I hope this posting finds you all well. I have been receiving emails and questions regarding my column, Ta Da! in Romantic Homes magazine, or rather, my lack of articles for my column, and I wasn't sure how to broach the subject until this timely letter to the editor appeared in the current issue of Romantic Home's Jan 2010 issue. A reader wrote stating that she visited the St. Louis area, looking for my store and was disappointed to find that I had closed it and wanted to know how to get in touch with me. (Thank you Roseanne Lange of Eldon, MO for the lovely letter to the editor.) The editors of the magazine were kind of enough to print the letter as well as my blog address for the readers to find me so they can keep up with my adventures. The editors also mentioned that I have an upcoming article in a future issue...
...which leads me to the reason of this posting. I have always tried to be open and honest with you with all my writings whether it was with a design project, Shop Talk, a fashion foible, or a personal issue I was experiencing - divorce, marriage, car wrecks, you name it, I always tried to be true. So in keeping with my mode of operation, I will explain how it came to be that I am no longer a contributing editor for Romantic Homes.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the publishing world, let me explain that just about any Christmas article you may be reading in any current magazine today was photographed and written at least six to seven months ago, but even more likely it was written a year ago. Articles, especially seasonal ones, are usually completed six months to a year in advance for publication. So, last summer the editor of Romantic Homes contacted me wanting me to come up with a list of suggested features and ideas for my next year's (2010) articles for my column, Ta Da!.
I was very excited (and flattered) to be asked again to write for them another year. The first issue I appeared in was their November 2005 issue. Geesh! I can't believe it has been fours years that I have been working with them in one capacity or another. I so enjoy the creative process of creating a feature. It is such a joy to be given such creative license to come up with a list of story ideas and basically just go out and do them...
But that is the problem. I just don't "just go out and do them..." Doing a feature is a lot of work and a lot of time. Over the years of writing for RH, my average feature is anywhere from 6 to 12 pages. That is a huge article by industry standards and it takes a lot of work to fill those pages. Also, for those of you who aren't part of the publishing world, there are several different jobs in creating a feature in the industry that are usually held by different professionals in which I combined into one. Usually there is a person who is paid to scout out a story, then a photographer is paid, and then a stylist is on the shoot to help the photographer, then a writer is given some pics so she can formulate the story and call up the designer or home owner to ask questions to complete the story. Those four positions (scouting, stylist, photographer, writer) were all done by me in addition to my creating the rooms themselves (designer) and coming up with the idea in the first place. Please don't misunderstand me, I absolutely love the creative process, and I do mean that very much. But...
...I was going to do a post for my blog sometime down the road about my photo shoots and what is done behind the scenes, and I was saving these photos for that article, but I will share some with you now to better explain you what goes into a shoot. This particular shoot (see below) took three days. I actually spent the night at the home owner's home because it was over an hour drive and the work day was so long. Below are some photos of a shoot that I will share with you in the next posting. It was an article I did last year that I think is worth repeating for new readers about taking a tiny space and making it special for New Years. I will include a lot of photos that weren't in the magazine and also some tips that weren't included as well. Below are some photos to just give you an idea of the set up that is involved in a photo shoot:
I love Randy's old truck - everyone needs an old truck that you can count on to haul your goodies. Plus, don't you just love the color? But, I digress..as you can see by the weather and sky...it isn't no where near winter or looking like it will snow. But yet, this is a shoot for Christmas and New Years. The truck is loaded with props that I gathered, found, shopped, and loaded up and now have to unload and get into the home without breaking them or scratching the walls in the process.
All this mess is just props, materials, and stuff to get the room ready for the shoot. All the stuff you see below are things I brought in. Believe it or not, it is all used. It takes a lot of planning to get it done right and not have to drive back an hour to Target to get more candles or napkins or whatever you need. Once you are out in the country, you don't have time to go back.
Below are some French chairs that I own that I brought in to "re-do" on the spot with some burlap. I spent the evening putting burlap over the upholstery for the shoot. As you can see by the window, it is late into the evening.
This is a little table that I am fixing up for two. The above is when I just started and below is the finished product with all the goodies. Just getting it all set out took a day. Now I have to shoot it and I use only natural light, so my daylight is running out and I must rush.
Above and below is the mantel before and after. It takes a lot of time to tie up wire and books and place out a dozen or so clocks and candles...more detail photos on my next posting...and yes, that is my faux finishing technique on the wall... more on that in my next posting :-)
I could show you a lot more "in the process" photos, but you get the idea. What a lot of people don't realize is the stuff you don't see. Like hauling in the tool box, the ladders, the material, staple gun, wire, and all the shopping I did at all the stores to get just the right stuff I needed for the story. Then I had to go through my inventory for antiques or go to antique malls or flea-markets to find the perfect whatever to make the story really interesting or special for my readers. Once I find all those goodies (and it can take days), buy them, and load them in the truck. I now get to drive over an hour and unload them all again. As I work, I am formulating the story in my head, even though I have a good idea about it already, I am writing it in my head as I work into the night.
Once the "set" is done, I now must shoot it and style it. I must make sure that no camera bag is left in the background (I do it all the time!!) and all extension cords are hidden and price tags are taken off. That is why having a stylist is so nice to have on a shoot. I need to make sure all my batteries are charged and I have both my tripods. I must wipe off all the glass because dust is a pain to photo shop out and to make sure my reflection of myself behind the camera isn't in the window, mirror, shiny dish, or glass. I must check and recheck all the photos to make sure all is well because once I tear down the set, and I leave, that is it. And I am on a deadline, no second chances. I go about and probably shoot about 350 photos. Wide shots, and detail shots. My back is aching from a long night and from bending over so much with the camera. I squat on my knees a lot because I am determined to get certain angles. I work quickly with the natural light....the sun is now setting.
I then pack up the props, load the truck, put the house back in order, and head home, unpack the truck and down load all 350 photos onto my computer. I crop, correct and work on them until they are ready to download to a disk. This can take an entire day or even two. I then ship it off to RH and write my story and edit it many times before I email the story out to them as well. So there you have it. As you can see, I really just don't "go out and just do" my photo shoots. I put a lot of thought, care and love into them and I always keep the reader in mind and what I think you would want to know and see in an article. I don't have control over what actually goes into the magazine, but I always put the readers first when it comes to my writing articles.
Below is the end result that landed in the Romantic Homes January 2008 Issue:
So, back to my original reason for writing this post. When the editor asked me to come up with a list of story ideas for next year's issues, while excited, I knew I could no longer continue to do all the work it requires at the pay rate I was receiving. After all the features I have produced over the years, I had never asked for a raise and I really had to come to terms with how much I valued my time, effort and experience. So, with great thought, and with a heavy heart, I politely (and gratefully) expressed my gratitude to the RH editor for the opportunity to write and produce for them, and I expressed my desire to continue to do so, but I could not continue without a raise. Unfortunately, RH stated they did not have the budget and that was that. I sort of felt like not much consideration was given in trying find other budget options in keeping me on board, but business is business and magazines are closing up left and right, so I shouldn't take it personal.
I offered the option of my writing fewer articles to meet their budget requirements, but my offer has not been taken. I knew in my heart that when I wrote my email requesting a rate increase, I was basically writing my resignation. If a raise had not been offered to me by now, after all the articles I have produced, I knew that realistically, a raise would not be coming my way and that my email would be my resignation in a way. I was hoping otherwise, but unfortunately I was right. See, it isn't always good to be right. :-)
Basically, I had to ask myself some hard questions. The same tough questions I ask my readers that read my Shop Talk blog. I had to ask myself how much do I value my talent? I can only be taken advantage of (or feel as though) if I allow it. And even though I was passionate about those photo shoots and my producing them, at what point do I decide that my passion is worth more to me than just basically praise? When do I decide that I have "paid my dues" and now I am due for some real pay? Obviously my passion was worth something to the RH editors and publishers...at least worthy enough to print on paper and distribute. But if I don't value myself, or value my experience, or what I bring to the table, then who will? I had to remind myself it was the magazine who called me, not the other way around. But sometimes it is hard to feel valuable when I feel like I am only "fabulous" when I am "free."
I know there are so many others out there who would love to be in my shoes and do what I do with the magazine...I would love to be in my shoes too (as long as they match....see prior posting). But my shoes weren't feeling so good this last year, having worked so hard to produce articles like the New Year's Eve article or my Kitchen make-over and not be fairly compensated within the publishing standards....my shoes felt pretty tight...they just weren't feeling good anymore, even with a lot of praise about my work. But it is my fault if I don't speak up, because if I don't, then I can't complain. So I spoke up. And I didn't get the answer I hoped for. But as much as I will miss writing my features, and even with some doubts in wondering if I did the right thing, I know in my heart I did do the right thing because you know, my shoes are feeling a little better already. They ain't so darn uncomfortable because I know I will go further without the hindrance of uncomfortable shoes holding me back. You know how after walking all day in really uncomfortable shoes you begin to slow your pace and after a while your gait is even off a bit? That can happen professionally when one side of the equation is feeling shorted - the gait is off - and that doesn't feel good. With better fitting shoes, the pace is better, the stride is cleaner, and the gait is even, as it should be.
I offered RH my services should they need special feature and they were more than happy to keep that option open, which I appreciate. I have a feature coming out in the future, not sure which month. I believe it will be my bathroom from my apartment from over my store which features a baptismal font as a sink. That will be my last feature for them, unless they decide they want to hire me again for another story. I am so happy to have had the experience and opportunity to have worked with them. I learned a lot and challenged myself. The editors gave me a lot of freedom with my articles and they were always so excited when they received my disk of photos. Magazines are very expensive to produce and budgets are slashed. And I, like millions of others in America, can now say that the recession has now hit home with me. Until now, I have been very lucky and have not been too affected by it.
In the words of the late Paul Harvey, "Now you know the rest of the story." Should you feel the need to politely let the editor know how much you will miss my articles, feel free to let her know that you will miss my Ta Da! column and RH should reconsider their budget! :-) But seriously, please know that I am very grateful for the experience I received and I would welcome the opportunity to work with them again should it arise. They are a quality magazine that I was proud to be a part of for four years.
So, I am officially a free-agent...a free-lance writer...there seems to be a lot of "free" in those titles. Maybe that is the problem? How about the terms "Money-seeking Agent" or "Cash-Advance Writer"? I think those terms better define the reality of the situation anyway. :-) Any editors out there needing a feature writer? I produce great work for great pay....that seems fair, now doesn't it?
I hope by sharing my experiences with you it helps shed some light and answer some questions. I love to style, write, design and so on...but I think I paid my dues and it is time to earn a real living in the publishing world. So many other people earn a good living at it, why not me as well? And that is what you can ask yourself when you are feeling like your talent or passion is "just a hobby" or you feel like you are always "doing favors" but not getting paid for your talent. If someone is asking you for something...then you have something of worth. And if you don't put a price on it, then they will. And sometimes, just to get a foot in the door, we may have to pay our dues. But once both feet are firmly inside, and we have proven ourselves, unless we step out and speak up, then the price we pay will be much bigger than we bargained for: our sense of self-worth. And that, my dear readers, is priceless.
I will close with these quotes that I feel sum it all up nicely:
"The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself." Mark Twain
"I think somehow we learn who we really are and then live with that decision." Eleanor Roosevelt
And my favorite:
"Always remember to stand up for yourself because nobody will if you don't." Alfred Maxson
(My late loving father said that to me when I was only 10 years old when he tucked me into bed one night after I got into an argument with my mother. He wanted me to apologize to her, but said he was proud of me for standing up to her for what I believed in...I just needed to do it more respectfully...but he wanted me to remember to always stand up for myself. I will never forget that.)
From my house to your house,