Ellen Million (ellenmillion) wrote,
Ellen Million

Get There Yourself

I got an email yesterday. It's not the first email I've ever gotten on the topic, and I doubt it will be the last.

I found your "Portrait Adoption" site and have a question.
How would I go about setting a site like this for myself?
And where would I find my artists?
I don't need to sound naive, but I am really very new to all this.

My initial reaction is disbelief. Portrait Adoption is arguably one of the most unique features of my site, and this person wants to set up a similar site - in competition with me. They can't honestly expect me to tell them exactly how to do so and where to get artists? Surely, I must be mis-interpreting this email; it just boggles me that anyone would be so shameless about their entitlement.

Honestly, I've enabled people like this once before. More than once, even. When I first started my business, I got a very nice letter from a penpal asking how I got things going and what techniques I used, etc. I wrote back with painstaking detail, and was still somehow surprised when they cloned my entire operation with their own artwork and started advertising in the same places I did*. I don't know why I still insist on being surprised by these things. Hopeless optimism must run in my veins. (This would explain a lot, actually...)

The Internet actually makes this easier. Here is this smorgasbord of sites that people can just lift without asking or questioning. Someone here in cyberspace has a good idea? Just copy it!

You know what, I'm going to tell you all my secrets.

I'm going to tell you what paper I use, and what ink, and what printer to buy, and how to make taxes less crazy-making. I'm going to tell you what techniques I use for artwork, and how I arrange my files. I'm going to show you my Photoshop secrets and explain how to code or how to hire a coder. I'm going to hand you every tool you need and share every one of my experiences. Oh wait... I already do that.

You want to try to copy the ideas I come up with? Knock yourself out.

None of it will matter in the slightest, because the number one thing that you need in this field is staying power.

If you haven't got the very basic ability to do your own research and answer questions this elementary, you won't last a year. I don't care how many shiny toys you buy, how much text you copy and paste into your webpage, how derivative you look or even how good an artist you are (or can bamboozle into working with you). If you haven't got the passion to do it your own way, you simply haven't got what it takes.

Never take the easy way out. Never accept the path of least resistance.

I am a unique artwork sales site on the web in that I don't feel threatened by my own artists. I have no exclusive restrictions. I don't care if they link to their own site where they sell the same products. I don't mind if people take their commissions and customizations off of the Portrait Adoption site and cut me out of the payment loop - I go so far as to actively encourage it. My artists have enough talent and skill to wipe the floor with me, and many of them have their own 'competing' businesses that are far, far more successful.

For me, it's not about competition, or the "loads of cash**" I make off of my sites. It's about creation, growth, encouragement and giving opportunities to people who may not otherwise have them!

You want to make your own multi-artist site? Here's a tip: you don't find artists, you earn artists. You spend fifteen back-breaking*** years refining your products and improving your process and treating people right such that they want to license with you. You deal with customers and artists honestly and upfront, you don't make promises you can't keep, and you adapt to the input you get. Reliability wins over razzle dazzle in the long term.

There were a series of sites I had a lot of jealousy over in the not-so-distant past. They licensed artists I wish I licensed, and had products I wish I made and were so glittery and fancy that I felt like I had utterly, completely failed by comparison.

But jealousy is unproductive and glitter is a pain to vacuum out of the carpet. I continued to slog along doing what I thought I should. I improved the products I could, and sadly accepted some things as simply being out of my reach. I prioritized, juggling family and day job with artist needs and customer service. My business was already bigger than I had ever envisioned - if I just continued at this pace, maybe someday I could aspire to such heights.

That jealousy? Is so long gone and buried. The artists were miserable with the company, and the horror stories I heard about their contracts made me wince. The quality of the products was shoddy at best and the customer service was a horror. Within a few years, they were a laughing stock - the butt of inside jokes and parody sites. Artists bailed like... well, one doesn't like to compare them to rodents on a sinking boat, because many of them were lovely people who ended up licensing to me - those that didn't swear off of licensing entirely and vow to stay away from the whole greedy, commercial world of fantasy art. Some of them even stopped doing art, which I consider the greatest tragedy of the whole mess.

My point here is not 'I won,' which is possibly how it could be taken. My point is that if you want to keep artists, you have to treat them with respect, listen to them, address their concerns, and bust ass on their behalf.

There are no secrets. There are no formulas for success. There are no shortcuts.

What there is: hard work, tough decisions, doubt, errors, apologies, blistered fingers, calluses, learning, trial and error, trips to the post office that last hours, paperwork, headache and heartbreak.

And, if you are very lucky, at the end of it all, you may make a living off of it (I don't, yet), and even better, you may have the respect of your artists and the loyalty of your customers, a sliver of Internet fame and some neat products you can point at with pride.

I think it's worth it.

If you're writing me emails like this - you probably won't.

*The 'end' of that story could be considered karmic justice - I actually feel a little bad for that person, because their business floundered while mine keeps growing despite myself. I would feel worse for that person if they did not persist in CCing me with a hundred other people I don't know about how awful and tragic and depressing their life is every other month or so.

**Tears of laughter!!

***Technically, you know, the back-breaking occurred before the business, but, you know, figuratively... Har har har.

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