How to Deal with Rejection as a Freelancer

Rejection is something everyone experiences at one point or another in their lives. However, for the freelancer, rejection comes with the job description. Nevertheless, the feeling of rejection could be devasting. The disappointment that courses through our minds when doors are shut against what we feel is our greatest idea or the genius of our achievements yet and we are brought again to that point where we have to decide whether we are going to move forward or give up. 

Every freelancer should be familiar with this feeling, whether you are an artist, a writer, musician, or designer, that feeling of having to start again is what every freelancer encounter often. You probably have held a piece in your hand and savored your genius only to have no attention paid to it at all.

Well, you are not alone. The thoughts that now run through your mind once filled the minds of freelancers you probably look up to now.

In this article, I will be talking about how you can handle rejection, outlining things you should know and can do to help you go through the phase bravely while forging forward.

 

  • Start Here: Get Used To It!

If you have decided to stick with freelancing, you have chosen to become a competitor. One of the most important conclusions you must come to and settle with yourself early is that you will face rejection, most definitely. Your ideas might still be looked down on, rejected or flat out ignored. It is hard to come to terms with this, but possible rejections come with the job.

 

  • Value Dreaming.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

-Eleanor Roosevelt

Have you allowed yourself daydream about having your work accepted or published by a prominent organization? You most likely envisioned what the pay would look like sitting in your bank account, you probably even planned a budget around that imaginary milestone payment. Got you!

Believe it or not, dreaming is an important part of the creative process. As childish as it might seem dreaming happy thoughts is good for you on two basic levels. First, it helps your body release happy hormones that basically prepares it to give its best, motivating it to push the extra mile, even allowing it to give up its cravings. Next is that it motivates the mind to allow creativity. It helps us to become better versions of our creative selves.

However, when rejection comes, there is a tendency for us to shut off this ability because our expectations have been with an equal level of disappointment. Most people are scared to fail. Don’t slip into this, instead, allow yourself daydream about the possibilities of the future. How the next idea would be your greatest hit yet.

 

  • Before you allow the rejection to overwhelm you, why don’t you take a closer look at things. 

Rejection could work constructively for you, or it could destroy you, depending on how you see it. It could act as mirror reflections of how much you have improved, what you are doing better and what still needs to be worked on.

For example, you pitched an idea for an article to an editor. The editor responded to the pitch but rejected it. But the editor responded right? 

Well instead of looking at the pitch as an utter failure, why don’t you pay attention to the fact that the editor actually responded.

That could mean that something about your pitch caught his/her attention. It might be the format, the structure, something about the way you introduced the idea or even the idea itself, whatever it is, what matters is that you caught their attention.

When you find out exactly what you did right, then you can replicate it in another pitch or using another idea. This way, you are encouraged to strive to be better.

 

  • Give Your All; Move Forward; Repeat.

As much as you daydream, you have to learnt to anticipate rejection. Accept that no matter how good the piece is, or your pitch is, there is a possibility that it will be rejected. With this mindset in place, you will be able to give your all only to the present project. Once you send a pitch, let it go! Move on! Start working on another project immediately. Keep yourself busy.

Rejection is inevitable for every freelancer but choosing what each disappointment will mean to you is the best way to ride on without flinching while reaching to be better.


3 Things to Consider For Authors Starting Podcasts

Are you an author considering starting a podcast? A year ago, I was in that position, and while it was easy to find information on equipment, editing, promotion, and other aspects of the trade, I couldn’t find anything that addressed my concerns as someone whose top priority is their fiction writing. 

I’ve had various short stories, poems and a novella published, and I’m working on my first novel. In 2020 I felt like I needed a different sort of creative project, but how would I keep it from interfering with the writing and sucking up all of my free time? As I was grappling with this, a panel of authors who were also podcasters, at the Flights of Foundry con, was extremely helpful in sharing their experiences. 

So, here’s my attempt to pay it forward and share my own thoughts on starting a podcast as an author, now that I’ve done it: 

 

  1. Statistics and Metrics

Nothing about being a writer prepares you for the sort of stats and metrics you get with a podcast. I wrote non-fiction for over a decade, including being published in big, mainstream venues, and never got access to how many people from which country had read how many paragraphs of my articles. With fiction writing, seeing any kind of data is rare, and even established writers who get sales reports don’t get numbers immediately or with a ton of parameters. 

But with a podcast, the day I put up a 30 minute episode that explains why the TV show “Hannibal” is the best existing adaptation of Nabokov’s “Lolita”, I watched in real time how people from all over the world were downloading the episode, how much of it they were listening to, when and how. I could see how many of my listeners subscribed to the podcast, I could see how many had quit listening and at what point.

As a writer, it can be transformative to see people reacting to your work immediately, to have tangible proof that more and more people are subscribing, that they’re listening to the episode all the way through. It gives you confidence in your voice and your perspective that feeds back into fiction writing. 

 

  1. Time investment

I started a podcast because pivoting from media criticism to writing fiction meant I no longer had the time to pitch articles to editors or write regular columns. But I still had ideas about media I wanted to express somewhere. 

Since my biggest worry when I started Pop Culture Sociologist was that it would eat up time I had zealously saved for writing, I decided up front that fiction was more important, and the podcast would always come second. 

I designed the podcast in a way that would let me do it consistently on the one hand, but make it a manageable commitment on the other, even though it meant compromising on how “successful” the podcast could be. 

For example, I settled on releasing an episode a month, for 6-7 months out of the year, which went against every commonly given advice for how often episodes should come out, because I knew any more than that and promoting the episodes would eat into my writing time. 

In retrospect, I’m very glad I made that decision because if I hadn’t set those clear boundaries for myself, I would have absolutely spent more time on the podcast, if only because the feedback and excitement around it was so immediate. 

Writing is such a long-term time investment, battling distractions is already hard enough. Decide in advance what priority the podcast will take, and accept that if it doesn’t come first it might always feel like you’re not doing enough to make it the best it can be. 

 

  1. Feedback

Aside from stats, the other major thing a podcast gets you is immediate feedback. People listen and they want to talk and share their ideas, respond somehow. With short stories, unless your story is nominated for an award or appears in a major publication, often you’ll get very little feedback from readers. 

So, this is the one thing I encourage you to plan ahead and designate a space for. Whether that’s a website where people can comment, a Discord server, a Facebook group, etc. All of those take time and resources to maintain, but if it’s possible to fit into “budget”, this is the one investment I would recommend a writer to make. 

Writers face so much rejection, regularly, that having people to tell you your voice and your efforts have affected them can be transformative even if those people are commenting on your podcast rather than your stories. And of course, in an age when every writer is advised to get a platform, maintaining a community of people who are already interested in something you’re doing can only benefit your writing career. 

 

For me, I’ve found that the podcast is always a balancing act between the joy of seeing immediate metrics and getting feedback from listeners, and the feeling that I’m failing somehow, because if I was willing to dedicate more time to the project it could really take off. But that feeling is also familiar for most writers, I think, because it’s always how you feel when balancing writing with everything else (job, family, etc). “If only I had more time to spend on this” is a trap – if the time you have is good enough to produce something you like and other people enjoy, it’s usually worth the investment.  


Preparedness, the Archive, Your Bio and Blurb

The work of writing requires another kind of work  --- the work of preparing materials that support your presence as an author. It can be a drag or it may be a joy; sometimes it's both.

Most publications now request and require a couple of things that you should have at the ready: these are a bio and a head shot. Not having them at the ready can also affect your future publication and participation in a particular venue.

Every writer should have at hand a bio, short for biography. This biography can take many forms depending on where you are in your journey.  Most often requested in the third person, it includes your name, perhaps where you're from or where you currently live, perhaps your degrees, your awards, and your publications. I strongly suggest that you write a long one, maybe two pages, and then a one-page one, and then 100 word  and a 50-word one. The publication will specify the kind they want and the length of bio they want. More and more request them upon submitting. I've been asked for 50-word bios, 100-word bios, and, more rarely, 150-word bios. You must think of this well before the time of request or submittal, and have it at the ready because the moment that it is required is rarely a moment that you want to think of the cleverest and most authentic way to present yourself. I recommend that you review this annually and that you update it. Read it aloud, get a friend to vet it.

I also recommend that you keep a literary vita, a literary resume where you list every publication, including the name of the editors, the date of publication, and the website linked to it. This forms the basis for your bio recollection and having this data kept updated regularly is very useful, should you want to apply for nearly anything. I keep such a list and I came to find out that I've been published every year since 1974 except one. Isn't that a cute and compelling line? It doesn't survive every bio I write, but when there's more room it's a nice thing to mention. I’m able to say that and prove it because I've kept a list of my publications from 1974 to date. You should keep a list of your appearances if you do readings as they do accumulate and may be fodder for your bio or information for some other application.

Another thing that you have to have,  in this era of internet and online worlds is a headshot, in other words, a picture where your face is prominent and there's nothing else in the frame. This too may be requested, as any number of publications like to show who the authors are, as well as tell who the authors are. If you have it at the ready, it makes life so much easier for a presenter. I use the image of the reader in the promotions that I create for my reading series. I create several different flyers for each reader and release them at different times so it's helpful for me to have the headshot and the bio.

I have also needed bios for collections and anthologies that I've worked on. Readers want to know a bit about the authors, don't you? Every time I read a piece I like and look for a bit more about the author, it enhances my experience to make that connection. So know that you should be ready to provide that for your readers.

A timely response is as critical as having these tools–– that is, a commitment to timeliness in answering professional emails. From the editor/presenter's perspective, nothing is more irksome than chasing down authors for their information.  If you get a lot of emails, consider getting an email account dedicated to your writing so you can see immediately when a publication/venue is trying to get in touch.

I’ve had writers miss pay days because I needed their information or a grant. They didn’t get back to me for weeks and so missed the funding. These are people I never want to work with again, because while it was their loss, it was also an expenditure of my energy and concern. Sometimes days are too long when everyone else answers in hours, the person that took 3 days is out. When a bunch of people answer immediately and one doesn’t – there’s a message there.

Your goal as a writer or creator should be to routinize and make the administrivia as seamless, automatic and pain free as possible. Routinize recording your publications and appearances, keep a head shot handy and organize your email.


Non-Fiction Writers: The Unsung Heroes of the Industry

For some reason or another, non-fiction’s never gotten its due. When we debate who belongs in the pantheon of great writers, rarely will the likes of Maya Angelou, James Boswell, or Ralph Waldo Emerson be brought up. If they happen to be, they’ll likely be relegated to their own category away from the ‘real’ writers that we should be talking about. As is usually the case in publishing, speculative writers have it even worse, with only the nonfiction written by noted spec-fic writers receiving any significant attention (barring a few exceptions here and there). Those who channel their energies exclusively into short nonfiction seem to be left out of the conversation entirely, their work being treated more like a flavor of the day conversation piece than a genuine literary accomplishment. Which is a damn shame because, for years, short nonfiction writers have toiled away at quality work for measly sums and little-to-no recognition even though they are as integral to the speculative genre as any of the major fiction writers.

We mustn't forget that short nonfiction is the primary outlet for us writers and readers to air out our grievances with the SFF market and, more importantly, to propose ideas on how to change things for the better. Short nonfiction also informs us on what to (and what not to) do when it comes to both our writing and careers, offering us invaluable advice that we’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

We are as influenced by short non-fiction as we are by the classics and what’s popular in the market right now, but that influence never translates into anything substantial for short nonfiction writers. As it stands, their work is never recognized in any significant way, their writing is rarely, if ever, collected, and more often than not, pro magazines don’t even pay them pro rates. There are very few outlets that even bother to publish speculative nonfiction, and writers who place their works in academic journals are bound to go both unpaid and unread.

If we want to move this industry forward, we have to do something about this. We can no longer allow the unsung heroes of speculative fiction to be taken advantage of like this. They deserve better, and I don’t think anyone reading believes otherwise.

So how do we remedy this?

For starters, their pay needs to be bumped. It might be tough right now to allow to them make a living off it, but at the very least it should be worth their time. If that’s not feasible, and I doubt it isn’t, they should at least be recognized for their work in this field in a way that would further their careers and up their pay. That’s why the major spec-fic awards need to begin recognizing short non-fiction writers. Having some of these awards on your resume is a career boost that few other accomplishments in this field could ever hope to match. Even if someone doesn’t pay heed to awards, it’s hard to argue that some of these awards won’t open doors that would otherwise be closed for these writers based on their work in this niche. And even if they don’t, we should still do it because short non-fiction writers deserve to be recognized just like anybody else.

Now, the industry isn’t entirely to blame for this. They merely cater to what we readers are willing to pay for, and the noticeable dearth in essay and article collections is mainly on us. Even writers who are having their fiction published will have a hard time trying to sell their nonfiction because they’re not big enough names to warrant it. We’ve also developed a nasty habit of shirking at the thought of paying for what we read from magazines or new sites. Many thought a sustainable model could exist with ad revenues, but as these revenues trend downward, publications are having to rely on donations more and more to sustain themselves. If it works, that’s great, but the way the market currently operates has it prioritizing fiction writers' pay with non-fiction being treated as an afterthought that could be included if the budget permits it. Plenty of short non-fiction writers are even expected to work for free, and those that aren’t have better-paying options elsewhere.

After all, writing quality nonfiction is hard work. It takes a certain skill set and talent that’ll allow you to excel in other fields where your efforts would be more appreciated. The only reason anyone even bothers to write these short non-fiction pieces is because they’re passionate about what they have to say and want to change things for the better with it.

We shouldn’t make them pay the price for that.


Literary Agents for Illustrators

To seek rep, or not to seek rep? For illustrators, this is a daunting question. In publishing, we talk a lot about the benefits of agents for writers. Agents have helped writers build their careers throughout modern publishing history. Illustrators, meanwhile, have always connected directly with art directors and editors. As publishing markets grow, however, more artists are seeking out literary agents, and more agents are opening submissions to illustrators. Even if you don’t have an agent now, it’s possible that seeking representation might be the right move for your career.

What is an Art Agent?

In the abstract, art agents help artists sell their work. There are as many types of art agent as there are types of artists. Some agents, also called “art representatives,” connect illustrators with companies looking to buy original art. Potential buyers can range from greeting card companies, to magazines, to package designers. Fine art reps represent artists to galleries and private collectors.

This article will be focusing on literary agents. Literary agents mainly work in the publishing industry, connecting illustrators with publishers. They may help illustrators get work illustrating books (novel covers, children’s books, graphic novels), or they may help illustrators pitch their own book ideas to publishers.

What Are the Benefits of Having an Agent?

An agent should make your work as an illustrator easier. There are numerous benefits to having a literary agent, but I think the following points are key.

They connect you with publishers
Many larger publishers are “closed to unsolicited submissions,” which means you cannot pitch a book to them unless you are invited or have a professional connection. Literary agents serve as that professional connection. They cultivate relationships with editors and can get your book proposal in front of a wider pool of acquiring editors than you could on your own.

They help you get the best deal for your work
Agents will help you sell your work competitively, so that you get the most money possible and also preserve your creative ownership of the work.

They help you negotiate contracts
Publishing contracts can be long and daunting, and are rarely written with the author’s best interests at heart. It’s not just money that a contract determines; when you sell work, you’re selling an entire package of usage rights to the publisher, telling them in what formats they can publish your work, in which countries and languages, and for how long. If the author is new to reading and negotiating contracts, it can be hard to know what you can and should ask for. A good agent knows the ins and outs of contract negotiation and will make sure that you’re happy with the terms.

They help you maintain a professional relationship with the client
When the client is being difficult, it can be hard to fight back and also keep a professional relationship. When communication breaks down, the agent steps in to run interference. They play the mama bear so you don’t have to.

They can offer guidance for the length of your career
Some agents will represent an author for the sale of only one project, but it’s much more common that agents sign authors with the intent of representing them for their entire careers. An agent will talk with you about your projects, connect you with editors who understand your vision, and help you cultivate a sustainable career.

Which Literary Agent is Right for Me?

There are hundreds of literary agents to choose from, and every illustrator should do thorough research when putting a submission list together. Here are two points to consider:

Look for an agent who represents the types of work you want to publish
Consider who the agent represents. One tactic is to research illustrators doing the work you want to do and see who represents them. Many illustrators include their representation on their websites.

Look for an agent with a solid sales track record
If you want to make graphic novels, look for agents who have sold graphic novels. Publishers Marketplace is a great, but pricey source for researching an agent’s sales record. You can also sometimes find this info through Publisher’s Weekly’s rights reports.

Other considerations are personal to the illustrator. You will need to think hard about what you want your relationship to be. You can also discuss these things when an agent offers representation. For now, researching agent listings and talking to other illustrators about their representation is a great first step.


SFF Craft and Industry Resources for and by Black Creators

Here at Dream Foundry, we encourage and support new creatives in the field of SFF. As the internet has provided a wealth of resources for new and emerging creators, we've compiled a list specifically geared toward Black creators and helping get more Black voices out into the world.

The list currently skews quite heavily toward writing but we continue to search for and add to this page as new opportunities arise. Please feel free to check back and/or to drop us a line if you see something we haven't added.

Representation

Manuscript contest with the award being rep by DongWon Song. Genre: Commercial fiction, also MG and YA speculative and contemporary and graphic novels. Black writers only.

https://publishingishard.substack.com/p/the-only-lasting-truth-is-change

Scholarship/Resources:

Jobs

Residency:

Events:

Art/Design

Directories:

Lit Mags


Flights of Foundry, May 16-17, 2020

Flight of Foundry

Dream Foundry is thrilled to announce Flights of Foundry, a virtual convention for speculative creators and their fans. Registration is open and the convention will take place May 16-17. Our guests of honor are:

Comics: Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu
Editor: Liz Gorinsky
Fiction: Ken Liu
Games: Andrea Phillips
Illustration: Grace Fong
Translation: Alex Shvartsman and Rachel S. Cordasco

In addition to panels and information sessions, our programming will include workshops, a dealer's room, consuite (yes, a virtual consuite!), and more.

There is no cost to register, though donations to defray costs and support Dream Foundry's other programming are welcomed. Dream Foundry is a registered 501(c)3 dedicated to supporting creators working in the speculative arts as they begin their careers.

To register, go to: https://flights-of-foundry.org/registration/
For more information about the convention: https://flights-of-foundry.org/
You can learn more about Dream Foundry or check out our other programs by visiting our website: https://dreamfoundry.org/


Inside the News

Publishing News for March 2020

The world changed quickly because of COVID-19.

People are scared. People are worried. People are losing their jobs. People are sick and dying. People don’t know what the future will bring.

But people are also pulling together and helping one another. People are social distancing but keeping each other in their lives. And this is true both for the larger world and the genre world.

Artists and authors are trying to help each other, as with the Society of Authors launching an emergency fund for writers. People are also creating websites such as COVID-19 Freelance Artist Resources, which features info on emergency funding and much more. Others are fundraising to help, such as with Ijeoma Oluo creating the Seattle Artist Relief Fund Amid COVID-19.

For many authors and writers, especially those who support themselves by freelancing, the economic fallout from COVID-19 is frightening. A lot of freelance work is being stopped or put on hold by businesses. In addition, books tours are being cancelled, as are other places where authors promote their work such as conventions. (Locus Magazine is keeping an updated listing of all genre convention cancellations and delays.)

But people are adapting the best they can. The 2020 Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in SF/F Writing was presented virtually, with Rona Wang reading her winning story through Zoom. Many authors are also taking their in-person visits virtual, such as with N.K. Jemisin’s upcoming April 3rd appearance at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.

SFWA is also partnering with r/Fantasy to “host their 1st ever virtual con with AMAs, giveaways, & more. Slots are available for April and May.” (For info on how to participate, go here.)

Others are also setting up virtual conventions, with Everywhere Book Fest for kidlit authors, books, and readers being among the first.

I wish I knew how all this would turn out. I wish I could say that people wouldn’t be hurt and devastated in the coming months. But I can’t do that.

What I can say is that during times like these people help each other. As we’re already seeing.

Thinkerbeat Just Ain’t Thinking Right

Thinkerbeat Reader is the submission system and community supporting Unreal and Unfit magazines. However, it turned out the editor behind these sites, Daniel Scott White, had been posting online the names and rankings of many of the magazines’ rejected authors.

Other issues have also been raised about the magazines, including Thinkerbeat Reader requiring a membership fee after the first three months (meaning authors may have to eventually pay to submit).

Many, many people called out the editor and magazines for doing this such as Benjamin Kinney in a very good post on his website. And some authors published or reprinted in the magazines, including Yoon Ha Lee, said they wouldn’t have published there if they’d known what the magazines were doing.

In response to this criticism, you’d think an editor would simply say “my bad,” apologize, and fix the issues. If White had done this the genre would likely have been pretty forgiving.

Instead, White doubled down, telling authors who complained that he was “being disruptive, sure, but that's what it takes to displace other magazines on the way up.” The editor also emailed some accepted authors and said “There's an angry mob on Twitter that is threatening to ban me at the SFWA” and proclaimed the magazines might “put a 'banned by the SFWA' sticker on my next cover. Should be our best selling one yet.”

As an FYI, SFWA doesn’t ban magazines and doesn’t even have the power to contemplate doing so.

For more on the responses from these magazines, see this thread by Diabolical Plots (who runs the respected Submission Grinder website).

Thinkerbeat eventually stopped publishing the ranking and title of stories but they still name rejected authors. Yet there is (note my sarcasm) good news because now the rejection earns you a "Thinkerbeat Award!" The site even urges rejected authors to put the award icon on their websites and social media pages. Sigh.

Other news and info

This thread by Marianne Kirby on how stories must have some hope in them, and how the “big narratives getting pushed on us by corporations are mostly about prolonging agony,” really touched a nerve with me. A must read.


Goals, Not Resolutions

It’s the time of year where I usually assess what I’ve done and plan for what I want to do next. For me that means acknowledging some of the invisible tasks—tasks I never add to my to-do lists but are present every day—as well as examining my successes, my failures, and being honest with myself about why they occurred. This helps me understand what I can do better next time and helps me accept that sometimes in life there are events that impact my performance that I can’t help (like, for example, having back-to-back colds… for six months).

What is the difference between goals and resolutions?

In my mind, a typical New Year's resolution is vague, like “being a better person by being more forgiving,” or “exercising more,” whereas goal-setting involves a concrete plan to enact these goals so that they can be accomplished, step by step and week by week.

How do you create goals?

If you’re interested in creating goals for this next year, there are some criteria to evaluate whether your plan involves resolutions or goals. Goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Concrete
  • Independent from outside forces
  • Achievable

Here are some examples:

NO YES NOTES
Become a better writer Practice writing dialogue Becoming a “better writer” is vague and therefore unachievable. Practicing writing dialogue, however, may make one a better writer. It is specific, and one can take classes, read passages in books about dialogue, or perhaps go to plays and take notes.
Be a podcaster Produce one twenty-minute podcast per month  With a concrete goal, there are specific tasks to be achieved that can be broken down. To do this, you would need to create twelve twenty-minute scripts, find narrators, equipment, a theme song, and then set aside time to record and edit.
Win an art competition  Submit to at least ten illustration competitions Winning a competition is dependent on outside forces, essentially on a judge, whereas submitting to competitions is a task that an artist/illustrator can undertake.
Write a novel Write a novel This is trickier: achievable for one person is not always achievable for another. One person will binge-write a novel in a month; another will plug away it every day, finishing up at the end of the year. One person can write four novels in a year and another will write one novel every five to ten years. Sometimes, too, life intervenes: a lost day job can mean time spent stressing and searching; an illness can stop tightest plan; a kid can drop out from college and move back home. Every creator has their own way of making; only they can know what they’re capable of and can assess what their own life will allow.

Personally, when I’m creating my goals, I try to have multiple goals in different areas (usually craft, submissions, and production) so that I can work on different aspects of each goal each month. Others like to work on specific projects, however. Something like a Kickstarter may involve a year or more’s worth of work.

Break it down and plan it

Once you have developed a few goals, break each goal down into steps. Usually I start by breaking it down on a monthly basis, and then a weekly basis, and then I schedule time each week to work on that specific task. Of course, it doesn’t work quite as clear-cut in practice: I get colds, or I bring my son to preschoolers’ birthday parties, etc. But with a distinctive weekly plan, I tend to stay on track. Actually using that time to accomplish what you’ve set out to is, of course, another matter. You may try gamifying it, or word-warring with friends, or Instagramming your sketches, or turning on a program like Freedom so that you can’t spend your two dedicated hours on the internet scrolling through Facebook.

What are your goals? What have been your challenges in meeting your goals in the past, in terms of meeting them? What are you going to do to ensure that your goals are met this upcoming year? Please join us on the forum to talk about what you’re planning on doing for 2020.


OMEC Retrospective

Six months. Six examples. Six conversations. September closed out the first cycle of Dream Foundry’s Official Media Exploration Club and we learned a lot. I want to take a moment to extend a deep and heartfelt thank you to all of our discussion leaders. Ferrett Steinmetz, Rachel Quinlan, KT Bryski, Darcie Little Badger, SL Huang, and Emma Osborne: you are all, individually and as a whole, fantastic. Thank you for stepping up to be the first.

If you want to visit the insights about craft and the specific works we discussed, you can share in that learning by dropping in on the conversation here. Just because the facilitated part of the conversation is over doesn’t mean it’s disappearing or that the conversation has to stop.

The learning I want to talk about here, though, isn’t a rehashing of the conversation happening in the OMEC but about the OMEC itself. This was the second program offered by Dream Foundry, launching a few months after we started publishing content on our site, and we learned both about program planning and implementation in general, as well as how to run this program in particular. Now that we’ve had a few weeks to evaluate, I want to discuss some of those takeaways, both so people can get some insight into how our programming planning and evaluation works, and so others can benefit from our experience when planning their own endeavors.

From the outset, the OMEC was designed as a program to embody the core premise of the Dream Foundry by bringing creators from different areas of the industry together to a shared conversation where they could learn from each other. It helped that as a program happening online, on our forums, potential expenses for the program were low: the necessary threshold for success the pilot had to hit in order to justify itself was, consequently, modest and attainable. With that, we had two major metrics we planned to use for assessing the program’s success both while it was running and after.

Does it work on its own?

The first of those metrics was the success of the program itself. Did it run well and cause the kinds of interactions and conversations we wanted it to facilitate?

Specifically, we examined:

  1. Did discussion participants represent the diversity (in role) of the industry?
  2. Was participation consistent from month to month?
  3. Were the logistics of the OMEC implementation (e.g. recruiting, onboarding, and paying discussion leaders) smooth, functional, and replicable?

The third criterion was the one that was most dynamic over the course of the cycle. Payment was smooth from the outset because that procedure followed existing procedures we’d established for content management. Onboarding got better as the cycle went on. The first couple of instructors, after agreeing to join and choosing a work, were basically told: “We’re figuring this out. Do what seems like a good idea and we’ll see what happens.” (Those early discussion leaders, especially Ferrett Steinmetz, deserve an extra dose of gratitude for stepping up under those circumstances.) Once we had an idea of what seemed to work and what didn’t, we developed onboarding documentation, which was a huge step in the right direction. It wasn’t a fix-all, though, which leads us to the biggest takeaway for this criterion: recruiting for discussion leaders needs to be completed >before choosing a theme and starting the cycle. Not every theme can be well supported in every medium. “Found family” was a great theme for a lot of categories but didn’t work well for illustration or games. We made it work (and the games segment of this cycle was the one I personally found most enlightening), but we brought unnecessary complications by choosing a theme without involving everyone who’d need to work with it in the conversation.

The first and second criteria (diversity of role and consistency of participation) couldn’t be meaningfully evaluated while we were in progress, so we’ve examined them after the cycle ended in September. They were both more miss than hit. OMEC participation reflected the prose-writer-heavy demographics currently present throughout the organization. That makes sense, but it is notable that despite being a program very much designed to bring in and offer value to people from a variety of backgrounds, there’s no evidence the OMEC attracted participation that was more diverse than the organization as a whole or generated integration across roles. Similarly, while different months had participation from different people, the participants who were consistent across months *cough* work for us.

As a result, in planning for the next cycle, we’re specifically looking to:

  1. Get commitments for discussion leaders for each month ahead of time and have their input involved in theme selection.
  2. Include the OMEC in outreach efforts planned for 2020 to address the current overrepresentation of traditional prose writers in program participation. (We’re not trying to get rid of any of you, prose writers. We’re glad you’re here! But having the rest of our industry hanging out here is good for us, too.)
  3. Increase participation stickiness from month to month.

With the pilot cycle as a baseline, we’ll have a clear means of measuring the effectiveness of the changes we make.

Does it work for the organization?

The other metric for judging the effectiveness of the OMEC was whether it worked for the organization. We have a track record now and more organizational maturity than we had when we first launched the OMEC. Despite that, we are still very new and while we’re rich in many things, we don’t have the financial resources to be careless, or even cavalier, about what we fund.

In terms of mission and project goals, the OMEC is and remains perfectly aligned. It ties very clearly into our core principles of “inclusivity,” “mentorship,” and “networking.” “Relevance” is the fourth principle, and while the OMEC doesn’t intrinsically tie into it, by choosing discussion leaders who are active in their fields now and works that are pertinent to the industry, we slip that one in, too.

But one of our organizational needs, across all our programming, is “outreach and growth.” The content builds engagement with the site, develops an archive of resources, and keeps us consistently present and visible. The contest is a giant road sign pointing people to us and drawing them in. (The numbers on that will need more time to be properly crunched, but the preliminary ones are quite good.) Does the OMEC do that?

There are two ways to measure this. The first is in terms of discussion participants, and as discussed above, that’s an area where growth and improvement will be a focus for the next cycle. The other gauge, though, is in terms of organizational reach and recognition. This is, arguably, the place where the pilot of the OMEC demonstrated the strongest success. Engagement on social media sites, especially when current discussion leaders amplified our outreach in those spaces, got a demonstrable boost around the OMEC. This provides some evidence that the core concept behind the OMEC is attractive and appealing and our efforts for improvement should be focused on converting that engagement on social media to participation in the club itself.

What’s that all mean?

There’s a danger here of reading the preceding and seeing a lot of negativity. Yes, there’s “needs improvement” stamped all over that report, but that’s not bad. This was a pilot. If we’d walked away from it going, “Perfect. Let’s do exactly that over again,” we’d be missing opportunities to improve. This pilot cycle could have led to shuttering the program without another run. If the logistical overhead in running it had exceeded the organization’s capacity to support it, we’d have either done a major redesign or nixed it. Similarly, if we’d seen evidence that the OMEC was functioning as a deterrent for outreach or engagement, this would have been its only cycle. What we saw instead was evidence that the core concept works as intended, the program runs well with the resources we can allot to it, and that it has some intrinsic ability to foster outreach and engagement.

We’ll make the changes and adjustments necessary to apply the lessons learned from this cycle and improve the areas that need it. We have two more six-month cycles planned for 2020, and we’ll run those with the same measured, evaluative approach we used in the pilot. Then we’ll do a hard assessment of the program to decide whether, with those improvements and any others we make as we see the effects of the changes, it makes sense for us to keep running it.

That, in a nutshell, is how we plan and assess our programs. Thoughts or questions? Feel free to share, either in the thread for discussion of this article on the forums, or by dropping a line to leaders@dreamfoundry.org.