ellenmillion: (Default)
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

But this still got lengthy, so have a cut! )

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!)!
ellenmillion: (Default)
With the 25th anniversary of my business galloping down on me, it may be time for a round of projects on the chopping block: https://ellenmillion.dreamwidth.org/tag/chopping+block

Can you believe it's been 8 years since I last did one?!

In other related things, I'm looking at my #junicorn progress (25 done!) and it is REMARKABLE how much they have improved since the first year I did them. This, and a bit of a recent ego shakeup, is making me ask hard questions about what I want to improve on, skills wise, and how, exactly, I'm actively working to do that. I am not anywhere CLOSE to where I want to be in several areas, and there are a lot of places I feel like I'm completely stagnating.

If you know me at all, you know how satisfied I am with that state of affairs. (Spoilers: NOT VERY.)

I will probably finish the hunky shifter series as part of my self-education, because I've historically slacked off on drawing men, and I feel like it is really good practice to make myself finish 20 of these. I feel like I've already expanded my repertoire nicely with just seven of them, but I've got more to learn. (Also, use the discount code BEEFCAKE33 for 33% off at Etsy.)

And next month, instead of doing #Zooly (rhymes with July), I think I will do a 30 portraits/30 days challenge, and request photos and references from my audience. Anything I don't sell can go up on PA because I'm Not Happy with my current offerings. (I'm seeing a theme.)

Girl Nest Door has topped 17500 and I'm having a heap of 'this sucks and the plot doesn't work and I am so laaaaame' feelings but I am still plugging away at just over 1000 words/day and if I get that and a LITTLE extra writing time in the next few days, it is possible (POSSIBLE) that I will finish this sucker this month. (Which is not bad, considering I STARTED it this month.)

Here, have some new artwork behind this cut:
Hunky shifters this way... )
ellenmillion: (Default)
Click each of the links for the full chopping block analysis of the project!


These are the projects that have clearly survived the cull. They are strong, active projects with loads of potential, a lot of creative energy, and inspiration. I will continue to work on these things, and invest my energy in them.

Artist Webpages
Torn World
Coloring Books
Sketch Fest
Portrait Adoption

In Danger

These projects are still under threat of axe... there are some flaws or limitations with them that I still need to address and either fix or declare broken beyond repair.

Printing Services
Fantastic Portfolios
EMG Forums

Chopped Up:

These are the projects that are gone completely, or on indefinite back-burner pending a miraculous change of technology or life. They are not feasible for one reason or another, no longer inspiring, or have lived and completed their life cycles. I may revisit them in the future... but not in the near future.

Custom Tarot/EMG Tarot
Convention Collective and Conventions in general
Fantasy Art Shop
EMG Anthologies

In further detail... )

I hope you enjoyed taking this chopping block tour of my projects with me - I know I gained a lot of excellent perspective from it, and I find it interesting that the projects fell out so evenly. I've had a lot of fun sharing the process with you, and your insight has been valuable and welcome. I am excited to see where 2011 takes us all...
ellenmillion: (Default)
Our last chopping block post (at least until I start another project... hahahahaha. Okay, that's not as funny as it sounded in my head...)!

I've built several of these now: for $500 you get a hosted site (unlimited space and bandwidth) built for you to manage artwork and writing. It's a little more focused for artist than your average wordpress build, and includes shopping cart tools that can all be safely and securely managed through the EMG backend. In some ways, this is a crowd-funded project, because with each site that I build, I not only supply the basic features (galleries, libraries, shopping tools and category management), I also add more features. For every new artist that signs up, each of the existing artists get the opportunity to have these upgrades added to their existing sites. Future upgrades will include: A centralized wholesale database, for those artists interested in selling wholesale. (A wholesale client signs up and is vetted with me, then has a directory of artists that they can shop with, with wholesale pricing and shopping access on their individual sites.) Detail images. Direct submission from their own site to EMG-Zine and Fantastic Portfolios, complete with an automatic link back to their page. Better search and browsing functions.

These take only the time that I'm getting paid for. The first several were not worth it to me in a strictly time for money sense, but I've gotten past that investment stage, and I've become comfortable with the flow of setting them up and interfacing with the clients. I will continue to do these as I am paid for them!

What does this require of me? Marketing. Too many people don't know about this service, and it's not well documented anywhere that I can send them when they have questions - the ones I've done have been directly word of mouth. I need to build a page, update the lilypad, and get the word out there, and also make it more intuitive for existing clients to get their upgrades, set up some karma rewards, and work out standardized payment plans for folks who find $500 too much to plunk down at once (which is understandable!).

I would love to have these keeping me busy over drafting and programming less interesting things - it feeds neatly into my desire to help artists and I really enjoy this kind of coding. The possibility of teaming with someone more interested in the design aspect of it is also intriguing to me, especially if I get busy with more of them.

And... with this entry, we come to the end of the chopping block series. I'll tackle the wrap-up of the process next, and go back and look at some of the issues I left outstanding. It's tremendously useful to have these all laid out and tagged like this! You can view all of them here: http://ellenmillion.livejournal.com/tag/chopping%20block and note that your comments have been very, VERY helpful in determining where outside interest lies. If you have any last minute input to add, make it soon - the executioner is sharpening the axe now! :)
ellenmillion: (trapped)
This project is a site for a build-your-own tarot deck. Artists would supply card designs - any number of them from one to an entire deck of their own. Customers could buy cards one at a time, or full decks, or just the major arcana. It would give people a chance to build a deck that really, really spoke to them.

I still really adore this idea, and would still like to see it happen, but there are several roadblocks keeping it from really taking off.

Three things... )


So, the biggest downfall of this idea is expense. An expensive startup cost, and expensive decks. It also relies on an outside source - which I am rather gunshy of doing.

Is it a cool and fascinating idea? Oh, yes. I still love it for that.

Is it practical for now? Not in the slightest.

This project retains its current status: not in the cards for now.
ellenmillion: (torn world)
I've been putting this chopping block post off - at first because I was looking forward to it so much, so I held it as my reward for finishing all the others. Then Val (one of our more active members!) died, and that turned the topic bittersweet: for a while there, I don't think I COULD have written it. It came together today as I got ready to do the Muse Fusion wrapup.

Torn World has been open for just shy of a year now, since January 1, 2010. In that time, we have posted 101 stories, 35 poems, and 87 pieces of artwork, plus dozens of world-building articles and characters. 25 contributors have provided this work. Our canon board consists of 7 people (with me), and we do careful editing on everything that is posted as canon, to ensure that it fits the world and continuity and is of sufficient quality. Several people have expressed so far that the process has really improved their writing, and we've had no real disasters of ego.

cut for length... )

Most critical to me, personally, I want to make it easier to jump into the project. Three people in exactly as many days have independently told me that they really want to get involved, but find it daunting. Not that they didn't have time, which I can appreciate (oh, YEAH), but that they weren't sure how, or they were actually too intimidated to.

I... can totally get that: the sheer amount of detail to wade through is epic. And I'm not entirely sure how to fix it, other than to insist that OMG, you guys - it is so worth that first step! The editing board is incredibly good, and you have to know that I wouldn't let them be mean, even if they are picky, and it's so helpful a process that I would like to submit my non-Torn World stories to them. We're really happy to help correct world/canon problems, so you don't need to worry too much about knowing EVERYTHING perfectly before you get started. It's useful to read the contributor's starting article, which spawns off to the most critical information. The forums, though far quieter now than when we started, are still a great place to say hello and bounce ideas around!

I wish I could promise more comments than we get - and I really need to step up and do my share there, but if you like cross-weaving stories, and having control of your own characters, and dancing at the edges of big, huge, world-bending plots, it's so incredibly rewarding and exciting. Our pace is somewhat slow - we don't maintain a strict x for x timeline so that it's marching along without us, and that sometimes means plot lags, but the opportunity to go in and fill in delicious plot holes with side trips and gems of character exploration is worth it. It's seriously like writing fanfiction for your own work - all the world-building structure is already there to play with, and there are so many wonderful, already-developed figures to bounce your own characters off of, plus as much collaborative back and forth as you want. You are welcome to play with the primary figures, too, and so many of them have ready-to-build stories in the history sections of their character sheets. Just add words! Or art!

And if you have other ideas about what would make getting involved easier, I am all ears! I would love any thoughts you might have about making the project accessible and enjoyable, as a reader or contributor.

Chopping block conclusion

Torn World is here to stay. I am still so, so excited about this project. I've had a rather difficult year, and even when this project went directions I didn't anticipate, or activity was down, or I was second-guessing my decisions and being a grumpy grouch because things felt too chaotic or I wanted things I couldn't understand or express, Torn World was a terrific comfort to me. It is thrilling to find a new submission in the queue, and watch the world unfold a tiny bit more with each new poem or piece of art. It's like watching a flower bloom - slow and gorgeous and amazing.

For Christmas? I'd like it if more of my wildly talented friends got involved. :) I want to share this with you!
ellenmillion: (ellen with wrench)
I'm not sure if the Convention Collective really deserves a chopping block post, because it was more like a one-shot deal, but it's worth a mention, since I'm being thorough, and I can throw in conventions in general.

The short version of the story is that a bunch of us - 22, to be exact - got together and pooled our assets to get EMG to ComicCon in 2008. We figured the split cost of 3 booths together, and airfare and hotel for me to go down and represent us. It was a good chunk of money, but divided between us, something we could manage. We faxed in our application within hours of the forms being posted on the ComicCon site - and received confirmation some months later that it had been received.

In December - FIVE months after that, after the hotel had been reserved and airline tickets purchased, they finally got around to telling me we were waitlisted. Oh? I prodded (and prodded and prodded) for information about where on the list we were, and how likely it was that we would get in. Almost 5 weeks and a dozen emails later, I finally got a reply: we were 88th on the waiting list.




I canceled my hotel, switched my plane tickets, and refunded everyone their initial payments. Total gain? Lost change fees and dozens of hours of work.

It was a great idea, and if we'd gotten in, it could have been an awesome opportunity. Someday in the far future, I might consider organizing something like this again, but for now... not interested in the amount of work, the economy sucks, and did I mention that it was a LOT of work?

Conventions in general have not been runaway successes. I went to DragonCon four years, and had a proxy booth for two others in the middle. Things I learned:

  • I do not sell as much if I am not there. By an order of magnitude (literally, x10!).
  • Hotels are expensive.
  • Conventions are expensive.
  • Conventions are a whole lotta work.
  • While the audience is larger, yes, and the sales are greater, yes, they are pretty much proportional with effort and investment.
  • Alaska is too far away from everything. Between shipping product and airfare, I effectively kill any benefits of being at the convention. With the recent increases in costs of both, and the costs of checking luggage, this is not something that is getting better, either.

    I always felt like I could have done it better, if I'd had more time and budget, and made a better showing, but after a while, you have to question how much you can put into any four day event. Since I don't really have a merchandise end of the business like I used to, there's a limit to how much being at a convention would help me in the future, anyway.

    Conventions, you are out of here!

    See the Chopping Block Master Overview here: http://ellenmillion.livejournal.com/1143338.html
  • ellenmillion: (ellen with wrench)
    Once I had finally found a good system for high quality prints, I wanted to share this ability with artists everywhere. At that point, on-line printing options were non-existent. As I expanded the gift shop, I offered these products to artists directly, with their own artwork. I envisioned a Cafepress/Zazzle storefront option long before those sites were ideas in their creators brains.

    First, I was going to build my own - I used that same greymatter blogging engine that powered Portrait Adoption and EMG for so long, and laboriously built a few beta-test sites. They... were extensive to build and maintain - far too involved to do for free, and it hadn't occurred to me then to charge for them. When Portrait Adoption and the giftshop were moved to php, I hired a programmer to build me a site that would let an artist upload their artwork, have me approve print files, and offer them little custom-made shopping pages that would order from me and let me pay the artists anything above the base pricing. The programmer worked fast and did a fine job (I hired a number of programmers about that time...), but... the flow of the site was clunky. I still had to do a lot, there were some bugs (normal in beta testing), and my profit margin was minuscule. I let it run for a while, with a handful of beta testers, and sold one print. "This," I said to myself, "is not a good plan."

    I let those beta testers keep their sites until the domain expired, some three years later, but never took the project further, and of course, just last year, I pulled the plug on every product but prints.

    I do still provide prints for a select dozen or so people. My prints are - and I'm not exaggerating - without compare. They are high quality, with a fast turnaround, and exceptionally carefully done. They are not nearly as cheap as other printing services, because I use only the highest quality papers and inks, and I've learned many (expensive) lessons about how to price so I don't screw myself. I do prints for a few locals, a few not-so locals, and a few big names - people who already know how to provide good quality print files, are good to work with and have, over the years, done good consistent business with me. Most of them don't order huge quantities at once, but they are, generally, steady.

    I don't make a ton with these services, but they do keep my printers in action (which is important - you don't want printers of this type sitting around getting clogs!), and they pay for themselves.

    Ironically, I've completely automated this service through the lilypad (the EMG backend) in terms of uploading, managing and ordering prints, but none of my regulars use it... preferring to keep using ftp and email. Go figure! At least they know what they're doing and asking for, so it doesn't waste too much of my time.

    I see no real reason to stop providing existing clients my print services, but I'm not terribly interested in offering them generally. Possibly in the future, this service (and maybe a related Limited Edition service that uses certificates like PA does) will become publicly available. But for now? Nah. Not that I hate doing prints, but there isn't enough reward to go through the learning curve that comes with new clients. This is off my radar entirely right now.
    ellenmillion: (ellen with wrench)
    Commission-Control is a place for artists and clients to connect, and manage their commissions. This one is a natural expansion of the Portrait Adoption project, but less 'already finished.' With Portrait Adoption, there is no appreciable risk. The client is buying something that has already been completed, with an option to change things, but not to start from scratch, and involves no tools for interactive in-stream modification. I wanted to keep it that way, because the premise of Portrait Adoption is that you buy what you see, you get what you buy, and you're done. Simple, streamlined and there's no pressure on me to make sure that my artists deliver what they've promised. From the very beginning, that was a big part of what I wanted at PA.

    But there is a community need for a way to handle commissions that, by their nature, require interaction and modification. The customization option didn't easily allow for sketch approval, for example. Changing eye colors is one thing, but commissioning a portrait or illustration from scratch when the client has a picture in their head is a very particular process - one that doesn't fit neatly within the established PA site.

    So, following some brainstorming at the forums, the Commission-Control project began to take form:

    Project Details )


    This is a fantastic idea. There's a necessary place for it in the art world. I want to make this happen.

    I am, however, not going to make it happen out of the goodness of my heart - I am all dried up on general charity, and I know from experience that building a service like this is time-consuming like nobody's business, even though it will require very little to keep it going once it's in motion. I need to spend that development time working to pay my bills.

    I'm on a serious hunt for paid coding work... and this project requires said coding work. I want this project to happen. So, maybe I can do both with this.

    Taking a page from the Sketch Fest site, I am going to crowdfund this project. You can see from the above link that the domain is reserved, a basic site with login and registration has been started. It will take about $450 worth of work to finish getting the very basics in place: login, registration, small, unmoderated artist galleries, project entry, contract upload (but no template - you provide your own), basic communication (logged at the site and emailed), and private project artwork posting, with approval tracking. Another $250 would get all the payment tools in place, including tracking off-site payments and managing the escrow system. Another $200 would put the contract template service in place. Deadlines and alerts are a little tricky... probably $200 there, too, but more info once I get further into the guts. Another $50 gets you gallery search tools. Peer reviews and other improvements I can't even foresee at this point will be available in the future (options to commission writing as well as artwork? print services? advertising?). (And let me note that as someone who has in the past been a client buying webpages from other people, this is about half price for a project of this magnitude.)

    Paypal's limitation on refunds is 60 days. If you donate to the project and we don't hit the $450 cap to get it up and running by February 1, your donation will be fully refunded. Anyone who donates $5 or more will receive supporter benefits throughout beta testing and for one full year after the site is out of beta testing. Anyone who donates $20 or more will receive supporter benefits for life. Work starts immediately once we've made the $450 threshold.

    Make Commission-Control happen!

    Don't have money? You may use EMG credits! Remember that EMG-Zine articles, fiction and poetry pay in credits - submit work to support this project! Spreading the word helps, too! :)

    $367.50 / $450 to Commission-Control. 82% done!
    ellenmillion: (bzzz...)
    I've been doing at least one calendar a year since 2006, and most years, I'd do three calendars: one for Ursula, one as a group project, and one for a featured fantasy artist.

    History... )

    So, this is another easy, easy choice: no more calendars this way. I did enjoy making the calendars, and they're another item that's easy to ship with priority flat rate. But I'm not doing the invest-in-boxes thing anymore. If I do them again, it will be by pre-order, only, and I won't even bother laying out the files until I reach a certain minimum of paid commitment.

    If this ever happens - and that's an IF - it won't be immediately. Consider this one shelved.
    ellenmillion: (Default)
    I've been making coloring books since... hmm... 1997? Maybe 1996? I currently have 10 titles available.

    History )

    The coloring books have two major hurdles: getting submissions and printing them.

    Printing was very expensive when I did it locally, so I went online, and found folks who could do it cheaper. I tried Comixpress, first, and found that they did fine for the first few jobs I ran through them - then started sending things out later than they said, and then they fell flat on their faces promising coloring books in time for a show, then failing not only to meet that deadline, but to deliver the books at all, despite repeated emails. It took opening a paypal dispute with them to get them to sit up and send me my coloring books (with many apologies and a genuine-seeming confusion about how the order and my emails got overlooked). I started shopping for a new printer, and settled on Ka-Blam. They are slooooow, but their prices are competitive, they have always made the date that promised to, and their quality is consistent. Also, they are willing to ship priority flat rate mail, which is a make-or-break deal with suppliers for me, what with living in Alaska.

    For now, I have printing figured out. It is not super-fast, but it is reasonably cheap, and reliable.

    Submissions. Ah, submissions.

    Now, again, this is probably a lot of my own fault. I have not had the energy or focus to maintain any nagging in the last few months, so the Arabian Nights coloring book (did you remember I was trying to collect work for one of those?) has been languishing. Seriously. 2 entries so far. 2 entries do not a coloring book make. The deadline was supposed to be the end of this month.

    This happened with Steam Dreaming when I had more energy and nagged more regularly, too - I think I delayed that sucker 2 full years before collecting enough work to put it out.

    It's nice being an artist of my own, honestly, because I can fill in gaps, but a coloring book that is 16 pages of my work and 4 pages of other artists is not balanced, and I won't print it. At that point, I might as well put out something of only my work!

    I'd like to keep doing these coloring books. The production end of them is relatively minor, I love the products, and they are relatively easy to stock and ship. (Horrah for flat rate priority envelopes!) I can afford to sell them wholesale, and they are steady sales. It's nice having a solid backlist, and they don't take up much space or break the bank to ship to me.

    The biggest problem to solve, is getting the work.

    I have a wildly talented pool of artists, and if I can keep them focused, we can keep making kick-ass coloring books. Prove me right, guys...
    ellenmillion: (Default)
    I built (okay, paid to have built!) Fantastic Portfolios because I really, really wanted a site like it. It's a place to get honest, thorough critique, from a panel of judges who are professional about the process, who don't know who you are (within reason), in a setting where critique is pretty much the sole purpose. It can be really hard to critique others in a public forum where you know each other, and you know that what you're saying is colored by who you both are. I've seen friendships lost over honest critiques, and sometimes it's hard to say 'this part needs work' to a friend.

    More, I want goals. A benchmark to strive for, that will feel rewarding, and be honored, and to know it's not just arbitrary nor based on a single person, nor easy.

    Fantastic Portfolios really offers that. The site is a wonder, and it's got some seriously awesome features that aren't really used.

    Some of them, I'm glad aren't used: we have had, since we launched in 2007, ZERO complaints on comments and critiques. Zero. I went in and tested the system a few times to make sure it was working, and no one has ever complained about a critique.

    They have cried, don't get me wrong. Our brand of tough love is not for the weak of spirit and unwilling to learn. I have seen and received wails of hurt and witnessed despondency and vows to never do art again. Some of them walked away, deleted their portfolios and never came back. But that's not the majority of the response - whether they fail or not (and to be fair, most do fail. See above about not being easy!), and what's more encouraging yet, those people who do react this way come back more than not. A few months down the road - even as much as a year - they go back to that advice and say, hey, there's some validity there, and they tackle the problems that were pointed out and improve. There is nothing as delightful as watching the fourth submission of a portfolio pass, and recognize that it deserves it.

    We're hard, but we're fair, and I've made a big point with the critics that they find something nice to say, and point out strengths. We're here to help and inspire, not tear down, and the critics I've selected and trained are top notch at what they do, gifted not only at knowing what's wrong, but also how to say it kindly and how to give pats when appropriate. I cannot praise them highly enough in this aspect.

    So, yes. I love this project, and feel like it's working well enough at what it's doing. What it's not doing... is much. We've got the ability to take and make tours at the site, which is a groovy feature... but no one will make them! I think the last one was made in 2008, and we've had nearly 300 pieces of gorgeous artwork added since then! Pictures languish without comments. It takes a month or three to get a piece through the queue. Maybe three people have subscribed as a paying member since our initial drive.

    Again, I'm willing to accept my role in not pushing this as much as I should. I sometimes expect to set up projects and let them just drive themselves. Sometimes that works (Sketch Fest), but mostly, that leads to fizzle, and I should be grateful this project has remained as strong as it has: work still gets critiqued, and WELL, and people are still submitting (and sometimes re-submitting and re-submitting) their portfolios. Image quality remains high, but the goals seem attainable.

    There's a lot of potential here... and I also feel like there's a better way to set up the financial end of it, but I'm not sure what that is. Right now, I'm several hundred out from paying for what I've laid out on the site, which doesn't particularly bother me. I would really, REALLY like to see critics get paid for their work, and think they truly deserve that. Perhaps a donation option - some folks might like to thank the critics after they've received their critiques (and had time to nurse their wounds and then come back... :P) I'm not sure what the answer is here, but I have a few vague ideas. I have some pie-in-the-sky ideas of being able to tie this all in with EMG credits and let people tip $1 at a time (or maybe even less!) for helpful critiques in a way that doesn't feed Paypal a lions share of the money. I also know that I need to improve the system for getting and keeping new critics, because burnout can be a problem. Being able to tangibly reward said critics would probably help.

    I'm not entirely sure what to do with this monster yet, but it's not in line for immediate axing. It takes little of my time to maintain at status quo; a few nags usually get the critics to work, and I have help on the coding end of things here. I like being one of the critic team, usually, and have no objections to the nearly insignificant amounts of time the management currently takes. While I'd like to see it rise to the next level, I haven't decided if it's worth the time it would take to get it there. I am content to let it live for now, and consider it for more attention in the future.

    I would also, honestly, be content to see someone else take up the reins of this project. Maybe what it needs is someone else with fresh vision to drive it further? I dunno - that's something I haven't really offered as an option with some of these projects, but I'm not completely adverse to the idea...
    ellenmillion: (Are You Sure?)
    This is a tough one, but I'm not being sparing with the axe here.

    This portion of EMG, the original source of the name "Ellen Million Graphics", later the "Giftshop" and finally the "Fantasy Art Shop," was the first bit that came about, though it's changed significantly, particularly in the last year or so. It's the part with the most baggage, the most history and probably the most visibility. I'll spare you the long version of the history, as it goes back more than 17 years, but start with last year, when I threw up my hands and closed down the bulk of the merchandise site. I had a lot of reasons for doing that - a lot of really good, solid, common sense reasons that I can't find flaws with, and I don't really regret that choice. I look at other people doing shows and selling things, and mostly I feel one big sense of relief that I don't have that on my plate any longer.

    But, unwilling to leave my artists entirely in a bind, and with a desire to continue to fill the fantasy art needs of my customers, I tried something a little different, and built a place where artists could list their own work for sale, including at outside sites. I set up some affiliate services, and coded in a completely new submission system, and... it was a flop.

    Some of this was me, I will not shirk that part. I didn't get the site up to my own personal quality standards, so burnt out this year on the project (and personal health problems) that I could barely stand to look at the code. After I was hacked, I put in the security settings that were necessary, but otherwise pretty much shunted it aside and didn't pay it much attention - I had no motivation to continue improving it, and no real support with the content: artists didn't really leap forward to put up their work. I sent out nag after nag after note, and a few - maybe 5% of my original artist pool - came forward and put up a few pieces. In words, there seemed to be good solid interest in the project, but in actual use, not so much. And I didn't push it very hard, after a while, just poked at it once in a while, updated the news once or twice and then did nothing in my big fat 'do nothing' November. (Do nothing except write a novel, that is...)

    I look at the site with loathing. It never lived up to its potential, never turned out quite the way I wanted it to, and when I think about the sheer work it would take to get it up to steam, it's pretty overwhelming. And at what reward? I haven't made a single dime off the affiliate end of it, and it's one of those black holes for time and maintenance. I could toy with a new business model for it, maybe charge people to post to it... but who would I be kidding? People aren't posting their work now, when it's free. Charge for advertising? Unlikely and against my general nature.

    Nothing stands between this site and the executioner. The remaining stock of oracle decks will go on clearance tomorrow. The bulk of the site will be shut down at the end of the month.

    Please note: The coloring books are a separate topic and will be addressed independently in another chopping block post. Stay tuned!
    ellenmillion: (Are You Sure?)
    Sketch Fest is so brand spanking new that it's still got parts of the packaging on it.

    It grew out of the Torn World Muse Fusions. Those events were so inspirational, so fun and full of creative energy, that I wanted to broaden them. I was also trying out the EMG livejournal account, to see if it was a viable option for replacing the flagging forums (verdict: no), and since the Muse Fusions were a big part of the Torn World livejournal, I decided to give a general EMG artist Muse Fusion a shot.

    The rules... were fairly arbitrarily decided. One of the joys of Muse Fusion is that you aimed to accomplish a LOT in a short period of time, and I personally found that making myself set something aside after a certain amount of time kept me working forward, instead of just spinning my wheels. Okay, so let's cap the time: 1 hour seems like enough time to polish a simple sketch a bit, and still keep some of the looseness I'm aiming for. Besides which, it's a REALLY easy number. Other than that, and the concept of working from the prompts provided? Anything goes!

    It was hosted at the livejournal in March. 19 artists participated, and 75 sketches were posted. It was quite chaotic in that platform, and very hard to follow and standardize what was posted. I encouraged people to use crowdfunding methods to support their own work, and several people did. Being me, I could see a lot of ways to improve the system, and asked for donations to build some tools to help us - I was trying to make an actual go of being a programmer, and was getting more comfortable asking for help on projects that were fun, and less guilty about trying to stay afloat financially while still trying to help artists (she CAN be taught!). And people stepped up! I got enough donations after the first run to build us a simple image uploading script that would allow people to show off their pieces for the second one.

    The second Sketch Fest was in May, not April, because I ended up having organ removal surgery at the end of the April, and that sort of upended my life.

    For each successive Sketch Fest, we gathered more artists, produced more sketches, and donations continued to come steadily enough that I was actually paid a decent rate (if not my usual full rate!) to build a site and feel like the time I spent setting the events up and hosting them was actually being rewarded. This is a first for me - usually I'm the one dumping money at a project and sort of wistfully hoping that it pays off at some point. This time, I thought a little ahead, and even built in some opportunities at the webpage for artists to help out by donating their sketches for people to buy to support the site.

    I gotta say, I like this model better. I feel encouraged - even inspired! - to continue to make improvements, and keep things going. I feel like making time to participate pays off in both community interaction and personal skills, and my motivation is easy to justify - I can pay my bills* with it, it's not just a feel-good opportunity to fill my personal creative well and gather good karma. It's also a very clear and powerful way for artists to express to me where they find it important for me to spend my time, and I appreciate that clarity. Is it selfish and capitalistic of me to be so pleased by this? Possibly. Or possibly, it's just realistic.


    Sketch Fest is made of win. I have gotten the site to the point of almost automatic (I actually hope to automate some of the last few features today and test them this fest), and will continue to make improvements and add features as long as people continue to support it. I'm aiming for about once a month, but January will get two.

    Our next Sketch Fest is this Friday and Saturday! It runs noon to noon Alaska time, and you can participate as much or as little as you like!

    Please note that I am going to time out the availability of old sketches for sale at the site, because I am concerned that they are going to get lost - or finished! - and artists will forget to update their status. In the future, work will only be available until the next sketch fest is started. Get these rare and amazing pieces while you can! See ALL the sketches available here (big download!) - the pieces with heavy borders are available for purchase... but won't be after Friday!

    *Maybe not the mortgage or anything, but phone and Internet, and that's important!
    ellenmillion: (Default)
    At one point, the EMG forums were hopping. They've never been the kind of zooming social platform that some forums achieve, with dozens of posts a minute, and I've always been honestly happy with that, because I'm not the kind of person who has time to hang out moderating a forum all day every day. We had a good, solid community where we could exchange lots of heartfelt market and business advice, get a reliable artistic critique by several people within a few hours, rant about a bad client, or share something silly. There were always a handful of interesting posts to read each day, and projects to discuss and brainstorm on. EMG-Zine took most of its form there, as did Fantastic Portfolios. Most of the sites got their feedback and took their final form through user discussion on those forums, with lively and thoughtful input from our users - almost exclusively member artists.

    We've always been blessedly, blessedly free of drama. I blame this on the fact that I have always been the most active participant (or close to it), and I have always been a fan of common courtesy. I've been clear that I wouldn't tolerate meanness, and set a general example of friendly but firm, trying to offer thoughtful counterpoint to opinions, act encouragingly and fairly to all the members. (Also, I wrote the paychecks. That might have played a role...) I've had to have private words with... maybe one artist, ever. The only threads I've censored have been spam.

    Ah... spam.

    Spam joins were a big bother for a while there. At one point, there were hundreds joining every day. I kept 'em out, and Tiziano helped me kill them, before the forums were upgraded to the point where we could keep them from joining effectively. Even if they don't make it through to leave their spammy little links on the boards, it was still a bit of a buzzkill. We got hacked once, too.

    Largely, those problems are behind us, I hope.

    But wow, has it slowed down. It used to be that a new member was greeted by between four and a dozen people. Now? I say hello when I think to check the boards, three days later. Or a week.

    There is a TON of great material on the boards, but it's largely static, now. I keep it updated - I updated it just tonight, actually - because I have learned my spam and hacker lessons quite thoroughly (don't leave out of date software on the web, boys and girls!), but rarely remember to post anything there anymore.

    Does anyone USE forums anymore? Is this worth trying to blow the dust off of? I would love to see the critique boards active again, and if other folks were to meet me in the effort, I'd love to post WIPs for review again, and chat about businessy topics and see how you are. Has Facebook and Twitter and Livejournal replaced this role too thoroughly, or would you stop in if it was active again?

    I'm... not sure what to do here yet. You, gentle readers, may act as jury in this matter, because it's not something I COULD single-handedly revive.
    ellenmillion: (let down hair)
    Portrait Adoption is arguably the best idea I've ever had. Of all the aspects of EMG, it has been the most lively, the most profitable for all involved, and is the most unique. It also requires very little of my time to maintain - finally.

    History of PA )
    Overall Feelings about the Project

    I love this project. I am still quite proud of the concept, and feel like the site has (finally!) gotten close to the vision I had - even exceeded it in places! It hasn't been a runaway success, and there is some emotional abandonment baggage that has been sort of eating away at my brain. Most Internet-only businesses could not survive 18 months+ of crippled website - that's almost 1/3 of the time the project has been up! This one has survived, and that says a lot. It continues to give a handful of active artists good pocket money, and even pays some major bills for a few of them.

    Cold Hard Cash and Time Evaluation

    This project asks very little of me, anymore. I have to check once a day to approve any new work, which can be done with two clicks, and approve adoptions when payment is received (another two clicks) and print the portrait (for standard adoptions) and pay the artist (easily managed through the lilypad, now). I can program All By Myself, now, if I want to add improvements, but it doesn't **require** any, and I've been able to fix any problems that come up with relative ease.

    I set up the payment structure thoughtfully from the very beginning, and it's fair - I don't make a ton on artwork that's not my own, but I DO make enough to make my time investment worthwhile, and I also have the opportunity to sell my own work as one of the artists - which is very worthwhile indeed.


    Oh, don't think that improvements couldn't be made - there are several that I'd love to pursue: the ability to share wishlists, and to show wishlist counts, more peer review interactivity, more forum activity for artists (which is more a personal activity push than a coding investment), and the avatar adoption option that is already half-built. I have been toying since the very, very beginning with the idea of approaching established gaming platforms for licensing rights to legitimately offer things like WOW portraits and Star Wars specific races and creatures (and enter partnerships with those platforms for more exposure), and the very basic framework for making that happen is actually in place, should I have the guts to actively try.

    But none of these improvements are necessary for its current forward motion, which is very nice indeed.

    Final Thoughts

    Portrait Adoption is safe from the executioner today. It is worth ramping up again, even - it's time to let go of my frustration and baggage and actively pursue this in earnest. The momentum we had at the beginning was tremendous and encouraging, and the whole concept has serious merit. There is so much potential in this project it's somewhat staggering, and I've under-utilized it because I've been so afraid of further platform failure. It's time to let go of the negative here and let this project reach the heights that it can.
    ellenmillion: (Default)
    Although this topic is tied up together with EMG-Zine, it's a rather separate endeavor, and has very distinct pluses, minuses, problems and solutions.

    On to the anthologies... )

    I have to admit, I am baffled by this one, as well as understandably crushed. I poured a lot of my time and passion into these books. My return? Thousands of dollars in tied-up capital, frustration and bafflement. It has caused a personal cascade failure of self-doubt and discouragement.

    On the plus side? This is a very easy decision that does not require any further thought or action: the line of anthologies is hereby canceled. There will be no volume 4!

    *dusts off hands*

    That one was easy, at least, if not painless.
    ellenmillion: (emgzine)
    Today, we are starting with EMG-Zine

    It got long... )

    Final thoughts:

    EMG-Zine is definitely safe until the end of 2011. After that? Well, today is laying out the facts for this project. Every day this week, I'll do another. When I get to the end, I will decide what stays and what goes, and make an overall gameplan.

    I am still enthused about EMG-Zine. I feel good about what we've accomplished. I think there's still a lot of material out there to share. But at its current reward to cost ratio, it's not sustainable. I can see where I need to make improvements. Are they worth making? Will they do the job?

    I'm still thinking.

    And, in other news, I've got a stack of orders to mail, and plan to catch up on emails this afternoon unless I get some paying work in the door. Which I really sort of need! *merp!*

    I'm still writing... I have about ten more scenes all outlined ahead of me, which I think will get me to my wordcount goal and then, the book will be DONE. Well, not really, because there are a LOT of holes to go back and fill, but I think it counts as a first draft.

    40351 / 50000 words. 81% done!

    April 2019

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