This idea came to me over the weekend, and it terrified me so much, I knew I had to do it right away or I would lose my nerve. When my instincts pipe up, I listen. And my instincts had lots to say, so be forewarned.
I’ve been thinking about how much I love this blog. Out of the many, many meanderings I’ve taken career-wise — even though relentlessly writing about myself and sharing the things I concoct may not technically be considered a true vocation — it’s what feels most right for me, what brightens my days and keeps me motivated. Creating the content, building a community, improving existing skills and learning new ones. It’s incomparable. I’m convinced it’s a huge reason I became healthy again. Similarly, illustrating and writing books is something I believe I was meant to do. Sewing and photography have been like discovering two children I didn’t know I had. I am surprised by their appearance, it’s still a little awkward, but now I can’t imagine my days without them.
Almost three years ago, I made a pact with M. It was obvious how much I was enjoying this eclectic mix of “hobbies”, and he kept asking me to monetize the blog with ads, sponsors, offering up my services, etc. etc. We are not independently wealthy and his job situation is extremely sporadic as well. His suggestions made me bristle, so we made an agreement that until the end of 2015, I could spend time building my blog and pursuing ways to make a living doing what I love. My way. No ads, no sponsorship for the sake of dollars, no weird SEO or backlinking shenanigans. I don’t have anything against them theoretically, but I don’t like the way the ads look, I’ve only had sponsorship offers from tissue and nail polish companies and I can’t write naturally when thinking about SEO. I was game to offer my services, but then I got stuck on the question, “What kind of services?” At any rate, I wanted to focus on the blog and explore everything that genuinely interested me. I would operate on consistency, quality and trust, I pounded my chest and declared self-righteously. But the crux of the pact was this: If, by the end of 2015, I wasn’t earning a certain amount, I would go find a “real job”. Shortly after we shook on it, I got a book deal, and then the second book deal happened. I was over the moon, and thought I was set.
But here’s the cold, hard truth: the things I love doing more than anything don’t bring home the bacon. They don’t even bring home bacon bits. At least not yet. I know I’m not very employable in the traditional sense anymore, so I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to think of business ideas, investigating products I could create, learning about textile design, trying to develop a freelance writing/illustration/photography portfolio. All these options require serious time and upfront costs, of which, due to my current commitment to book #2, I am struggling to find. I have every intention of pursuing all these things though.
Uncomfortable details about the cold, hard truth: although publishing two books is an honor beyond anything I could have imagined, would you like to know how much I actually make per book in royalties? A little over $1. I need to sell a tremendous number of books to make a living. And I won’t make a penny until I earn enough to cover the advance payment. For Little Kunoichi, I received $5,000, which is pretty standard for a book advance unless you’re the likes of Stephen King. Not to put too fine a point on it, I received $2500 when I signed the book contract in January 2014, and then received the other half in August of last year two months after I finished everything.
And did you know? To get on the New York Times bestseller list, which then boosts sales, you need to sell roughly 5,000 books in a week (this number is debatable and varies depending on genre, but it’s what I found from my quick research). Though that number is less than I expected, my publisher told me they are hoping that we can sell about 3,000 copies of Little Kunoichi in the first three months. As I understand it, that’s a realistic expectation for my sort of book. I can’t assume that we’ll hit that number, so the bestseller list and covering my advance can feel rather out of reach. As long as I’m being blunt about all of this, I’ve made zero money this year so far. Including all the little odds and ends I did while working on the books, last year I made $9,500. Total. Pre-tax. And almost all of that went right back into book #2 and blog costs. Book #2, by the way, won’t be published until 2016. Plus, if I consider the number of hours I’ve put into the books (and blog), I’m pretty sure I’m clocking in at about 2 cents per hour, if that.
I don’t want this to be a pity party or come across as woe-is-me, because I wouldn’t trade my current life for anything and I feel so lucky to be doing what I’m doing. I truly think I’m happier and healthier than I’ve ever been. I have the flexibility of spending quality time with my amazing 8-year-old every day and she gets to see a contented mama. If it were up to me, I would willingly continue blogging and creating books for a pittance. I would even pay to do what I’m doing (my husband would point out that I am, in fact, doing just that).
However, I do have a family and responsibilities, and my deadline is approaching. 9 months will fly by. M has been so patient and has been trying his level best not to complain about my inability to make a contribution to the family coffers. I have no aims or even the desire to make gobs of dough and M isn’t expecting that either. We live a very, very simple life. The goal is to at least double last year’s income…perhaps I have a skewed perspective, but it doesn’t seem that outlandish a goal. I have no illusions and know that there has to be trade-offs. As someone who used to make a six-figure salary and ruined my health and damaged relationships as a result, I’m well aware of this. But M’s logic is, “Does it have to be either/or? Make lots of money and be miserable or make no money and be happy? Can’t you find a job that doesn’t stress you out that you like — you don’t have to love your job, right? At what point is living the dream jeopardizing the family?” It’s a fair question, that last one. But I don’t have to answer it yet. I have about 270 days left.
I took inventory of what specifically has kept my interest over the past couple of years and what has drained me:
LOVE AND WANT TO DO
– coming up with ideas
– writing personal stories that I feel will be relevant to others
– creating storytelling packages that include visual elements and words
– variety within structure
– connecting with people in an authentic way, collaborating and creating small but mighty communities
– giving gifts
– learning new skills
– a flexible schedule / being able to work at coffee shops and studios
– being my own boss
– intentional sewing
DON’T LOVE AND DON’T WANT TO DO
– making the same things over and over aka mass production
– putting on airs, pretending to be someone I’m not to impress, gain readers, etc.
– selling and shipping products etsy style
– working alone at home
– doing what everyone else is doing
Enter the Furoku membership. Furoku is the bonus gift that used to come with the monthly Japanese comic books I devoured when I was a kid. I talked about it in this post, and I waited with bated breath each month because I never knew what kind of furoku would be included.
This was my thought process: what if I offered a sort of subscription? The blog will remain ad-free and I will keep posting regularly, but for $10 a month, members would get a special email with some sort of digital furoku from me once a month. It could be a sewing tutorial/translation I’ve created, or maybe a riotously embarrassing essay from my life that I normally wouldn’t share and would be blackmail-worthy (can you believe I have any left??), or maybe a printable download for holidays — perhaps even a short ebook or some sort of video. So many possibilities! It would be fun for you, fun for me. The hope is that it would start with once a month delivery and potentially increase in frequency or develop into a full-blown site with furoku archives and forums and ways to interact. Maybe we can have virtual sewing sessions! Am I crazy? Have I lost you? I figure it’s worth a shot even if just a handful of people sign up — the one thing I don’t seem to have trouble with is coming up with ideas. But without some sort of financial validation, I can’t justify working on the blog that I hope brings some value or at least a smile to you, no matter how much it affirms my own existence. And the books…well, even a die-hard optimist and arithmetic-challenged bookworm like me can do the math.
I wholeheartedly believe in what I do and make. I might be off my rocker, but I utterly have faith that I can make a go at this blogging/creating/community-building/book-making thing but I’m not sure if I can prove it fiscally to M in the next 9 months. I have no idea how all those big-time blogs have done it, but my readership growth has been modeled after the inchworm. I have the best, smartest, kindest, most talented and loveliest readers, but there’s not a whole lot of you out there from what I can tell. Sometimes this is discouraging when I see the other people’s stats. But I don’t even need to be big-time! If I don’t achieve our agreed upon benchmark by the end of this year (a humble sum of $20,000), I will honor my word and shut down the blog, complete my book and find a reliable “real” job. But I’m not doing that without kicking and screaming and putting forth every ounce of creative energy I have to make this work.
I want to invite you to ride along and be a part of this venture with me. To create a space of giving, of sharing real (and ideally entertaining) information on how to create a sustainable life that feels right, of forming a small but mighty community — all for the price of two lattes per month. Okay, maybe three lattes. I want to make beautiful, functional or at the very least interesting things for you. I also want to transparently show you the dollars and cents as I progress, and I plan on sharing monthly reviews of my income for the rest of the year. I’ve found that I rarely get a true sense of how people in the “creative” field and bloggers are actually earning a living and I want to do something different. I thought of making that info available for members only, but that felt scammy, so it will be here on the blog and I’ll share the behind the scenes stuff with members. It’s still a little vague and will change organically, I know, but the blog will continue to be a recording of my life and sewing in general, and the membership will be based on the monthly digital gifts that I hope are uplifting and useful along with inside scoops and the nitty gritty of figuring out how to make a life worth living on my own terms.
This is an experiment. Maybe it will be a spectacular failure and I’ll slink away from the overwhelming lack of interest, or maybe I will have stumbled upon something triumphant. Even a few members would be a triumph. I want to try this. Will you?
[Updated: I’ve removed the subscription button for now, and will open up membership every month – thank you, thank you!]
I will leave this post up for the rest of the week as I watch with trepidation and excitement from the sidelines and work on the first furoku. Also, I’m flying by the seat of my pants here, so if anything is weird with that subscribe button, please let me know. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time. Thank you, my friends, from the very depths of my over-sharing heart.
P.S. The winner of the giveaway is Greta, congrats! You should have received an email from me already.
P.P.S The illustration at the very top is the one I used for the dedication page in Little Kunoichi. I dedicated it to M and K, of course.