Self Publishing- Why I did it, how I did it, and how you can too.

Since I released Memory’s Wake, I’ve had an influx of people contacting me interested in self publishing. They want to know what my experiences have been, how I did it, and most importantly, can, or should, they do it themselves.

The opportunities for Self publishing are really exciting right now, thanks to new printing methods and distribution programs that make it super easy to get your book published. This is, of course, a good thing and a bad thing. I’m going to talk through what I’ve learned so far in my self publishing journey.

Why did I self publish?

I wrote a book that I had high hopes for. I don’t consider myself a genius writer, but I believed my writing style to be adequate and the story solid. It had been reviewed and critiqued over and over by friends, other writers, and paid professionals. The impatient part of me wanted to self publish right away so it was available without delay, but I thought I’d serve myself better by attempting to get traditionally published. I approached literary agents to see if any where interested. I had a few that were, who read the full manuscript, but in the end while they enjoyed it, they didn’t feel it was something they could market. I kept trying until I got pregnant, then decided if I didn’t just go ahead and self publish then, it wasn’t going to be available for so long my impatient self might explode. A few months later, my book was released and it’s been a joy having people read it.

What people think of self publishing

Some people are going to assume that because you self published your book, that it isn’t very good. And yeah, there are books out there that were self published simply to fulfil a writers desire to be published, but the book really isn’t of professional standards (or frankly, actually downright awful). Other people don’t even know what it means to be self published and won’t care or notice that your book is self published. I think now more than ever there are a lot of writers making the decision to bypass traditional publishing options and make a serious career from self publishing, and soon the awareness and perceptions of self published work will improve.

What you won’t get if you self publish

You won’t get your books in book stores.  If you distribute your books through the right channels, your book will be in catalogues that book stores can do special orders from if a customer asks. If you do the hard yards and go out yourself to ask local book stores to stock your book they may. But don’t expect customers to be able to buy your books in shops. When people come to you disappointed they couldn’t find your book at a book shop, just let them know where they can get it from, which will be Amazon, Barnes and Noble Online and most other online book retailers, and probably direct from yourself.

What you will get

You will get higher royalty rates per sale self publishing than you will by traditional publishing. I’ve heard that a traditionally published author may get 5% or lower per sale, where self published authors can get up to 70% of each sale for ebooks, and varying percentages for paperbacks (varying because an author can set their own profit margin, which I’ll discuss more up ahead).

What you don’t have to worry about

I worried that if I self published, I’d never be taken seriously if I tried again to get an agent or be published by a big publisher. But that’s not the case. Just look at Matthew Reilly, Amanda Hocking, or Christopher Paolini, who all self published their work before becoming bestsellers and getting taken on by mainstream publishing. If your book is good, there’s always a chance, if that’s the way you want to go. You may even get more chance if your book is well received by self publishing. Amanda Hocking sold over a million copies of her books by herself. Talk about a way to get the attention of publishers.

What is vitally important if you choose to self publish

You know what I said before about some people having bad perceptions about self published work? Producing low quality work (in writing or design) only furthers that perception. It’s important to produce the best quality you can, not only for you, but for the image of self publishing as a whole. If you produce a product that looks “home made” people will read it with preconceptions or dismiss it because it is self published. But if you produce a book of the same quality of mainstream published work, which you can, and should do, readers won’t know or care if your book is self published.

The work you will have to do

The key word in self publishing is SELF. By having someone else publish you, all the hard work of producing your book is done by them, but when self publishing it all falls to you. It doesn’t mean you have to do it all on your own, in fact I highly recommend getting help for the key areas of production- editing and design. More on that up ahead…

But producing the book itself is really the easy part. Once the book is out there, it’s super hard to actually get readers to find your work. There are millions of books available on Amazon, more by the hour. How do they find you amongst all that? If you want people to find your book, be prepared to learn how to market it and spend time doing so.

Paying for services

There are a lot of small companies out there who want to help people get self published. There are packages available that polish and package up your book ready for the world. This is a valid option if you’re happy to spend the money, just be sure to shop around as some of these companies can charge disproportionately more than others. But remember, with a little time and effort you really can do most of it yourself, for free. There are some areas I do suggest you hire a professional for, the key ones being editing and cover design. Save your money for those, and consider doing the book layout (interior and ebook) yourself, and definitely don’t pay money for getting your book distributed. It’s the easiest part you can do for free (more on that ehead).

Companies like Createspace also offer paid services to put your books together, alongside the free, DIY service.

TIP! When looking for an editor and cover designer, search specifically for those offering services to self published authors. Some have very reasonable rates. Here is also a great start for finding reasonably priced author services-,50419.0.html

Learning How

So all that sounds great and you want to DIY your first self published book. Where do you start? When I first mentioned I was thinking of self publishing, someone recommended this book to me- Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author by Zoe Winters. I can’t remember who recommended it, but a big thanks to whoever it was! This book is a great starter for those wanting to self publish, and gives great step by step descriptions of all the processes. Since then I’ve learned a lot more, but this was the book that got me going. I highly recommend it!

Ebook options

Publishing as ebooks is one of the easiest and fastest ways to make your work available. Also, the programs that let you do so are totally free! Here are some key programs you will want to sign up for to get your ebooks out-

Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon)-

PubIt (Barnes and Noble/Nook)-

Smashwords (A service which distributes your ebook to many ebook distributors)-

Paperback options

But you want your book in hard copy, don’t you? Yes, getting YOUR book, as a real paper book in your hands is a real thrill! Here the services I’ve tried-

Lulu – is probably the fastest and easiest way to get hard copies of your book. Their service is free, quality is great, but they are also the most expensive (price per book), and cost more than others to distribute your book through more than just the Lulu store (eg, to Amazon). Lulu however offer options that some others don’t, like hard cover books and glossy page books.

Createspace – is my favourite option for paperbacks. This price per book is really reasonable. They require you to buy and review a hard copy of your book before it’s approved and so take longer to have your book available, but you should be reviewing your book at this stage anyway to make sure it’s right. Createspace also have a very wide distribution network (I believe they charge about $25 for widest distribution options now, but otherwise are free to get your book on Amazon or buy copies yourself). They are a little trickier to work with than Lulu for file formats, etc, but it’s worth getting through it.

Want to see what a Createspace paperback looks like? Why not grab a copy of Memory’s Wake, nudge nudge wink wink.

Lightning Source – are a step up in professional quality and distribution again from Createspace. They are a lot harder to work with, even signing up for an account is a long process. But they have (often) the best prices and widest distribution, for those really serious about getting their book out there.

Your baby, out in the world

You go ahead and click the publish button, and your book, your baby is out in the world. Be prepared. When readers do find your book, not everyone will like it. And some will dislike it so much they will leave you bad reviews on Amazon or elsewhere, which you have no control over.  Even the best books get bad reviews. If you get a few yourself, the best advice is to ignore them and write them off as an individuals opinion. Don’t reply or try and talk them around, just move on. If you find you’re getting lots of bad reviews that say the same thing, well, you might have a problem there. Luckily, if you self publish, it’s easy to go back and revise a book that you’ve discovered problems with.

The addiction

Uh oh. Once you’ve got a book released, a craving sets in. You’ll want more, more books in your name, more readers sharing your stories. Self publishing is addictive. Enjoy the ride, and know that the more books you have available, the more chance you have of success!

Have you been considering self publishing? Did this help? Good luck with your self publishing endeavours! 

Starting at the Bottom

I still remember when I first put my art in an online gallery. I was fourteen years old and the whole “internet” thing wasn’t as big back then. Elfwood was already around though, and as a timid amateur artist, I posted the minimum amount of art that was required to actually be eligible for a gallery. I think it was four images. It was scary, and I never thought my art was good enough (I still don’t, but that’s another story!).

(Gah, even the scan is awful!)

I also remember how incredible it was when people started commenting on my art, and liked it. I wanted to draw more (I hadn’t really started painting back then), so I had more for my gallery. I wanted to get better, and with everyone’s encouragement I improved my art, until people started saying, “Hey, you should sell this!”. And I started thinking maybe I could.

I learned how to set up my own website with a store section, and I had just completed a series of goddess artworks that I thought were my best work yet. I put them online for sale and waited. The response wasn’t everything I had hoped for. I was crushed and wondered, what am I doing wrong? Looking back now, I can see SO MANY things I was doing wrong! I was still an amateur, and frankly, a bit clueless. I was on my way but I still had so much to learn. Over the next five years I put everything I had into working out what I was doing wrong, and finding out how to do it right, until I was selling enough to support myself on my art income alone.

It was a long journey, with steep learning curves and a lot of hard work. And now that I’ve started releasing my novels, I suddenly realised something.

I’m back at the bottom again.

Some people might argue that this time I’ve already got a lot of people interested in my work, and I’m lucky to some extent that is true, BUT… Most people are interested in my art, not my writing. And to be honest, being a visual artist making the switch to novel writing, I think a lot of people assume my writing isn’t going to be very good 😉 It’s not just my imagination. More than a few reviews for Memory’s Wake sound like this-

“I’ve known Selina online for a number of years (through our mutual arting), and was a bit hesitant to read the book… But I figured, hey, even if I don’t like the book, I can look at the pretty pictures :)”

“Have to admit was a bit biased as Selina is one of my favorite artists so I was excited to read her work but was also a hesitant but needn’t be.”

“I wanted to like it so much since the author is both a fabulous artist and a fabulous person so I was really glad it did not dissapoint.”

And, again, to be honest, I think people have every right to assume the book mightn’t be great. Because here I am, starting at the bottom again. I’ve got a lot to learn, and Memory’s Wake was my first novel (although I re-wrote it so many times it could almost be considered my 5th novel!).

In some ways it’s fun to be starting at the bottom again. I have become a little jaded in the art scene, but with my writing, I’m remembering the exhilaration of every reader who contacts me to let me know they liked my book. The joy of every single individual sale, knowing that is someone else who will read my story.

There is also terror. I have the same doubts I did when I started out with my artwork. I’m worried I’ve still got SO MUCH to learn. So much work to do ahead of me to get my stories out into the world. There’s a strange pressure when it comes to writing, as everyone is always talking about the next Big Thing (Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, anything by Amanda Sold-A-Million-Books-Hocking). It’s almost as though if a book doesn’t break out and become famous, it’s considered a failure. That’s entirely untrue of course, but a writer still feels that pressure. And sure, don’t we all dream of being as rich and famous as JK Rowling?

But then I remember, that I didn’t publish my book to become rich and famous. I published it to share my story. And hundreds of people have now read Memory’s Wake, and enjoyed it. And some of them email me and let me know they enjoyed it and it makes me all happy and glowy inside.

I’ve got many more stories to share, so much more to learn, more to improve. I know my next books will be better and better. That’s the joy of being at the bottom.

So if you’re starting out in a new direction in your life, remember that being at the bottom has as much value as being at the top, or you know, somewhere in the middle, which is where I normally hang out 😉


Ask Selina- Scanning Artwork

“How do I scan my artworks when they are too big for my scanner? What kind of scanner do you use? Can I photograph the artwork? What do I do?”

You don’t need to buy a big scanner to scan big artworks. Sure they are nice, but they also cost a pretty penny (my advice? Check ebay auctions now and then, sometimes they come up cheap! That’s where I got my A3 scanner, a Microtek Scanmaker 9700XL). In terms of scanner quality, in my experience the thing that affects the quality of artwork scans the most is focal depth. A higher focal depth means if your artwork is on textured paper or isn’t sitting perfectly flat against the scanner glass, it won’t be out of focus.

Whether you score a good A3 (or larger!) scanner, or are just using standard A4 (or Letter) sized, you’ll sometimes have an artwork too big for the scanner plate. What you need to do then is learn how to stitch scans. This means scanning your artwork in pieces and putting it together using graphics editing software, like Photoshop or Gimp (a free program like Photoshop). I could tell you how, but fantastic artist and business woman Ellen Million already has an excellent article about it here which is pretty much the same process I use-

And while you’re learning about getting great scans of your art, also check out her other article about scanning, here-

Spending a bit of time cleaning up and refining your scanned image makes a huge difference to your presentation, so get those dust spots cleaned up, get your colours balanced, and display the best scan possible!

I personally think your time is better spent scanning and stitching artworks than it is trying to get a good photograph of the image. For starters, you’re going to want to have a VERY good digital camera- this doesn’t just mean high resolution, but also the size of the light sensitive chip as well, which is a major factor in the quality of digital photos. Most digital SLR cameras would fit the job, but make sure the resolution is going to be high enough to print your image as big as you’re going to want to print it. After you’ve got the right camera, photographing artwork is a very technical and skilled task. I sure can’t do it. Lighting and focus have to be perfect- NO flash! Angles have to be just right or your image is going to be warped. I’m sure just the right type of lens is needed for a good job too and you absolutely must use a tripod. You really also should have a light box, white balance cards and other accessories, and really once you get ALL of that, you might as well have bought a good scanner. I’ve priced a professional art photographer service once and their quote made me spit out my tea. They charge a lot because it is damn hard to get it right. So, my opinion is to stick with scanners.



Ask Selina- Starting Out as an Artist

“For an artist just starting out how would you suggest they get their work out there?”

This is a question I get asked a lot, and it’s a really tricky one to answer because of one major factor- things are very different now from when I was first starting out.

My second disclaimer is that most of my information is about developing your art career ONLINE. That’s because that’s what I did. Two reasons- 1. I’m shy and hate talking about my art in person, and 2. There are millions of people who can find you online. Much more than available for any in person event, gallery opening, convention or market.

There are some suggestions which still fit, but the internet has grown massively in the last decade, and so has social media, internet art communities, how people connect with artists, find and shop for art.

Here are my main suggestions which still hold true:

  • Get your art seen– Put your art on as many online galleries as you can, especially ones targeted to the genre of your art. When  I was starting out, this meant Elfwood, Epilogue, Art Wanted, Deviant Art, Fantastic Portfolios, The Australian Fantasy Art Enclave (which I actually created myself- side tip, if it doesn’t exist, make it yourself!) and more. Some are still around, some thriving more than others. These days there is Tumblr, Facebook Fan Pages and other similar social networks that aren’t art related but still great for exposure. Do your research and get your portfolio on as many sites as you can- FREE sites I should say. I’ve never found a benefit to being listed on sites you have to pay to be a part of (I think I only tried one, once). If you can, keep your galleries on those sites up to date. Every time you have new work, get it up on as many sites as you can, because new art will keep bringing people into your galleries and getting them to know you and your art, and remember you.
  • Always be professional- Some people say any exposure is good exposure. Some people have become famous (or perhaps infamous) through drama or scandal. I tend to think the best policy is to always be professional, right from the start. Yes we’re human and we can slip up, but if you hope to be working with big licensing companies some day you need to have a record of being professional. They won’t want to work with someone who could cause problems for them or their image.
  • Don’t forget to be human– A side note to being professional but just as important. While I don’t suggest running rampant revealing all your intimate secrets and saying everything that comes to your mind, I do think you should always be yourself, because people will want to know the real you. If you can be considerate, businesslike, and diplomatic while still letting your personality shine through then you’re doing great. Look at artists like Ursula Vernon. She has a massive following because people love HER. Her art and writing are fantastic, but her wonderfully wacky personality is what sells the whole package. Another example are the Muppets. No seriously! It’s the reason why I love the Muppets so much. They are all fabulous and unique personalities, appealing and funny without ever being mean.
  • Build your portfolio– When I was starting out, I painted a collection of 10 goddess artworks and put them up on a website and thought “This is it, I’ve got a collection of art people will buy now!”. But the sales didn’t come in like I hoped. And why? Because I only had about 10 artworks in my collection, lol. Everyone is different, everyone will connect to artwork differently. The more artworks you have, the more luck there will be something someone just has to have. When someone says “Do you have something with a unicorn and a mermaid together?” or some other request, if you can say “YES, here it is!” you’re very likely to make a sale and a loyal fan. I’m not saying you should try and have lots of different styles of art, or paint things that you just aren’t interested in, but rather to diversify and explore your own style and subjects that you love and build a large portfolio of those images. Painting what you love is important.
  • Never stop learning– We can all be a little blind to our flaws sometimes. It’s good to have pride in what you create! But I also believe an artist should always be improving themselves. When you look at the art I did ten years ago and compare it to what I do now (lets do that! Check out the two images below!), can you imagine if I had just stopped trying to improve back then? If I’d just gone, “yay, I’m an artist! I like what I do and I’m just going to keep doing it without change forever!”? There’s so many artworks I’d never have painted. I COULDN’T have painted them because they would have been out of my skill and comfort zone. So ALWAYS keep learning, keep pushing yourself. The people who come to see your art will also appreciate it.
  • Make Art as much as you can– (A lesson I really need to follow myself!). Once you have some people interested in your work, keep them interested by giving them new pretties to see, by making new pretties as much as possible! This also crosses over with the Never Stop Learning tip, because the more you create, the better you get. Practice really is all it’s cracked up to be.
  • Get your own site– It’s super cheap (or even free) to have your own website. Grab your domain name- this is something you’ll need to buy, but is a must in my opinion. Back in the old days when I was starting out (showing my age again) I learned good old basic HTML and made my site myself. These days it’s much easier, with awesome free software like WordPress (THIS site runs on wordpress!) and other content management and blogging software that means anyone can create their website with little to no coding knowledge. Anyway, setting up a website is a whole other subject and I need to get to my point, which is get your domain name and have some kind of website there, so that when someone googles your name, the first place they find is YOUR site, so they see YOUR art. Sure, they could google your name and find your Deviant Art gallery or something else, that’s fine too, but isn’t it better if they come straight to you? Having your own place on the web that is yours, yours, yours is important. And it’s also fun 🙂
  • Meet people in person– Yeah, didn’t I say I hate this part? OK, I also kind of love it. Sure it’s hard, and you’ll feel uncomfortable at times, but it will be very important for you and your art career. I like to get to markets and conventions when I can sell my art and products in person. It gives me the advantage of seeing how people react to my artwork. Which artwork is everyone gravitating to? Which artwork is turning people off? What are they saying about my work when they don’t know I’m the artist? What do they say when they DO know I’m the artist? It’s a fantastic learning experience every time, and sometimes it’s just nice to get some of that warm fuzzy “people really DO like my work” affirmation us artists need. 🙂
  • Learn from and connect with other artists– Forums are probably the best type of place to do this, but I actually don’t know of a good active artists forum any more. I think Deviant Art is probably your best bet but I haven’t spent much time in artists forums for years so I don’t know. There were a lot of great artists forums while I was starting out but most have closed now. Regardless, networking is important in most careers.  Remember, particularly if emailing an artist out of the blue, be nice, respectful and remember relationships go both ways. You could suggest swapping links to your sites, or if you have a blog, offer to do a guest blog, interview or some kind of cross promotion. If you have questions about art techniques or business, try to be specific (otherwise it can just be tricky giving a good answer), and if the artist doesn’t want to share their secrets with you (I’ve found most artists very friendly and sharing though!), respect that, it’s their right.
Now, I said at the beginning that things are different now than when I started out. I think I had it a lot easier back then. There were simply fewer artists online. Goodness, these days I visit DeviantArt and see just a small sampling of the talent in this world and could cry (for joy, and envy, in despair at comparing my art, and happiness at what people are creating, oh, emotional turmoil!). Just remember, you’ve got one advantage. You’re YOU. You create YOUR art. Only you can do that. Only you can paint just your way and create your visions. Know what makes you different, and special, and keep that close at heart as you work. Here’s a fantastic video on “branding” I saw recently that talks about why it’s important to know what makes you, and what you do, unique-

Know what makes you unique, special, what niche your artwork caters for, and you’re doing great.

Those are my main pointers. Now, once you start getting people see your art, it’s entirely up to you what you want to do with that! How, where, and whether you want to sell your work is a whole other subject. A big one! But really, getting people to see your art is the first step, and in some ways the most important one, because what is art unless it is seen? It’s sharing my art and writing that makes me happiest.

Ask Selina- New to Art Licensing, Help!

Hi selina, Firstly sorry for bothering you i know your probably very busy but i was wondering if you could give me some advice. Someone has approached me about licensing some of my artwork,the site is called “XXXX” and sells digital XXXX The thing is i have never licensed anything before and have no clue what to do! The owner of the site said “(exact quote removed)” Do you have any idea what kind of price per image is normal?Am i supposed to state a price i want ? i thought she would tell me what she was offering and i would accept or decline. I dont want to appear like i dont know what i am doing (even though i dont!) Please could you offer me any advice? Thank you and sorry for picking your brain! Best wishes XXXX


Congratulations on the potential contract!

There are a couple of things the company could mean about pricing per image, so it’s a bit hard to give a sure answer.

Royalties can work in three ways-

  • 1. Once off payment- a flat fee per artwork, for a certain duration. For example, $50 per artwork for three years, after three years the fee would be paid again to continue.
  • 2. Percentage royalty- No upfront payment, and is normally a blanket amount for ALL artwork you offer them. Normally 5-15% for PHYSICAL products, but digital products can vary widely- up to 60%+ royalties is not unusual. So you would be paid a % for any sale on any artwork for the duration.
  • 3. Royalty advance- the company pays you a bulk amount up front, for example, $500. But this is just an advance on what would be paid using option 2 above, and you will continue to receive royalties once the total they owe you goes over the initial advance amount.This is very rarely used, seen more in book publishing than art publishing.

I’m going to assume the company is talking about option 1 above, just based on their rather vague wording. Now, the price per image is really arbitrary and is completely up to you. But, of course, when quoting a price you would do well to consider the company you are dealing with and what they can afford. In some ways, option 1 is a little like option 3. You are making an estimate of what they would sell of your work and what you would receive if getting royalties, but getting an upfront payment rather than relying on the company to keep accurate records. That’s why option 1 is a good option for small business who don’t want the extra work of tracking sales for royalties and providing regular sales reports and payments to artists. You might also want to offer a discount depending on how many artworks they are licensing. This makes some sense because if they are licensing just one image of yours, you are likely to sell more of it, and if they license ten images the sales are likely to be spread more across the ten images.

When you get to see the contract, be sure to pay attention to the exclusivity and duration terms.

Three year duration seems to be standard on contracts I’ve seen. The exclusivity is also fairly standard, because companies will want to feel as though they are offering something special with your art, not something every other competitor of theirs can also offer. BUT on both terms you really need to read the details in the contract. For the duration, you need to know what your termination clauses are if you want out. For exclusivity, it can be exclusive per image, by region, or for you as an artist and your entire collection ever. When you get the contract to look over, check out my article on contracts here- for more advice.

I hope that helps!



Work Efficiency- Tips to save time as your business grows.

There are lots of tips and tutorials on the internet about how to begin your career as an artist. Being self employed is the dream of many artists, but what happens when you reach that point? What happens when suddenly demand for your art exceeds your ability to meet it? Suddenly you’re in business, real hard working business and you want to throw you hands up and say “But I’m just an Artist! I can’t handle this! No one prepared me for THIS!”
“It’s a good problem to have”, is the saying that gets thrown around the most at this point. Yes, it is good, but it is still a problem. The majority of people in general, let alone artists, don’t have a head for many aspects of business management. But there are many things you can do to make running your own business as an artist easier, no matter where you are in your career.

General Tips
Look for your nearest small business advice centre
In many areas, you can find business centre’s that offer free advice and training for small businesses. Often you can book an interview time with one of their business advisors, and go in for a chat about your business, and get some great feedback from a business professional on many different aspects of running a small business. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “I’m an artist, they won’t understand what I do”, but you also have to remember, that business is business, and while a lot of what self employed artists do is lost on the general public, you are still running a business, and a lot of things carry over from any businesses day to day running.
When you go in though, do be prepared to spend some time explaining in detail what it is you actually do. Take some art in with you; visual props will help out tremendously. Also take any other supporting documents, yearly sales reports and such, to help the advisor understand where your business is, and what advice is most needed.

Don’t be afraid to get outside help in
One of the best pieces of advice I received at a visit to a business advisor, was that you need to spend time doing what you do best. Every business has many different aspects and tasks. In art, let’s simplify it for a moment down to creating the artwork, and doing the bookwork. As a small business, many people do both parts of the job, but as business grows and the bookkeeping starts to take over, finding time for art gets harder and harder. This is when it’s important to realize one, very simple fact. ANYONE can do bookwork. Only YOU can do the art. The art is the soul of your business and the basis of any income you will earn. Hire someone to do the bookkeeping (or other tasks) for you, and while it may feel like money being lost, you will have more time to do what you do best, create new art, that will keep bringing the money in.

Make lists, lists and more lists
Business planning is an important part of any business, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Simply keeping a journal or folder in which you can write lists of projects and tasks you want to complete works well. Try to break your business down into “departments” for different tasks and work areas, for example “Creative Department”, “Management”, “Design and Development”, “Sales”, and “Marketing”.
Seeing each department separately can help you understand where your strengths and weaknesses are, and what tasks are needed in different areas.
On top of a business plan journal, (because personally I easily get muddle-brained when more than one thing is happening at once!), I also keep a large whiteboard with a to-do list for more urgent tasks, business shopping list, orders coming in, and calendar to keep me focused and from missing any important jobs or deadlines. And just to prove I’m a work-a-holic, on top of THAT, each day I write another list of jobs I want to finish that day. It’s a good way to stay on task and feels great having a sheet full of crossed off jobs at the end of the day.

Tips for Artists working in mail order and merchandise

Mals-E Shopping Cart and mOrders
Mals shopping cart ( is a great free shopping cart program for websites, which is used very widely on the internet, which I have also used for years. When first starting out, when I received orders I would log into my Mals account, print off the orders, hand write addresses on packages, and send off individual emails to let people know their emails have sent. As soon as the volume of orders starts going up, doing things that way just isn’t viable.
One solution is a program designed to work directly with Mals shopping cart. mOrders is available also through Mals, for a fee of about $100, and allows you to download all your orders into the program on your computer. It’s also good for when you have multiple Mals accounts for those with more than one online store. From there, you can set up to print off custom invoices, shipping labels and more. You can easily run filters to select only orders from a certain account, on a certain date, or of a certain status. You can change the order status as needed, from “new” to “shipped” or “awaiting payment” or any custom status you want. And then, you can also send out custom emails straight from the program to your customers, containing all their order information as well. It keeps all of your order records archived away, and can even run some nice, basic sales reports. It’s a great time saver, and a great all in one program to keep all your customer records straight.

Something that has made a great improvement to the running of my business is having a greater understanding of what I actually do. It may seem funny, but in the past, my understanding of what I do was “I paint and fill orders”. But what does “filling orders” entail? How many orders? How many products? What kinds of products sell the most? I had no idea! But thanks to the help of someone savvy in these things, I can finally see all the numbers.
Another benefit of the mOrders program from Mals-e is the ability to export all the data into spreadsheets or database programs like Microsoft Access. You can then run some filters and know exactly what you’ve been selling.
This is helpful for a few reasons-
1. Knowing what is selling, and what isn’t. You don’t want to invest a lot of capital in buying stock of a product that you only sell occasionally. Being able to see which product types are most popular, you can put the money into them, and discontinue the time wasters.
2. Bulk ordering! Being able to look at your sales and see exactly how many products you’ve sold in a year makes ordering in bulk feel much safer! Bulk ordering saves money, thanks to quantity discounts, time, thanks to not having to re-order all the time, and stops you running out of stock at an inopportune time!
3. You get to see, without dispute, which your best selling images are. You may think you have some idea, but it can often be surprising when you see the true statistics! This is handy for both when you’re releasing a new product of your own, to know which artworks to put on them, and also for when licensing your art to other companies, who might want this sort of information.

So, what do you do when there is a product that sells really well, but takes WAY too much of your own time to produce?
Get someone else to do it. This is another area where having information on hand about your sales is very helpful. When you get work done through another printing company, often you will need to order in large quantities, and don’t want to be stuck with lots of printed stock you can’t move! Having a good idea of your sales numbers and most popular artworks can make ordering pre-produced stock much easier.
When looking for a printing company to work with, be sure to find one that uses Digital Printing Presses rather than traditional plate printing. Digital presses require no set up costs, and can easily accommodate multiple designs in a single print run, unlike traditional printing which requires expensive printing plates to be set up for every print job. Traditional printing can be much cheaper per item than digital, but only once you reach quantities well over 5000.

Simplifying Designs and Products-
Many artists also enjoy all things crafty. We just love making things with our hands, whether it’s beading, gluing, sculpting or crafting. A lot of great, saleable products can be made this way, and as one off items they can add a nice extra lump to your sales. But as volume grows, the crafty items you sold in the past start becoming a hassle.
As you move from creating one product, to needing to create in lots of 10’s or 100’s, you need to review carefully the time taken to create each product, and pay yourself accordingly for the time. If you can’t justify the time taken, rethink the product, or raise the price!
Example- I had a lot of fun at one stage creating a little product called “Poem Charms”. They were a plastic encased artwork and poem, hanging from a hand beaded string. But soon I found that the time taken making them didn’t fit into my order filling routine when volume went up. The price was high enough, but the time just wasn’t there. Instead of removing the product completely, I redesigned, to change the hand beaded string, to a simple and elegant tied ribbon, and cut the time each charm took by half. And remember, apart from meeting your shipping deadlines, less time filling orders is more time to paint!

Always try to do one job more.
When you’re working on filling orders, as long as you’re not rushing to meet a deadline, always try and do one extra job while you’re at it. It’s a good chance to stock up on a certain product or do some job that you might normally put off, or only do on demand, that could save you time in the future.
For example: My backing board for prints comes in large sheets that need to be cut down to size. Often I’ll just cut what’s needed for the orders I’m filling at the time, but when possible, since I’m already working on it, I’ll cut as many extra as I can, so they are ready to go for future orders. That one job on one day can save repeating the task over and over for every order that comes in for a few weeks.
Another example may be, if you print labels for prints or other product packaging, don’t just print one sheet, print 5, or 10. They’ll keep, and it saves doing the job again next week. Never do something every day if you can do it once a week!

Organize your digital artwork and print files-
This is another area where the “never do something twice if you don’t have to” rule comes in. Sort out all of your printing files in a manner that saves time and effort, and saves your artworks in digital format in a way that you will always have what you need. Here is my set up for artwork files that works well for me-

1. Keep one folder for your raw artwork scans. These should be in almost as high a resolution as you can scan, or your computer can handle! If you sell or lose an original artwork, these files are your original files.
2. One folder for cleaned and color corrected image files. Almost every scan, no matter how clean or good your s canner is, will require cleaning up and color correcting. Once this is done, these are the files you will always use for creating print files and products from, or sending to licensing companies or publishers to work from. If you ever do other digital work to a file, such as cropping out the subject from the background, keep this file saved in here as well. Cleaning and cropping are things you should only have to do once!
3. Finally, folders for all print ready files in each size you need to print. The same with any other products you produce that are print-on-demand.

On top of the files for printing, I also keep two other template files per product. One is the base product design template- a file that when I have a new artwork that I need turned into a product design, I can drop the artwork into the template, and it’s the correct size, and has any other necessary design elements for that specific product there already (bleed guides, barcodes, copyright fine print, etc). The other template file I keep for each product is the website image template. Rather than photographing every single product design, I keep one good “blank” product template which each product design can be dropped into in Photoshop. This saves a lot of time and effort for keeping your website up to date, and gives a good photographic representation of each product which helps sales.

Stock Storage-Alphabetical order is important! If you are storing any kind of product, whether it’s greeting cards from an outsourced printers, or prints you’ve done yourself, make an effort to keep them in alphabetical order. It can be easy to fall into the “all that product is over there in that box” work style, but the little extra effort to keep things in order will save loads of time when grabbing products for order filling.
Get smart about how you store stock! Ring binder folders can be a great method for storing stock. Whether you use simple full page clear page protectors as bags or 10 up clear plastic business card holder sheets in your stock folder, you can store a large number of products and related order filling items in a ring binder. For example, I don’t keep assembled stock of key rings and magnets around, as you never know which design will be ordered when. But paper is pretty cheap, and the designs are small… so I keep a ring binder with a full stock of printed key ring and magnet design inserts, in alphabetical order (of course!), that are ready for pulling out and sticking into the key ring blanks.
You can also keep your pre-printed sheets of stickers, business cards, sales slips, letter heads, print slips, whatever you use, in the clear pouches in your folder for easy access.
The other good thing about keeping a stock folder is you can see with just a quick flick through which items you’re low on and need to refill. I generally try to spend one day a fortnight simply refilling my stock folders- which makes order filling on days when I’m racing the shipping deadline so much easier!

Advanced Licensing Advice

DISCLAIMER!! I’m not a legal professional. The advice posted below is based on my own experiences on licensing and is not meant to be a replacement for proper legal advice for dealing with contracts.

Advanced Licensing for Visual Artists
It’s a sorry state of things when there are very few artists out there who could say they’ve never been disappointed (or much worse!) with a licensing deal they have had. Licensing has it’s ups and downs, and needs to be treated as an entire, seperate entity in your career that needs special attention to build yourself a portfolio of contracts that you are both proud of and brings you wonderful, spendable, cash!
So, assuming you’ve got one or two contracts under your belt, that may or may not be going well, how do you move forward? Below I’m going to look at a few advanced tips for licensing for visual artists, from building a better relationship with companies to dealing with contracts gone wrong.

Before you sign…
Lets have a think about contracts for a moment. So many artists (and I know, I’ve done it way too many times myself!) get so excited by the prospect of a licensing deal, they will sign away so many of their rights without hesitation- rights that are important, and easier than you may think to keep!
When a company sends you their contract, generally it is a blanket everything-the-company-wants-ever contract, with all the terms being most general and best for the company, but really not so good for the artist! It is so important to remember that you can negotiate! In most business dealings this is EXPECTED. And most of the time, the terms that as an artist we need to negotiate will not hurt the company or jeapordise their sales at all, and they are generally happy to allow.
Here are a few of my pet peeves in contracts, why they are BAD for artists, and how you should change them.

Exclusivity- Of course exclusivity is a pain for artists. One company gets to do your work on that product, and that’s it, no one else. This is one of the terms which in most cases the artist just has to live with, because it is definately in the companies interest for their sales and promotion to not have your artwork also available through their competition. So lets look at a few other terms which help out the artist by freeing up exclusivity of the product in other ways-
Territories- Almost every contract I’ve ever seen has this big, fat “WORLDWIDE” smacked down in the territories listing. This means a company has exclusive rights Worldwide to produce The Product. Seems a bit odd doesn’t it? A company in the USA, stopping you from signing with a company in England for example? Still english speaking right? Oh well, what about Japan? They have a huge merchandising and design market there, does said company distribute to Japan? No? Then WHY could they possibly need a Worldwide exclusive? I have found that this is a very easy term to negotiate with your licensee, and personally, unless you’re signing a contract with Coca Cola, I don’t believe you should EVER sign a worldwide exclusive. Ask your company for a list of regions that they already distribute to, and only have those regions listed in your contract. This frees you up in case you want to break into markets in other continents. Just think about that for a second, other CONTINENTS. All that income potential that could have been lost with that one word- “worldwide”.
Artwork Exclusivity- NEVER, EVER sign a blanket exclusive rights to your artworks. A company could own exclusive rights to everything you have painted, or every will paint, for at least the length of the contract. Artwork exclusivity should be by both artwork AND product (eg. “Unicorn Artwork” on “Greeting Cards”). Generally it is best to request that only the artworks which the company intends to produce are listed on the contract for the licensed product. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, just say you have 100 artworks. You sign with a company for all of your artwork, but they only produce product using 5 of your images. This means you are only receiving potentially 5% of your possible income on your artworks for that product type. You could be getting another 95% of income on the other artworks that are being tied up but not produced! Secondly, some of your artworks are just MORE VALUABLE than others. We all have our best sellers, and we can use these as leverage when signing artwork specific contracts. Just say a company wants rights to your most popular image ever, versus rights to a less popular work. This could be a good opportunity to negotiate increasing your royalties, as long as you have the sales figures to back it up.

Making a contract artwork specific is a little harder sometimes than negotiating the territories term. It can seem to the company just like more work for them, when it’s easier to just have everything. Here are a couple of ways to sooth this negotiation-
1. Allow future artworks to be added to the contract by written agreement. If you trust the company enough, you can agree that if they wish to use more artworks in the future, they can drop you an email, you can agree, and they can go ahead. Simple as that. This makes the company feel as though they always have access to your work while you’re still keeping your rights. Remember, you can always say no, and also keep copies of any such correspondence with your original contract for your records.
2. Offer “Right of Refusal”. A lot of companies like this term, or request it themselves initially. Right of Refusal (generally First Right of Refusal) gives the company the right to be the first company to decide if they want to use your work for a product. So, you’ve just created Artwork A. Company 1 has First right of refusal, but you’re also signed for the same product with Company 2. Company 2 writes you with interest in Artwork A, but because of Company 1’s First Right of Refusal, you will have to show Company 1 the artwork and they must refuse the artwork before you can let Company 2 have it. This means you still get to share the work around and keep your possible income on all artworks, but it means the company with First Right of Refusal (often, the first company you licensed on said product!) still feels like they are getting benefits. Be sure if you use this term you specify a time period in which they must make their decision on an artwork so they can’t tie it up in indecision.

Must produce or forfeit- This is definately one of my pet peeves because it is a term that is rarely seen in contracts where I believe it should ALWAYS be there. It’s simply as it says, a company should have to be producing the product they are signed for, or the contract is forfeited and made null, allowing you to move on to a company that WILL produce your work. Generally this term is guided by a number of time periods, eg, a product must be in production within X months of the contract being signed and a product must not be out of production for X months or the contract can be terminated. This is important not only for the artworks/products initially signed for, but any new additional artworks that are added in or agreed to by the methods above. If a company has you signed for artworks, products or regions they are not selling too, they are simply keeping you from your potential income.

Must see samples of the product- This is both important, and one of the most FUN parts of licensing! Of course everyone loves free goodies, even more so when we are seeing our artworks brought to life in different products, but lets look at the serious business reasons why you should receive free samples from your licensee-
1. Quality- You want to be sure that the product that is representing your artwork is not a piece of rubbish right? If possible, ask to see a sample of their current range BEFORE signing as well as seeing your own products after.
2. Professionalism- Receiving a free sample, more than just the quality of the product, is an all round guage of the professionalism of a company. Can they meet promises? Can they deliver a product in a timely manner? Does the product meet expectations, has the whole transaction been dealt with professionally? You can judge a lot from your free sample…

Ok, we’ve signed our contract and the terms are good. We can just put it away and forget about it now, right? Oh no, no, no. Licensing agreements are a relationship, and you can’t turn your back on them. For one thing, you want to make sure the company continues to meet their obligations, and two, you want to build a relationship with them to help increase sales of your product range, so you can both get paid!

Getting Paid
1. The Check List- Whether you’ve got just one licensing contract, or a dozen, or more, it can be hard to keep track of payments coming in and making sure the company hasn’t forgotten about paying you! Make yourself a little check list that you can print out every financial quarter (or when your companies are set to pay you), which you can tick off each company as they pay. Also include boxes for how much you received, when they paid, whether an itemised sales report was included, and whether you had to contact them to get your money or if they breached any other obligation. Keep all your check lists in a file so you can look back over them to see which companies are performing and which aren’t!
2. Royalties versus flat-fee Some companies will opt to pay you out a flat fee for your artwork usage rather than keep accounts for ongoing royalties. This can be an attractive option, a lump sum up front can be quite substantial! If you go for this option, be sure the contract is for only a short set period of time, and this length of time at least partially corresponds to the amount of product they could sell of your work during that time, so the lump sum is as close as possible to what you would have received from royalties.
3. External Audits This is a term that needs to be in your contract. You need to have the right to have the company externally auditted to check their records are right and they aren’t skipping out on paying you your royalties. If the company is in another country, or just down the street, it’s important to have a way to check up on them. It’s rare you will ever need to use this, but if you get suspicious that there seems to be a large amount of sales going unaccounted for, a couple hundred dollars to set an accountant on them is worth it to make sure they are doing things, er, by the book!
4. Royalty Advances- This is a rare occurance in art licensing, but it does happen. Some companies, as a gesture of good faith when signing an agreement for your art, will agree to pay you an upfront advance on royalties. They will pay you a certain amount up front, and then that will come out of what they owe you out of your royalties over time. Unless you need the money right away, I can’t personally see any particularly good reason to do this. It seems more important to me to be able to see sales patterns and receive payments on a regular basis. Of course, again, lump sums are always attractive! If you are offered this, make sure you are still getting detailed sales reports even if you aren’t earning past your advance yet to know how things are going, and when they will need to be paying you royalties again.

Building a relationship with your Licensee
This may go without saying, but it’s a great idea to try and build a close, friendly relationship with your licensing company. Always be professional in your dealings with them, but also be personable and nice, so that they ENJOY dealing with you, and want to do it more! It’s nice to be able to be friends with your licensee, but remember that this comes second to business and should NEVER be an excuse for unprofessional behaviour on either side. Don’t let them weasel out of important contract obligations because they are your friend.
Some ways to continue to build your relationship and be a good licensor-
1. Always be timely. Both big and small businesses are often short on time, and don’t have time to ask for things more than once. If you don’t deliver what they need (image files, email replies, answers to agreements, etc) ASAP, they will just move on to someone who can. Always go above and beyond the call of duty, because isn’t that what we also expect from them?
2. Cross promote. Take any opportunity you can to promote your licensee, because if they earn money, you earn money. The more they sell of your work, the more interested they will also be to add to your range. It is also a kind courtesy, as it is often in a contract that the company must credit the artist all over the place, so it is nice to return the credit even without a contractual obligation.
3. Remind them you’re still around. Every so often it’s nice to touch base with the company. You could send them some new artwork to review, or ask them how business is going. Another great idea is to send Christmas cards and small Christmas (or birthday if you know when) gifts, of your art of course, to build a friendly relationship with them.

What to do when things go bad?
It’s nice to have contracts that allow you to end the agreement at any time (with written notice for a certain length of time is usual!). But this is rare, normally contracts can only be legally ended if the company is in breach of the terms, or bankrupt.
So what are your options when you’re no longer happy with a contract?

Just dissappointed?
The honeymoon is over, and you’re just not happy. Nothing is particularly wrong, you want to stay with them, but maybe sales are low, or it’s just not progressing as expected?
The best thing to do in these situations is communicate with the company and discuss your concerns in the most non-inflamatory way possible. It is so important that the company understands that you want to stay with them and work with them to reach an arrangement that will benefit you both. Make suggestions on new art you may have, or give them sales figures that they can use to select better selling artwork with. Try and get in touch with some customers and see what they think of your licensed products and what you can do to get them to buy more. The company themselves will often have other suggestions they might like to discuss with you, or they might suggest that you’re better off ending the contract and looking elsewhere. Sometimes artist/licensee relationships just don’t work.

How to terminate a bad contract and what to do if a company breaches your contract
This is the part that it would be nice to never have to deal with- terminating a contract before it’s time. Sometimes you’re just not happy and want out. Unless your contract allows you to give written notice of termination at any time, you will have to try to come to an agreement with the company and hope they will be alright with it. If you’re in this situation, again it is incredibly important to use only the most non-inflamatory language and reasons to leaving. This is all for protecting yourself legally. Whether the company is in the right legally or not, you always have to be careful about what you say, make sure you have facts to back yourself up (their performance history on your checklists for example that can be backed up with further records). The rule is, almost everyone will avoid taking things to legal action if they can, but you don’t want to be the person that pushes them to it.
If the company is in breach of contract, has been late with royalties (either once off or consistently), or otherwise not meeting their obligations, go back to your contract and thoroughly read every bit of fine print. Most contracts will have a term about how to deal with contract breaches. You may find that the company is not even technically in breach until YOU point out to them, in writing, that they are. Often it will be a case of giving written notice, after which the company will have a certain length of time to fix the problems, or allow the contract to be terminated. Even if you want to stay with the company, it is worth giving them a friendly reminder on the terms if they slip up, and keep records of EVERY bit of correspondence in regards to the contract, because they may be useful for if you do want to end the agreement. Keeping records is extremely important, even if things never get into the full blown legal system, it can be helpful just to show the company you’ve got the records and documents to back up your claims, and you don’t embarrass yourself by claiming something you later find out you are mistaken on.

Since first venturing into licensing I’ve seen contracts and deals with companies in many forms. Some turned dodgy and needed to be put down, some have knocked me off my feet with their professionalism and payouts! Some artists see licensing as a goose with golden eggs, a way to get paid for no work. But I believe the most rewarding licensing agreements are mutual relationships built with hard work and benefits for both parties involved. Like much of life you need to make some mistakes to learn from them, but hopefully this article will ease the damage from any mistakes and lead you into a great licensing career!

Thoughts on Art Pricing

There is this phenomena I have experienced myself, and day to day, see artists around me who are trying to build a career experiencing.
It’s that “No matter how hard I work, I never seem to get ahead! Where does all the money go?” issue. You know the one.

I don’t get it as much anymore, these days, and the reason why is that I’ve PROPERLY worked out the costs behind all of my products, and am now pricing my items accordingly! Yes, a lot of my products are a bit more expensive now than similar products available from other artists, but the simple truth is that they are underpricing themselves, and shooting themselves, and their careers in the foot. It’s easy to do, and as a start up artist it’s not such a terrible thing because you can normally subsidise your business from some other employment to keep it afloat. But the minute the change from “hobby” to “business” starts to happen, and those “Why aren’t I making any money?” worries pop up, it starts to become a very serious problem.

I remember when I first started out selling merchandise of my art. How do I price things? What’s fair? Well, first thing you do is go and see what everyone else is selling that sort of item for. You price based on the market around you. So, lets use fridge magnets for an example. I see others selling fridge magnets for about $3 a pop. Great, I think. If the magnet itself costs me maybe 0.80 or so cents in materials to make, I’m ahead right? So you go with the flow.

Everything is ok for a while, then you start selling products wholesale because stores want to stock them. Retail stores generally EXPECT and demand a 50% discount. They have their expenses they need to meet, and need that 50% profit to cover their expenses and make some money too.

So now I’m selling the same magnet for $1.50. Still making money right? No, actually, we’re not.
We’ve missed a step along the way, a very important step. We haven’t considered out costs properly. Just looking at material costs is a tiny fraction of the picture.
Let’s have a look at the numbers closely.
We’re selling the magnet at $1.50 wholesale.
Material costs are around .80c, leaving us .70c left.
In my business, I have to charge 10% tax on all goods, so that’s another .15c gone, leaving us .55c
Waste- it happens. If 1 in 10 magnets is a bust for whatever reason, that’s 10% of the material costs on top, so another .08c off, leaving us 47c.
I use sales reps for some of my sales, who take a 15% cut of the profits, so that’s another .22c gone, leaving us .25c.
If the sale goes through paypal, they take maybe another 3% of the total, leaving us .21c.
Labour, yes, you absolutely must account for labour. What happens when you want to start employing someone to do it for you? If it only takes 1minute to make a magnet at a reasonable $16 an hour average labour rate, that’s .26c labour cost….
Looks like we’re down to -5c now. So we’re losing .5c every time we sell a magnet…

In my situation, I also have other artists I need to pay a % sales commission to… where is that going to come from?
And all year long in my business I have to buy packaging supplies for posting, pay for advertising, buy art supplies, service printers, pay for all these other expenses that don’t directly pay for themselves like product materials do. All these day to day running expenses have to be paid for somehow. You need to be making enough profit with each and every sale to cover all those other day to day expenses of running a business. Every product you sell should make you a CLEAN profit (after all those other expenses for the product itself I just talked about!) of at least 30%, or you’re in the red and your business will never get ahead.
I look around the internet, from the amazing handcrafts on Etsy to beautiful jewellery and art prints coming from fellow fantasy artists around me, all selling for a pittance, and I want to grab people and shake them and yell “You’re paying other people to take your work!!!!”

Because this is what so many actually are doing, at the prices they sell at. Not only are they undervaluing their product, they are undervaluing their ART. The artwork we create as a thriving and inspired fantasy and fairy art community (and other genres as well out there!) is a beautiful, unique thing of GREAT VALUE. And we need to start treating it as such, before I see any more of my collegues out their wring their hands in financial stress and say “I just can’t do it anymore, I’m it giving up”, and give up not only the business, but the art itself. That’s the saddest thing I have seen happen, on more than one occasion.
Our fans and customers might love a bargain, but they probably also don’t want to see us sell ourselves out of business.

Someone told me once, when someone buys an art print from you, they aren’t paying you for the paper, or the ink. They are paying your for an artwork. An image they’ve fallen in love with. As artists, we need to stop charging for the price of the paper, and start charging for the price of our art.

Arts Career- how to educate and add value!

Last week I had a little rant about pricing products as a business. I’d love to see artists and crafters charging what they deserve (and NEED!) to charge for their fine work! But this of course raised a lot of other issues. So as an artist, if we start charging more for our art, how do we get people to pay more? Here are my thoughts on this, and a few other related things!
Art is a Unique Commodity- There’s a lot of art out there at the moment. But unless someone is directly copying your work (which does sadly happen!), your art is YOURS and no one else out there has that to offer. If someone falls in love with one of your paintings, and you’re charging say $50 for a print of it, they can’t turn up their nose and go, well, I’m going to go and buy it off that artist who sells prints for $8. They can’t, the other artist doesn’t have YOUR work.
This is good! But there is also bad! While you’re not in direct competition with other artists, the other artist might have something else that customer might like. And customers will sometimes compromise on their favourite to get something a bit cheaper, there’s no doubting that. Particularly when the other artists work might be a bit similar.
What do you do?
Quality and Innovation– Firstly, differentiate yourself and your product. Create something that is of a level of quality and innovation to stand out from among the masses. Too many people painting fairies? Paint fairy cats! (Waves to Tigerpixie!). Too many people doing Pet portraits? Do ASCI art pet portraits (I’ve seen someone doing this, it’s cool!). Expand your artist horizons, explore what your inner artistic drive is capable of and loves doing!
Be the best you can be– I see some artists who never stop bemoaning their lack of sales and desire for more customers. But at the same time, I never see these same artists bemoaning their lack of skills in their craft and desire to be better. Most artists whose art or craft I admire, who I see succeeding and improving all the time are neurotic at best about their skills. We never feel good enough, we are always trying to improve, we are always challenging ourselves and living through the torture of not meeting our expectations of where we want our skill level to be. Of having to learn a bit at a time, learn through our mistakes as well as our successes. This may sound overly dramatic, but when people talk about the “tortured soul of an artist”, this is where the truth of that statement is for me, personally, in that drive to always be BETTER! So be better, improve your art. It is, after all, your number one commodity!
Learn what makes art GOOD– Ok, this is a seriously touchy subject. Some people will defend to the teeth the concept that ALL art is good simply by being ART and being created by an artistic soul. I wonder whether these people are as quick to defend those modern artists that use dead cat heads in their art as they are to defend the amateur artist who they call friend? There are certain things that by design, by our culture and by our very biology make something visually appealing… or not. It doesn’t mean style or genre or how deep or lovely your concept is. It’s about values, composition, colour choices. There is a science behind the image that every artist should understand. Some artists are blessed with an eye and talent to creating perfect compositions innately, but EVEN THEY should understand and be aware of the science behind it. Study it, learn it. Never stop learning.
Educate the Customer– Your work takes a certain skill and vision that is unique to you, it takes time, energy, care and when someone else can see and appreciate that the resulting product or artwork will have greater value than any mass produced item. Show people how you work. Show how you never stop learning! Explain how you find your inspiration, the lengths you go to researching your craft. Tell them about the grand design and theme of the artwork. Why do you think abstracts that have pages and pages of frou frou outlining the artists motivation for the artwork sell for thousands? People want to fall in love with an artwork, they want to feel an emotional response and personal connection to it, and the artist who created it. Artists succeed through personal contact. Yes, you need to always be professional, but also just be yourself! People want to know the real you. Building real relationships with customers can turn them from a casual viewer into a buyer and collector, as well as a friend. 🙂
Don’t be a boring commercial break– No one likes blatant advertising. When you’re trying to explain to people the value of your craft, focus on the BENEFITS the artwork or item has for them, not it’s features. That artwork there? It’s 50cm by 50cm in size… yeah who cares… Will it look great on my wall and make everyone who comes into my home jealous?? Yes it will! There’s the benefit! That necklace is made of silver and glass. Great, whatever. But did you also know it will be an awesome conversation starter and accentuates your…. er… eyes… yes, your eyes. Benefit!!!!
Still include the details and features, of course, people want to know these things, but they aren’t the where the VALUE is.
Offer alternatives– If a customer loves an image, they don’t always mind what format they get it in. If they can’t afford a $50 print, maybe a $5 greeting card will do it, and yes, let them know they can frame the card! Or wait, if they want the print, how about lay away options? Or be even more innovative. Start a prints club for customers. I read about this one in the Artists Marketing 101 handbook (I think! It’s still packed away so I can’t check). It’s a neat concept of charging a subscription fee to customers monthly, for which they get to pick an art print to receive each month… or save up to receive an original… at the same time as receiving other perks like newsletters, etc. However you want to work it! People can often feel better about expenses when it just *poofs* out of their account a little bit every month.
Be a pro– Being professional isn’t about the $s you make or just throwing the word around. It’s about all the things I discussed above, and more. It’s pushing your mind to greater limits, behaving respectfully, being innovative, always learning, researching, studying! Do you think I wrote all this by pulling it out of my… hat? Nope. I learned it from books and other websites and experience. I spend large amounts of my time still learning. I’ve been learning this business for almost TEN YEARS now. And I still feel like an amatuer in every way, not fit to run a business, lol! But I know I’m always getting better, slowly and steadily, in both my art, and my sales!

Earning Money from your Art

Earning money from doing something you love is a dream every one has. Too do so is not impossible, but it is still work, just as any job is work, and can be quite hard. Many give up before they succeed, and give the impression it can’t be done, but I believe that with the right creativity, discipline, and motivation, anyone can succeed in earning a living from what they love doing!

There are many things to consider when starting down the road to using your artwork for a source of income. The most important decision is whether to work towards being completely self employed, or to have another source of income. While some people feel having another source of income is not truely succeeding in your art career, consider this- When self employed, you will have as many, if not more jobs and tasks to complete that are not art related than if you have another side job. You will be a designer, an advertiser, a book keeper, an accountant, a customer servant, and so much more.
Of course being self employed has it’s benefits, but it is important to weigh the pros and cons of this option carefully.

Either way, there are a number of important things you must teach yourself-

1. Study and learn all you can about copyright law. For protecting your own rights, and to be sure not to infringe upon others.
2. Study your craft! Whatever your artwork style or technique, refine it, learn, experiment, and do the best you can! True artists never stop trying to learn and improve their craft and come up with new and innovative ideas!
3. Learn from those around you in the same field. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most people are happy to help as long as your questions are specific and friendly!
4. Make a name for yourself. This requires a lot of promotion, and working for little to no profit in some cases. You want people to see your art in as many places as possible, so that they will start to recognise it and connect it to you. You also need to build a reputation as being professional, reliable and trustworthy if you wish people to spend their money with you!
5. Enjoy yourself! Don’t forget why you began in the first place, and your passion for the things you create!

With new technology and avenues to promote artwork, doing it all yourself is an option many artists are taking, and succeeding in.

Producing your own prints and merchandise:

– A good quality printer for creating art prints is important if you will be making prints yourself. Look for something that specifies its inks as being “archival” quality. You will also want packaging for them to give them a nice display, most artists use for print packaging supplies.

– other products can be made easily and cheaply such as bookmarks, magnets, keyrings and more. When looking for products to add to your range, unless you’re in huge demand, look for things that are easy to make just one of at a time.

– Instead of making things yourself, you can have items made and printed at copy centres, photo shops, or online sites that manufacture one off products such as Cafepress, Redbubble or Zazzle.

Then you need somewhere to sell the items:

– Sell your products online on your own website. Webdesign is expensive to pay for, but easy to learn how to do yourself! Save some money and take the time to learn yourself. Also study how to promote your website, because there’s no point in having one if no one finds it. There are many great online resources about promoting your website, search engine optimisation, and selling art online.

– Sell your products at flea markets, weekend markets and craft markets. These can be a good income source, and a lot of fun! You can make a good display with cheap fold out tables, nice fabric to cover them, and display items from budget stores (magazine racks, cup trees and baskets are great!).

– Sell your items at large fairs and festivals, or conventions. These can be expensive to get into, but many have cheap “mail in” sections or “print shop” sections that don’t require a lot of money or preparation to show in.

Different Ideas and Ways to Earn Money from Art-

– Teaching art classes, either as a qualified teacher, or many youth and community centres will pay unqualified but skilled people to run classes.

– Taking commissions, ie, being paid to create artwork for someone else and their ideas. Illustrating for books is ideal, however personal commissions for fantasy portraits is very popular and much easier to come by.

– Doing classical stye Portraits. Family portraits, business portraits, and so on. Ask your local framers or photo store if you can advertise there.

– Painting decorative work onto craft objects for sale. “Folk art” style objects can be a lot of fun, and unique items can be highly sought after.

– Graphics design, for print or web design, graphic design is creative and is needed everywhere.

– License your artwork to manufacturers. Royalties are often not huge (5-15% is often standard), but can add up. some companies prefer to pay a flat once off rate for use of your work, which is a good large hit of money upfront, but not as good in the long run. Study any contract very well before signing, and be sure there is always a way to get out of it if you want to or need to.

– Show in galleries or offer your work to galleries for a sales commission.

– Sketching in person at markets and events (portraits, etc). People love seeing an artist working in real life!

– “Busking” art, eg, pavement artwork, 5 minute portraits, etc. Local laws about busking will apply to doing this.

Selina knows it is possible to have a career as an artist. At 27 years old, she has only worked a year of her life for another employer, being self supporting on her art alone since the age of 22.

When following these tips and ideas, please be sure to research any and all legislation, laws and rules which could apply to these activities individually or running a business as a whole in your area.