Not about Tools of Change

Last week I was in New York, NY for the first time in my life.  I won a free conference pass to O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference from Booksquare, managed to afford the airfare and hotel (Would you believe I flew to NYC, stayed for 3 nights within 1.0mi of the conference at Times Square, was fed the entire time, and flew home for under $550?), and had a great time.  I have tweeted a bit about it, from the conference, and I have many, many pages of hand-written notes I took over the two days of the conference I attended, but this post is not about Tools of Change.  I may (or may not – but probably will) blog extensively about it later.  There’s a good chance I’ll write a thousand words or more per page of notes, not to mention anecdotes about everything that happened between sessions and at night.  This is not one of those posts.

This post is about everything else.  This post is about how, in between the last two First Friday Art Walks (ie: basically in January), I painted 6 new paintings, recorded the audio for the podcast version of FWYCR (inlcuding 6 chapters ahead of where I needed to be), wrote 5 (mostly long) blog posts, did my taxes, et cetera, et cetera.  This post is about how, since the February First Friday Art Walk I haven’t painted anything new, have only written this blog post, and have only finished the single chapter of MEPod that was due today.  This post is about how I don’t know when my next book will be ready for publication, or what book it will be.  This post is about how I occasionally notice that I don’t have a “marketing strategy.” This post is about feeling insignificant, helpless.

After this month’s First Friday Art Walk in downtown Phoenix (I show among the vendors known as “Roosevelt Row” – the booths in the blocked off streets of Garfield between 4th & 6th, on 5th between Garfield & McKinley, and starting next month on 6th as well – I’m there every month, I pre-paid for all of 2009, and you can see/buy my art and/or books in person there for cash), I sold two paintings.  Did not sell them at the Art Walk, one because I don’t take credit cards on site, the other because there wasn’t a convenient ATM, but sold them after being seen there.  Gladly drove across town on Saturday to deliver one (after processing the payment through Google Checkout) and to a different part of town on Sunday to deliver the other.  I’m always glad to put my creations into the hands of people who appreciate them.  People who love them.  People who are excited to be able to see them again and again.  These kind of sales are awesome.

Very early Monday morning I left for NY. Thursday evening I returned to Phoenix.  Friday I did laundry and tried to recover from the conference & the trip.

Saturday I had another Art Walk / Art Fair, this time at Angel’s Serenity in North Phoenix/Scottsdale.  The Angel’s Serenity Art Fair is a Saturday, daytime event.  It had better turnout when the economy was in better shape (and when there was an open coffee shop involved – since gone out of business), but I still feel it’s worthwhile to show there.  It certainly doesn’t cost anything but my time and effort.  Sold a few books (You’ve seen the new books, right?), about half to returning customers.  That’s my favorite and most reassuring sort of customer, the ones who have bought my books before, read them, and want to buy the new books, too.  That’s the basis for my publishing model; to build an audience of people who will continue buying my books as I continue to write them.  Didn’t move any art at the Art Fair, but a past customer and I spent a lot of time discussing the 5 or 6 pieces he wants to buy – if only I catch him at the right time of the month.  I’ll follow up with him after the first of the month.

Writing it out, I know it hasn’t been a lot of time – especially since the conference was actually work.  Yet I feel unaccomplished, so far.  Dilligent, yes.  I recorded three more chapters of FWYCR yesterday, and worked on trying to figure out what to do about the final main character’s voice – it needs to be distinct, striking, but not distracting or confusing.  I edited, mixed, compressed & posted chapter 15 today, went to two banks and a book store, and am writing this blog post.  I’ve been working on some other ideas (more below) as well.  Still, I feel I haven’t done enough.  On the other hand, a big part of why I chose not to buy the big TV was so that I would be able to work longer without stress and worry – so that I would be able to go at my own pace without having to freak out about whether my art & writing were bringing in enough money on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis.  So I’m trying not to freak out.

I’m also looking at some new projects.  I’m considering designing a deck of cards – you can think of them like tarot cards or fortune telling cards, though I’m developing them largely from scratch.  I’m working out some planning and manufacturing ideas already, starting work on basic artwork & meanings.  Probably a set of 50 cards – thinking of maybe putting it out as a “deck” of moo business cards, actually, though I haven’t fully considered all the different custom card-deck printing options out there yet.  Feel free to suggest someone in the comments.  Then, in parallel with developing the deck, write a book explaining the cards, their meanings, and how to do a “reading” from them.  Publish the book & make the cards available – because I can, and it interests me to do so.  Not sure how to market such a thing, and certainly can’t bundle the cards with the book via Lightning Source, but it’s an idea.  If I decide to paint the images for the cards, that could mean up to 50 new Mini-Paintings – I’d want to do them at a size I could scan with the equipment I have, so probably 8×10″ or smaller canvas or canvas boards.  Or perhaps illustrations on paper, but then I’d have to mount/mat/frame them.  bleh.  But either way, that could be a gallery show I could shop around.  Hang the originals on the walls, sell the cards & books (& originals), and have me (someone) do readings for guests all night/nights.

I’m also increasingly thinking of trying to put together a music “album.”  Probably a “Christian music album,” at that.  I keep having to compose my own music for the podcasts (because I’m quite stubborn and independent) and thus to think about music, to design music, and to practice with its creation.  I’ve been vaguely thinking about creating music since middle or high school, but have rarely stuck with any physical instrument for more than a few weeks at a time & have never studied musical composition.  Having Garageband in front of me several hours a week, listening to music I’ve composed play behind my audiobooks, it’s been pushing me more and more toward writing songs & putting together an album.  That, I don’t have outlines or plans or marketing plans for (yet), unlike the cards/book thing above, but it’s rolling around in my head, closer and closer to the front all the time.

Which brings me around to what may be a lack of focus.  If I’m writing/composing/recording/producing an album of Christian music, am I focused on art?  On writing?  On publishing?  I’ve squeezed the designing of a deck of fortune cards (did you know the Old Testament  condemns divination?) into the art/publishing worlds with the hand-painting of the art & the writing/publishing of a companion book, but has my focus slipped?  What happened to the anthology of short stories I was working on last year?  When is UTFBF-RoaAP: Book Four going to be written?  Will I paint anything other than these cards any time soon?  What about my next podcast novel (due in April)?  What about marketing?

Marketing?  Fuck.  I knew I was forgetting something.  I still haven’t figured out how to do marketing.  Sigh.

In other news, since my books are increasingly apparent as some sort of idealized-communist propaganda, I’ve begun slogging my way through Atlas Shrugged.  The Fountainhead is next.  Then probably the Communist Manifesto, Wealth of Nations and Mein Kampf.  I’ve never read any of these, but time for reading is part of what I bought myself when I didn’t buy a 73″ HDTV.  Speaking of which, I’m going to go work on Atlas Shrugged right now.

Thinking about money makes me nauseous

Ugh. So, whatever and ever, I was taking a break from typing up my new novel, poking around on the web, on Twitter, on Plurk, and I was reading a blog post by someone I know (actually know, in person; not just some internet friend, but someone I’ve actually spoken to, more than once, face to face), and I got nauseous and had to go lay down for a few minutes. First I tried just sitting down, away from the computer, but I felt really sick, and it wasn’t enough; I had to lay down in the cool of my bed and close my eyes and try to recover.

The blog post itself, its subject, wasn’t the problem. Tyson Crosbie, a local photographer, made this blog post about some trouble he’d had with a potential client. The client claimed to have business experience, but wasn’t familiar with professional photographers’ practices and rates (apparently), and tried to negotiate a significantly lower price in a somewhat dishonest way (read the post for all the details), and Tyson was letting his community know as a sort of warning about not just that particular client, but dishonest negotiating tactics to keep an eye out for, generally. To make the situation clear, Tyson provided both a link to his standard pricing schedule, and gave a detailed account of the specifics of what was being negotiated. (Again, follow the links for all the details.)

Now, I’m aware I’m not familiar with what professional photographers charge for their services, especially with regards to the purchasing of the rights to a particular image, so just looking at things like the first two items on his pricing page, setting the value of a single image at upwards of $300-$500, already made me a little queasy. This is not something I’ve ever looked into, partially because I knew it was more than I felt was reasonable, and I didn’t find it worthwhile to bother to investigate any more than my doing price-comparisons between various models of Ferrari would be. It’s out of my financial range, there’s no point to look. But, it was a friend’s blog post, a friend’s business, so I went ahead and looked, so I could follow along with the post. The numbers in the pricing schedule made me feel a little worse. But I read the rest of the post, anyway.

And that’s where I really started to get sick. Apparently Tyson earns, in a single day working for a “National” client, a multiple of my business’s year-to-date Gross Revenue. That includes all art sales (several times what I’ve earned in previous years), and book sales through all channels. Even at significantly discounted rates on time and on the price per product shot, the proposed amount Tyson would have earned for a week of work (I don’t know, maybe there’s more time involved than the number of days he’s listing, but even if it were two weeks’ worth of work, or a month’s, the comparison I’m about to make is still a very strong one) for that client would be enough money that (combined with my wife’s salary) all our expenses would be met for well over a year, without my having to earn another penny in that time. Now, I don’t know how much business Tyson is getting right now, how much work at these rates he’s able to draw in consistently, but if he worked just four weeks like that, it would replace my wife’s salary, too. Which is to say that theoretically his earning power individually is perhaps as much as twelve times that of my dual-income family. Practicably, he probably isn’t working 5 days a week, 50+ weeks a year, but it’s still an about order of magnitude more income, if he’s working half as hard as I know I am.

I had no idea. Well, I knew that this society allowed vast disparity in income (which equates directly to quality of life below a certain threshold) between the richest and the poorest of its members, but I know I’m not the poorest, and I know he’s not (quite) the richest. Ethically, though, I have trouble understanding how such disparities can be allowed to persist. How can one person be allowed to have enough income to comfortably support a dozen families, while there are families struggling to simply have their basic needs met? It isn’t just. Thinking about it literally made me feel so sick I had to lay down and shut my eyes to this world.
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