and an extra red pen tucked into this huge hat of mine.

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I’ve made a conscious decision not to limit my clientele to women, despite my love for the strong, female entrepreneurial community that’s thriving online these days. At the risk of getting too cerebral, I’m deferring to Donna Haraway, who writes in her essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”:

There is nothing about being female that naturally binds women together into a unified category. There is not even such a state as “being” female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices.

I, like Haraway, choose my groups by affinity, not identity — just as I’m sure you’re more concerned with what I can do for your business than with which gender I identify.

 

Want to see what an editor can do for you? Let me give you an Inkling. When you sign up for this free 15-minute conversation, we’ll get clarity on what’s wasting your time and how to start fixing it – whether it’s new copy, a better calendar, or a full-stop brand overhaul. Let’s talk. I’ve got my red pen ready.

 

Photo via Flickr user Teresa Avellanosa, used under a Creative Commons license.

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Building It Myself

There’s been so much chatter these days about what small businesses did or did not build themselves. As a small business owner who often works with small businesses (many of whom, in turn, work with small businesses), I feel like I need to speak up and offer a few of my thoughts on the matter. At the risk of politicizing my copywriting site, well, I’m going to go ahead and do just that.

When I am working on a project at 3:00 in the morning, struggling to come up with just the right word or tweaking code to fix the formatting on a website, Uncle Sam is not sitting on the sofa with me, rubbing my shoulders and offering me a glass of wine. When I’m poring over client maintenance spreadsheets and tracking my expenses for the most recent Dr. Sketchy’s event, I’m on my own.

But the vast majority of my work is on the Internet, which, lofty proclamations from Al Gore aside, wouldn’t exist in its current form without the support of our government. I wouldn’t be able to Skype with clients. I wouldn’t be able to host my tracking tables on Google Docs. I wouldn’t be able to email back and forth in the middle of the night with the publisher of Jack Move over what’s going into the next round of Genuine Curation ™.

I, personally, benefited from government-sponsored small business counseling before I got off the ground. I also received unemployment benefits from my last job, which helped support me while I got up and running. I didn’t receive any government grants, although I know they’re out there. But because I work with small businesses (who work with small businesses, and so on), I know that every single thing that has helped my clients has helped me, too. If a government grant allowed them to hire a professional copywriter to write a killer website or to put together a sales page, I’m benefiting from that grant just as much as they did. If they ship their artwork to buyers across the country, I benefit from the roads and the infrastructure and every other little cog in the machine that gets them paid.

What worries me about this proud, “We did it ourselves” attitude is the implication that this is somehow better than accepting support. That dangerous way of thinking hurts our chances of success, and as someone who relies on small businesses succeeding, I’m pretty passionate about taking the assistance that’s being offered. I hate to think that even one small business would think, “Well, I have to do this myself,” and then fail because they didn’t have the support and safety net they needed.

I wouldn’t be here if I’d been building my business from a deserted island in the South Pacific (although I might not have a problem with that if I was sitting on a beach in the South Pacific). I got help, but not just government aid; I got help from my friends, my neighbors, my parents, my husband. I had someone making dinner while I worked through the evening to meet a deadline. I had generous wedding gifts that allowed me to purchase a business license and covered my start-up costs. I have wonderful friends who set up the stage each month for Dr. Sketchy’s and sit at the door, collecting admission and greeting artists as they come in.

If you took away my support system and told me I had to build this business myself, I not only wouldn’t be able to do it, I wouldn’t want to. The joy I get from running my own business isn’t just wearing my pajamas until 2 in the afternoon. It’s the network of support I have that keeps me loving what I do. It’s the Facebook group who talks about this crazy business and offers guidance when we each need a little perspective. It’s the friends who join me for a sake bomb at Dr. Sketchy’s, covered in dust from setting up the stage but happy to stick around to help take it down at the end of the night. It’s the clients who have become friends and who email me to say hi and see how things are going. I wouldn’t love what I do if I was doing it all myself.

So I want to say thank you. To the friends, family, colleagues, and, yes, the government who have helped me: I wouldn’t be doing this today without you.

Photo of the Statue of Liberty pedestal construction courtesy of the “StatueLibrtyNPS” Flickr account, used under a Creative Commons license.

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Selling Versus Selling Out

I had a drawing professor in college who specialized in painting with human urine. She had jars of it all over her house, experimenting with different diets, donors, and ages to see what colors each produced. She even experimented with other, erm, excrement, but found that it faded over time and became essentially transparent. (From the posterior = not for posterity. Life lesson.)

She was a fantastic professor, and without question an “artist’s artist.” She created because she had to, because she had something to say that she couldn’t, um, hold in. Is she a tremendous commercial success? I doubt I have to answer that question. Is she happy with what she’s doing? I’m not sure I know the answer to that, but I have a sneaking suspicion that, if she truly wanted to be making commercially accessible oil paintings of landscapes, she would be doing that instead.

Of course, there is a market for urine paintings. It’s not a huge market, though I would imagine that sealing the paintings in airtight frames would increase it marginally, but it’s out there. If she managed to find that market (urolagniacs? Freudian psychologists?), she could probably sell a decent amount of art, but even the most hardcore urine fetishist is only going to need so many piss paintings.

I’ve since seen artwork by her that focuses more on plumbing and toilets, the vehicles as opposed to the actual excrement. I believe she’s still making her urine art, but by branching out, she’s opened her market up to a group of people who can appreciate the quirky subject matter without the more visceral side of, you know, actually hanging some stranger’s pee on your wall.

Being a “working artist” means sometimes diluting your message, assuming you like things like eating and having a roof. There’s no need to abandon it – I’m not suggesting you start selling paintings of fish by the beach or Ed Hardy knockoff designs (unless that’s your thing), but if you aren’t making art to sit in your storage unit, you need to make something that someone else will want to have and, ideally, will want to pay you for. Sure, there are people who get paid to cover themselves in raw meat and stand in a gallery for a week, but there aren’t a whole lot of job openings in that particular field. If you want a reliable income from your artwork, you need to figure out your market and create something they’ll want.

This is just as true for other career paths, of course. Any service or salable item that needs a market needs to figure out what that market is. I think most businesses realize that, but there’s this rarefied air about being an arteeest that somehow makes people forget that, if it’s something you want to make money at, you’re still just a merchant with a product.

Stop navel-gazing and get over yourself. If you’re an artist who wants to die young and be remembered as a genius, do whatever you want. If you want to be an artist on the side and have a “real” job by day, great. But if you want to be an actual working artist who makes money for yourself and not your grandchildren, you need to find that universal note and sell the hell out of it. You have to make a product that people want, and you have to find the right people so they’ll buy your product. The more customers you find in your specific niche, the less you’ll need to branch out. Yes, that means spending time marketing yourself (or, ahem, hiring someone to do it for you).

It should go without saying, but don’t copy just because you know someone is going to pay you for it. It may pay off in the short term, but you’re losing your artistic integrity and will end up without a platform, catering to the next trend and running mildly successful but depressing booths at craft fairs for the rest of your life. You have a vision; own it. Just remember: Toilets are funny! Actual urine is gross.

Photo by Flickr user Vitor Sá – Virgu, used under a Creative Commons license.

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In Defense of Spreadsheets

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve listened to a lot of people freak out about managing their workloads. It got me thinking about how I juggle running my copywriting business, managing the St. Pete branch of Dr. Sketchy’s, editing Jack Move Magazine, and being a wife and a homeowner without completely losing my mind.

This is my system of organization. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

As a left-brained creative, I get a lot of funny looks when I talk about how I get things done. I don’t sit in silence and commune with the universe until its creative energies flow through me. I don’t drink a lot of absinthe and find inspiration in my altered state. I plan. I schedule. I spreadsheet. (Uh yeah, I do it enough that I’m making it a verb. Editor’s privilege.)

I’ve had plenty of people laugh at me for this. It’s not sexy to plan ahead. I’m not an actual artist unless I let my creative urges take over and run my life on their own schedule. But here’s the thing: I have bills. A husband. A mortgage. A dog. If I wait around for inspiration to strike and then ride the wave until it’s spent, I’m going to be broke, divorced, homeless, and my dog will have eaten half of my foot and peed on the sofa. And I remember those times when I’ve let my creative urges do their own thing…I would come to about two days later in a pile of drool and ramen, covered in charcoal and with half my bangs cut off because they were getting in my face.

When I first started working as a magazine editor, I had zero experience. I’d written a ton in college and had an allergy to bad grammar, but practical publishing experience? Not so much. Within just a couple months of taking the job, I was running four monthly magazines and a collector’s edition series, which came out to something like 325 pages of editorial content every month. It became clear very quickly that I needed to get my shit together or I was going to forget, well, everything.

Spreadsheets are the easiest way for me to get a grip on all the pieces of a project. I list everything I need to do and set deadlines for each piece of it so things don’t get out of control to the point where I have to be a crazy person the day before it’s due. They’re customizable, fairly universal, and you can color-code them to see what’s going on at a glance. Red? I talked to a freelancer about that, but we never made it a formal assignment. I’d better get back to them now. Blue? It’s in my hand and looking good. Take a breath.

Before you freak out about The Man micromanaging your life, stop for a second and think of the last big project you had to deal with. Maybe it was a party you organized, or a gallery show you were part of. I’ll bet you made lists on some envelope you found. Grocery lists, reminders to invite your sister’s new boyfriend, a rundown of all the paintings you needed to finish. And I’ll bet you lost that envelope a couple times and freaked out. If you’d spreadsheeted your to-do list, you could have hopped on your computer or your phone, planned out when you needed to get things done, and scheduled time to get lost in making decorations or finishing one last painting for that big, empty gallery wall. I, for one, write best between 1 and 4 a.m. If I plan that into my week, I know not to set a morning meeting for the next day. I can get into the zone, write without forcing it, and then sleep until noon to recover…but only if I plan ahead.

Yeah, I spreadsheet because that’s what lets me lose myself. It’s my safety harness, letting me get all distracted and creative and covered in charcoal or immersed in writing without forgetting to pay the mortgage or finish the project that’s paying the bills. I map out what needs to be done and when, set up reminders in my phone, and allow myself to forget everything. (I like Astrid, because I feel less nagged when it’s a pink octopus reminding me what I have to do. Also, you can send tasks to other people…like my brother, who had Astrid tell me it was time to make him a sandwich in the middle of my Dr. Sketchy’s Grand Opening.) It might sound like micromanaging to some people, but I freaking love forgetting everything and using that extra space in my brain to focus on what I’m doing right now, not what I need to have done by 3:00 tomorrow. At the risk of sounding like the High Priestess of the Church of Excel, spreadsheeting my life lets me be present in the moment. It also keeps me from giving myself micro bangs, which, let’s be honest, only look good on Shannyn Sossamon.

Do you have a system that works for you? Are you a die-hard envelope list-writer? Want to express some spreadsheet solidarity? Tell me about it!

Photo by Flickr user MrsMerryMack, used under a Creative Commons license.

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Official Call for Dr. Sketchy’s St. Pete Helper Monkeys

OK guys, time for me to put out the official call for Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School St. Pete branch helper monkeys! We are targeting a first event of May 10th at the Sake Bomb in downtown St. Pete. I will need help the day of the event (setup, working the door, official event photographer, model wrangling), but also beforehand (setting up and maintaining social media, posting fliers, securing additional sponsorships, tracking down media venues for press releases, etc.).

You don’t have to live in Tampa/St. Pete to be part of this! We’re looking for flierers in Sarasota as well, and there are quite a few things that can be done online from afar. Trust me, if you want to help, I can find something for you to do!

If you want to join the team or you know someone who does, leave me a comment here or email me. Visit our (minimal) branch webpage, and you can find lots more info about Dr. Sketchy’s on the main site there.

Thanks everyone!

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Artist Marketing Giveaway!

Now that the Jack Move Magazine redesign and “Time” issue have launched (you’ve checked it out, right?), I suddenly find myself with a bit of free time. And because I’ve been slacking about filing my business paperwork, you (yes, you) get to benefit!

You see, one of my favorite things to do is to help artists take a serious look at their work and put into words just what it is that makes them special. You’re more visual than textual; that’s great! But sometimes you need a little writeup to draw people in for a closer look. And that’s where I come in.

I’m going to give away free personal marketing statements to the first three artists who contact me via my contact page. Sorry, accountants – this freebie’s for the art crowd. Interested? Leave me a note with your name and contact information and what it is you do. You don’t need to write me a novel, just a little hint of what it is you specialize in. Photography? Oil paintings of robots? Hand-crocheted baby owl brooches? Website/Etsy links are appreciated, if you have them! So what are you waiting for? Put me to work for you!

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