How Not To Run An Etsy Shop (Or Your Life) | Part One of Many, Probably

Embarrassing story time, people. Almost too embarrassing for the Internet, actually, but I don’t have anything else as remotely entertaining to talk about, so make a cup of tea and bask in my idiocy…

A bit of back story: I’ve been working on my Etsy every day for the last few weeks, including evenings and weekends, because I’ve had some headaches with bugs on the site and I’ve been ordering stock in for people and planning for an Etsy Made Local Christmas market in Chelmsford in a couple of weeks. Oh, and I’m planning for that Black Friday-Cyber Monday migraine-inducing online shopping behemoth. I also went down to Brighton last week to see my brother and I knew I had to place an order for a variety of Christmas cards (a totally new item for me, from a new supplier) before I went, so I ended up placing the order on the Saturday before I travelled down. I got the invoice while I was in Brighton and paid straight away – very entrepreneurial, ten points to Francesca for remembering her iPad and bank info – and voila they arrived today!

Today’s quality was already hanging in the balance because I was taking endless Christmas product photos, on not a lot of sleep, and had one of those to-do list that doesn’t end, like one of those snakes that eats its own tail. I had also had absolutely no contact from the supplier, except for a delivery time, since I placed the order – despite phoning them up and leaving a message like it’s 2003 – so there was an element of ‘did I pay this invoice or have I wired my money into thin air?’ Anyway. The cards arrived. The delivery man was nice.

Back story to the back story: I’ve had really bad luck with suppliers in the past. Items have arrived damaged or not at all, usually when I’ve needed them for an event. So before I opened the parcel I ran through the worst case scenario: that my designs had come out badly and the cards themselves were damaged.

I opened the parcel.

The cards were fine. Correct quality, correct quantity. Except the Saturnalia design was wrong. I’d ordered the design in landscape, not portrait. My sample was in landscape. I photographed and listed it as landscape. These cards were… definitely portrait.

Saturnalia/Roman mythology-inspired Christmas card, green and grey on white card. Landscape.
The sample
Saturnalia/Roman mythology-inspired Christmas card, green and grey on white card. Portrait design.
The reality

That phrase ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ should really be ‘the minor inconvenience that gave the sole trader a nervous breakdown’ because I was bitterly disappointed. There’s no time to return them before Etsy Made Local! People are waiting on these cards! Okay technically no one had pre-ordered them, but what if they had? Am I doomed to select awkward suppliers until I bankrupt myself? Luckily I am obstinate determined so I took new photos and updated my listings, had a hot chocolate and waited until I’d calmed down to compose an email to the supplier expressing my disappointment in their service. Before I wrote it I did a quick check to confirm I hadn’t sent the design in portrait by accident.

I could not find the landscape version of the design on my computer.

I decided the pre-Black Friday stress was getting to me. I definitely designed a landscape version of the card. I had the identical design as a postcard last year. The sample I ordered was landscape. I designed it landscape.

Didn’t I?

It turns out, dear reader, that I did make a landscape version for the card company. It’s tucked away in my Etsy folder, no where near my other mythology design files. I also made a portrait version, ages ago, when I first played around with folded card designs.

I sent the wrong file. I spent at least fifteen minutes of my life mentally writing a strongly-worded complaint to a company that, lack of communication notwithstanding, has done its job. I was so exhausted and fed up that I ran through the scenario of retiring stationery lines entirely, and wondered what would happen if I didn’t do anything for Black Friday at all. I contemplated taking a holiday that weekend to somewhere with no computers.

Oops.

I’ve recovered from the ignominy of it all enough to tell you guys, because clearly I have potential to run a side blog called How Not To Run An Etsy Shop (Or Your Life), and I’m going to have a bath and chill out with my dogs and assume that the entire world will keep turning regardless of the orientation of some atheist Christmas cards. Oh and I’m going to remind you all to go to the Mythology Mayhem and Grumpy Greetings sections of my shop, where you will find several listings for quality, 100%-recycled-cardstock Christmas cards at very reasonable prices. UK postage is free, by the way, and orders over £10 internationally will ship free until 30th November.

And yeah, I’ve left the original landscape photos on the listing thumbnails for now. I like the added use of stamps and it was too dark to play around with the portrait ones this afternoon. I updated the listing info and called the mishap a ‘printing error’. ‘Human error’ is more accurate, but I’m going to cut myself some slack and stop working Saturdays as soon as Christmas is over. Only 41 sleeps til Santa you guys!

Pour me a gin and tonic.

Comfy Beds & Concubines: Hue, Vietnam

(Can I just say, that title is possibly my favourite in eight years of blogging.)

I really liked Hue, because our visit contained my favourite things: old buildings and comfortable dorm rooms. Our hostel was Wild West-themed and I’m not convinced white people should be appropriating Native American culture any more than we already have, but also we were in Vietnam and I’m not used to anyone other than white people appropriating culture. Is it appropriation the same as appreciation? No. Are they too easily confused in a world built on appropriation? Probably.

Anyway. The reviews on Hostelworld raved about the dorm’s beds and by that point in the trip I’d slept in a tent and on a wooden pallet with what seemed to be a yoga mat so I figured, as long as there’s clean sheets I’m happy.

I was so, so happy. The mattresses were squishy. Giant curtains and wooden separators shielded you from the universe. There was a little box with a key for your belongings as well as a locker. Almost like your bedroom at home, except with eleven other people in there!

Wall decorations in Why Not hostel in Hue in Vietnam
Remind me to change ‘coffee’ to ‘tea’ and ‘wine’ to ‘gin’ and make one of these for myself.

Moving on: Hue – pronounced ‘Hway’ – was once the capital of Vietnam and is complete with its own imperial city, aka walled citadel. Maxim and I took a guided tour which I probably should have recorded, because the notes I made on my phone are shite, but here’s what I can tell you with reasonable certainty:

Men wear make up

The 12th and penultimate emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, Khai Dinh, spent loads of time in Europe and when he died in 1925 his tomb – which is the size of an average block of houses – was built with a mix of European and Vietnamese styles, which is why it kind of looks like a cathedral from the Middle Ages. The inside of the tomb reminds me a bit of a church or a temple too. According to my notes, Khai Dinh enjoyed make up and was possibly gay. I have no idea if this had any bearing on his reign.

Men like sex

Onto the next emperor, Minh Mang. He has a serious Wikipedia page but according to my notes he may have had 600 concubines and had the moniker ‘strong at night’. Alternatively that may be another emperor. Presumably such a title is one many of them aimed to enjoy. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed wandering his tomb and highly recommend you also visit if you are in the area.

The Imperial City looks very… imperial

For some reason I have very few photos of the Imperial City, which is enormous and would probably make a good setting for something in Game of Thrones:

Imperial City in Hue Vietnam

I recall that a large portion of the buildings were bombed by B-52s in the American War, but I also have a feeling that one guided tour is not enough to get the full scope of somewhere with as much history as Hue. If anyone fancies sending me back…

We finished with a beautiful evening boat ride along the Perfume River and mooched about the shops for a bit. Hue is a really chilled out town and there are some lovely places in the town selling art and pottery and whatnot, and if I return with a suitcase I will be buying all the art. I seem to remember that Hugh Jackman had something to do with one of them. There was a photograph of him on the wall, anyway…

Riverboat view of the Perfume River, Hue, Vietnam

Next time in the SE Asia blogs: our horrific trip up to Hanoi! Keep an eye out for it, guys, it’ll make you think Southern Rail are the pinnacle of customer service.

Blog Like No One’s Reading… Wait

Did any of you read the post about book piracy I wrote last week? I’m proud of it, and not just because I worked hard to articulate what I was thinking. I wrote it on my 8th anniversary of joining WordPress, so it was a bit of a victory dance. I’ve been blogging longer than I was in secondary school you guys! I’d be lying if I sat back and basked in the glory of the milestone, though. Mostly I did what I’ve done every anniversary for the past four years or so: sucked in my breath, looked at my stats page and wondered how the hell my site was so much more popular when I wrote total bullshit. No, really. Look:

blog stats of the year

But then I looked properly at the visits vs views and noticed something I hadn’t paid attention to: in 2012 I had 16,000 views but it was the same people, coming back frequently. I’ve had more visitors since then and people seem to come and stay at a relatively steady rate. This was a huge revelation to me, because I’ve spent the last five years watching view rates go down and wondering why I even bother. There is nothing more depressing than shouting into a void, and it’s reflected in my writing: I was blogging about South East Asia pretty constantly until I got home and people (mostly offline, although there’s overlap) made disparaging remarks about my trip. If no one wants to hear me talk about the elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, I thought, I won’t bother. I don’t, as I mentioned in the piracy post, get paid for this. I have things in my life that bring me more satisfaction than typing an 800-word post, adding alt text to some carefully selected images then posting it just for none of my subscribers open their emails.

But apparently blog traffic isn’t looking as bad as I thought it was. Which has got me thinking about what constitutes a reader. How many readers do I have? I’ve always judged it roughly by comments: when I follow a blog or person, I probably don’t reply to their every post, but I drop in with a comment or a retweet or the like every five posts or so. If someone comments on here every five posts – which works out as roughly one a month or thereabouts – I’m pretty chuffed and think of them as a reader. Bonus points if they follow any social media accounts!

But then the picture gets weird again, because comments fluctuate year-on-year. I can’t see a trend and some of the things I’ve really thought will get people talking just haven’t.

comment stats

Possibly I should discount the stats page completely and focus on producing great writing that people will like, but that comes back to comments again because most posts get zero comments (ones that like what I’ve said or ones that disagree), then once every few months one will get half a dozen. It’s tempting to make up some wacky opinions to get a response, but I don’t want to say weird shit for the sake of it.

This isn’t a cry for help: if I continue blogging for another eight years, it’ll be because I’ve got something to say. If I stop, it won’t be because I’ve gone more than five posts without a comment.

I normally end posts with a question – because then people will answer in a comment, geddit – but clearly that has been doing jack shit so I am just going to put this out there and try to be content that I’ve written a decent post. Happy Bonfire Night!

‘Am I Screwing Over the Book Industry By Releasing My Work for Free?’ and Other Existential Questions

Over the weekend Maggie Stiefvater wrote about the implications of book piracy and, when the Internet told her off, told a story about dealing with book piracy. You can read them both at your leisure (the story is worth five minutes of your time for its sneaky genius alone). Today I want to talk about the questions it threw up for me both as a reader and as someone who posts writing on the Internet for free.

First off, I work at a literary consultancy a day a week so I know a minuscule amount about publishing. I know a little more about writing and way more about reading. But I do know that publishing fiction in 2017 is not the easiest of things. Books are luxuries and household incomes are not always at luxury-buying levels. Savvy publishers will buy a book whose content or author has a reasonable chance of making them a profit before they consider some left-field niche wee book from a new author. My Everyday Acts of Murder series, currently available for everyone on my stories blog, probably won’t get an ISBN-d print edition until I have 8 million Twitter followers or have been to the Olympics or something. So yeah, books are hard to produce and expensive to buy. People are broke. So let’s think outside the metaphor and share art and make money in other ways?

Enter: me, using Patreon to offer readers an early release of my stories, plus some other little perks I can feasibly create with no budget, from one US dollar per month. You guys get free content, I get money from those of you who care enough to pay me, everyone is fulfilled!

Except.

Maggie points out that ‘if you take away a paying-for-art model, you end up only getting art from people who can afford to work in their spare time or art that is supported by patrons — both models that we have seen before, both models that end up giving you art produced by and for a homogeneous and upper class group’. But Francesca, you’re thinking, you aren’t upper class and homogeneous, we aren’t upper class and homogeneous and we know you can’t afford to give your work away for free! True. I had to double-check what ‘homogeneous’ means, for one thing, and for another I don’t give any other type of my work away for free – not my marketing services, not the stationery I design on Etsy (or not since I made my watermark uncroppable, anyway). So why did I go for the free-content-with-paid-perks-available model?

Before I opened up my story blog I spent several deeply unsatisfying years trying to find a job that allowed me to say ‘I’m a writer’. Eventually I decided to just go and be a writer. Running my own blog gives me the freedom to make what I want and when. I’m always working on something, because a blog can go on indefinitely, and I can interact with my readers in real time. No one directs me (I do have a critique partner, though, I’m not a complete heathen) and it’s my space, just like this blog is. Although you can have a character named after you for a dollar (one dollar!) or suggest a story prompt, I choose what I do with your name and your prompt. F r e e d o m!

Except.

Am I removing piracy’s power by putting everything online myself for free, like Maggie did by flooding the Internet with her own book, or am I ripping myself off and lowing my own standards? If  individuals personally gave me hundreds of dollars of their own money, could I still claim to be completely independent? Would I feel beholden to them and their ideas? When someone throws a tantrum on this blog or Twitter, I can comfortably tell them to fuck off. What happens when that person is paying for my car insurance? Were I to publish a full-length novel, would anyone buy it or would they assume I should post that for free, too? I could conceivably follow the route of never charging up front and rely on people buying perks on Patreon forever, but there’s an economic theory I can’t remember the name of which stipulates that people will pay what they think an item is worth. If your price is low or non-existent, as I have learnt with my Etsy, people will assume it’s not worth paying for. If you demand money, they know that what you’ve got to offer is worth money. I feel like that applies to the book industry as a whole – if I offer my work for free and a person who happens to be a fan of The Raven Cycle likes it, will they resent Maggie for not releasing her work for free as well? Am I devaluing books everywhere? Will I become exclusive and homogeneous? Am I ripping myself off? And is it a new level of narcissism on my part that I read about a New York Times bestselling author’s experience with piracy and immediately worried about my own work, which as an audience of about a dozen people, being pirated?

(Yes.)

This is the bit where I tell you I once read a pirated copy of The Dream Thieves. I could offer the excuse that I was in a bad state mentally at the time, which I was, or that I had the book on order from my library, which it was. But I know better and I could have exercised restraint. I just didn’t. Sorry, Maggie, it was a dick move on my part.

Book piracy is easy and free and right there. It’s not going away unless a lot of people grow a conscience, which isn’t likely, or until enough authors or publishers or agents find ways to beat pirates (ha) at their own game. At the moment, me sharing stories on a blog is also easy, free and right there. I like it. I feel like I’m working hard to create fiction I’m proud of, and I know I can be proud that I’ve tried another way of making money from something I enjoy and am good at. Karma probably exists after all, because I earn one dollar a month on Patreon and will realistically one day have to send a cease and desist to a shitbag on Etsy who thinks they can copy and paste my designs. I haven’t even talked about second hand books today, because unless they’re advanced reader copies someone paid for them originally, but would publishers be less inclined to cut a series due to low sales if they knew how many second hand copies were in circulation? Should second hand sales count in sales figures given that most people who can’t afford a new book will go to their library and/or favourite second hand bookseller before looking for a pirated copy? Would less people pirate books if we had more libraries?

I don’t have the answers – I barely have coherent questions – but I feel like the only way any of us are going to keep seeing books in shops is if we keep talking about what books are worth, and what writers are worth, to us as readers. Some people will never place value on other people’s art, and instead of debating whether piracy is inevitable, we should probably just concentrate on making it really, really difficult. So tell me your thoughts on free art versus paid art and all of that versus piracy. Tell me how you would end pirated books. Have you ever confronted someone you know is pirating books? I’m kind of done with repeating the word ‘pirate’ even if it is Halloween…

(If I ever show signs of becoming remotely homogeneous, you have my permission to punch me in the face.)

PS I remembered I had photographed my dogeared shitheap partially second hand copies of TRC but I seem to have lost ‘Blue Lily’. How appropriate.

Indifferent Ignorance Radio: Lunch & Etsy, ft. My Kitchen

Afternoon! I didn’t feel like typing, so I spoke for five minutes instead. That sound you can hear in the background is the lid of my saucepan trying to escape its earthly bounds…

Lunch was great by the way, I added cream cheese to the pasta and drowned the lot in pepper (surprise!). I might have that shower now…

Yes, That is a Swastika | The Marble Mountains and Train to Hue, Vietnam

The Marble Mountains

While we were in Danang a friend recommended that we visit the the Marble Mountains, and since mountains are made to be climbed, etc, we went for it. Each of the five pagoda-topped mountains is named after the element it’s supposed to represent, and although they are genuinely made from marble, most of the marble souvenirs available are actually imported from China because the alternative would be mining the mountain all the tourists have paid to see.

view from Marble Moutains, Vietnam
She’ll be coming down the mountain when she coooommmeeeesssss (not sorry I hate that song and now you can hate it too)

Only one mountain is accessible to visitors, and I completely wimped out climbing most of it. Maxim disappeared into a cave and came back half an hour later from a completely different direction; I sat on a bench, wheezed a bit and judged other tourists’ walking boots. After Angkor Wat I’d had enough of intrepid exploring for a bit, although in retrospect it would have helped me sweat off all those M&Ms.

Marble Mountains, Danang, Vietnam
Oh, that? No, your eyes aren’t kidding you. Long before the Nazis seeped through Europe, the Swastika was an religious symbol across Asia and India.

In fact, swastikas were everywhere. Trump had only been in office a few weeks at the time and was stretching his tiny, bigoted Muslim-banning fingers, so seeing beautifully-engraved swastikas in a calm, intricate place of worship was like that feeling you get when you eat bad food and know when you’re going to puke but you’re not sure when. I take solace that few of the bone bags taking over America can actually find Vietnam on a map and will never visit these places for active worship.

I don’t spook easily, but some of the caves were a little bit too ancient-religious-shrine for me. This particular buddha, for example, was nearly invisible until you were right on top of him.

Buddha at Marble Mountains, Hue, Vietnam
Er, yes, hello, I’m going to look at your face and not the politically charged symbol engraved on your chest…

The Marble Mountains were probably the only place in the whole of South East Asia where I could really believe in god(s) and spirituality, probably because it’s so old and, unlike Angkor Wat, there aren’t 8,000 tourists taking selfies every five steps.

entrance to a cave, Marble Mountains, Hue, Vietnam
The steps in this photo look decidedly crooked, but I think for once that’s not down to my photography.

If you’re in the area, definitely make the trip up the mountain – and if you’ve got luggage space, bring me back a marble statue. There’s a spot on my mum’s patio crying out for a large-ish marble effigy of, well, anything.

The Train to Hue

Nowdays, I commute to London once a week on a train and there is little to recommend it as a form of travel. In February, I was completely fed up with buses and insisted we took the train from Danang to Hue, as everyone who had done the trip absolutely raved about the view. We stopped at a chicken restaurant before we left Danang and it is my eternal shame that I mistook a guy picking up a takeaway for a waiter. I also accidentally ordered a dish of what appeared to be very spicy chicken bones.

Chicken restaurant, Danang, Vietnam

I don’t know the name of the restaurant, but if anyone does – I seem to remember it was really well known locally – let me know, because bones aside it was ace.

Our train seats were ticketed and when we reached ours after a suitably long delay, we quietly asked if the elderly Vietnamese couple already in them would mind moving (they didn’t. I felt like a dick white tourist, but I also didn’t want to get turfed off the train).

train from Danang to Hue, Vietnam

I distinctly recall that a local man was boarding the train with a duck, and a tourist said something like, ‘Oh, that duck is so cute! Is it a pet?’ The man did not answer. I am not a busybody, so I did not tell the tourist that the duck was probably his dinner.

That elderly couple came off better in the end – our seats were next to a large white pillar, so we couldn’t really see out of the windows to the infamous beautiful views… and I fell asleep as soon as we left the station, so it didn’t matter anyway. I just checked and I don’t have a single piece of evidence that there was a view at all.

It put me in good stead for commuting, in that respect.

Christmas is Calling, Help

I had a quick glance at my calendar and it’s been nearly three whole weeks since I sat down to write here so I made myself a beverage, cracked my neck and sat down to tell you all… um. It’s been a busy three weeks? But everything in it was too nondescript to blog about? I mean, I read about four books. (I’m on GoodReads, by the way. I never read other people’s reviews but I enjoy writing my own, like blogging.) I had a cold – one of those snotty, coughing, can-feel-your-eyeballs-rattle-in-your-skull colds and swallowed my pride to buy medicine over the counter. My newest job is going well, and I am getting better at parking on the first attempt. I scratched the Mini’s front bumper on someone else’s front bumper. The other person’s bumper was so scratched already that I didn’t feel bad, because they clearly made a habit of parking far too close to other vehicles. I bought my first Christmas present.

I’m not proud of that, but you gotta do what you gotta do to avoid payday loaning your way through January. Since I’ve also been preparing for Christmas on Etsy – do not get me started on the finer details of Secret Santa tags – I’m curious to know: when do you guys start buying presents? Do you set a strict budget? I’m being extra careful this year because last year I got overexcited and bought things for people who didn’t seem bothered that I’d got them anything, so this Christmas is close family-only plus a couple of Secret Santas and realistically something ridiculous for the dogs. Like this:

Look at that balcony.

So yeah, let me know your thoughts on Christmas. Is it too much hassle? Are you a wee Scrooge? Do you buy your cousin’s dog’s groomer a bottle of malbec and some shortbread? I need to know so I can strike an acceptable balance between Scrooginess and extravagance.

Graceless Nights With Lorde at Alexandra Palace

Afternoon. I feel like I should apologise for not posting on my story blog this week, but since approximately five people read it and at least four of them are direct relations, I think I’ll save the heartfelt messages for when there’s more like six of you. I really did mean to have a story up, but I only wrote it last week because I’ve been busy settling into my new job, and I’ve promised myself that I will get my writing critiqued properly before whacking it online, and I’m still waiting on feedback. BUT NO MATTER. I HAVE CONTENT TODAY.

I saw Lorde at Alexandra Palace last week and I’m still buzzing. I hadn’t been to a live show in three or four years, and my usual brand of live music is, you know, not Lorde. I also went by myself, which is one of those things you read in self help books titled Coming to Terms With Your Own Company (Because You’ll Die Alone), but actually I just didn’t have anyone to go with. I also had work central London the next day, so I stayed up there and learnt how contactless cards work on the underground (spoiler alert: next time I’ll just get an Oyster card). Anyway, the show.

I’d never really seen a pop concert – is Lorde even pop? – so it was quite heartwarming to queue with a group who’d seen Twenty One Pilots perform live and were also wearing Doc Martens (it was kind of more heartwarming to name drop that I once saw MCR at Wembley, because I am a dick). I’d never even heard of the warm up act, Khalid, but a bunch of kids were well into it and as soon as I got home on Thursday I saw him on TV, so when he’s up for a Grammy you’d better believe I’ll be name dropping him, too. During the obligatory wait between doors and warm up and warm up and main act I got chatting to two girls who’d decorated their faces in glitter, which made me wish I’d thought ahead. The atmosphere was actually not that different to one at an MCR show – there was a good mix of people, with parents with their kids and groups of friends and couples, all waiting with baited breath for the lights to go down. It’s quite hard to explain what happened when the lights did go down so here, have a video.

I guess one upside to a pop show versus a rock show is that the act changes clothes along with their set?

Lorde Alexandra Palace London September 2017 Europe Dance Tour

Lorde Alexandra Palace London 2017

Yes, that’s a red sparkly jumpsuit with a pair of trainers.

It’s always hard to describe what it’s like seeing an act you really love play live. The last band I saw that had already fused to my rib cage was MCR when I was 15. My dad took us and we dressed up in our finest Killjoy glamour and it was probably as close to a religious experience as I got during my teens. At 22, with a very different life and in completely different circumstances, I got to have that experience again. There’s nothing like howling a song with a few thousand other people, knowing the person on the stage is having as much fun as you are. I have a cold this week – one of those where you think you’re okay to breathe through your nose and then you sneeze phlegm onto the nearest piece of clothing – and I can’t wait to be fully awake again so I can go and make things as cool as the music Lorde makes. I might also get myself a red sparkly jumpsuit, as clearly they bring good fortune…