I was recently contacted by a cool gal named Molly about some questions regarding life as an illustrator. Molly is a designer and illustrator up in Minneapolis (AKA the Austin of the Midwest). I asked her if I could turn her questions into a blog post and she kindly told me to go for it.
M: I’d love to know what your experience was like transitioning from someone who makes art for fun to someone who makes art for a living. Was there a moment you knew you wanted to turn your skill set into a business?
I’ve always been an art kid. In 3rd grade I was determined to win the fire prevention poster contest, in middle school I designed our field trip tees and in high school I ran for student council so I could design the dance posters.
It was instilled in me at an early age to be my own boss. I don’t think this path is for everybody, but it has always motivated me. I inherited my creativity from my mom and my entrepreneurial spirit from my dad. Part of choosing graphic design as a major in college was knowing that it could provide the flexibility to work for myself (or even go part time). I assumed after a couple years at a design job I’d easily be able to transition into full-time self-employment. While it actually did work out this way (thanks to my book deal), it was not easy. My preparation included building a portfolio site and emailing friends and family to “keep me in mind” if anyone needed a graphic designer (I did have some consistent work lined up too).
I’m glad I jumped in when I did, but if somebody close to me were to tell me they’re about to take the plunge, I’d ask them if they’ve read The E-Myth, know their general rates, figured out what they need to earn and how they’ll track every hour for the first 3 months, at least (I use Harvest). I’d also ask if they have 1-3 people their field that they can call on with any and all questions and even better, if they’re not afraid to ask questions in the first place. And then I’d congratulate them because working for yourself is the best. In 2014 my travel time added up to six weeks. Since I’m in charge of my schedule, I got to spend time opening my print shop, work on a book proposal and seek out some fun collaborations. I really really love what I do.
It’s Wednesday. Let’s talk about rituals.
Are you into them? Or do you prefer the word routine? I’m going to share mine as of late. And then I want to hear about yours.
I wake up between 6-7 then drink 16 oz of water (trying to get to 32 oz). See Japanese Water Therapy. I either go to yoga before or after the following:
-Write in my Five Minute Journal
-Read at least one chapter of the Bible and another book (currently: The Power of Habit. Highly recommend.)
-Freehand journal a few pages
-Set my timer for 3 minutes and practice gratitude, then set it for 2 minutes to visualize my dreams (this small step was inspired by Michael Phelps’ routine of visualizing his races before bed and upon waking).
Ideally I wind down around 10-10:30, spray magnesium oil on my belly (here’s why magnesium is so important, and here’s the recipe Jen used to make me my first batch). Then I put a few drops of jasmine essential oil on my pillowcase to help me relax (not sure if this is the “right one” for relaxation, but it’s a scent that I’ve always associated with bedtime). Then I spray rose water on my face, moisturize with Dr. Bronners lavender coconut lotion and read until I fall asleep.
I didn’t even touch on science or how these routines have impacted my business and personal life. But none of that matters unless you see for yourself. If you want to learn more, I recommend listening to this short podcast where Todd Henry delivers actionable steps (he even provides a cheat sheet). Want more? Me too. Next on my reading list is The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod.
Lastly, my favorite thing Todd said is that our systems exist to serve us, not the other way around.
Now I want to hear about your routine. What has worked for you? How has it impacted your day? I’m also open to hearing about the funniest thing on the internet these days, because, duh.
Discern more so you can do less.
Point taken, Essentialism.
If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’ve either had the thought, dream or tug to publish a book one day. Or perhaps you’ve already published a book. Or maybe you’re like, “I’ve never thought of it but I just Googled Chipper Things OUT OF THIN AIR and this is what showed up.”
Before we start, here’s my status: I’m currently working on my second book. My first publisher was Plume (an imprint of Penguin Random House) and my current publisher is Andrews McMeel. I have a fantastic lit agent named Laurie Abkemeier. I’ve written and illustrated both of my books, which are in the humor/gift sections. I hope my experience can be helpful to you.
Today I’ll just go over a few questions I frequently get asked.
“How did you find your publishers/agent?”
This is the most popular. It’s a good question because it forces you to work backward. Once you know the answer to this, you can figure out the steps it takes to get the agent then publisher.
I would never recommend submitting your book idea directly to a publisher (unless it was a small university press, but that’s talk for another day). Always get a lit agent. I found mine on Agent Query. It’s a fantastic resource for learning how to write a query and finding a handful of agents who fit your genre. There are hundreds of agents out there, so it’s important to narrow your search. Another great way to find an agent is to look in the acknowledgements in the back of books you think yours would sit next to on a shelf. One more way is to check out the most recent edition of 2014 Guide to Literary Agents. Besides the book being full of great content, the back has an index with agents listed by categories.
Once you have an agent (this is generally the hardest part), you work together to submit a proposal to the publishers that are a good fit for your book. This process, in my case, can take anywhere from three weeks to three months (though I’m sure many take much longer, which is not a bad thing).
Once you have a publisher, CONGRATS!
You won’t pay your agent or publisher any money at any point. Agents usually receive a 15% commission, and publishers pay YOU. Of course the exception is if it’s in the self-publishing category.
“Should I self-publish or go the traditional route?”
There’s no right answer here. It just depends on your objectives for your project. Is it to make money? Is it a labor of love? Are you trying to reach a lot of people? What is your timeline? Do you already have an engaged following? (p.s. both types of publishing can work well for each of these answers depending on your situation).
Traditional publishers offer an advance + royalties after you make back your advance (royalties around 10%, but that totally depends), credibility, marketing, publicity and a sales team to get your book into major stores like Barnes & Noble, Urban Outfitters and Target (hopefully! But having a publisher does not guarantee you’ll be in these stores). Of course the downside is often times less creative control—but don’t let that stereotype fool you. I’ve been lucky to have two great editors who have given me total creative freedom.
Self-publishing offers no advance, but you keep all the profits. You work on your own timeline and you make all the decisions, for better or worse. Lots of people make way more self-publishing than going through a publisher. Often times this is because they already have an online tribe or they’ve been strategic in their marketing. I don’t know anyone who has quietly put a book online and it blew up (but please tell me if you do know of such a story). Here’s a great article on self-publishing the right way, by one of my favorites, James Altucher.
There’s much more to this topic, but that’s where I’d start.
“Where do I even start?”
1. Start somewhere. Starting somewhere now is better than starting somewhere later. You’re already here, so now you can move on to #2.
2. Really, just do something. Don’t wait to figure out how you’re going to publish before doing the work. Maybe for you this means uploading sketches to your blog to gauge a reaction without telling people your bigger plans. Maybe it means something else. But get started.
3. Look at agentquery.com or simply Google “how to write a query letter for [insert type of book]“. Figure out what you need to submit to agents. Again, work backwards. You need to finish a novel before submitting, but for a book like I’d Rather Be Short, I only needed a few sample spreads to show them (I had all 100 reason written, and I submitted the rest of the query info, but you know what I’m saying). You can save a lot of time and energy by knowing what’s needed to submit.
Please let me know if you found this to be helpful! And again, let me know what other questions you have. There are so many brilliant ideas that are untapped. I can’t wait to see what we all come up with next.
“The shortest answer is doing the thing.” —Hemingway
It’s something I struggle with.
I don’t like how often I’m stuck in my own head, consumed with my schedule, to-do list, upcoming events, etc.
When people ask me how this or that is going, I’m so excited to tell them about me! I eagerly fill them in! Then I so often forget to ask them how THEIR trip to New York was, if they’re feeling better or if they found the right new car.
It’s not cool, I know.
I have some friends (and a boyfriend) who are much more thoughtful than myself. It’s easy for me to label them as extra thoughtful people (because they are). But the problem is that it lets me off the hook.
How do you become better at something that, if you knew how to be better, you already would be better?
I don’t exactly know.
But I did come upon a clue last night.
I decided to practice the Prayer of Examen before bed. Ignatian Spirituality outlines it like this:
1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.
As I did this I created space to remember the people and conversations throughout the day. I remembered that someone I know has a need that I can fill. She told me about it rather flippantly, and as I listened, I thought to myself, “I’m going to do that!” As soon I dropped her off, the idea left my consciousness. I would have never remembered to revisit my plan had I not revisited my entire day.
It only took a few minutes, but it transformed how I viewed my day and what moments I deemed important.
How do you create space for gratitude and thoughtfulness?
My friend Sarah suggested I make a print with these words.
I love this message.
I know I should have posted this on a Sunday, but honestly, who reads blogs on Sundays?
Okay you do. That’s fine.
But I wanted to let you know it’s available in my Etsy store everyday.
If you’re a photographer and you’re interested in packing these pups with your client welcome package, shoot me an email and I’ll let you know how my small wholesale pricing works. (becky [at] chipperthings [dot] com)
(photo by Alexia Brown over at Byron & Blue)
Exciting news! New book!
I’ve been working on this proposal for many months now and I’m delighted to finally share it with you.
No, the book is not complete. Only one sample chapter. But ask me again next summer and maybe then I’ll say yes.
This time I’m working with the fine folks at Andrews McMeel to bring this book on roommates to life. It’s going to be full of essays, illustrations, flowcharts, infographics, hypotheticals, etc. All done by yours truly. More details to come!
See it on shelves Spring of 2016.
Please come visit Jen, Chelsea and myself at this year’s East Austin Studio Tour.
We’ll be at the Flatbed Press over at 2830 E Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The self-guided tour is Saturday and Sunday 11-6, for the next two weekends. I’ll be selling prints, signing books, and maybe even some more watercolor goodies. I’ll also be working and talking about process.
I’ll be sharing a space with two incredible jewelers, Jen Moulton of Moulton ATX and Chelsea of Jacq. They’ll have their fine goods for sale as well. Jen also does leather goods, and Chelsea does graphic and clothing design.
For those of you not familiar, this event is free and open to everybody. The purpose is to visit different artists and studios, get to know some makers and maybe snag some holiday gifts along the way. If you hop over to the website (linked up top), you can find more info. Chelsea Fullerton has a great guide to get you started.
Be sure to follow @beckycmurphy for updates. Shoot me an email if you have questions! beckycmurphy [at] gmail.com
There isn’t much more to say other than that Stancy makes magic.
My photo friendship soul sisters are at it again.
This time Stancy took it by the reins and Katie assisted. We kicked it at my place, talked about boys (my boo and Tiny Beau Franklin, specifically) and snapped some pics. These gals make me feel like a million bucks every time we hang out, and they’re especially good at making a professional weirdo feel just fine in front of the camera (“camera” said like Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock).
You can see even more pictures from our shoot over at Half Orange.
I’d ask you which ones you like best, but I think I’m already pushing it by posting eight pictures of myself.
The new print is here! The people have spoken, and the newest daily struggle is here to help in flowchart form! You can purchase from the Chipper Things Etsy store. This time it’s available in color or black and white.
Daily motivation? Early Christmas gift? I think you can find a place for this pup.
I’m looking to expand my shop and add even more retailers. Will you help me by emailing me (or leaving a comment) with a store or two that you think would be a good fit for these flowchart prints? I will make it worth your while! becky [at] chipperthings [dot] com. Thank you, friends!
If you want to make my day, be sure to tag @beckycmurphy and #chipperthings when it arrives in the mail. There’s no better way to spread the love!