Ellen Million (ellenmillion) wrote,
Ellen Million

So torn... Trained monkeys and other random thoughts.

I feel like I opened a can of worms at the EA forums, and I'm too chicken to jump back in and try to fix it. Besides which, I don't know *how* to fix it, or how much of what I see as having gone wrong is because of all the external detail I'm seeing on LJ and other places.

I'm having a really difficult time thinking about doing a second book at this point - I feel like a lot of that community camaraderie that drove the first book is lacking, and I ocassionally feel like a big fat liar about the editorial I put in the back of VoA about what a cohesive group we are.

From a strictly business point of view, the first book was not worth doing. Yes, it's very impressive to say 'we sold out,' but all but maybe 7 of those sales were wholesale to artists. For 100-150 hours of my work, I made about $200 back. Not including the startup costs of becoming a publisher and purchasing the ISBNs. And I think my time estimate there may be low - it was hours of communication with the printers, hours of keeping contributors updated and answering their six zillion emails, hours of layout time, editing bios, checking and double-checking, walking people through the upload process, nagging and nagging for files and signature pages. It was a PILE of work.

Honestly, I'm really proud of myself. It was an impossible task, and I did it on an impossibly short deadline, starting from a knowlege base of next to zero. For that alone, the book was worth doing.

But a second one?

It won't be as much work, this time (maybe), but I also don't have the same community energy buoying me along, either. I feel like there's been a horrible division - started primarily by my opening the discussion about jurying into the second book at the forums.

I could do a (yes, juried, but open to all) book like this just through EMG that would kick ass, I wouldn't have to worry about trying to contract all those new artists, and it would be SO much easier. The lilypad's already set up to take submissions for it, if I set up the project right. I probably will do this in January.

But there was some freshness and community feel to the first book - I really enjoyed that, and would like to capture that again. I don't mind that more people will submit and I'll have to cut some just for space, but... it feels like THEY mind, like it's stirred up a whole pot of dissension and division and sensitivity. When I first posted with the questions about selection for the new book, I was so impressed that everyone was taking things impersonally and thinking 'big picture.' I was wildly, wildly flattered* by the trust expressed. 'Whatever Ellen decides,' most everyone said. But how the heck was I supposed to decide?

In the end (for those of my readers who are not members, but find this sort of morbidly fascinating for whatever reason...), I chose 'maybe.' IF there's too much work to fit neatly and harmoniously into a publication that I can afford and artistically wish to produce, I will leave some artists out, using just one piece per artist first. (The last book, everyone got one in, and some got seconds.) The poll supports my decision - 29 people wanted a jury system of some sort, to 24 people who wanted everyone in. Most of those 29 voted in support of the lowest per-artist allowable. One is even lower than that option, so in many ways, I'm slipping the difference. No one voted to get rid of me and use trained monkeys.

People seemed to think that was fair, but... the bubble has sort of burst. I don't know if some of the long-time artists who argued for quality control will consider that enough, and I don't know if some of the newer artists will submit, too sure that their work will make the cut. The feedback has been much, much less than that for VoA, despite what is actually a larger artist base due to the growth of the forums. I'm concerned that I'll get half a dozen submissions and be left feeling like I've already committed to something I can't do. I still feel like people trust me, for the most part, but that also, there are people who feel like I'm aloof, cliche-ish, or aiming to collect a group of toadying ego-petters.

I don't participate in the forums as well as I should for being all the nice things they call me there - I read sporadically and comment even more sporadically. Meh. I'm sure it comes across as me playing favorites, too - both at this forum and ALL the forums I spend time at. I sometimes have time to comment on everything, but not always, and sometimes I worry that the one person I don't manage to comment back to is going to see all those comments to other people and think that I'm deliberately slighty them. I really, really try not to play favorites, but it's hard not to do so unconsciously. I mean, I'd feel find laying a good filleting critique on Jennie's, or Christines's, or Liiga's work, because I've critiqued their work before, and I know what they can take. I know how best to word things with them, because, gee, we've communicated just a bit before. It's easy to comment back to them. It's much harder to comment back to someone newer, and somedays, I've only got three minutes, not the five or six minutes I'd spend making sure everything I said was exactly how I meant it to be and going over how it COULD be taken. So, guess which things get comments. It probably makes me look very prejudiced.

I don't feel as comfortable with leadership as I think I manage to pull off. I feel like I'm constantly in sticky moral dilemmas and battling between 'I want to make people feel good and encourage them' and 'take the hard business line!' I wonder some days if I really have that hard business edge that it takes to make it.

And don't be fooled - nohow have I made it. People are kind and lots of them know me now, but sales this year have not been so stunningly successful that I'll have a profit to declare for my first year in freelance and free of a job. I'm still struggling - it's just that instead of struggling by myself, I've harnessed myself in with 100 other artists because I have something valuable to offer them. So more people know about me. That's all. No shining success story here, not yet. I wouldn't have been able to do what I've done without a timely settlement from my back injury, or without the unflagging support and belief of Jake.

And oh, MAN is it hard to post stuff these days. I hesitate for long, agonizing moments before posting anything, because people put so much WEIGHT in the things that I say. While that's very nice, and I'm flattered*, it's also very nerve-wracking. And posting outside of my comfortable sphere's of influence becomes difficult, too, because I'm always thinking 'maybe just *these* people like me, and everyone else is more aware of the fact that I'm a big nobody with influencial friends.' It doesn't help that I often feel like I stop conversations to a screeching halt. It makes it LOOK like I'm the Final Word (or think I am), even if I'm not.

Oh well, much rambling here, and lots of random thoughts.

Trained monkeys, man. I REALLY wish they'd all voted for the trained monkeys and made my life easier...

*and scared like a little girl

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