This guest post is by Abby Kerr of The Voice Bureau
WHO & WHY
Today’s Purpose Profile is all about Sarah Selecky, author of the Giller Prize-finalist short story collection Cake Is For the Party and the creator of Story Is a State of Mind, an online learning ecosystem for fiction writers.
As a paying student in SSMind, I’ve experienced her work up close and personally. As an aspiring fiction writer, I find her approach to teaching the craft of fiction fresh, illuminating, and challenging. As a brand specialist, I delight in the elegance, clarity, and responsiveness of Sarah’s online brand to her community of readers and writers, and most of all, to her authentic curiosity as a creative person.
I decided to profile Sarah’s brand for Create As Folk because she’s a stellar example of someone who has truly built a (seemingly) sustainable business around her passions, niched it in tightly, and is providing real value for her readers and buyers, all while staying in her sweet spot and making her own art.
BEHIND THE SCENES
On her About page, Sarah describes her approach to fiction writing as ‘contemplative’ and ‘mindful’ in nature. She says, “My method is a unique hybrid of craft and process: not soulful journalling, not pointy criticism. Writing creatively demands a special kind of attention; it needs to be laced with kindness and rigour.” Her attention to writing as a cultural craft and personal and artistic discipline, coupled with (non-precious) care for the whole spirit, body, and nature of the writer, attracts high quality students who are dedicated, devoted, and engaged.
Aspiring and seasoned fiction writers who want to work deeply in the short story form are encouraged to sign up for The Story Intensive, the live-running workshop version of Story Is a State of Mind. She’s garnered the wisdom and support of other notable writers like Margaret Atwood, George Saunders, and Karen Joy Fowler to round out the teaching faculty.
One notable aspect of Selecky’s brand is that she . . . regularly takes time off from it to attend to her own creative practice. (Fancy that, artists-who-are-business-owners!) She writes, “I take time off regularly, go where nobody will find me, and focus on the one thing I love to do the most. And I advise you to do the same.” During these planned hiatuses, her social media profiles go quiet while her blog remains active due to pre-written, pre-scheduled posts.
BRAND VOICE & VIBE
There’s a clarity and a quiet vibrancy to the Sarah Selecky brand that requires, first of all, an appreciation for restraint on the part of the brand creator and the web designer. If you like clean design, her site is clean as a whistle, with only the most subtle of feminine flourishes. Working within a limited palette of white, charcoal, soft robin’s egg, and a muted yellow, the site speaks of spaciousness -- space for you (the visitor) to read, space to think, space to create. Photography is used sparingly, so when there is an image (such as on her Work With Me page and in her site footer), you really pay attention.
Sarah’s writing voice is intimate, particular, and present. She avoids abstractions and soulful rants and practices the same attention to detail, nuance, precision, and prose texture in her blog posts as she does in her stories. There’s an audacity to her passion for what writing can do and where good writing comes from when it’s made of truth, and that audacity creates a beautiful friction with her calm, cool visual design. She invites readers to come along with her as she pursues her own writing life, all the while holding her center of gravity in her own creative practice. Everything she puts out there -- each blog post, each Facebook page update, and each SSMind lesson -- reinforces the idea of doing your own work and finding your own way in and through.
ABOUT THE MONEY, HONEY
How do Sarah Selecky’s values translate into making money?
Devotion, practice, and kindness. These are three values I see at play throughout the brand and the work it models and encourages.
The Sarah Selecky brand earns revenue through book sales (she encourages site visitors to purchase her book from local bookshops) and through the sale of two online fiction-writing programs. Each program is pre-recorded and available all at once, inside a private portal, once payment and registration are complete. And let me tell you: these programs are gorgeous, including high quality videos and audios and attractively formatted PDFs.
For a creative devoted to her personal practice, teaching craft (if one is wired as a teacher) is a great way to bring in passive income (i.e. income from a product that is created once and can be sold many times). The digital ecosystem or virtual course model can work well for creators who don’t want to be tied to supporting a community of learners/buyers on an everyday basis. Selecky employs a small team of assistants who oversee the admin of the courses for/with her, as well as certain aspects of her social media presence.
Are you an artist (or an aspiring artist) who is devoted to a daily (or occasional) creative practice? What inspires you about Sarah Selecky’s approach to shaping a brand and business that works for her and supports her creative habit?