(Go ahead, gasp in shock... I'll wait. Done?)
Sadly, Monocerus Media wasn't able to take over the order fulfillment for the Fantasy Art Shop like we were both hoping. No grief to Tor, and he'll continue to fill a lot of the print service orders at least in the short term, but the complete studio take-over just isn't going to happen on the timeline I needed. So be it!
But that leaves me in the same place I was in last year, when I was ready to shut up the shop entirely. And, having spent the months between now and then gearing UP instead of down, the problem is larger than it was. Thank heavens it's the slower time of year right now, is all I can say.
After lots of thinking and plotting and prioritizing and figuring, I've come up with the following plan:
1. I will continue to pursue options to get order fulfillment out of my studio. There are two local options I need to consider further, and I'm thinking out more out-of-state options, too.
2. I'm going to code in a customer service center. I've got several really helpful people who are able to help me give customers more immediate service, but things get clogged up in my email. Solution? Get it out of my email. I have several ideas about how this will work, and this is becoming something that needs to be a priority - way above the wishlist. That would be nice, but this is more critical.
3. I'm going to work on a commissions escrow service. Looking at the financial books, there is just no comparison in return versus work to helping artists secure individual commissions. The submitted descriptions service at Portrait Adoption is a step in this direction, but not enough of one. This system (details to follow) will allow for individual or corporate customers to commission and monitor private custom work, for items ranging from personal character portraits to big sets of publication illustrations. Unlike PA, this system will allow back-and-forth communication with several options (including filtered peer review), documentation of approvals, drafts and sketches, storage of high-res files and payment in advance options - where payment can be held in escrow; the number one complaint of every commissioner and commissionee is 'I didn't get paid' OR 'I didn't get what I paid for.' The service fee for this would be a flat 10%.
('What?!' you are probably thinking. 'Is Ellen completely off her rocker?! I thought she was looking to simplify her life! Why ANOTHER project?' And you'd be partly right. But this is, simply, a business decision. Little forays into this field paid me more for this kind of work than everything else put together last year. It would be stupid not to pay attention to that. And, it meets ALL my goals: Make money for artists. Make money for me. Make me happy. Not on a stupid-fast timeline - probably mid-2010 for a release on this. And note - basically no studio output required. Some coding 'capital' and then very limited customer service requirements at my end. Limited risk and no storage requirements.)
4. I refuse to feel guilty about Torn World. Torn World is my lovechild. I am allowed to spend time on my personal feel-good projects. I am allowed to write and do my own artwork. I do not have to burn myself into oblivion for the supposed good of the artistic community at the expense of myself. I will not feel bad for being indulgent in it.
There is more. It will have to come later...