Lu Guang, my super supportive bf, was a big help during the con.
Hello my dear Shadowlings,
Wow! I cannot believe how much fun OryCon was!
First, let me extend a warm welcome to the nine new people who have joined us all here in the Shadows this week!! Everyone's handwriting on my sign up sheet was pretty easily parsed, I think, so hopefully I spelled everything right. I hope you love it here.
It was my first-ever con as a vendor, and only my second con that I've been to before, and I only went because one of the audiobook narrators for Overwhelm, Matt Haynes, suggested we do a panel together. (Which was super fun!!) The con was comparatively slow according to everyone I talked to, but that was honestly nice for me as a beginner. The crowds were never too thick that I couldn't step out to take a break (since, other than the day I brought my daki pillow, I was alone at my booth), and I had a chance to have long, interesting conversations with lots of people without any pressure to service a line. And whether those conversations were me talking about my books, or me hearing about someone else's costume or the books they enjoy or what have you, I found the whole thing very uplifting!
This was the first time I officially put "any pronouns" on something rather than he/him, too, which was nice.
Those of you who have been following me for a while know that I have been really frustrated with social media, and with trying to figure out how to advertise in a way that feels authentic and boundaried. I've been stuck on this for the whole time I've been working on trying to make my creative work into my business. Marketing is all about knowing your target audience, and knowing where to reach them. My largest target demographic is 18-35 queers, and boy do I know that social media would be an effective way to connect with them (esp Tumblr and TikTok), so I've been pretty torn about this for a while now. This weekend, getting to see so many of y'all wonderful gays (and everyone else, too) in person, was a revelation; I realized there are non-Internet marketing options. And maybe it's weird that I'm only realizing that now, but as a millennial who grew up online, sometimes it's easy to forget that the Internet isn't the only option for these things.
Last year, I ragequit IG after spending half a year trying to do the algorithm thing, maintain a post schedule, etc. I came back this year to use the ads again, though I've totally stopped with those since they haven't really been worth the money. I've been thinking of deleting it again because it just makes me feel gross to even participate at all in this nasty platform where I pay Zuck to clue me in on the data he's harvested on you, the platform customer, so that you might give me your money. I haven't had personal accounts in years that I used because, well... when I'm on IG/Twitter/whatever platform and I'm not spending any money to be there, that's because my attention is the product being sold. (If I ever get back to my cyberpunk novel, Nocturne, this kind of attention-economy shit is very much so the focus.)
This whole time, I've had this sense that all the energy I was putting into social media was a waste of time, but I've been on the fence because I really didn't have an alternative. And, being real, social media isn't an effective advertising strategy for me: I won't do the algorithm thing, so it's largely worthless to get me in front of new customers unless I pay for ads, and the ads are so expensive and they make me feel so guilty for the aforementioned reasons to use that I just... I want nothing to do with it.
I was very pleased with my booth! I wanted it covered in stuff to look at, and people kept coming up because of the eyeball flower vine around the edge.
Well, this weekend was such a fucking balm to all these feelings because having a booth at OryCon was an absolute delight! It was so simple, too: instead of spending all this time worrying about doing social media "right", which is an endless energy sink that makes me feel very alone, I just got to fucking talk to people.
And I had great conversations all weekend! Being at OryCon, getting to talk about racism and capitalism and colonialism and antisemitism and queer rights and all of these sorts of things face-to-face with people, felt connective in a way that very few online interactions ever have for me. I've been feeling quite isolated recently, as I'm sure many of you have been too, and when I feel isolated I forget that activism is about being honest and authentic and going deep within myself into the ways I perpetuate systems of hate from my own subconscious muck. And from that place, a place that is less clouded by the fear of being scolded for not doing activism "right," I feel like I can actually do some good in this fricked-up world.
So I'm feeling good after this. I'm still keeping my IG for now since, irritatingly, it's a good entry point into my marketing funnel, but I'm just going to continue using it as I have been to share when I write a new email in the hopes that those who follow it will eventually join this list as well.
Cute stuff! Few to no curses!
Now you can buy stickers and signed books direct from me. ♡
Being at the con was also a really interesting experience for me as a relatively new creative professional. This was one of a few opportunities I've had recently to network with other professional art people, and I came into it hoping to learn a lot from those with more experience! And I definitely learned a lot about good booth setups, and how to talk to customers, and lots of other little tidbits about how to be effective at a con. But it also strengthened a feeling I had already been having for a while which is that there is a severe lack of business and marketing knowledge among creative professionals!
And to be clear, I hardly consider myself an expert in these things. In fact, I've been sort of gaslighting myself out of this feeling recently because I know how little experience I have! Like, my qualifications are, I've gone on YouTube and searched for "how to make a business plan." But I'm starting to accept that, perhaps, I'm somewhat of an anomaly in this space. I'm a creative, obviously, but I don't give myself much credit for the fact that I used to be a pretty fucking good software engineer, too, and that I'm pretty good at visualizing and implementing efficient systems. (I used to work on the Linux kernel and on bare-metal firmware for robots.) I love me a spreadsheet, and the pleasure of building a business that enables me to alchemize my creative work directly into the money I need to live is just... damn. It's so fucking satisfying.
The con was a slow one, like I said, and a lot of the folks around me were really frustrated because their sales were not awesome. And that fucking sucks! A lot of people didn't even make enough to cover their table fee, and a lot of people left before the end of the con as a result. But I found myself kind of surprised in talking to people who had been doing this much longer than I have been because it seemed like most people's business planning with respect to the con didn't extend past (revenue) - (table fee) = (success/failure).
And, ya know, we're all here in capitalism doing what we can do make our nut, so I can't really blame anyone for having this kind of view. It just... well, it left me wanting to share more about how I'm thinking of my business, not just as isolated, individual events where I do or don't make a profit, but as a larger thing. Because even if my sales hadn't covered my table this weekend, the opportunity to genuinely connect with you lovely people was absolutely worth the table fee. I think the fact that I felt satisfied with my presence at the con despite low sales also left me in a friendly emotional state which probably directly contributed to the good sales I had later in the event! Most of my sales happened at the end of the last day, and if I'd been too pissed by the low attendance to stick around all weekend, I would have missed a huge percentage of the money I made.
Unrelated; I did lots of doodles this weekend, so here's one. There's just something about a tsundere char watching his immortal god bf suffer torture and death over and over that is, like, intolerably romantic.
So... lots of thoughts. I don't want to be, nor do I think I am qualified to be, someone who teaches you how to do business right. (Like, for example, this lady on YT has so many useful videos and was the source of a lot of my initial learning on this topic.) I'm still learning, too. But after this con, I started to take the work I've done so far on business planning a little more seriously, and I am feeling more confident that it might be valuable to share with others as well, despite my relative newness to the space.
I've managed to put together a business that I love running, that I have a clear understanding of, that I honestly feel will be profitable even as early as next year, and that will definitely be able to pay me a living wage if I keep growing it over the next few years. The knowledge of my business as a larger system, and how the con was both a sales event AND a marketing opportunity, left me feeling I'd already made my money's worth after the first daywhen I'd only had $25 in sales because the remaining $55 of the table fee I'd paid felt had been more than returned to me in the advertising I'd gotten to do for myself. (Especially because getting to talk to someone face-to-face, and then having them sign up for this email list, is a heck of a lot stronger of a connection to a possible reader than a random person finding my profile on IG, to whom I am just a faceless feed of posts.)
In fact, doing this con and realizing that cons in general are waaay better advertising to me than anything else I'd been doing yet (both in terms of pure financial value and personal enjoyment) felt like the missing piece from my business plan that left me feeling totally confident that I can make this business precisely the way I like without having to rely on things that I loathe that drain all the energy out of me, like social media.
Coming into building a business, I had a lot of misconceptions. I felt like there was one "right way" to do it, and that my personal enjoyment didn't matter. Of course this is a lie--why the fuck should I run a business I hate running and destroy my love of my own creative process? I'd rather just make art for myself if that were my only option. I also felt like the only way to be financially successful was to get lucky--to go viral, to get promo from someone else famous, or to otherwise "make it big." But this is a lie, too. It's a more compelling one for a lot of reasons, especially since people do get big unexpectedly, and it does sometimes lead to a successful career. But often it doesn't! Going viral is no guarantee of success--if you can't turn that fifteen minutes in the spotlight into an ongoing relationship with at least some of those viewers, it hardly means anything once you sink beneath the surface of the algorithm into obscurity again.
So, with all that in mind, I'd like to share my business plan for this coming year. It's simple, and this is more of an overview than anything. (The full plan is a spreadsheet I'll fill in with actual numbers, and I'll be sharing that in the future too.) But this encapsulates a lot of the machinery of my business at the most basic level.
Pink items are already part of my 2023 business operations, and yellow items will be new things I'm adding or focusing on more heavily in 2024.
In sharing this, I don't intend to imply your business should look like this. For example, you might love social media, and it might be really good option for marketing in your own business. Instead, I would love to encourage other creative professionals to think about their own versions of these lists. What are the products you sell? Where do you sell them? Who do you sell them to, and what marketing strategies do you use to connect with and develop an ongoing relationship with those customers? There are as many answers to these questions as there are people running businesses! This is only the beginning of what planning a business looks like, but I found that as I started to try to answer these questions, they opened my mind up to the whole of what my business is.
Tying this all back to the con, I feel like the thing that made this sparsely-attended event still feel like a major business success for me was that it wasn't only a platform for sales. Tons of people who didn't buy anything took business cards, or opted in to stay in touch via IG or this list, and that meant that there wasn't much pressure for me to try to be a salesman. Instead, I could focus on communicating authentically about what I'm making, and what I'm passionate about, and let people decide if they want to hear more. And my email list (and, sigh, my Instagram feed) serves as a place to capture those initial customer relationships and continue to cultivate them rather than them ending as soon as the person walks away.
So, as always, thanks to all who joined this weekend, and at all points in the past!! In the end, it is your willingness to hear more about what I'm up to that makes me feel so happy with how things went.
And even though, yes, this is my marketing list, I feel like talking about all of this also helps push back on some of my feelings of exploitation and manipulation in advertising. After all, I am looking to develop a relationship with my readers. Yes, I want your money, and yes, I want your attention, but I want to give you something that's at least as valuable in return. Creating a business that feels genuine to run rather than exploitative or dehumanizing (which is how I feel interacting online vs. in person) gives me confidence that I can create a business that I love to run, and that my readers love that I am running it, as well.
What do you think?
You can reply directly to this email with thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, fears, and prophecies, fulfilled or otherwise.
Okay that's all I have for now! Time to get back to writing about my gay boys. (I wrote a bunch of smutty stuff last week, so there's good stuff coming soon..........) See ya next week!
PO Box 86102, Portland United States of America
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