An open letter from the organizers
Written by the organizers behind Makeology and Cheerfully Made Markets.
One of the toughest parts of planning a craft fair is the fact that you basically have to decide which one of your friends gets to be a part of it.
Through organizing these shows many of us have become more than just acquaintances, friends, online friends at the very least. How do you tell someone that you LIKE and often see over at other events that they can’t sell their goods at your show?
What’s even tougher is knowing that people will be upset and there’s a distinct possibility you will lose some friends. If for whatever reason you don’t get into a show it’s not because we don’t think you’re good enough. It’s most likely because there are so many excellent vendors all fighting for the same spot. It comes down to many factors and it’s never personal. (Emily side note: Unless it IS personal because you were crazy mean to me at the last show, in which case, you brought this on yourself lady. I mean really.)
We learn a great deal about our “friends” through the application process. A lot. Loads of emails pour into our inboxes after an application period closes. Some kindly requesting feedback, some just downright awful, rude, aggressive, or mean; demanding to know why they weren’t accepted, or arguing that they are more deserving than another.
Here’s the thing. We aren’t claiming to be experts in every category nor do we feel we are all powerful over your success. We’re simply the ones making the tough decisions. Because when it comes down to making sure our shows are well curated and exhibit the best (in our opinion) variety to our shoppers, decisions need to be made. And it sucks. It’s really, really stressful and we lose sleep over it, none of us enjoy that part of the process.
What’s really important to know is that making these brutally difficult decisions is what makes the show successful. We could have 57 of the world’s finest, funkiest, most fabulous potters apply to the same show. Can they all participate? Heck no. If we accepted ALL of the potters, everyone would suffer. The maker by the door? He might do ok. The seller tucked at the back of the show? Well, yes, hers is certainly unique, but we just don’t need any more pottery now do we?
Truly, we thought a lot about whether or not to publish this post. But when we found ourselves coming to each other over the same issues, just so thankful to have met someone who shared our frustration and heartache, we decided that in the interest of free therapy, we had to do it. At first we cowered behind our laptops feeling like maybe it’s not worth sharing our feelings for fear of the backlash (oh there WILL be backlash), but then we realized that no one else seemed to have any issue sharing their feelings about the issue with us while we cried into our ice cream and spilled tears on our keyboards. Maybe it is our turn after all.
Bottom line, we are people. Good people who started this craft show organizing thing because we wanted to create opportunities for ourselves and others to make a living doing what they love. (Melissa side note: We’re makers too! We get rejected as much as anyone else! We know how it feels and it definitely doesn’t make things any easier.)
So there. We said it. Maybe we can move forward now.
In the interest of that, we thought it might be helpful if we elaborated on a few reasons some makers might be chosen over others. Here are some of the things we believe make for a better application.
YOUR APPLICATION IS COMPLETE
We know it’s a pain to read all the nitty gritty details of an application, but it’s really important that you send us your submission complete so that our jury has everything they need to make their decisions. Let’s face it, people don’t like to/want to read. Although it may seem like no biggie that your photos are mislabeled, when we’re dealing with hundreds of images, sometimes we just can’t find the time to figure out what’s what and who’s who.
YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY IS GOOD
This is probably the most important portion of your application. Since we don’t have your items to touch/hold/smell, photos are all we can go by to judge. Photography makes you and your brand. You want your photos to be well lit, stylized and clear. Your photos are a reflection of you and what you do. An important point to make here is that we use these photos to promote you. We are looking for quality photos that we can use in our marketing. The visuals are everything! The media also picks up on this and frequently choose the best to promote (very important!).
YOUR WEBLINKS WORK
This is your chance to show us what you do in a broader scale. If it’s not up to date or not working don’t submit it. Stick to sharing your Instagram or Facebook page.
YOUR PRICING IS ON THE MONEY (pun!)
This is so important! If we find that the norm is to charge, say, an average of $16 for a baby bib and we get an applicant that charges only $8, our eyebrows go up. We have to be cautious of vendors undercutting each other, but we also want to be sure you’re paying yourself in a way that makes you sustainable!
YOU’RE A GOOD FIT, AESTHETICALLY SPEAKING
This is the whole package. What your product looks like, what your brand looks like, what your display looks like. Everything. When people wonder where they could shop for quality products we want them to think of you.
YOU HAVE A GOOD TRACK RECORD
If you’ve participated in a previous show, was it a good experience? Did you make sure you had no other conflicting events that day? Did you wait to decline your acceptance until the last possible second? Did you arrive on time? Did you freak out on one of our volunteers because you didn’t get the electrical outlet you wanted (but were never promised)? Did you follow instructions? We realize life happens (to us too) but lets try to remember that this is supposed to be fun. It’s not likely that you’ll be invited back if you ruffled a few too many feathers when last we met. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Ok so you’ve done all the above and you still didn’t make it. A lot of factors go into the decision making process such as the originality of your work, the variety (and cohesiveness) within your brand, your online presence. Sometimes we have excess applicants within one category, the most popular being jewelry. It is then we have to get down to the nitty-gritty. Did they solder or make each glass piece individually? Are they doing something we’ve never seen before? (Note that these aren’t requirements but they become important details when jurying an over saturated category.) Sometimes it takes going the extra mile to stand out.
Sooooooo you’ve done all the above correctly and you think you go the extra mile making your product stand out and you still didn’t get in. Bottom line, not everyone can have a spot. It’s crap luck, but it’s just how it is.
To address a few of the comments we receive after applications close
“You always choose the same vendors.”
This is probably asking for it, but frankly, it’s our show. The vendors who get chosen are always the candidates we feel best represent the event. Sometimes a lot of amazing candidates apply and it’s tough to chose. Careful consideration is given to previous vs. new vendors in order to keep the show balanced and varied. It’s important to make room for new vendors to keep the markets fresh and interesting (keep in mind this also varies within categories).
“I didn’t even hear about the applications being open…and now they’re closed. WTF?”
Time to pull up the big girl/boy pantaloons and take a little responsibility for yourself. If you are unaware of a show it probably means you’re not on our mailing list, or following us on social media or, in the case of Etsy Made in Canada, not signed up for Etsy Newsletters. Surely you realize it would be impossible for us to reach out to every individual we know to be a maker. Surely ye jest.
“So and so got In, and I didn’t, and my stuff is way better”
“What could I have done differently?”
Good for you advocating for yourself! We admire that and are taking a mental note to give you special consideration for the next show. We would LOVE to reply promptly and give you the attention this question deserves (and sometimes we can!), but it’s just not always possible. We suggest creating a focus group of your best friends and family – the ones who will cut it to you straight and provide you with constructive criticism and feedback. Show them your submission as well as the application and go over it with them. Perhaps there’s something you’re missing. Maybe your fabric choices are a little more outdated than you thought. Maybe your images are kinda low res and not a great representation of your stuff. As you can imagine, it is difficult to go into great detail for each individual applicant because the feedback is spread across all the different people who judged the work. We also suggest using your online resources. There are many useful groups online (such as the Makeology group) where fellow artisans would be more than willing to help you out. Don’t be shy! Use your own network to improve if you don’t hear back from us. It doesn’t mean we don’t care. It just means we’re too busy (and feeling terribly guilty about it).
“I’ve never been rejected before, your loss!”
As vendors ourselves we must admit we are pretty jealous of someone who’s never been rejected. But we’ve definitely grown from those experiences and we hope you will take the opportunity to do the same. It may well truly be our loss, but we’re not exactly sure how saying that will revert our decision. Having a diverse market also means that we look for vendors who are new to the scene in our cities. Vendors that can’t be found everywhere. Sometimes that means (as we’ve stated previously) that perfectly great (if not just ever-so-slightly rude and entitled) makers won’t make it this time. That is part of what makes a good show.
Don’t be discouraged.
It’s not personal. Honestly. If repeat vendors are being chosen it’s because they did all the above, or perhaps they are in a smaller category, or they just got lucky. Maybe we just love their work so much we couldn’t imagine the show without them. It happens. But rest assured that the decision to accept them is because of the work, not the individual. Relationships and friendships are formed over time and are inevitable. A good jury wouldn’t or shouldn’t let that be the reason for accepting someone.
We appreciate you and how hard you work and we want you to be successful. Truthfully. We rise by lifting others as they say.
A few notes from the organizers.
I’m a newbie—it’s true! I’m learning everyday and I’m not perfect. This community is my passion and I put 110% percent of my energy into making each show as good as it can be. I want each show to raise the bar to be even better than the last. It’s all or nothing for me, and thats what makes it so difficult accepting that I won’t be able to completely satisfy everyone that wants to be a part of it (which I am truly grateful for). I often receive questions directly and indirectly about the way I do (or don’t do) things as well as my authority in judging artisans that have been doing this longer than I have. I ask and learn from all feedback, but there’s a line that unfortunately sometimes get crossed when people deviate from being professional. There’s a lot of sweat and tears that goes on behind the scenes. On the days when you get that one crappy email it has the potential to bring you down and make you want to give up. Fortunately for every negative comment, there are also words encouragement that remind me why I am doing this. Makeology is and always will be about the vendors. Making sure vendors are satisfied is my number one priority. From the application process, to the marketing of the show, to the set up and tear down experience and all the details in between. Should the day come when Makeology is not the show I want it to be or meet the standards I’ve set for myself, it will be the day I know to throw in the towel. It’s not always going to be flawless, but I am sure as hell going to try my hardest.
Melissa Lowry – Founder and Director of Makeology
If you are interested in knowing more about Makeology fairs subscribe to Melissa’s newsletter.
I just want to have fun. I started hosting craft shows in 2010 because I wanted to create a place where makers could make a little money doing what they love. It thrills me how much my little show has grown, but that growth and exposure has meant becoming so much more vulnerable to criticism and, what I’m pretty sure Dr. Phil would categorize as, cyber bullying. I will continue to build on the maker community I’ve been nurturing, however I am truly tired of having to field aggressive (some passive, others not) emails and comments from those who I can only assume have never considered what it might be like to be in the organizer’s shoes. As a maker myself I think we all need to be responsible for what we’re putting out into the universe. Let’s keep it cheerful people. I know it’s not easy, but together we can do it. Gah. I said it.
Emily Arbour – Cheerfully Made Markets Organizer
If you are interested in knowing more about Cheerfully Made Markets subscribe to Emily’s newsletter.
It’s been 8 years since I started putting together small scale craft shows in heritage buildings in both Toronto and Hamilton, and for the most part it’s been a joy to celebrate the diverse mix of talent in this region. I like to remind people that our choices are based upon the best fit for both the artisan and the show. While I might really love someone’s work, we don’t always program them because we know that it might not be a good fit for the community that supports the show. Remember that show organizers are people, just like you. We take this work seriously and put many hours into these shows to make them successful for all involved. It’s important to remember that we are not only show organizers, but that we are also creators and people with feelings. Treat us the same way you would like to be treated. We can agree to disagree of course, but please be kind and generous in communication. It can go a long way.
Lisa Pijuan-Nomura – Founder and Curator of Handmade Hamilton
If you are interested in knowing more about Handmade Hamilton visit her website.