Barrett Manor

Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Meowy Catmas!

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

It's time again for the annual Catmas card

We enjoy doing these every year, and it's good to show that Midnight is still alive and kicking (and giving gifts!) after 18 years.

Merry Christmas and best holiday wishes to everyone!

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12/7/2018 5:49:49 PM
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Lessons Learned From (About) Ten Years of Art Shows

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

I participated in my first convention art show in 2009. I did it on a whim, and I sold out. Completely. This is a feat I have never duplicated since. But hey, these art shows have helped through some tough times.

Over the last few years, though, it's become evident to me that I need to get more businesslike in how I handle things. Oh, I've kept track of sales and paid my taxes, but the nuts and bolts of deciding what to show and how to price have always been by the seat of my pants. It's well past time I got beyond that, which is why I've just finished up a project to catalog as many of my art show sales as possible. 

I say "as many" because I seem to have either lost the bid sheets and my notes for some shows, and/or I never got a complete sales report from some shows. I got better (but was not turned into a newt), over the years at keeping more precise records. There are only a couple of shows where I don't have complete records, and they may still be lurking in the black hole of a filing cabinet, so I haven't yet given up hope. In the meantime, I've learned some things:

  • Better recordkeeping is good. 
  • I've made mistakes.
  • So have conventions.
  • I have  LOT of room for improvement.

One thing I don't have control over is how conventions keep records and pass those along to artists. This isn't a complaint, but a data point. I've noticed that, over the years, conventions in general got a LOT better at providing useful data. One thing I've tried to do at the end of a con is update my copy of the Control Sheet as I check out. I'm tired at the end of a con, and so are the people running the art show. Mistakes happen all around. But I think the big thing I need to do is to try to reconcile at least my minimum bid with whatever the con hands to me, if possible. I found one con that (long story) snuck in a sale under the radar. I had an item with a minimum bid of $30 and they sold it for $10, according to their paperwork. I should have caught it on checkout, and I didn't. That particular con died after that year, so I really didn't have any recourse. $20 (less commission) owed me was nothing compared to what they were undoubtedly in the hole. I chalk it up as a lesson learned. There's another con where the checkout paperwork showed an item sold (and I didn't bring it home), but the final paperwork didn't show the item at all. I followed up, but this was during a family crisis, so I failed to continue to follow up. My fault. The lesson learned from this is to take the time to double-check all of the sales against my minimum bids, and then to do it again when the check arrives.

Checking out of an art show is chaos, which is why I'm not placing the blame anywhere except on my shoulders. It's up to me to verify this stuff. 

The next lesson is entirely on my shoulders. My pricing is all over the place. This is something I've always done by the seat of my pants. I need to find someone to sit down and give me some advice.

I need to do better targeting of pieces to conventions. Okay, sometimes selling is just pure luck. But I should have known some things would very likely not sell at a Steampunk con, for instance. 

On the other hand, few artists sell out (or mostly do) on a regular basis. There is  bit of a lesson from retail, here. You walk into a store and there is a ton of stuff. Most of it you don't need or don't want. But you may see an impulse item. And the management doesn't know if the next person through the door is looking for diapers, or a potted plant, or a flat screen TV. They have to put a variety of goods out there and see what sells well and what doesn't. I have data, now! Still, I believe there is a bit of an element of luck involved, but maybe I can mix in a little science and see what happens.

I need to expand my product line and keep producing new stuff. This is a no-brainer, but the data really hammered it in.

I'm going to look at expanding my reach and mailing art to some cons. I would love to attend more conventions personally, but it's not possible right now. 

I need to (gulp!) get out there and promote my work some more. That's going to be the toughest part for me.

What can conventions do? The first thing is to provide useful data. I can think of a few shows that I've done over the last few years that have excelled in that. For many, I'm on my own. Or they provide a decent report one year, and just a check the next, depending on who is running the art show. Hey, I'm not going to turn down "just" a check, but it's good to know exactly what sold and for how much, and if it was a minimum bid, quick sale, Sunday sale, auction sale, etc. 

Some conventions can do a better job of promoting their art shows. Yes, I help run a con, and one thing I'm discussing with the leadership is how we drive traffic to both the art show and the dealer's room. In the end, if the artists and dealers are making money, the con is more likely to make money, and those artists and dealers are more likely to come back. 

As an artist (and a dealer at some cons), of course I want to make All The Money. And if I'm doing it in the art show, then the con is taking more of a commission, which is better for their bottom line.

Is this all of any use? I would say "I dunno," but the data is useful, and now that it's in a database I can run all sorts of reports and get a better feel for what items do well and what pricing may work best. We shall see.

Filed under: Conventions   Art Shows         
10/18/2018 6:00:34 PM
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New in Nostalgia

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

I'm going through old family files and the like for a few weeks. Today I ran across a couple of postcards of Downtown Dallas featuring Reunion Tower:



You can read the entire entry here.

Filed under: Nostalgia   Housekeeping         
10/4/2018 11:11:58 AM
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Look! Writing Musings!

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Been a while, hasn't it?

I'm presently (yes, still) plotting out a novel. One of the problems I'm facing is how is the main character going to defend herself? She probably will end up with a small gun, but allow me to walk you through my thought process. (Please note that this has absolutely nothing to do with current politics or attitudes about firearms. *)

Weapons = power. So what happens when a person gets so good at defending themselves with a natural or supernatural weapon that it gets boring? 

Bear with me a minute.

The sheriff has the biggest, baddest gun in town, and all he has to do is point it in the direction of the bad guys, and they drop their weapons and cower in the corner in Freudian fear. As a reader or viewer, that works once or twice, and then you expect that to happen. Maybe the protagonist worked hard to get a bigger and better weapon (or power, in the case of a supernatural protagonist), and through several books (or films) this building of power worked. But when you get to the point where the protagonist relies too much on that big bad weapon, the writing gets lazy and the readers get bored.

This, I'm convinced, beyond all political reasons, is why MacGyver didn't use guns. It's more exciting to watch the hero use his brains and his well, macgyvering skills, to outwit the bad guys. **

So what happens when the hero has the big, bad weapon that can pretty much save them the trouble of going through the motions of an actual plot? The writer has to toss in roadblocks. Maybe a hostage, explosives that the weapon could trigger, a bad guy with an even bigger, badder weapon. If the wizard knows how to disarm explosives or make guns jam with a spell, then there has to be another roadblock. 

Because it gets boring for both the reader and the writer to have the protagonist use the same weapon, the same power over and over again. 

The writer has another, er, weapon in their arsenal: The reset. Something happens to make the protagonist use their most valued weapon. Somehow they lose their power. The weapon jams or breaks beyond repair (maybe it gets melted in a fire). This forces to the protagonist to go back to the basics and rely more on their wits. Or maybe there's a cost to using that weapon. What if it makes you sick? (P. N. Elrod used that with Jack Fleming to curb his power to influence people into doing what he wanted them to do.) What if the protagonist discovers that using the weapon causes something bad to happen elsewhere? Now there's a real cost to using that weapon or power, and it can only be used as a last resort. This forces the writer to sit down and do some actual plotting!

This has definitely influenced my thinking about how my character defends herself. My story takes place in 1903, so a large hatpin would be an obvious weapon. A small gun could be another weapon. I really want her to rely more on her wits, so I want the weapons to be a last resort. Not that I have anything against weapons. I just don't want to use them as a crutch.

But power is easy. It can be a crutch to limp along what could be a cracking plot. 

Remember in the first Indiana Jones movie where he faced the guy with the fancy swordwork? We expected him to use his whip and he kinda said "screw that" and went for his sidearm. It was a great moment. The next time he was in that sort of situation, he didn't have his gun, so he had to find another way out. Having him use his gun in that situation would have been lazy writing and unsatisfying for the viewer.

So there ya go. That's what's been going through my writer mind lately. I'm still working on stuff. It's just slow. I wish I could push this process, but it is what it is. I guess. Thanks for reading along.

* No, I'm not anti-gun. Let's not even go there. Thank you.

** And speaking of Richard Dean Anderson, "Legend" is available on DVD! This was a summer replacement series (remember them?) on UPN (remember that?) starring Anderson and John DeLancie. Here's the IMDb link. We have commenced a rewatch.

Filed under: Writing            
6/19/2018 10:12:09 AM
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Updated Tech Museum

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

As I've been cleaning and going through things, I've been taking pictures and adding items to our Tech Museum. While I was at it, I did a little work on the presentation. It's still a tad clunky, but better than it had been. I've also added a sort of feed of the newest items, so if you've been there before you can cut to the chase and see what's new.

Check it out!

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4/24/2018 2:58:43 PM
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Pictures! We Haz 'Em!

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

It's been a long time since I've just dropped everything and gone outside to shoot some pictures. The wind made it a challenge, but I think I got a few interesting ones.

What roses are blooming have been through a storm or two.


Here is a native smoke tree, just starting to bloom. The blossoms turn a smokey gray eventually, hence the name.


Waxleaf in bloom.


And the Virginia Creeper is, well, creeping along the fence next door:


I have to say that it felt really good to get out and just shoot some images. I should do this more often now that the weather is nice.

Filed under: Pictures            
4/17/2018 10:25:20 AM
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ConDFW Wrap-up, plus bonus housekeeping!

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Had a grand time at ConDFW this past weekend. The panels were fun, and I made a little money at my table. Of course, I saw many old friends and made a few new ones.

I was sorry Charlaine Harris couldn't make it, but I do wish her the best. I'm sure she'd rather have been at a con than having her gallbladder out.

My one bit of "fun" happened on the way home. Someone ahead of me in a left turn lane suddenly backed up and stepped on the gas. I narrowly avoided getting slammed into, which is a really good thing because the truck is in the shop. That would have left us with the motorcycle. In this rainy weather. 

Spent the last two days on some minor site updates that turned into a major pain in the ass. My comments page still isn't right, but if you want to leave a comment, please follow the instructions. It'll get posted. I'm working to fix it.

Geek speak alert!

I use a Captcha on my site in an attempt to weed out spammers. Over the weekend someone started to hit the contact link. And then when I went to fix it I discovered that the Captcha I'm using will no longer be available after the end of next month. This meant installing a new one and jumping through various hoops to make it work.

In the process of doing that I updated some other software that I'm using on the site, and now the comment box is a mess. I'm using the same software to post this entry, and the box looks fine. Go figure. I'm looking into it. I've a feeling that the problem is a software conflict. I hope I'll figure it out. (Update: I'm using a different text box "thing" here, it turns out. Oops.)

So, how are things in the clean world?

Filed under: ConDFW   Housekeeping   Life      
2/20/2018 3:58:56 PM
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So You Want To Be A Convention Panelist?

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Yep, it's time for my annual(ish) guide to becoming a panelist at conventions. The short version is that it's not as easy as you think. The long version is based on years of attending and running cons. I've attended - and helped run - all sizes of cons. But I don't speak for any con I now run or have helped run in the past. This is based on my experience, and of course, your mileage may vary.

So you have a book our a game out, and you've heard one of the best ways to promote it is to attend a convention. Yes, but... 

Let's talk about small-medium fan-run cons. These are probably your best shot for getting on programming, partly because there are more of them, and also they're generally non-profit and not autograph shows. They also provide a better chance to meet and mingle with fans, and network with authors, agents, and publishers. Yep, there's a lot of action going on in the bar, and I'm not talking about pickup artists. (Even if you don't drink, that's the place to be if you want to network. And you want to do that, along with promotion.) But we're talking about promotion.

The first thing is to set your expectations. You're very likely not going to get an hour to talk about your book. If you get an autograph slot, you will likely share it with other authors and artists. Most small-medium cons are run by volunteers, and they get their income from people who pay at the door, just like the big gate shows. So just like the big gate shows, their guests, panelists, and programming needs to appeal to their audience. Think about that when  you apply or make your pitch.

Have you never attended a convention before? Please attend one. Sit in on some panels. Soak up the culture. Every con is different, and every culture is a little different, but the focus is on having a good time and imparting some knowledge. Along with panels on writing and the business of writing, you'll probably find workshops (writing, costuming, art, prop building, etc.) and even plain fandom panels. There are probably tracks on art, maybe comics. Observe how other artists and authors promote their work. I guarantee you'll walk away with some good ideas. And maybe see some things you don't want to touch with the proverbial ten foot pole.

Target a convention or two you would like to attend as a panelist. Following are some Dos and Don'ts:

DO check out the convention web site first. There may be an application for panelists and/or a list of what the convention is looking for in a panelist. If the convention keeps an archive of past web sites, dig through the last couple of years and see what they did for programming. 

DO note deadlines. 

DO NOT apply at the last minute. Six months or longer is usually a good time, but cons may vary. 

DO send your inquiry/application to the proper email address. If they ask you to contact the chair, do that. If they ask you to contact programming or guest relations, do that. 

Please DO NOT spam every contact on the site. Don't copy your inquiry to other addresses unless you are asked to do so. 

DO make a pitch that shows how your presence can benefit the con. Do you have some expertise that you can share? We know you have a book (mention it, please!), so tell us something else about yourself. Are you a librarian? Pitch a panel on research. Are you an organization specialist? There's a panel! Are you an accountant? Pitch taxes and record keeping for writers and artists. Maybe you have a hobby that you can share. Do you teach writing at a school? You get the idea. Remember, the con is looking for programming that will sell memberships and engage the fans once they're on site.

But how does that tie into promoting your book? You get to mention it on every panel. (Just don't build the proverbial fortress of books. People want to see you, not your backlist.) If someone finds you interesting and engaging, they may be more likely to check out your books. Bring promotional materials, because virtually all cons have a "freebie" table. 

So you didn't make the cut? Here are a few tips:

DO NOT take it personally if you get turned down. Often, there are more people who want to be on panels than a convention has available slots. 

DO Thank them for their consideration and ask when you can apply for next  year.

DO buy a membership (non-profits often call that fee to get in the door a membership instead of a ticket or admission) and attend, particularly if you're local. Take advantage of those networking opportunities. You may be able to take it as a business expense. (Yep, ask a tax specialist. That ain't me.) 

Did you buy a membership? Then DO contact programming and make yourself available as a last-minute fill-in. DO NOT make yourself a pest over this.

DO NOT mount a word-of-mouth campaign to get yourself on programming. There's nothing wrong with asking a friend to recommend you for programming, but it can go too far. This falls under taking rejection personally. That can only end in tears.

DO ask if you can send promotional materials. Most cons will be happy to put your stuff on their freebie table for you. (This is also a great way to spread the word at cons that are too far away for you to attend.) 

If you do get onto programming at one convention, be aware that conrunners attend conventions. If they see you on a panel and like what they see, that no may turn into a yes, even if it's for next year. 

One other thing to keep in mind is that you're not going to be a good "fit" at every convention. This falls under not taking it personally. 

Conventions love finding new talent and helping to promote it. Just keep in mind that it's not always easy to get onto programming. Persistence can pay off. 

If you see me at a con, do say "hi." While I am running one con this year, I'm not the person to contact to get on programming. But I can put you in touch with them. 

And I just want to say, "good luck. We're all counting on you."

Filed under: Conventions            
2/8/2018 9:45:25 AM
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2017 Wrap Up

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

So I thought 2016 sucked swamp water? 2017 Hasn't been a lot better. I have been able to take about a week and a half off at the end of the year, and yes, we did get that vacation we've been trying to take for years. Thanks to a last-minute Etsy sale, I think I've managed to slide into a sliver of profitability this year. No thanks to the people who haven't paid up on jobs. That's part of the deal when you freelance.

Last week we finally got the last major bits of the estate in place, and the attorney has been busy with the follow-ups on that. We're not finished. I still have things to do - including taxes - over the next few months, but at this point there are few hard and fast deadlines save for the one imposed by the IRS. It's going to be good to get that monster off my back.

One business positive is that I did manage to carve out a little time to work on a three-year business plan. I'd pretty much declared the year a total loss back in the fall. Honestly, a few Etsy sales saved my bacon this year. While I have some plans in mind, there are still too many factors outside of my control, and some "I knew the job was dangerous when I took it" commitments that I don't feel comfortable dropping. And some I just can't. Hey, I'm in charge of a trust, now! I'm going to have to do a LOT more delegating and a LOT more of just saying no to things that either don't pay or pay too little to cover my time. Juggling things and learning to delegate and say no will be my biggest challenges.

So, what's on tap so far for 2018? Check the Events page for a start. I'm also looking at some local craft fairs. I have ideas for expanding my line, which I must do if I'm going to attend more shows. I'm working up a plan to to tutorials/streaming video for Steam Cat. I have mixed feelings about that one, but I can't fail spectacularly if I don't try. I have to raise my social media profile (to bring in new customers) without being all "buy my stuff" all the time. I'm planning to learn some new skills. 

Let's just say that I'm very cautiously optimistic about 2018. But things are still precarious enough that it can all fall into Excrement Estuary at a moment's notice. We'll see what happens, eh?

Filed under: Life            
12/30/2017 10:20:17 AM
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2017 Catmas Card

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

The 2016 Catmas Card has arrived! And with it, I've redesigned the Catmas Card pages. The design only dated to the year 2000. How bad could it have been? 

It's fun looking at the archives to see both how my modest graphics skills have improved over the years. The execution of our ideas depends not only on those skills, but the mood of the cats. And sometimes my archive of cat pictures comes in very handy. And then there are the ideas. Sometimes it's tough to figure out an idea. This year one hit me over the head like a falling Christmas tree. I hope it worked.


Physical cards should go out on Monday.

Filed under: Catmas   Cats         
12/9/2017 4:54:50 PM
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