Ellen Million (ellenmillion) wrote,
Ellen Million

Chopping Block 2018: The quick version

Way back in 2010, I sat down and analyzed all the many parts of my business "empire," deciding which were financially viable or otherwise rewarding, prioritizing my time, and taking a good hard look at what still brought me joy, and what had run its course.

I am doing this again now for many of the same reasons I did it in 2010: I am spread too thin. I am suffering a mental exhaustion wrapped up with the business that has resulted in an art block the likes of which I have never faced before - I have skipped three Sketch Fests in a row! And I find it important to be practical about financial and emotion drain, and to reevaluate frequently.

These are hard to do, because... well, it's been twenty-five years. Twenty-five years of incredibly hard work, big disappointment, rewards, and dreams. I've spent a long, long time working my ass off, thinking that the next thing would be my big break, that now, at last, I'd be solvent, that the hard work would pay off, that I'd finally have something that matched my vision. There's a lot of emotion and feelings of worth tied up in a business like this.

My lizard-brain wants to insist that it was all a waste of time, that I've failed spectacularly when you compare the effort to the monetary reward. Engineering was far, far easier... shouldn't I have given these dreams up sooner? Why did I bother?

For the most part, I recognize that lizard-brain for the liar that it is. I have plenty to be proud of, and every failure I've earned has been a stepping stone to something better. I am utterly unstoppable.

But I'm also sensible enough to realize when it's time to shed some of the dead weight that I've been dragging along with me sentimentally. So, today, we evaluate!

I'm doing a more limited chopping block look than I did last time. If you'd like to see the full one from last time, boggle at this: https://ellenmillion.dreamwidth.org/1109188.html

Coloring Books: The big surge of coloring books for adults seems like it should be a great thing for my business - I've been doing these for literal decades before they became popular, so I should be in a great place for the upswing of popularity... right? At first, it was great... but then people started expecting bigger and better and fancier coloring books at lower prices, which big publishing houses could do because of scale of economy. Amazon lowered the gateway to self-publishing, and the market was glutted with everyone who could use an art program and compile a PDF. Dollar stores started selling 50-page volumes of stock art. Buyers wanted to shop solely at Amazon to take advantage of prime shipping... and Amazon ratcheted up their fulfillment fees to meet the demand. (I make less selling copies on Amazon than I do selling wholesale! Ouch!)

I ran several Kickstarters, and they were all successful, but only modestly so. I never lost anything getting coloring books printed... but I have a basement FULL of them now, and the market has chilled considerably. My costs here are minimal - I do have hosting costs to consider, and domain registration, and the site does require upgrading once in a while. I plan to leave these pages up and fill orders as they come in, but I'm not planning to print anything new.

EMG-Zine: Obviously, EMG-Zine is not continuing to publish. I'm really only listing this because it's on my list of active domains. I do not plan to restart it, or do any upgrades to the archives, and will not be doing another anthology... I have several boxes of the first three, and they trickle out occasionally. Costs here are very minimal: cost of domain registration.

Fantastic Portfolios: This is one of the emotional draining projects. I've known for a looooong while now that I was going to pull the plug on it. It was a great idea; I loved the premise! It was not so easy getting participation. At my last chopping block, I put it in the 'in danger' category; it worked, but it needed revision and revitalization... some of which it got. I passed this along to a new director, who (no grief to them!), also failed to get it revived. It's time to admit that this project has lived its life; the review board hasn't checked in in literal years now. It will be shut down and the domain will be allowed to expire next year.

Torn World: Another one that is painful to look at. This is a project that really gets me on all sides. I am SO proud of what we've made. And I am so frustrated by what it isn't. Every so often, I get very hopeful and excited... I love the world, and I love the structure of the project... shared worlds are my happy place. The webpage -- while dated in appearance -- is frankly amazing. There is a massive amount of data, and it's actually all rather cleverly cross-referenced. It needs to be updated for mobile access, badly. But I'm hitting the point of feeling like maybe this is another project that needs to be wound down. Subscriptions have never financially supported the site. The last few Muse Fusions, it's me... and maybe one other person. I've run several contests that had no entries. I've been trying to coordinate weekly chats... and end up alone in the chatroom. I'm... not sure what to do here. We've got some work in the queue that hasn't come up in the timeline yet, should I just publish that and leave all the gaping holes? Should I write just enough to fill in the gaps myself?

I'm not really ready to fold up this project yet, but I'm not sure I want to spend the time it would take to upgrade the site for mobile and modern access, which leaves me in a weird, awkward limbo place. I'm... really not sure what to do here.

Portrait Adoption: When this is going well, it goes really well, and it covers its own costs. But when it doesn't... it does spend an awful lot of time just sitting there. Is its day past? Do people just skim art from Pinterest these days? Are role-players still looking for portraits... and willing to pay for them? This is another project where trying to drum up artist activity is getting soul-killing. I had excellent luck getting new work early last year when I ran a few challenges, but they were a lot of work to administrate, and it died off as soon as I stopped pressing. The site badly needs a mobile update in the near future, and it won't be as straight-forward as the EMG site update because of the artist menus. Oof. So, that's looming. (It did just get a major shopping cart upgrade.)

Sketch Fest: Activity fluctuates with Sketch Fest, but this is easily the most rewarding arm of EMG right now. How rewarding? I make $20-$50 per Sketch Fest after Paypal fees... closer to the low end of that more recently. To be frank, this does not cover my administrative time OR expenses. I have upgraded the site several times recently without getting paid for it... because I still love this project. I love that people are still excited about it. I love that people are still joining, and people are still buying artwork. For now, Sketch Fest is safe, simply because it still makes me happy and it does that by making other people happy.

Patreon: Patreon is clearly separate from the rest of my business - it's a funding site for me and my work only, in clear contrast to the multi-artist project-y nature of the rest of EMG, and it's also (obviously) through Patreon. But I'm adding it here because it's turned into one of those emotionally draining things that I wake up thinking about because I'm pretty sure I'm doing it wrong. I'm making about $50/month (my totals are public, it's not secret), and the workload is relatively low... but the emotional load is severe. I feel obligated to deliver, to be innovative, to maintain a level of creative energy that I am just incapable of right now. And the decision fatigue! A big part of my problem is deciding what to send each month, at every tier level. With the physical rewards in particular, I can never remember what I already sent, and with the business moving steadily away from making things, I live in terror of sending duplicates from my stash and alienating all of the kind supporters... even though I know they are wonderful people who probably wouldn't mind at all. Indeed, looking over the downloads of the previous perks, people are pretty clearly not taking advantage of what they are getting... which makes my mental knots over it even more absurd. Patreon... Patreon will be changing.

In fact, I listed Patreon last on purpose.

It's pretty clear that EMG is not really financially solvent right now if you look at it critically and consider necessary program upgrades (this year already I have completely overhauled the shopping cart and upgraded Sketch Fest and the coloring books), hosting and domain costs, and my general administrative time.

Let me be perfectly clear: as a whole, I am doing just fine - this is not a whine for help or a sob story looking for money. I have some lovely art contracts I'm working on, and writing has finally bloomed into a surprisingly comfortable income -- and I absolutely LOVE what I'm doing. I can carry the business expenses easily when I consider it my fun-money expense. But can and want to indefinitely are very different things. Continuing to upgrade the site with no end in sight, knowing that it's not being compensated and often feels unappreciated... that's going to get old. Really fast. I want to catch these things before I get to the point of resentment and sour on everything. I don't want to be one of those people who quits in a snit before anyone realizes that things are even going wrong. (We've all seen THOSE projects, I bet...)

So the first step I'm taking is to re-tool my Patreon. I will be delivering November rewards (late, because lizard-brain!) as people have pledged for them now and people at the $5 level will get awesome final packages. But I will be pausing pledges in December (and maybe January) to allow everyone to realize that things are a-changing, and the Patreon will be relaunched as an EMG support system. There will be no paywall rewards, and no goals, at least for now. If it turns into something that more than pays for all the costs incurred, I may do some kind of free thank-you reward each month - a coloring page or something, but it will probably be free for everyone, rather than behind a paywall; I'll have to play that by ear.

And there we have it, chopping block done. And I've got a book to go write, because this doesn't count towards my NaNoWriMo count (1886 words, darnit!)!

Originally posted at Dreamwidth: https://ellenmillion.dreamwidth.org/1633328.html
Tags: chopping block

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