In the past month, I got the following things in the mail:
What do all of these have in common? Well, obviously, they were delivered in the mail. But that’s not the thing I want to talk about (although that in itself is pretty interesting–I haven’t seen so many subscription-style mail-delivery options since the CD and book clubs of my teenage years).
But what I really find interesting is that all of these products are, first and foremost, about trust. I am trusting someone I’ve never met to choose items for me (or make items for me) and then deliver them to my house via the mail. I could go to the pet store and buy treats for my dog. I could go clothes shopping. I could wait for a Kickstarter product to be produced and then, if it’s successful, go pick it up at the local bookstore or gaming store, or buy it online. Instead, I take a risk on something unseen, unknown.
Of course, the examples I listed aren’t the only ones out there — there are still music and book clubs, there are clothing options for men and kids, there are cat boxes and jewelry boxes and, of course, Kickstarters and other types of crowdfunding projects galore.
When I co-wrote Kicking It: Successful Crowdfunding with Monte Cook, we talked a lot about how crowdfunding is primarily a trust business. Do you trust the creator to make a great product and deliver it on time? Have they done other successful projects? On the other side, as a crowdfunding creator, have you made it possible for potential backers to trust you by providing amazing products in the past? By delivering as much as or more than you promised?
I find it interesting that in most shopping experiences, the buyer won’t trust the creator of the product, but they will trust a random, unknown person who loves or hates said product. I do it too. I go to Amazon and look at a book by an author I love. If I’ve enjoyed the author’s previous work, I should just trust that the new book will also be something that I’ll enjoy, right? Instead, I read the reviews of random strangers, strangers that may or may not share my reading interests, strangers who may or may not have anything in common with me. Strangers who may NOT HAVE EVEN READ THE BOOK they are reviewing. And I am swayed by their responses. SWAYED. Sometimes away from an author that I already know and trust.
This is also true of companies. If I want to buy a pair of boots online–even from a company that I know and trust–I read the reviews. I look at what people say about the fit, the feel, the look. And then I decide whether to buy or not.
In that case, why do I trust a random stranger over someone who I already know is skilled in their craft? I think this has a lot to do with the advent of buying things over the Internet. When I go to the bookstore, I can read a sample and make up my own mind. When I go to the shoe store, I can feel the shoe and try it on. Walk around in it. When I buy things online, I have a photo. Maybe a little write-up. That’s it. So I look for someone else to help me decide whether the product is something that I want or not.
Yet, with things like Kickstarter and Barkbox, I am trusting the creators implicitly. I am essentially giving them my money and saying, “I believe you will send me something awesome. Surprise me.” It’s an entirely different way of purchasing things. It isn’t as though one is cheaper or less important. A Barkbox and a Kindle book cost about the same. I have backed Kickstarters for more than I have spent on boots.
So why am I willing to trust the creators with one but not the other?
Perhaps it has to do with taking a safe risk. There’s something exciting about opening the Barkbox each month and seeing what new toys and treats someone else chose for the puppy. I get a tingle of fear and nervousness when I am about to dive into a Stitchfix and see what clothing might soon join my wardrobe. I love the excitement of backing a Kickstarter and watching it grow and then much later (sometimes long after I’ve forgotten about it) getting a goody box of a brand new thing in the mail. Being surprised–sometimes for good, sometimes for bad–is part of the shopping experience. It’s a calculated risk that sometimes really pays off.
Perhaps it also is a return to something that has almost entirely disappeared in our shopping experiences: A direct connection to the creator of a product. Or at least the perception of a direct connection. When I back a Kickstarter, I am backing the person behind it as much as the product. I believe that the people who run Barkbox truly love dogs, and that they will choose good things for my own dog. I like the creative minds and talented artists behind The Mysterious Package Company, and I want to support their unique concept (while also giving someone I care about a cool gift).
On the other side, I truly believe (or at least really, really hope) that people who back the Kickstarters that we put together feel connected to us as people. That they trust us, and feel safe in our hands. That they enjoy the products we make, but that they also like and support our business and life philosophies. We are selling products, yes, but hopefully the quality of those products and of the experience are also helping build real relationships between us and our buyers.
The hard part about this is that trust is tenuous, and can go sour very quickly. If you go to the store and purchase a dog toy and your dog hates it or it falls apart, you’re sad and maybe mad at the company (or yourself for your choice), but there are other dog toys and other companies and it’s no big deal.
BUT: if you trust someone else to pick a dog toy and your dog hates it or it falls apart, you feel like they have broken that trust. Even if it’s the exact same toy and the exact same issue that you had with the toy you picked yourself, it suddenly has a big emotional impact. Because in your mind, someone you trusted failed you.
Even though it’s full of pitfalls, that emotional dynamic, that consumer relationship based on trust, might actually be a good thing for both the consumers and the quality of products. If I am creating a product and a business built on trust, then I damn well better do my best to keep that trust. I better make awesome things, create strong connections, and deliver every single time. That knowledge, that understanding that people are trusting me, drives me to do better, to crush expectations, because I hold that trust sacred. Not just as a business person, but as a human being. Trust is hard. It’s scary and dangerous. Even when it’s just a business transaction. There’s a reason that we no longer do business on someone’s word and instead have contracts and legal documents. It’s because every time that trust gets broken, it makes us wary. Because it hurts to have someone break your trust, even if they didn’t mean to.
I like to believe in the good of people. In their kindness and competence and honesty. Maybe in the end, that’s why I seek to create trust relationships with creators, businesses, and my own customers. I want to be surprised and delighted by the world. I never want to outgrow the promise of the unknown. Maybe it’s a way to say, “Yes, I still believe in the goodness of other humans despite the bad. Yes, I will take the risk and trust you because I don’t want the cynicism to win.”
I also want to be the kind of business owner who gives people a reason to trust and believe. I want anyone who gets one of my products to feel the delight of opening their package and being blown away by what’s inside. I want them to rejoice in the trust they put in me, to feel smart and awesome about believing in the promise of honesty and quality.
Trust. Excitement. Creating connections. Saving the world. Making my ass look amazing in new jeans. Okay, maybe that’s too much to ask of a little brown box with a mailing label on top. But I don’t think so. Do you?
Kiss kiss bang bang, s.
Six things I loved this week:
1. The Fall. This show isn’t perfect but it’s damn fine, and it fits right into the triptych of my favorite serial killer shows, next to Hannibal and The Killing. First, I could watch Gillian Anderson in anything. In this, her character is a fierce, broken mess and I love her for it. Second, the nuanced, complicated handling of sexuality, feminism, BDSM, desire, and psychology is pretty brilliant. Nothing is simple–not gender roles, not love, not desire, not our past or present–and this show is willing to look at those incongruities straight in the face.
2. The crew that’s making the Numenera short film. Back during the original Numenera Kickstarter, we promised a short film if we hit $500,000. Of course, it was a dream goal. No way in hell did we we think that the Kickstarter was going to do that well. We should have trusted the backers, because they hit that goal and then some! Since then, we’ve been thinking about the film and who to collaborate with. No one seemed quite right. Either their skills weren’t the quality we wanted or they didn’t really get Numenera. So when Numenera fan and talented movie director Joan Manuel Valdes came to us and showed us sample of a film he was working on, we were blown away with how perfect it was. We’re paying for the film out of that original Kickstarter, and the crew is going to run a Kickstarter to raise money to make the film even more awesome. So excited about this!
3. My Fitbit Charge. Okay, I never thought I’d love this. I really didn’t. For years, I’ve used an old-style, simple pedometer to keep track of my miles. But I often forgot it when I went walking and then I’d just be like, “Fuck it. I don’t know how many steps/miles I walked so I’ll just not worry about it for today.” But with the Fitbit, it’s on my wrist all the time. Yeah, I know it’s another step toward being tracked and watched every moment of the day, but man, I am getting my miles in. And I know how much/well I’m sleeping, which is really interesting. I thought it was odd that I could be in bed for just 5 or 6 hours and feel rested, but Fitbit tells me that’s because my sleep efficiency is somewhere between 95-99%. Please don’t ask me how it knows when I’m asleep and when I’m not, because I don’t know and I’ve just decided that it’s a disciple of Santa Claus and so it just knows such things.
4. Sunless Sea, from Failbetter Games. The motto is: Lose Your Mind. Eat Your Crew. Die. Need I say more? From the brilliant minds behind Fallen London, this game is everything you want it to be. Or I think it will be if I could stop eating my crew and dying.
5. Letterforms erasable notebooks. I know I’ve mentioned these before, because they are absolutely one of my favorite possessions, but they’ve been out of stock for a while and now they’re back. So if you want one, get one. I use mine ALL THE TIME. Seriously. Here, for example, are my “notes” from last week’s roleplaying game (I think best when I’m doodling).
6. Your turn. What impossibly awesome things did you discover this week? Add your comment below — I’ll do a drawing and send the winner an impossible thing that I love.
Kiss kiss bang bang, s.
A few weeks ago, the very talented erotica author Alison Tyler and I were chatting via Twitter about manners for creative business people on the internet. And then we got talking about creating a book about said manners (don’t let the hoity-toity literary magazines fool you with their articles about how fantastic book ideas come about over tea and crumpets; in my experience, the vast majority of great creative ideas are born when smart people with no filters imbibe too much alcohol or coffee or both, then get on the internet and start going, “You know what we should do?!” “Yeah!” “A book about manners!” “Yeah!” and then they write up a fake table of contents, going “Yeah!” and then suddenly the world stops and they’re all like, “Crap, this is good. We should really make this happen.”).
Since I don’t have time to write a book at the moment, I’m going to write a blog post. About manners. For creative business people. On the Internet. Because: You, as a creative person, as a business person, as a real live person of any walk of life, should know how to conduct yourself online (and truly, elsewhere too). This information might become a book. Or an ongoing series. Or maybe just a one-time rant that will surely make someone on the Internet hate me, because they’re going to say, “I don’t need to be nice. It’s the fucking Internet for fuck’s sake. Who does she think she is, Miss Fucking Manners?”
Yes. Yes, I do think I’m Miss Fucking Manners. See image below for proof.
Onward. Haters can stop reading right now. We don’t want you to learn this stuff anyway, because then you can keep outing yourselves so beautifully with your utter lack of manners and we can all lock you out of our virtual houses once and for all.
So here’s the list (more to come, maybe, as I think of them). And of course, this list isn’t just for the internet. It’s good for conventions, workplaces, daily life, and anywhere that you might interact with other human beings:
Be Fucking Respectful. As Wil Wheaton is fond of saying, “Don’t be a dick.” But I say better yet, go a step beyond that. Play nice. BE nice. Appreciate people for what they bring to the table. See people as human beings with hearts and loved ones and illnesses and fears and dreams. Be willing to accept that someone else doesn’t share your viewpoint. Respect that viewpoint if you can. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe people are accidental assholes. It happens. If you can’t say anything nice to someone, then find someone else that you can say something nice to. Which brings me to:
Say Nice Things To/About the People Who Deserve Them. Love another author’s work? Tell them. Think someone makes beautiful art or said something particularly smart or is doing an amazing world-changing thing? Tell them. Tell them. Tell them. It’s so easy. And it makes the world a better place. Also, share what you love. It helps spread good things, like a virus that you actually want to catch.
Tell Dicks to Fuck Off. Being respectful only works IF the other people are also being respectful to everyone else. Once they cross that line, I think it’s okay to tell them to fuck off. It’s also okay to just leave the interaction. Do what’s best for you. In video games, there’s a saying–“Stay out of the fire” or “Don’t stand in the bad stuff” — that is used when someone stands right smack dab in the middle of whatever is hurting them (usually fire or poison emitted from a horrible creature) until they die. Don’t do that, unless you have the appropriate armor and weapons (or a death wish). Otherwise, it’s okay to get the hell out.
Have the Appropriate Armor and Weapons. Being a person is hard. Being a person on the internet is harder. Build your armor if you can. It helps you maintain dignity, respect, kindness, and human empathy. My armor is a mish-mash of self-respect, self-confidence, experience, perspective, and a small army of friends who tell me what’s what. My weapons are kindness, respect, human empathy, and my brain.
Shut the Hell Up Once in a While. Spoiler alert: You are not the most interesting/informed/educated/experienced person in every forum/chat room/virtual space. Yes, you might be the most (fill in the blank) person in one particular room, but not in ALL the rooms. It’s just not possible. Other people are smart and talented and experienced too. So shut up and listen. People hate blowhards. Unless you’re teaching or giving a lecture, if you’ve talked or typed for more than a few minutes and no one else has said anything, shut up. They’re quiet because a. you haven’t given them the chance to say anything with all your ranting and b. they’re now not paying one iota of attention to you because they’ve zoned out and are thinking about tacos, sex, or puppies.
Don’t Burn Your Damn Bridges. I don’t consider myself a petty person, but if you don’t know me and you start talking about what a shitty person I am online, if you lie about me, or tell the world how much my book sucks because of how much I suck (unless you are doing an actual review of the actual product, in which case, criticize away!), I will remember it. If you are a purposeful asshole to my friends or colleagues, I will remember it. (We’re all accidental assholes sometimes — that always deserves a second chance). If you are negative about everything or purposefully attempt to create hatred or vitriol, I will remember. Everyone else will remember it too. Because the internet isn’t a dinner party. It’s a public megaphone with a recording device attached, and everyone will know that you said that shit FOREVER. I suppose this isn’t a big deal if you’re just a person, because people will just label you an asshole and move on. But if you’re trying to make it as a business and/or as a creative person, you’ve just lost a whole lot of opportunities.
Learn these Words: Please, Thank You, I’m Sorry, You’re Awesome. Use them whenever necessary. Which is about three times more often than you think.
Please share this if you think it will help someone.
Thank you for reading.
I’m sorry for all the times that I forgot to mind my manners.
Kiss kiss bang bang, s.
I was brought up by hippies. That means a lot of things. We raised our own meat and grew our own food. My dad had (has, truly) long hair and had a record collection like you wouldn’t believe. I was taught to believe in taking care of the world and the community, in doing my best, and in a weird combination of manners and kickass. But mostly I was taught to give back.
Sometimes that means kindness. Other times it means helping out those in need. And sometimes it just means sharing when you have an abundance of things.
I currently have extra copies of three of my recent books: Lure of Dangerous Women and As Kinky As You Wanna Be and Geek Love. And I have a dearth of new things to read. So let’s help each other (and other authors) out with a trade.
Here’s how it works: Take a moment to think about the best author or book that you’ve discovered that you think doesn’t get the attention that it deserves (Any author or book or genre. Just don’t choose me or my books–that’s cheating. And don’t choose yourself or your books–that’s jerky). Write a comment on this post about said author or book, telling everyone why they’re so awesome. Share this blog post with people so that other people know about all of these great authors and books. Read the other comments (I rarely tell someone to read the comments, but in this case, that’s the important part; how else will you find that great author or book that you’ve been missing).
On January 27th, I’ll do a random dice roll and give away three signed books (winners will get their choice of either Lure or Kinky or Geek Love). Now, go forth and spread the love!
Kiss kiss bang bang, s.