State of the Empire, 2019

January 3 2019 | arielmstallings

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…Ok, fine! There I go being hyperbolic again. It's actually only been 12 years since I launched this business (aww, cute first post with a bad pun from New Years Day 2007!), but we all know that the internet moves fast. 12 in internet years might as well be 84, y'know?

Sometimes I have to remind myself that supposedly any small 30% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 50% during the first five years, and fully 66% fail during the first decade. The fact that this party train is still chugging along after a dozen years is pretty remarkable… especially when you consider what a bloodbath it's been in online publishing this year. (RIP, Rookie. You have the best final letter from the editor EVER.) That said, the Empire is beholden to the same shifting digital media situation as everyone else, and honestly this business only works because I've been running it LEAN SINCE 2015. The only exception to this rule is the tiny playground I allowed myself with my third book…

2019 is going to be an interesting year for the Empire. Here's what's up. It's a lot of books, but some other stuff too!

Offbeat Bride, 3rd Edition (Seal Press, Fall 2019)

It's an odd plot twist that when I went in to pitch Seal Press on my second book (more about that later…), I walked out of the meeting with them suggesting we produce a third edition of my first book. I wrote last year about why the Offbeat Bride book so desperately needed updating (the outdated references to CD-ROM wedding favors were cute… the outdated language around stuff like gender was less so) and it's been a deeply informative process to rework the book.

Some of it's been really great (I'm so stoked on all content we worked in about wedding planning when you're dealing with a disability) and some of it's been kinda tough (it's not fun to revise a book about a wedding a few years after getting divorced), but mostly I'm just so excited that the ol' girl is getting a deep breath of fresh air. New cover art! New interior design! Almost a third of the book has been rewritten!

It's humbling that something I created in 2006 is still walking around out there (think about something YOU made in 2006 — would you want people still looking at it?!), but it's so gratifying to know that my mid-'00s work still might still have some relevance for the legendary children getting married now. Massive thanks to Caroline, my longtime copyeditor, for helping me wrangle the project.

Current status: The completed manuscript was turned in last month and passed muster, I'm getting a few notes back in a couple weeks, and then it's off to copyedit and design! I'm dying to see the new cover art. It should be on shelves this fall.

Shitshow After-Party: Putting Life Back Together When It All Falls Apart (Seal Press, Fall 2020)

This second book has been a long journey. I wrote last year about how I decided to see if I could skip the whole literary agent thing completely, and just represent myself. I decided to pitch the book directly to the publisher who already knows my sales history: Seal Press, the folks who published Offbeat Bride. The editor at Seal was interested, but wanted a different format — service memoir hybrid.

(Personal plot twist: the meeting with Seal Press last spring was just gonna be on the phone, but then a writer I'd been flirting with in San Francisco offered to fly me down so I could meet with the editor face-to-face at the Seal offices in Berkeley. "Plus, then I could take you out to a celebratory dinner and we could finally meet face to face," he said. "No expectations," he said. Now it's almost a year later and I have a two book deal with Seal Press and the writer is my boyfriend and jeez isn't it remarkable how things unfold?)

After bringing Caroline Diezyn on as my co-writer for the book, we spent six months reworking the proposal, workshopping titles, and trying to mold a book we could sell from the book I had written. In the fall, the acquisition committee at Seal Press / Hachette bounced around our updated proposal (new title, updated marketing section, tinker tinker, poke poke, prod)… and they made an offer in December!

The final title is Shitshow After-Party, which is more playful than previous titles… which I appreciate. Even though the book is about what was without a doubt the most excruciating, miserable time of my life, the biggest takeaway for me was that if you can really lean into your own grief and commit to working with it, remarkable things can happen. I'm not saying you gloss over the grief, put on a happy face, find the silver lining! My experience after going through a crisis was that life is never what it was before. This is not a book of sunshiney happy platitudes and "getting over it"… it's a book about rolling up your sleeves and staying with your sorrows even when it feels like your skin is burning off, so that you can make new choices and rebuild your life in ways that get you somewhere. It's about grieving forward.

Current status: Caroline and I have all the chapters mapped out, and they're spending the next four months integrating my existing writing with their additional work to produce the completed first draft manuscript. The goal is to have the book on shelves Spring of 2020.

Pros Before Bros (Offbeat Empire, February 2019!)

This project has been my playground. While Offbeat Bride's third edition is about bringing old work into new relevancy, and Shitshow After-Party is about getting my more current work out there, Pros Before Bros is my forward-looking exercise in future-casting and business development and experiments for where I might want things to go.

At a glance, it's a 10k erotic novelette that I wrote and am self-publishing as a small luxe hardback, paired in a gorgeous package with jewelry I designed with a Seattle artisan. When you zoom out, it's a massive experiment in tangibility, valuation, market exploration, and product development. I've been sharing my process in an extremely long-winded newsletter, and as those of you who've been following along know… it's a lot. I'm so excited about this product, but I'm also super curious about the much larger concept of curating a series of luxe literary/lifestyle pairings.

I'm not there yet, though. First I have to see how this first prototype print run does. It's super limited edition, 100 books (50 sold with necklaces, 50 sold with bracelets). I need to just see how that goes before I let myself look any farther ahead.

Current status: IT'S ABOUT TO HAPPEN! I have my 100 prototypes all ready to go — books, jewelry, packaging, everything. I'm spending the next week getting my sales and distribution systems lined up, and if everything goes according to plan, the packages will be on sale on January 11th, 2019! This first print run will be offered to the newsletter subscribers first. If you want to know more, subscribe.

Offbeat Ada's Events (Seasonally, 2019)

In partnership with Ada's Technical Books & Cafe in Seattle, I'm hosting a seasonal series of author events at their gorgeous bar space, The Lab. I've been doing these since 2017, and the combo of the gorgeous dark space (that test tube chandelier!) and the full bar and the intimate size make them feel like way more than your average book store events.

I don't have my 2019 events locked in yet, but there will be one per season, and if you're in Seattle I hope you'll consider joining me.

offbeatbride.com & offbeathome.com

Aww, the websites that make it all worth it! While I'm heads-down on my three book projects, the websites are being managed by a two-person team: Senior Editor Catherine Clark, and Sales Manager Tiffany Wright. These two superheroes have worked with me for many many years, and have the web systems down to a degree that I never did. With them around, things run smoothly — and when they don't, I step in to change the oil, bang a dent out of the chassis, or wrangle Kellbot our longtime webdev to tune up the engine. Sometimes I play bad cop and hunt down unpaid invoices with a bedazzled crowbar in hand, but that's pretty rare because Offbeat Bride sponsors are fucking awesome humans, some of whom have been with the site for a decade!

There are rumors that all the Empire websites will be getting a design streamline this winter, because "mobile-first design" is no longer a trendy phrase, it's literally how internet traffic functions. I'm continuing to try to write a few posts a month on offbeathome.com, and the editorial that's coming your way on offbeatbride.com in the next few months is elevated mind-boggling eye candy, as you've come to expect… but the reality is this: 2019 is not the year for shaking the website trees. We might kick up the flare on offbeatbride.com this fall in conjunction with the third edition of the book, but it's not a year for drastic changes in web strategy, y'know? Stay the course, digitally. Safe 'n' steady as she goes, friends.

Ok, that was a lot! As always, I'm wide open to questions or feedback… the conversations with y'all are my favorite part of this job.

  1. And while I have had my head in other spaces, I've missed a whole lot! So excited about the books! That is so fantastic and challenging and I know they'll be amazing. I'm so glad that the Empire is still here, when I need it, and I can check back in and be reminded that there is all sorts of awesome out there.

    • Ah, life. It just keeps on happening!

      I love checking in on folks I haven't seen around the nets for a while. I recently peeked in an a woman who I first found as a blogger when she was an early-00s teenager. She popped back up in my world in 2010 when she married young and became a wedding photographer working with an Offbeat Bride advertiser. I lost track of her, but she recently popped into my head and I found her on insta and … oh look! Now she's married to a lovely woman how sweet, but oh man: her dad just passed away and that is hard.

      Life… it seriously just keeps on happening!! 🙂

      • It does! And it is so very lovely to see people I know, update on life stories in progress, be reminded that we're all on journeys and people are in all different stages of them. Sometimes get to find out about amazing projects! Offbeat Empire is still most definitely part of my life, as are lots of the people I met through it. So happy to see you doing well, the Empire doing well, and get peeks into your life too. I feel a lot like Lenna, a lot of it resonates, even as we all go through some definite changes, and will always feel like home.

  2. 12 years IS an eternity in internet years, isn't it?! It's a little hard to believe I've been following along for almost 11 of those years, and even though life has changed and I maybe don't read the blogs as often as I used to, it's still the first place on the internet I turn to for advice. Endometriosis? Check. Divorce? Check. Dealing with difficult family? Check. Exploring new relationships? Check. Missing pieces of my sexuality? Check. But also as an internet marketer, too! And maybe it's a leftover feeling from the Offbeat Bride Tribe (oh, ning!), but I still feel like this is part of my identity and internet "home". Growth is a good thing, and I think you deserve a ton of kudos for not only still existing, but also still being relevant to what must be a shifting readership. (I've always loved the year-in-review data posts as well!)

    I'm really looking forward to reading the new publications, though. *sets alarm for January 11*

    Happy new year!

    3 agree
        • Bwahahahaha! I was a mod for a while and it was a roller coaster at times. Although, I loved it enough that I stayed on for almost a year after my wedding because the camraderie in the Tribe and the mods was just so great.

          • There was a FB group that some OBT members set up after the Tribe shut down, and it was awful/hilarious to watch them immediately have to deal with some of the same moderation challenges I'd been struggling with for YEARS. I don't envy anyone doing online community management… it was so SO difficult.

  3. Wow, it's going to be a big year. So happy for you and the Empire. As a longtime fan-girl (I have a 1st edition of the book, it's a classic!) I love how the sites have evolved. Thank you for sharing your life with us and making kick-ass content.

  4. Offbeat Bride, 1st Edition.
    Offbeat Bride, 2nd Edition
    Offbeat Bride, 3rd Edition
    Shitshow After-Party
    Pros Before Hos
    OffbeatBride.com
    OffbeatHome.com
    OffbeatEmpire.com

    Yeah, you're right: It IS a lot!!!
    And you're to be congratulated for every bit of it.
    XO

  5. Ooh a writer boyfriend in SF? Will you consider holding an event here?

    Also, I’m super intrigued by Pros before Bros but I’ve been scaling back my purchases of physical things (reducing packaging, optimizing limited storage space, etc). I still love tangible objects and have been trying to get my fix in a non-ownership way (experiences, libraries, public spaces). Anyway, always interested in your updates!

    • I don't have a venue connection in SF like I do in Seattle… oh but hmm, the SF BF and I did swing by The Bindery a couple months ago and I loooooved it, and it would be a great spot for a Pros Before Bros 2nd Edition release party this fall………

      HMMMMMMM.

  6. Hi! Happy 12 years!

    I've been quiet comments-wise for a while but I've still been here lurking. I follow along via RSS (my own throwback) and your Instagram feeds. I was always more active on Home but I originally found the Empire via the Offbeat Bride site, back in…gosh…2011 or 2012. And now I'm actually planning my own wedding. I'll probably be on my honeymoon when your next edition of Offbeat Bride comes out! But reading the site for years before getting engaged means I can deal with others' expectations and the wedding industry's BS just fine. And I'm thankful for the checklist to make sure we're not missing something important.

    I'm really looking forward to Shitshow Afterparty!

  7. I found Offbeat Bride when preparing my wedding and had a hard time letting go. Then along came Offbeat Mama and I didn't feel like a creep anymore for continuing to be a part of this community, even though I was already married.
    So glad these awesome sites are still here (and I do still creep around Bride every time someone is getting married to search for ideas for them but it's mostly Home for me, now), the internets are a scary place with scary comments but in the Offbeat Empire I feel there's no judgement.
    Love to all, long live the Empire and Happy New Year!

  8. Hmm. I think the internets ate my comment the first time. Here we go again…!

    Happy that you and the Offbeat Empire (of all of your properties + projects) are still here in 2019, Ariel. Keep on rocking it, kicking it, making noise, and doing the thing! In the ever-shifting landscape of the internet, there isn't a lot of consistency, so having your brands/content/publication in my life in one way or another for the last 10 years has been pretty awesome. Thanks! Keep on rocking it – you're doing an awesome job, and you're still here. Never lose sight of that.

    I'll definitely reserve a space on my bookshelf for "Shitshow After-Party" in 2020. I'm going through a different type of grief in the moment – my partner and I both lost a parent in the latter half of 2018, almost exactly 4 months apart. (It hasn't even been a month since the most recent loss). I'm still fighting the fog and haze of grief compounded with grief while trying to finish a Ph.D. and also support my partner who just got a promotion (yay!) that came with a massively increased work-load and crappy schedule (boo!) while we're both grieving. WOO.

    Speaking of which – it'd be interesting to unpack or at least compare the dominant cultural narratives (and thus what is acceptable vs. unacceptable behaviors/responses) to grief from a death as compared to grief from the end of a relationship. Americans seem to loooove the transformative narrative archetype ("I took my grief and transmuted it into ass-kicking my life onto a higher plane!") or at least narratives that impart meaning/important life lessons onto the grief ("my loss taught me how important life is and how I have to cherish every moment" etc. blah blah or "my loss showed me that I was holding back from the person I was meant to be, which I discovered as a form of finding meaning in the loss" etc.). I would assume that the overarching dominant cultural narratives/themes are the same for grieving loss from death of a person or loss from the "death" of a relationship, but I wonder how they diverge or are expressed differently? Also – what deviations are permitted, how are the time-frames different (are you given more time to grieve a death than a divorce or vice-versa?), and what sort of actions/behaviors/responses are considered "deviant" because they break or conflict with the dominant cultural narratives? I'm an experimental psychologist, not a sociologist or cultural anthropologist, but I think there might be some interesting stuff in the topic…

    So – here's to 2019. Here's to all of the experiences, thoughts, ideas, knowledge, emotions, sorrows, and events we will survive on this next trip around the sun. One day at a time, we'll make it through it – and in the end, hopefully we'll look back and see, on the whole, something beautiful. Long may the Offbeat Empire reign…!

    • Love these questions! I don't know that Shitshow After-Party will have the capacity to get into all these answers, but I will say that the grief work that's the most interesting to me these days is the stuff that Meghan Devine is doing, over at http://www.refugeingrief.com and with her book It's Ok That You're Not Ok.

      She pushes back REALLY hard against those cultural narratives around silver linings and "everything happens for a reason" platitudes… she sees it basically as a way for us to push grieving people's pain away, because it's uncomfortable to witness someone in pain. Ultimately, grief needs to be seen and acknowledged to work itself out. Rushing it, sugar coating it, or pushing the redemption arc only makes the pain worse.

      As for the nuances between death grief vs divorce grief… oh man, so fascinating! I think it's less about whether the loss is life vs relationship (death vs divorce), and more about whether it's abrupt vs drawn out (hard shock vs endurance pain).

      The end of my marriage was so abrupt and shocking that my nervous system got overwhelmed and I experienced it as a trauma (which I found totally embarrassing — why am I so fucked up by this?), and then had these intense and very confusing physical and mental symptoms for a year (with lingering effects for another year past that), in the way that folks who've dealt with a sudden death sometimes do.

      But for other folks, the end of long term relationships can take many years (in the same way that terminal illnesses can go for years), and so while it's a deeply painful experience, the shape of the experience is different without the shock/trauma of a sudden loss at the start.

      Loss is a bucket of pain either way, and you could probably argue that the experience takes years to integrate either way, it's just whether you front-load the grief with shock/trauma, or experience it over months and years as a long slow decline. Both are excruciating.

      Shitshow After-Party is less an analysis of grief itself and more about how you can BE with grief, and what you can DO with it… but you've given me some great stuff to chew on! Thank you so much.

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