The version of this post that I have been writing in my head is longer than some books I’ve written so I will try to be concise.
I will start with the caveat that I am only speaking on my own behalf here. I have spoken to several other teachers who were affected by this mess or have taught the venue in the past. I can say that I am not the only teacher offended and I am far from the only teacher who has withdrawn from the “opportunity” so graciously presented to us. But the opinions shared hereafter are mine – I do not pretend that I speak for anyone else.
Having been teaching for several years – mostly crochet but knitting and crafty business classes too – I made a conscious effort to increase the number of events at which I teach to help my cash flow along. Let’s be honest, print publishing is not what it once was and that’s where the bulk of my income has come from in years past. There are some places I won’t teach and some places I wish I could teach every year but that’s not what they want (I puffy heart love you DFW FiberFest), but I have seriously been working on more teaching opportunities.
So a couple of years ago along comes a new show from an old player, and I get asked to teach, and the contract doesn’t work for me so when I politely decline I am made a better offer and off I go. The show was great, the students wonderful, and I am glad that together, the venue and I could make it work. This year comes, I still have a minor issue with the contract and have a good conversation with the promoter about it. I sign anyway, have a great time, really feel like I am starting to develop some regular students which is terrific in such a relatively new show. And I feel heard about the issue I brought to their attention so I apply to teach for 2017. As an aside, since every venue has a different way to handle class submissions and only one promoter that I can think of off the top of my head keeps your general class pitches on file so you don’t have to pitch the same stuff every year, do you guys have any idea how long it can take to do an application for a large show? We pitch way more classes than we have spaces to fill so the promoter has a selection from which to choose. An application can take a whole day away from other work! And if you don’t get selected to teach that work is wasted.
Anyway I get the email – you’ve been selected to teach! Yay! Stand by for the contract which we will send next week! Yay! I am anxious to read the contract because I hope my issue from this year has been addressed. So I get the contract and I read it, and I read it again and I say “Oh HELL no!”. I wait a day so I don’t send hate mail to intermediaries because none of this is their fault, and I read the contract with fresh eyes because surely it can’t be as bad as I thought it was but yes it still smells, and I send an email saying there’s no possible way I will sign this contract. And I get an email back offering to explain it to me. Now not only am I offended that I was offered this piece of crap masquerading as an employment offer in the first place, I am offended that they think that I do not understand what a piece of crap it is! So I decline their offer of a telephone meeting.
They are shocked! They are appalled! I hear through the grapevine that a second version of the contract has gone out to some teachers (but not me) and it is still a bad contract, but a slightly less bad contract. Other teachers try to negotiate but keep hitting brick walls. I ask a colleague why I was not offered the second contract and was told “you said you wouldn’t teach the event so you are being taken at your word.” Ok, that’s true, that’s exactly what I did say. So I am sad to lose the show but surely not sad enough that I will lose money teaching it, so I sigh heavily and move on. I worry that my regulars with think I abandoned them but there’s nothing I can do about that. Sigh.
Then I hear from a few more teachers, and a few more after that. Some have signed the second version, many are waffling, several have done what I did and withdrawn from the event (and I love each and every one of you!). And then it moves to Twitter (#FairFiberWage or #FiberTeachersNeed if you’re interested, or search me at @Hooked4Life because I am copied in a lot of that pile o’ tweets!) and then the lovely Abby Franquemont had a say about it which you can see on Facebook, and then I decided I needed to add some words. Ok a lot of words. In fact if you are still reading, high five!
Then some vendors chimed in – if there is a teaching kerfuffle going on shouldn’t they know it? Of course they should because it could affect attendance and therefore their business. And some students said “well if you guys are getting screwed, shouldn’t we know it so we can vote with our dollars?” And of course they should too. But every damned time something like this happens the fiber community gets up in arms in our defense (love you guys for that) and then the people who disagree come by and say we need to suck it up and get real jobs, whatever those are for someone with my very specific skill set, and then people yell at each other and a week later it’s over and nothing changes.
I had a savior complex for a very long time. I ranted on Getting Loopy and I called people out on their bullshit ways, and I fought for recognition at TNNA and other purportedly professional organizations. I was going to make life better for designers EVERYWHERE. And then I gave up doing that. Because it stressed me out, it didn’t change things much, if ever, and oh yeah there were the death threats on Ravelry (true story – and hilarious now that it’s five years past but it requires cocktails to be told!).
So why am I writing this novella? There’s a sea change happening and in what I hope is the extinction burst of my savior complex I feel compelled to point it out.
Teaching was the last hope for many of us to keep making a living and if those contracts are under attack – and they are – shit’s about to get real. Book advances have been decimated in the last few years as well. The rhetoric behind these changes from those in power is eerily similar and sounds like this “It’s ok to take a teaching contract with no guarantees or per diem because if you sell out every seat in every class you’ll make more money!” Or for books “It doesn’t matter if the advance is terrible because you’ll earn out quicker and you’ll make the same amount you would have anyway on royalties !” What both of these proposals do, though, is shift the financial responsibility of a given project making money away from the shoulders of the corporations that profit from the end product, and put that weight on the shoulders of the artists that make these projects possible. If a corporation has put out a big advance on a book or made a financial guarantee to a staff of teachers that corporation has skin in the game. They are incentivized to do the best they can to sell that product because if they don’t they’ll lose a sizable chunk of money, which is much more quantifiable to the bean counters than the more general “we should be profitable” mantra. Profit is good – it’s what keeps all of this content in the marketplace for consumers to benefit from. But a company the size of Hooked for Life should not be expected to subsidize expenses for a company the size of … Well let’s just say that I don’t think it’s coincidence that the parent company’s name begins and ends with F U…