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Happy 10th Anniversary to Two Things I Had No Business Creating
One was a failure by all commercial measures, but a lot of fun. The other (also fun!) is a (relative) success I've milked the shit out of. Dare I milk it some more...?
The other day I had a meeting with a marketing person from Seal Press to talk about a possible event or two celebrating Goodbye to All That’s 10th anniversary. I can’t believe it’s been a decade since I published the original edition. I also can’t believe how well the book has done, selling something like 50,000 copies.
The book did so well that Seal invited me to reissue the book in April, 2021 with seven new essays by: Leslie Jamison, Ada Limón, Emily Raboteau, Lisa Ko, Carolita Johnson, Danielle A. Jackson, and Rosie Schaap. But the new edition landed at a time when Covid vaccines were only first being rolled out. In-person events weren’t really happening again, yet. So the reissue got lost in the shuffle.
Why not celebrate it again now? I’m game…ish. But how far do I want to take it? Do I start a Goodbye to All That contest/series on either Memoir Monday or Oldster or both? A dedicated Goodbye to All That-themed Substack? If you saw how many unsolicited leaving-NY essays I still receive from people to this day, you’d see why I might consider such a thing. I could extend it to other cities, too. I could probably make a good amount of money with a dedicated Substack, come to think of it.
I worry, though, that having milked this thing so much already, I’d be seen as a sell-out. Well, at least by some people. On the other hand, maybe I need to stop caring about the opinions of “some people” and make some money, which, if I made enough of it, could free me up to do more of my own writing.
The irony is that for years before creating Goodbye to All That, I could get no one’s permission to do it. Everyone who is anyone in publishing told me that it was a great idea, but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have enough of a platform…anthologies don’t sell…etc., etc.
After hearing that too many times, I did what has become a very me thing to do, for better and worse: I made the thing anyway, with very little support. Tiny book deal, and too many contributors to split it with. Tiny publicity budget, which meant putting on my own events, at my own expense. I’ve never made much money from the book, even after two editions. The first time around, I didn’t even pay myself. I supported myself with ghostwriting, and edited the book on the side. It brings in a little bit of royalties each year, but not much.
This is how I roll. I do the things I am itching to do, whether or not it makes any sense, financially or otherwise, and whether or not I get the approval or sufficient backing of an established corporation. Now and then, especially when I’m really listening to my instincts, whatever I have created totally flies. The thing succeeds, at least by some small measure, naysayers be damned. But then, somehow, when I’m back out with a new idea, I have to sell myself to the naysayers all over again, as if I didn’t already make two bestsellers.
Truth be told, though, sometimes the things I insist on making turn out to be totally clunkers, at least financially. Take, for example, the Anvil Gallery at Tech Smiths, an art and music space, which I launched the same year, 2013.
I mean, who ever heard of an art gallery and music venue inside of…a computer repair shop? That would have been my husband’s shop, Tech Smiths Technical Services, which in 2021 ultimately became a casualty of the pandemic. Brian originally opened it in 2009 in a small space New Paltz. In 2013, a friend offered Brian a new, larger space in uptown Kingston, next door to her wonderful restaurant, Boitson’s, now another pandemic casualty.
Before he was ready to commit, our friend let Brian run a Tech Smiths pop-up in the space, to see if Kingston was a good spot for the business. The space had last been an art gallery. But the walls were wrecked after years of neglect. So I got an idea: What if we got local artists to cover the holes in the plaster with their work, and we made the pop-up not just about computer repair, but an art opening as well?
That first weekend pop-up was such a hit, we kept going—with, the computer repair and the art, later adding music. Within a few months, Brian closed the New Paltz location of Tech Smiths, and moved his whole operation to the new space. We did many of the renovations ourselves, fixing and painting the walls.
The space was so big and clean and nice, we decided to keep going as an art gallery, an endeavor that was primarily mine. I started out with monthly shows, featuring local artists. We’d have monthly openings on “First Saturdays,” during which we often enlisted local musicians to play. At one point, we had a play staged there. We also offered PhotoShop classes in the evenings. When monthly shows got to be too much work for no money, I switched to seasonal shows.
Everyone loved the Anvil Gallery. I loved the Anvil Gallery. I have so many happy memories of it, especially the show featuring Carolita Johnson and Michael Crawford in June of 2015, when they first moved to Kingston.
But in the course of the five or so years we ran Anvil, we made, oh, maybe $350 total on art we sold. (When you figure in how much we spent on wine and cheese for the openings, it’s probably more like -$350 or less.) Anvil Gallery was a commercial failure, and a tremendous time suck. But I loved it! And I miss it.
Another of my favorite commercial failures: Kingston Writers’ Studio, the co-working space for writers that I operated—at a constant loss—from January, 2017 through March, 2020. (Yup, another pandemic casualty.) When I started it, my business mentor through the Ulster County Small Business Association said, “What you lack in business acumen, you make up in good ideas and enthusiasm.”
An editor of mine once described me as “an idea machine.” I’ll take it. But I also have zero business acumen.
There’s a whole other essay to be written about what makes an idea a success or failure. And maybe whether any of my enjoyable failures might have been profitable if I’d had capital to apply to them to begin with.
But right now I just wanted to take a moment to commemorate two things I created ten years ago, both of which made me happy in many ways, despite the various dismal numbers associated with them.
In other news…
The Woodstock Bookfest is back, March 30th to April 2nd in Woodstock, NY! If you attend, don’t miss the personal essay panel on April 1st, featuring Alexander Cheek, Gary Shteyngart, and Carolita Johnson, moderated by me, Sari Botton.