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 😉


13 thoughts on “Starting at the Bottom

  1. Laura Macy says:

    Selina, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on the matter. Frankly, it’s just what I’ve needed to hear/read as I have lately been languishing in creativity and sales. Being a sensitive soul, life’s occasional upsets can throw me for a loop and affect my art (not in a good way) and it’s often hard to bounce back and get back in the groove. Ultimately, whatever fears, insecurities, or lack of know-how we have are our responsibility to address. It does no good to linger in a state of not knowing something or feeling less than adequate. It’s an obligation we have to move forward, improve, grow, and inform ourselves whatever path we’re on. The information we need is out there. The skills are just around the corner if we work for them.
    Thanks for the gentle kick in the rear that I needed 😉

    • selinafenech says:

      It was a bit of a kick in the butt for myself, writing this 🙂
      I’ve been feeling whiny, that it’s all so hard and taking so long. I needed to remind myself of the good things now and ahead and focus on doing the work 🙂

  2. Marjolijn Ashara says:

    As someone who is currently figuring out what ‘road’ she wants to take now, this post was a joy to read. A breath of fresh air that I desparately needed. I’m at the bottom now and I think the thing I need to learn is to see the joy of having everything wide open. The countless possibilities that come with starting something new. Yes, we all need to learn and grow, but we can choose our own directions. Thank you, Selina for writing something so personal and wonderful 🙂

  3. Gabrielle says:

    Haha oh I can relate to the joy of being at the bottom considering I’m still there ;p lol But I read your book and i can say, whole heartidly, that I thought it was right up their with the greats 🙂 You took me on a journey from beginning to end, it’s amazing what imagination and words can do! 😀 And books like Twilight and Hunger Games took awhile to become big hits, so you never know, anything can happen. 8]

    Um I have a quick question though, how old were you when your artwork really started getting sales and you realized you were getting out of the bottom??

    • selinafenech says:

      How old? Well, after university, I worked for one year as a graphic designer, and it was after that that I started working full time at trying to make a living from my art. I think it was another year after that when I was confident that I could earn a living off my art and moved out of home (I had been living with my parents before) and have lived off my art ever since.
      Although I started putting my art online at about 14 years old, it wasn’t until I was about 18 that I started really trying to improve my art, and then it was during university (18-21) that I first started doing commissions, setting up my website and selling at markets. I would have been 23 when I was supporting myself from my art sales.

  4. Ceridwen says:

    Hi Selina!

    Thanks for sharing your experience on this post and the others. I also want to make a living out of art and fiction, so, your posts about the art and the publishing industry are very important. As you started on your own, and now you’re self-publishing, it gives me hope that I can do the same.

    I wish you all the luck with your new projects. I look forward to reading your books! 🙂 Best wishes!

  5. Aj says:

    I wanted to say for one your work is beautiful, Ive always loved drawing the fantasy world =]
    I am starting at the bottom trying to sell my art and I know how hard it is. Keep up the good work
    )0( Blessed Be

  6. Nicky says:

    Loved reading this Ive been following you for many years and love your works! I actually own the piece you used for your HSC and I love it I get so many compliments on it and its always a talking point!

  7. Lisa says:

    Friendly Greetings,

    Wonderful sentiments and encouraging words. I am still at the bottom, after years of my business. My writing, photography, and artwork is all I do…and can do, long story…and I’m still working on actually making a living with it. How hopeful to be reminded that the possibilities of the future are yet untold. I just hope I can gather the patience.

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