12 Days of Anime is a great example of a project where you can learn more from failure than success. Specifically, I learned that when the team isn’t in a position to help I can probably accomplish about a quarter of what I need to. Also, there are many situations where optimism is appropriate, but time management limitations don’t fall under that. These are good lessons to take into a new year.
As part of the 12 Days of Anime challenge, renowned light novel apologist Frog-kun wrote a post about me. Usually posts about me are a thing to dread, but I’m fortunate enough to be able to call this particular frog a close friend. The retrospective of our “rather unlikely friendship” was touching to read, and the last paragraph brought a few things home for me:
She gave up her full-time job in order to pursue freelance writing and feminist activism. She put her financial security and even her physical safety on the line to pursue a dream that hardly anyone can understand.
It doesn’t feel like a big deal in the day-to-day, but any freelancer or entrepreneur will agree that shifting to a fundamentally unstable way of life takes a toll. I bought animefeminist.com on 5th September and it feels like that’s been my world ever since. I’ve talked about the experience on Kotaku, The Mary Sue, even Forbes, but it’s hard to describe the reality of my new normal, not least because it changes so quickly in a venture this young.
Here’s something I didn’t expect: the real challenge begins when the trolls leave you alone. When you no longer have something to react to, an obvious cause to rally people with, that’s when the real work begins.
Another thing I didn’t expect: “the real work” has been as much psychological as anything, facing up to my own weaknesses one at a time as they are systematically exposed.
Despite the team offering repeatedly to do more, I’ve been trying to keep AniFem going mostly single-handed. I don’t like asking people to do continuous work for no money, and didn’t want anyone to feel exploited.
As a result, of the 60 articles we have published since September 5th I’ve written 50 of them, plus many more drafts, as well as editing and formatting everything that goes up. Patreon updates and responses. Facebook posts. Countless tweets and emails. Much watching, reading and screencapping. Many internal discussions to solve problems, make plans, offer – or ask for – personal support.
This is all on top of my own commitments as an individual, including freelance writing for anime magazines in the UK and the US, or the postgraduate course I started the week before AniFem launched (and have been missing deadlines for ever since). Moving cities. Changing jobs. Nothing excessive. Just life.
Now, some people do far more for their passion projects than I do, many on busier schedules. Since the anti-feminist backlash died down I have felt constantly guilty about not doing more. I began to cringe every time someone praised me for my “success” or “hard work”. I’ve been deflecting as many compliments as possible to the team as a whole, or to the inherent merits of the project. Taking credit for any of this when I was so dissatisfied with my own performance felt more and more disingenuous and uncomfortable.
About 12 days ago I burned out. I stopped writing, checking Twitter, even talking in the team workspaces. Emails have gone unanswered, commitments unmet. I tried to plough on but my motivation was dead. I’m not the first person to experience that and I won’t be the last, but it’s my first time going through this so publicly.
I will always be honest and upfront with readers, and I’ve never shirked personal accountability for my actions. This is the reason AniFem has been patchy since mid-December and radio silent for the past week while I took a complete break to see friends and family. Just one week of checking out entirely and I’m back up to 100% enthusiasm. Holidays matter, as much for self-employed or volunteer work as the paid kind. Another good lesson for the new year.
The problem isn’t that I needed this time. Benefiting from a week off after three months of intense work is to be expected. The problem is that Anime Feminist is still too tied up with Amelia Cook. I’m writing up a list of AniFem New Year’s Resolutions, and underpinning all of them is “Get myself out of AniFem’s way as quickly and decisively as possible.”
At the time of writing, we have $814 in our Patreon pot, enough to pay writers for four posts a week. I will write at least one of those posts, probably a weekly links round-up, and my fee will be diverted to pay one of the team to do a few hours of admin per week. Replying to emails, project managing submissions, handling invoices… This is all it will take to keep AniFem up and running, and paying someone else to do it means it will actually get done.
In addition, I am arranging for the team to be able to format their authors’ posts without relying on me. I’m writing up template introductory emails and commission statements so the editors can communicate uniformly with our new contributors. Also in the works: shared spreadsheets, calendars and social media scheduling so everyone can keep track of everything related to production and promotion, not just me. Needless to say, paying the team for these increased responsibilities is our next funding target.
So what will I do once all this work is taken out of my hands? My workload will be on several levels:
- Editing. I have a clear vision for this site, and I’m a demanding editor. I took Lauren’s popular post on fanservice through multiple rounds of revision and extensive discussion to bring more potential out of her original idea. I want authors to produce their very best work for us, and to create fresh, challenging pieces that couldn’t exist on any other website. Creative input to that process will be the most consistent ongoing part of my role.
- Patrons. Our patrons have had a bit of a raw deal while we find our feet in 2016, and now we need to deliver more to them. More interaction, more requests met, more exclusive content… whatever they want from us, we will find a way to offer. I also want to make clearer divisions between the value proposition for each segment, so that those paying $10 a month feel they are getting something different to those paying $1 a month. This is my immediate top priority, and will be in motion by our three-month anniversary on 11th January 2017.
- Strategy. There’s a boatload of tasks I’ve been neglecting while the day-to-day has taken up so much of my time. I want to make our site more accessible, seek out more collaborative opportunities, prepare realistic goals and hold regular team meetings to review our progress against them. AniFem is my passion but Anime Feminist Ltd is a business, and in 2017 I intend to run it like one. Once our Patreon pledges hit $5000 a month we can consider ourselves sustainable. Getting to that point without sacrificing our mission or our principles is my biggest job from now on.
After all that, I want to make it clear that running AniFem also comes with enormous positives. Chief among these is the vocal support of our readers, patrons and collaborators. Here are some of the messages we’ve received even while I’ve been completely silent:
— Doc Sounders | WMC (@TheSubtleDoctor) 23 December 2016
It’d be awesome to see some, if not all, of the new sakuga writers from @AnimeFeminist in next year’s Year in Sakuga post.
— ultimatemegax (@ultimatemegax) 31 December 2016
— buffywrestling (@buffywrestling) 31 December 2016
That last piece of advice? Consider that my personal motto for 2017. “Try not to compare and just do your thing” – if we follow that advice we cannot fail.
Thank you to all of you for joining us on our endeavours and sticking with us through it all! I hope you all have fantastic New Year’s celebrations, the new and improved Anime Feminist will see you on the other side.