Written by Ctein, TOP Technical Editor
Last Saturday, as you might know, was TOP's 10th birthday. This site has been putting my life through changes for almost as long as it has Mike's. Okay, not quite 10 years, more like 9.3. Close enough.
It started in the summer of 2006, about nine months after Mike started TOP (which I had no idea he was doing; we were not in regular contact). I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about where to take my writing career. I was looking at the future of photography magazines, and the number of magazines that wanted in-depth and honest product tests and advanced how-tos had been steadily declining for 15 years. It wasn't going to be too much longer before I wasn't writing for anybody. I needed to do something to keep my name in the public eye. It wasn't just about earning money as a writer; an invisible artist is a broke artist.
My friend suggested I start a blog, which she'd enjoyed doing for a year or so. I said that was a non-starter for me. I don't write for the public for free. It's too much like real work. I'm a professional and I get paid for my words. I'd blog when hell froze over (exact quote).
That very same evening I got a call from Mike. He wondered if I might write a column for his hitherto-unknown-to-me blog. He couldn't pay me a lot; in fact he was worried I'd be insulted by the amount he could afford to pay me. But it was important to him that professionals be paid for their work, even if it's a token. It was the principle of the thing. No argument from me! I said I'd give it a try, although I wasn't sure how many column ideas I could come up with. Whatever, I'd run with it until I ran out of ideas.
As soon as I got off the phone with Mike, I called my friend. "You are not going to believe this. Hell just froze over."
True story; I couldn't make up stuff this improbable.
Shortly thereafter, this first column appeared.
As for running out of ideas? 300+ columns later, when I stopped doing my regular column, I still had a massive topic backlog.
The first TOP dye transfer print sale happened a little more than two years later, a bit over seven years ago. This was something Mike had started back at Photo Techniques magazine—offer readers master-quality prints at a ridiculously low price, so they could see for themselves what really good prints looked like. By taking all the orders and money in advance, the photographer could print in volume to meet a known demand, allowing them to charge a low price. I did on a couple of sales for PT, and each earned me a few thousand dollars. Mike was figuring TOP ought to do as well or better. With hundred-buck prints, we might hope for as much as $10,000 in sales!
Mike diffidently asked, if I wouldn't mind, would I consider giving him a 10% commission on sales? I told him hell no. Absolutely not. He was going to take 20% and not a point less, or I wouldn't do it.
He caved. I'm a tough negotiator.
We thought about putting a cap on the sales, but it seemed really tacky and faux-egotistical, like those ads you see for "limited edition collectibles." I could deal with 100 prints. Hell, if a miracle occurred and we doubled down on that, which had never, ever happened in the history of the program, I could deal with that.
So began the madness...
When the sale ended after ten days, I'd sold 750 prints. AUGH! I felt like Mickey Mouse and those blasted marching broomsticks. Damn near killed me.
But, suddenly, print sales were big money for me and Mike. We've both been riding that pony ever since. It's carried me through several tight periods.
The final blowout dye transfer sale paid for (most of) the remodeling on my house when I shut down the darkroom two years ago. As for Mike, these ongoing print sales with multiple photographers were what enabled him to get out of his shoebox of a house into something where he could stretch out both arms and not bruise his knuckles.
Oh yeah, changes.
Then came the big one.
I (virtually) met John Camp through TOP about 6 1/2 years ago, through our respective posts and comments on TOP. I mentioned in a column that I'd be going to the Twin Cities for vacation. John dropped me a note suggesting that since he lived on the Eau Claire river, not far from the Twin Cities, it might be a chance for the two of us to meet face-to-face. We did. We hit it off.
Almost from the beginning he nagged me about writing fiction. I would having none of it. Nonfiction is easy; fiction is HARD! You have to make up all those lies and keep them straight. Not for me, nuh uh. I was adamant. John knew enough not to push it.
Until, about 3 1/2 years ago, when the science fiction novel he'd been noodling around with came to a dead stop for him. He rang me up on the phone with a proposition. There is a (fairly) faithful summary of that conversation in this column I wrote for John Scalzi's blog, Whatever.
Fast-forward to the present. Now I'm a New York Times best-selling novelist who does photography. Talk about weird….
And none of this weirdness would've happened if it hadn't been for TOP.
I'd say the next 10 years couldn't possibly be more peculiar than the last.
I know better.
©2015 by Ctein, all rights reserved
Mike adds: My non-knuckle-damaging new new house, built A.D. 1880, has 600 sq. feet more than the shoebox. It's cheaper in every way but one than the old new house back in Waukesha. (The one: propane is expensive.) I love this house. It's lovely inside, and the back yard is wonderful, protected on three sides by that high ridge you see behind the house. That's the family room on the right, in what used to be the one-car garage. So far, a handful of TOP readers have visited! Stop by if you're ever in the Finger Lakes.
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